As Dems struggle to connect with Black voters, ‘This is Us’ and Stacey Abrams offer a better path

I was in Georgia this week with my Daily Kos colleagues Kelly Macias and Jen Hayden. We were lucky to share space and energy with staff and volunteers of the historic Stacey Abrams campaign. Stacey Abrams is poised to become Georgia’s first black governor and the country’s first black woman governor. Despite early concerns about whether a Black woman with very progressive politics could be electable in the state of Georgia, Stacey has mounted a campaign that’s energizing Georgia Democrats and inspired young people and new voters to not only vote for her, but dedicate countless hours to making sure everyone else voted for her, too.

That effort did not end on Tuesday night. Stacey Abrams’ opponent, Republican vote stealer Brian Kemp, is ahead in the vote count and has already claimed victory. But as the votes continue to be counted–despite Herculean voter suppression from Kemp’s Secretary of State office—Abrams is closing the gap. Paid staffers and volunteers are STILL giving it their all. And it’s not just because they’re afraid of turning the state over to Kemp. Instead, they are DETERMINED to be led by Abrams.

Fired up for Abrams!

Like Randall, they may have things in common with us, but they don’t share our formative life experiences, so the attempts at relating fall flat. And it’s now a part of the Democratic narrative that Black women, loyal Democratic voters, are the backbone of the party. But more often than not, people mean that we can be trusted to vote for a Democrat, any Democrat, and save us from yet another Republican wingnut. They rarely mean it’s our turn to lead.

Stacey Abrams’ gubernatorial campaign is a shining example of the kind of candidate that excites and inspires young voters, new voters, women voters, voters of color. During our time in Georgia covering the campaign, not a single person we spoke to talked about voting for Stacey out of obligation or to keep Kemp out. Instead:

ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 06: Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams addresses supporters at an election watch party on November 6, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. Abrams and her opponent, Republican Brian Kemp, are in a tight race that is too close to call. A runoff for Georgia's governor is likely. (Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images) On Election Night, Stacey Abrams gave a rousing speech, refusing to concede until every vote had been counted. Looking forward to more progressives leaders who fight hard to the bitter end!

Abrams doesn’t have to imagine what it’s like to be in loads of personal debt. She’s lived it. She doesn’t have to read up on the impacts of unjust criminal justice and mass incarceration on families and communities. That’s part of her story. But it’s not her whole story, nor does it fully define her. She also has joy and talent and hobbies (hello, romance novelist!). She also has history and decades of skin in the game.

Where Randall Pearson misstepped is where Democrats have misstepped for years. He looked at the disinvestment in his father’s community and thought he had the mind, determination, and resources to save the people. When they didn’t want to be saved by him, he got angry and confused. He also stopped trying in the Black community and moved on to Koreatown. Thankfully, a brave young man there confronted him on how shallow and tokenizing his outreach efforts had been, and asked for a leadership position in the campaign. Randall was smart enough to give it to him.

That’s what Stacey Abrams has done. She has worked for years to build the political power of marginalized people in Georgia. One way was by founding the New Georgia Project with a goal of getting 800,000 Georgians registered to vote and feeling empowered to be civic actors and leaders in their own communities. And because she saw their untapped power, they recognized her strength.

Screen_Shot_2018-11-09_at_2.23.31_PM.png At the Politi-Art show with my fly new piece and artist Kaya Faery

Another way her campaign recognized the power of historically marginalized communities was through art and culture. We attended the Politi-Art Show hosted by the New Georgia Project, now led by Executive Director Nse Ufot. What we witnessed there was a room full of provocative, beautiful art created and curated by young women of color, and dozens of young people engaging with them. The pieces spoke to many of the concerns that motivate us to vote: immigration, mass incarceration, police violence, the surveillance state, and again and again, Black love and power. It was such a joyous cultural celebration AND political education space, that I couldn’t help myself and walked away with an arresting photo collage.

Once again, this campaign looked to the culture of Black and brown people as an abundant resource. It uplifted their voices, and remembered their beauty.

No matter what the final vote count yields, we should all be taking copious notes on the Abrams campaign. This is how you build power, connection, leaders, and voters. This is how you engage a community that feels, year after year, like an afterthought. This is how you abandon lip service about trusting Black women, and actually trust Black women to lead our movements. This is us, and this is how you do right by us.

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