Vangie Williams making politics for the people in Virginia
Vangie Williams | Official campaign website

This midterm election year is shaping up to be an historic one. The 2016 presidential election was devastating for many, especially for those who saw what was at stake with a White House administration that could embolden haters and push back on progressive gains made by working people.

In 2018, as the midterm elections are fast approaching, an unprecedented number of women of color are running for office. They say they are fighting to put politics back into the hands of working people. History has been made on many fronts, and more history is potentially in the making come November. One such individual helping make this history is King George, Virginia resident Vangie Williams.

A self-described non-career politician, Williams is running for Congress in Virginia’s 1st congressional district. She’s already made history by becoming the first woman of color to have her name on the ballot for any congressional race in the district. Williams secured the Democratic primary on June 12, and is now facing off against longtime incumbent Republican Rob Wittman. If Williams wins she will be the fifth woman and first woman of color to represent Virginia in the House of Representatives in its 229-year history. Williams doesn’t consider her campaign a solo matter, or even under the label of ‘progressive.’ Williams spoke with People’s World about her campaign, the struggles of being a Black woman running for public office, the road ahead, and what’s needed to strengthen democracy in the nation.

People’s World: Black women, and other women of color, are running for public office this year in unprecedented numbers. Yet, would you say there is a resistance to this emerging leadership by more established political figures and structures?

Williams: My response to that, is that it should be equal. One of the reasons I decided to run is because I wanted to advocate for people. Yet, what I found shocking is that while I’m advocating for people, there is this quota system in the way politics is set up, perhaps unintentionally. Some candidates get resources (from established party leaders, in her case the Democratic Party) and others get none. I want to advocate for all women running for office, especially for those that would not typically run, [such as] Black women. We need to be given the same resources  and have invested in us that we’ve done for others.

In Virginia we have six [Democratic] women on the ballot. Three of them are receiving all the resources, all the air time. They’re getting put in front of those people who will donate to their campaigns. While two of them are getting at least some help, while I’m getting [only] emails and Facebook posts. Although I’m the historic candidate, I’m not recognized. They’re just now starting to recognize the 1st District of Virginia as a viable campaign- less than fifty days before the elections.

As a Black woman running for Congress in a red district making history, I am now more determined than ever to make a pathway for other women of color to be able to run and get resources. This way they don’t have to fight for every single vote and dollar.

There are two narratives about the what kind of voters it will take for progressives to win this November. Some are holding onto winning swing voters, while others say the strategy is to get non-voters to vote. What do you think it is going to take to win?

Williams: For my campaign, even in the primaries, we stepped back and looked at who our typical voters were in this district. We went back as far as 2008, and we analyzed every single vote, race, and candidate. We determined we needed to run our race in three phases.

First, we wanted to expand our universe. That meant register unregistered voters, and people who hadn’t participated since [former President] Obama. We knew those people were out there, we needed to grab them back.

Second, we had to go after drop off voters. Drop off voters are people who only vote in the Presidential elections. In the state of Virginia we have an election every single year, and sometimes two in a year. We had to make sure those drop off voters understood this is the election of their life. Then finally, our third phase, which has been overlapping phases one and two, is the persuadables.

I have not only reached out to Democrats, but to Republicans, and Independents. Our base is so diverse. It’s [about] voting for the person, not the party, that’s important. My platform is not just based on Democratic values, it’s based on American values. I’m not running to be the “liberal” congresswoman, or the “conservative” congresswoman. I’m running to be the people’s congresswoman.

You’ve been called the political newcomer in comparison to longtime incumbent Wittman. What do you say to those that may be skeptical of your abilities to hold public office in comparison to your opponent?

Williams: Wittman is a five-term incumbent, and he has not done anything for this district. He has managed to vote against the ACA [Affordable Care Act] over seventy times. Here, in this district, a district that has a lack of transportation, or close proximity doctor and urgent care facilities. He has focused on everything about corporations, and outside of what people need. Rob Wittman has made his entire legacy on not being available for the people.

One of the reasons I got into this race is because our daughter has a rare medical condition. I wrote Wittman, and I asked for help in solving an environmental issue within our home. I got a generic form letter back that had nothing to do with what I wrote. I decided to go to his [Wittman’s] office, and didn’t make it past the front door. Wittman represents those that agree with him. He doesn’t want to talk to those that don’t. He hasn’t held one town hall in this district in person.

He’s not here for the people, I am.

A large point in your campaign is fighting for a tax exemption for veterans, service members, first responders, and teachers. Others have criticized this measure as a long shot. Why do you think this measure is important?

Williams: This plan focuses on people who need it. There are educators and first responders who are working two to three jobs in order to survive. There are active duty military members in this district who are living on food stamps. There are veterans in this district who are living just above, or at, the poverty line. We have to do something to improve our economy in this district, and across the country, for our hometown heroes.

They call the measure a long shot. Yet, if they want to keep allowing corporations to not pay their taxes, and not pay their fair share, we are going to continue to go in the same [negative] direction. This country is about we the people, not we the corporations.

Another point in your campaign is the empowerment of women and women’s rights. Currently the country is witnessing the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, and the possibility of what his appointment might mean for women. What are your thoughts?

Vangie Williams with Ayanna Pressley. | Vangie Williams Instagram page

Williams: Kavanaugh is a pawn. At this point he needs to step down. His background, and his history have shown us that he’s going to be a disruptive force. I know he mentioned at one time that Roe v. Wade is the law. Well, that doesn’t mean much coming from certain people [like him].

The current climate is scary. I have six daughters. I want to know that they have a shot at equal pay and equal rights.

I want to know that if they ever have to report that someone assaulted them, that they’re not going to be dragged through the mud, or treated as less than equal to anyone. I don’t see Kavanaugh as a fair and balanced person to be on the Supreme Court. When we talk about the Supreme Court we hear words like ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal.’ We need to focus on fair and impartial.

You made a point in your campaign to speak about net neutrality and broadband access. Why is this important in the 1st District?

Williams: There is no broadband access in at least sixty percent of the middle county. Not only does that affect businesses, it affects commerce, transportation, education, and employment.

Let’s talk about net neutrality. I have people complaining to me today that at certain times of their day their internet is limited, or that they can’t get on certain websites anymore. It affects everything we do. How do people get around? How can people conduct business?

This district has over half a million acres of farmland. Farmers today need broadband. Most companies now do everything by computer. Rob Wittman had an opportunity to help improve the USDA’s farm broadband program, and he shot that down. Yet he tells [the public] he’s fighting for broadband access.

What would be your advice to young Black women aiming to get into politics? Is there anything you wish you had known going into your campaign?

Williams: When you decide to run for office, please talk to your family. Get their buy-in. This is an around-the-clock job. I work full-time, I am in a doctorate program, and I campaign full-time. Prepare yourself and your family.

Line your ducks up now. Take courses with programs like EMILY’s list. Learn what it takes. Learn everything about your district, and the position you’re running for. For women of color, it is going to be eight times harder for you to raise money. You need to chart your sphere of influence. Run as a team, not as a person running against the world. Form alliances.

Keep networking opportunities open and positive. As a Black woman I’ve had to prove myself, my education, and even my career. I’ve literally had to justify [why I should run].

Once I win, because I’ve already claimed it, yes I’ll make history as the first Black woman representing this district in Congress, but I’ll also be the most powerful Black woman in the state of Virginia. That’s a lot of weight to take on. It’s humbling to know you’ll be carrying the weight of everyone you said you wanted to support. How are you going to use [that power]?

What are your hopes for the midterm elections and beyond?

Williams: I want to push for more unity. We have so much pain in this country. We need to reach across the aisle and cooperate and negotiate. I don’t mean losing my progressive values either. My progressive values aren’t going anywhere. I wouldn’t even call it progressive values. My American values, my people values, aren’t going anywhere.

I’m also running on a campaign that advocates for Medicare for all, with dental and vision. I encourage everyone to check out our website and donate to the campaign, because this is a people-funded campaign. We’re not taking corporate dollars. This is about the people. This campaign isn’t about me. This isn’t my campaign alone. This is our campaign.

The Vangie Williams for Congress website can be found here.


Chauncey K. Robinson
Chauncey K. Robinson

Chauncey K. Robinson is an award winning journalist and film critic. Born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, she has a strong love for storytelling and history. She believes narrative greatly influences the way we see the world, which is why she's all about dissecting and analyzing stories and culture to help inform and empower the people.