November 8, 2020; Politico
“The right to vote is precious, almost sacred. It is the most powerful nonviolent tool or instrument in a democratic society. We must use it.”
—Former Representative John Lewis, Georgia’s 5thCongressional District
John Lewis represented Georgia’s 5th Congressional District for 33 years before his death in July of this year. Lewis often advocated getting into “good trouble, necessary trouble,” a philosophy that guided his actions dating back to his work helping lead civil rights marchers from Selma to Montgomery in 1965.
And it is Lewis’s district, Clayton County, that changed Georgia’s shade on the 2020 electoral college map that helped put Joe Biden in the lead over Donald Trump in Georgia by more than 10,000 votes. Although the state’s votes will be recounted in the coming days, Georgia is also at the center of the US balance of political power, with both Georgia senate races going to a runoff on January 5th, the outcome likely determining which party controls the Senate.
In response to Georgia’s flipping from red to blue, Ben Crump—attorney for the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other Black Americans who have been killed by police—stated over the weekend, “Could this be John Lewis looking down and giving Trump ‘Good Trouble’?”
“This is ALL thanks to YOU, the Black vote, for flipping this historically red state,” he tweeted.
In a state with a grim legacy of voter suppression, including the state’s 2018 gubernatorial race, countless thousands of new Black voters to whom this historic shift belongs were registered because of years of grassroots organizing by Georgia nonprofits, such as the New Georgia Project, “which is marshaling young people of color across the state [and] averages a half-million calls and texts to millennial and Gen Z voters per week,” according to its CEO, Nse Ufot.
In the week before the election, Ufot stated in an interview:
Turnout is insane. We’ve been breaking records every day. And I think part of it is that if you treat people [with respect], if you talk to people, and you’re honest with folks about the challenges on the road ahead—but you also give people an opportunity to dream about what our world can look like—then I think that you see what we’re starting to see now. At this point in 2016, 199,000 Georgians under 40 had voted already now. We’re over 600,000 Georgians under 40. Same point in the cycle. It’s extraordinary.
Over four million of Georgia’s total ballots were early in-person and mail-in ballots, the early vote equaling 96.3 percent of all Georgia votes in the 2016 election, which included well over one million Black voters.
As the Guardian notes, many credit Stacey Abrams, the former Georgia Democratic 2018 gubernatorial candidate, for “generating hundreds of thousands of new voter registrations.” Abrams lost her 2018 race by fewer than 55,000 votes and refused to concede due voter suppression tactics she called “an erosion of our democracy.”
Abrams had previously served as the minority leader in the Georgia House of Representatives from 2010 to 2017, being both the first woman to lead in the Georgia General Assembly—for either party—as well as the first African American to lead in Georgia’s House of Representatives.
Voter advocacy has been a principal focus for Abrams for several years, founding the New Georgia Project, discussed above, in 2013, as well as another nonprofit, Fair Fight Action, in 2018, which in 2019 sued to stop their purging of voters, successfully reinstating 22,000 eligible voters.
In the months preceding her gubernatorial race with Brian Kemp in 2018, the Georgia Project and Fair Fight Action registered “more than 200,000 new voters,” as reported by Politico, and “this year, they quadrupled their gains, registering more than 800,000 new voters.” Losing the 2018 race by 1.4 percent “made clear to her and other liberals in the state that demographic shifts in the suburbs had reached a tipping point. Their argument to the national party was simple: Democrats could win more races by expanding their coalition to include disengaged voters of color, as opposed to continuing the focus on persuading undecided, moderate, often white voters.”
But the Georgia Project and Fair Fight Action are not the only Georgia nonprofits engaging new voters of color and young voters. Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote (APIAVote), a national nonpartisan organization, partners with state and local organizations to increase Asian American and Pacific Islander voter participation. In Georgia alone, this voting bloc has increased by 138 percent in the past 20 years and now constitutes 4.7 percent of state voters.
Georgia Strategic Alliance for New Directions and Unified Policies (Georgia StAND-UP), an alliance for economic and racial justice across community, faith, academic, and labor groups engaged in deep voter organizing. The nonprofit Pro-Georgia network likewise promoted voting among its 30 grassroots member organizations. These nonprofits have their work cut out for them over the next few weeks, as the ability for the Biden administration to change policy may heavily depend on the outcome of the state’s two Senate runoff races. It is another significant opportunity for Georgia voting advocacy groups to register more voters, and over the past weekend, Abrams helped raise $3.6 million in two days for the two Democratic challengers.
Abrams acknowledged this will be a hard fight: “We began early on saying that this is not about black and white, this is about pulling together a coalition of people of color, of the poor, of the disadvantaged, of the marginalized, and being consistent with our engagement, not waiting for an election to meet them, and certainly not waiting till the end of an election to acknowledge their value.” It is about, as Lewis said just this past March, making good trouble to redeem the soul of America.—Beth Couch