WHO ARE WE? WHERE ARE WE? WHAT DAY IS IT?
The first week of January, much like the year that preceded it, has been a rollercoaster that has rocked the national headlines. As dawn broke on Friday, less than two weeks remained of Trump’s term – yet reporters and pundits from coast to coast were abuzz with 25th Amendment speculation and impeachment conjecture. On Thursday, the nation watched as resignations riddled the ranks of staff in the White House, Senate, and House of Representatives. A Capitol police officer succumbed to his injuries, the fifth death stemming from the atrocity that occurred on Wednesday, which has yet to be endowed with some clever name with which history will remember it.
There was a time when most would have laughed off the notion that a sitting president would direct an insurrection, leading a terrorist storming of the United States Capitol that trapped elected officials and their staff members inside, aimed to overturn the results of a national election by force, and left the world watching in disgust. But it happened. It swept the globe in all its staggering, unforgivable, treasonous horror so quickly that no one could grasp exactly what was happening or how quickly it was going down. And its all anyone has talked about since.
But it’s what happened on Tuesday that will last far longer, both in its effects now and its historic endurance. Tuesday was the result of hard and dedicated work by true patriots. Tuesday made it possible to see an immediate future where we will make real progress. Tuesday, Georgia saved us … again.
GEORGIA COMIN' IN HOT
After a stunning reveal of its new blue hue on chart-throb Steve Kornacki’s election map in November, the state of Georgia became the star in the cast of states that turned the presidential race and gave the nation a Biden/Harris administration (props to Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Arizona too!). But it wasn’t over. Due to the state’s election law, Georgia’s two Senate races went on to a runoff election and Democrats saw a road to victory. For two months, an unprecedented amount of political attention poured into the state. As early voting opened, it became clear that that the November election was not a one-off. It would come down to the wire, but Georgia voters were just as determined to make their voices as heard. And on Tuesday, Georgia rejected the Republicans from their Senate seats and instead elected its first Black Senator, Raphael Warnock, and its first Jewish Senator, Jon Ossoff. Georgia also handed control of the Senate to the Democrats that day.
But … how did they do it? Buckle up and let’s take a dive into elections history, numbers, trends, and shifts. And then let’s talk about the groundwork that created it all.
A BRIEF HISTORY LESSON
Before November 2020, the last time Georgia chose a Democrat in a presidential election was 1992 … and 1980 before that. Even in 2008, Barack Obama only managed to take about 47 percent of the vote – and even that was a huge improvement for the Democrats from only four years earlier. At that time, Atlanta was fast-tracking its own growth and it seemed that the state was on the precipice of turning blue. But it didn’t happen. Instead, Georgia politics went stagnant and it seemed that it would be stuck in Swing-State-In-Waiting status forever. Obama dipped to 45 percent in 2012 and that’s where Democratic candidates seemed to be capped from then on, including those who ran for Governor and Senator in 2014 and Hillary Clinton as the presidential candidate in 2016.
ENTER STACEY ABRAMS
Stacey Yvonne Abrams ( born December 9, 1973 in Madison, Wisconsin) is an American politician, lawyer, voting rights activist, and author who served in the Georgia House of Representatives from 2007 to 2017, serving as minority leader from 2011 to 2017.
Abrams was the Democratic party’s nominee in the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election, becoming the first African-American female major-party gubernatorial nominee in the United States and breaking through the seemingly impermeable ceiling for Democrats in Georgia when she garnered 48.8 percent of the vote.
Even then, it wasn’t enough and she lost to Brian Kemp in an election marked by accusations that Kemp engaged in voter suppression.
In February 2019, Abrams became the first African-American woman to deliver a response to the State of the Union address.
ATLANTA'S EXPLOSIVE GROWTH
The easiest signal to identify that Georgia was bound to experience a political shift was the Atlanta Metro area itself. Three phenomena began to emerge, although only two received the attention.
The first of these was the pace of growth in the region. The Atlanta Metro has been swelling in population for years, claiming the 4th largest metro population boom in the country between 2010 and 2019 as it welcomed more than three quarters of a million people. The region has a strong job market, drawing in younger and more diverse people who are setting a more progressive trend.
The second phenomenon runs in tandem with the first: the Atlanta Metro is getting more liberal on the whole. As the population grows, the area has seen a dramatic and disproportionate growth of people of color living in the area – people who tend to vote for Democratic candidates. Let’s examine Gwinnett County. In 2000, census records revealed it was 67 percent white. Today? 35 percent. On the other side of Atlanta is Cobb County which was 72 percent white in 2000, 62 percent in 2010, and 50 percent white today. According to the Pew Research Center, the voting eligible population in Georgia that is white dropped from 68 percent in 2000 to 58 percent in 2018 – one of the largest drop in white voters in the nation.
It is oversimplified to credit the turning of Georgia’s political tide population growth in the booming Atlanta metro area, although it certainly played some role. The story is bigger and can be traced directly to the work of BIPOC organizers on the ground who have been working for a long time to create change.
A PLAYBOOK TO TURN GEORGIA BLUE
Remember Stacey Abrams? Her story did not end with that gubernatorial race in 2018. Far from it. But let’s go back there to begin.
Abrams received 1.9 million votes in that race, far outpacing the previous Democrat who ran in 2014 (earning 1.1 million votes). When she lost, it was blatantly clear that voter suppression played an enormous and determining role. Georgia saw about 670,000 voter registration purges in 2017 and had about 53,000 voter registrations pending a month before the election. When the dust cleared, Abrams lost by 54,723 votes … to then Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who oversaw the election while being on the ballot. While these examples of voter suppression were not a surprise, they cost Abrams the election and she doubled down on the work she was already doing to create a turnout based strategy that would flip the state.
THE NEW GEORGIA PROJECT
In 2013, Abrams co-created the New Georgia Project while she was serving as a member of the Georgia House of Representatives. The focus was simple: motivating people of color who hadn’t previously voted to do just that. By 2015 it was a $10 million plan to boost voter registration with a goal of harnessing at least 170,000 new minority voters and persuading at least 600,000 infrequent voters to commit to showing up at the polls ahead of the 2016 presidential election. The plan swelled to a focus on six cities around the state, including field offices with paid staffers and civic engagement projects. It was unprecedented in the state and set a model nationwide.
FAIR FIGHT ACTION
After her narrow loss for governor in 2018, Abrams refused to accept that the state was unwinnable. She founded Fair Fight Action to make elections in Georgia and the rest of the U.S. more equitable by advocating for changes in voter registration laws that will increase the number of eligible voters with the stated goals of not only encouraging voter turnout but also ensuring that all votes are accurately counted. Devoting herself entirely to this effort, Abrams decided not to run for President in 2020 despite national pressure so that she could devote herself entirely to Fair Fight.
THE GROUNDWORK PAID OFF
Abrams and her team of BIPOC organizers, largely women, worked tirelessly amidst scrutiny, discrimination, and a political system rigged against them. While reworking voter turnout programs, launching relational work in communities across the state to increase voter registration, and taking the state of Georgia to task in the courts over its systemic voter suppression, Fair Fight and the women of color at its helm plotted a direct course for electoral victory – and not only in the Peach State.
As November 2020 approached, Abrams implored the Democratic Party to invest in Georgia. A year ahead of the election, Lauren Groh-Wargo, Abrams’ top political advisor, publicly released “The Abrams Playbook,” a 16-page memo that declared Georgia a prime pickup if the Democrats concentrated on boosting turnout in the Atlanta area. It took some time, but nearing the end of the 2020 campaign, polls suggested that the memo was right. Democrats left no holds barred and followed Abrams’ lead into the Atlanta area, sending money, staff, and top surrogates. The nation watched as Georgia’s red lacquer faded and emerged blue on November 3.
When the 2020 presidential election brought national attention to Georgia, it became clear that Abrams’ work there and in 20 other battleground states had a clear and measurable influence on voter turnout that gave the Biden/Harris ticket their victory. But it wasn’t over there. As the state’s senate races headed for a January runoff, Fair Fight raised $6 million to support Warnock and Ossoff, extended their efforts to mobilize voters in marginalized communities, and effectively guided the state to flipping control of the US Senate to the Democrats.
MEET THE BLACK WOMEN WHO TURNED GEORGIA BLUE
Abrams may be the most well known figure responsible for Georgia’s new blue status, but she isn’t alone.
Nsé Ufot is the executive director of both the New Georgia Project and its political arm, the New Georgia Project Action Fund. Ufot emigrated from Nigeria to Atlanta as a kid, graduated from the Georgia Institute of Technology and University of Dayton Law School and was previously an executive at Canada’s largest faculty union and a lobbyist for the American Association of University Professors.
Helen Butler is the Executive Director for The Peoples’ Agenda, based in Atlants but working throughout the state. The People’s Agenda helped lead election protection in Georgia, and works to improve the quality of governance in Georgia, help create a more informed and active electorate, and have responsive and accountable elected officials. She is especially concerned with justice reform and protecting voting rights.
Tamieka Atkins of ProGeorgia, Georgia’s state based non-partisan voter engagement advocacy organization—they do the work to increase the vote share of historically underrepresented and socially responsible voters in Georgia, and provide member groups with critical tools, resources, and services to enhance and improve their voter contact work. She’s also at the head of The Women of Color Initiative, which supports women of color in policy-making and leadership positions to strengthen all of Georgia.
Melanie Campbell is with The National Coalition on Black Participation (NCBCP), which has been vigilant in helping citizens vote with minimal barriers this election. Campbell is president of the nonpartisan NCBCP and convener of the Black Women’s Roundtable, a program centered on harnessing black women’s voting power to influence policy around the issues that matter most to them. Campbell has worked for more than a decade on voter enfranchisement, community engagement, and voter registration.
LaTosha Brown is a co-creator of the Black Voters Matter Fund, an electoral organizing group that keys in on voter registration, policy advocacy, and organizational development and training. Their hands-on programs, like a Warrant Clinic that helps people clear warrants and fines they can’t afford and lifts barrier to employment, housing, and voting at the most fundamental level.
Deborah Scott is with Georgia STAND-UP, which played a massive role in educating voters and getting them registered to vote in this historic election. Georgia STAND-UP is an alliance of community, labor, and faith organizations that promote economic justice and smart growth strategies through research, education, and advocacy.
IT ISN'T OVER
These historic and far-reaching victories out of Georgia will undoubtedly be responsible for progress and change across our nation. But one cycle won’t save the world – the success in Georgia not only needs to be replicated in other states, but also expanded within Georgia, to keep the train moving. Organizing work never ends. We have policy to guide, candidates to discover, and years of systemic failure to reverse. In Abrams’ own words: “Remember this in the darkest moments when the work doesn’t seem worth it and change seems just of reach: out of our willingness to push through comes a tremendous power. USE IT.”
David Mettille is the Communications Manager for Progress North.