TULSA, OKLA. – Alicia Andrews is the first African-American person to lead the Oklahoma Democratic Party. In deep red Oklahoma, her path to party leadership was not without its hurdles. Despite the racism and sexism you would expect in the buckle of the Bible Belt, Andrews hasn’t skipped a beat. She’s been a thorn in the Oklahoma Republican Party’s side and a dependable captain for state Democrats. She is a force in the state and known for her ability to close the deal, dig up dirt and motivate her team.
Many have praised her strategic leadership, including Young Democrats of America President Joshua Harris-Till. After the historic wins in Georgia, Oklahomans took to social media to guess who would be “our Stacey Abrams,” and Harris-Till spoke about this with the Black Wall Street Times. “We talk about having Stacey Abrams in Oklahoma. But there’s only one Stacey Abrams, and that’s okay. Oklahoma will be okay, because we have an Alicia Andrews,” Harris-Till said. “She’s unrelenting, always accessible and she thrives in hostile environments. We don’t deserve the dedication she’s shown.”
Among those praising Andrews is House Minority Caucus Vice-Chair Rep. Monroe Nichols (D-Tulsa). Nichols has cautious optimism when new party leadership takes over. Andrews, he says, has been the right leadership for the time. “Chairwoman Andrews has shown she is the best person for this job. It’s not easy to be a Democrat in a red state. It’s even harder to be one in Oklahoma,” Nichols said. “But it’s undeniable what Alicia has accomplished in two years. Her business acumen and intellect have brought our party out of a decade of debt and restored a lot of lost faith.”
Now, without further ado, find inspiration below in our interview with Oklahoma Democratic Party Chairwoman Alicia Andrews.
GRAY: In 2019, you were elected to serve as ODP (Oklahoma Democratic Party) Chair, and that in itself was a historic moment for the Democratic Party. You are the first African-American Chair for the state party. How do you think you’ve been received so far?
ANDREWS: You know, I’m grateful that the party was ready to elect an African-American chair, and an African-American woman as chair. The history wasn’t lost on me. But there has definitely been mixed responses. I believe that representation matters and part of my role in laying the foundation for the party and building our infrastructure is building a system where more candidates can run. I’m also here as a voice. And one of the things that I’ve found is that folks are shocked that I’m not afraid to lend my voice to African-American issues.
And I’ve had folks say, “Okay, you’ve covered that. Can we talk about more things?” But, I won’t stop using my voice and my platform to address these issues. These are often life and death issues for my community.
GRAY: (Joking) Oh, are you telling me not all Democrats are allies to the social justice movement? Whaaat?
ANDREWS: (Laughing) Well, not all Democrats recognize the intersectionality of taking care of folks. All folks. I think sometimes there is a bit of work to do when it comes to recognizing the need for intersectionality.
GRAY: Sounds like the feminist movement. Can you tell me about a time you’ve had to address issues of others’ blindness towards intersectionality in your work?
ANDREWS: There was of course the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder. And there was pushback. Things like, “you’ve covered Black Lives Matter enough. Maybe you should go to Black Lives Matter?”
And I’m just sitting here saying, “well, I happen to believe Black lives matter…”
I say this a lot, but I believe that protests and activists are the bullhorns and magnifying glasses on society’s issues. And the political arena is where these issues come to get fixed. So, if we continue to try to silo those two factions, neither one will be successful.
GRAY: Do you feel you’ve lost time that could have been focused on your policy objectives and organizational goals, on exerting the emotional labor of explaining to fellow Democrats why something matters?
ANDREWS: I’ve spent 90% of my life in Oklahoma, and I’ve been Black the entire time. (laughing) So, I’ve had to expend this emotional labor all of my life. In elementary school, my father told me “it’s not always your job to teach them.” And so there’s that. But I also think, while I know they’re over there laboring in ignorance and I have this information and I have access to them, I feel that I need to bring folks along. Because some of the folks who I’ve reached out to have been open to learning and are doing the work. And sometimes I feel if I hadn’t expended that energy, maybe they would have never gotten to this place.
I kind of think it’s part of my job. I’m going to be a Democrat. I just am. So, I would like it if, when I’m hanging around folks and we’re doing the work, I know we were standing shoulder to shoulder on these issues. So I’m willing to bring them there.
GRAY: Did you ever see yourself being this involved in politics when you were younger, leading a statewide political party?
ANDREWS: Absolutely not! I can say that I’ve always cared about politics; dating all the way back to watching Reagan’s inauguration when I was in Jr. High School. I remember throwing a big fit over it (laughing), so it’s always been something I cared about staying informed on. But, I’m the girl who wouldn’t run for student council. So, no. I never thought I would be this involved, but I felt compelled to be this involved.
GRAY: Was there ever a lightbulb moment where you realized you just had to get more involved; I need to figure out what can be done to change this?
ANDREWS: Absolutely. I remember trying to get involved in Democratic politics back in the late ’90s and I just couldn’t figure out my space. And I tried again around 2010 and had the same problem. But then there was all this outrage about how African-Americans came out in these incredible numbers in 2008 for Barack Obama, and of course Black womxn largely carried that – because that’s the labor that we do in this party. And then in 2012 and 2016 there was all of this talk about how African-Americans didn’t come out in the rate that we should have. And I remember hearing how we let Hillary Clinton down.
Well, we make up less than 15% of the population.
And in 2016, in the midst of all of that backlash, I was angry. And I started showing up at the Tulsa County Democratic Party saying, “here I am. What can I do?” It was frustrating hearing all of that when I’m here. I don’t miss an election. But no one is reaching out to me. No one is talking to me. So here I am.
GRAY: It seems so obvious to me because I’m very engaged, but maybe it isn’t to others – but so many White politicians really exploit Black voters. The Democratic Party really hammers the Black community so hard during election season. Outrageously hard. And once these folks get into office, they forget who got them there.
ANDREWS: It’s like majority-minority communities are completely different cities once they get elected. Like it’s an inconvenience to have to go there now.
GRAY: What would you say to other Black womxn who want to get involved but don’t feel their vote or voice would make an impact in deep-red Oklahoma?
ANDREWS: If you’re not at the table, no one is speaking up for you. If you want them to care about your issue, you have to tell them about your issue. White people are at the table. Rich people are at the table. In Oklahoma, Native Americans are at the table speaking up for themselves. If Black folks don’t show up and speak up for themselves, we’re going to be left out.
GRAY: What’s one of the changes that you’ve helped bring to ODP that you’re most proud of?
ANDREWS: The thing I’m most proud of can feel a bit abstract. The Oklahoma Democratic Party has carried debt for the last five or six chairs. Debt has just been part of the game. But during a pandemic, when I couldn’t have in-person fundraising events, I’ve brought the party out of debt. Not ‘we don’t have as much debt;’ we have no debt greater than 30 days. All of our bills are current. And we’ve done that with transparent ethics filings.
I understand that, as Democrats, we want money out of politics, but I also don’t believe in exploitation of labor. And I have a staff who I want to pay on time and provide benefits to without lapse.
Now I can explore new programs and provide resources to candidates that were not previously available. It feels good to have this breathing room and freedom. Getting out from under the debt is freedom.
GRAY: Who or where do you draw your inspiration from?
ANDREWS: Well, I come from a family of firsts. My mother was the first Black deputy warden in the state of Oklahoma and the first warden to supervise multiple facilities and she is a huge inspiration to me.
And looking well before 2020, I’ve been inspired by Stacy Abrams and how she has persevered though Georgia, a red state like Oklahoma. She developed a plan, and she grew with it and stuck with it for over a decade. And she gives me hope. I just keep reminding myself to stick to the plan. Stay dogged on that plan no matter what everyone throws at you.
Studying Clara Luper and her life’s work has also helped me find direction. She wasn’t a flashy person. She was a regular woman who decided she wanted better for herself, her neighbors, her community.
GRAY: I have to ask.. something that has made me bristle the last few months is the social media posts from White women saying “we need a Stacey Abrams!” And then they start name dropping other White women who they think could replicate her work. Any thoughts on that?
ANDREWS: (laughing) You know, I’ll leave it at this… they’re missing the point. When we think that anyone can do what Stacey Abrams can do, it minimizes the decades long work she’s put in. It minimizes the coalition building that she had to do. It minimizes the amazing amount of money she had to raise. Not just anyone can do that. She put in the work. She still is. And there are Black women in Oklahoma who are working hard to follow her lead to inspire new voters to get to the polls.
GRAY: Last question, what advice do you have for young Black women who are living in Oklahoma and starting to plan their futures?
ANDREWS: Do not let someone tell you that’s not a field for you. Or Black womxn aren’t typically successful in that area or Black womxn don’t really do that job. Or I don’t know if there’s going to be room for you there. Because there’s always got to be a first, and it doesn’t have to be who other people envision as the first Black womxn to do it.
Fact of the matter is, when I first decided I wanted to be chair, I heard “well, you’re not typically the type of person who can raise money in Oklahoma.” Or “do you think that you’re going to have what it takes to lead, you know, the whole party?” It wasn’t said that no one would give money to a Black chair, but the subtext was there.
But I had decided it was something I was going to do, and if someone didn’t want me to do it they were going to have to be real and tell me why directly. No subtext.
So the advice I have for young Black womxn, young Native womxn, young womxn in general. The establishment doesn’t get to decide if someone of your demographic gets to be there, you get to decide.”