Three days after Election Day, Georgia is in the process of meticulously counting ballots for the presidency, where Joe Biden leads Donald Trump by a hair and a recount is already in the works once this count is completed, and for two U.S. Senate seats where runoff races could decide the national balance of power.
It’s quite a star turn for a state where, just a decade ago, virtually no one thought Democrats stood a chance—no one except Stacey Abrams. The state hadn’t successfully backed a Democrat since Bill Clinton in 1992. Before that, setting aside when native son Jimmy Carter was on the ballot, it was John F. Kennedy in 1960.
And despite the increased reverse migration of African Americans and Latinx and Asian American and Pacific Islander immigrants settling throughout the state, the national Democratic party was reluctant (dare I say resistant) to invest in the state’s 16 electoral votes. I’m looking at you, Tom Perez, who hung Abrams out to dry when one of the sharpest policy and political minds of our generation ran for governor in 2018 and came this close in a run where the national party’s robust early support could well have made the difference.
Instead, many Democratic operatives viewed Abrams’ loss as proof that Georgia was still deep red and not worth the investment. That race was stolen from her by an opponent, Brian Kemp, who, as I wrote in the Beast, “served as her opponent, the referee, the judge, and the man in charge of the equipment” as secretary of state, presiding over rampant voter disenfranchisement of Black voters on his way to his narrow “win.”
The stories of voter suppression from that campaign are an embarrassment to American democracy. But as my grandmother always told me, “Chickens must one day come home to roost.” And two years later there are 2.5 million of those chickens and more still landing.
But even as Abrams and Georgia were dismissed as a politician and a state that just weren’t ready, she kept working to extend the grassroots campaign strategy that extended across the 159 counties in Georgia and included the highest rates of youth and Latino participation the state had ever seen. After the election, Abrams and her team launched Fair Fight, an organization dedicated to litigation, legislation, and advocacy in order to support voter-protection programs at state parties around the country.
When she saw that 800,000 people of color in Georgia were not registered to vote, she launched the New Georgia Project, registering more than 200,000 Georgians in just two years. Other grassroots organizers and organizations like Project South, Black Voters Matter, and Southwest Georgia Project served as mobilizing and organizing forces throughout the state.
And now Georgia is shining like a beacon of hope, because Abrams invested herself in the state’s future and its Black voters when the Democratic establishment would not.
The celebration of Stacey Abrams today is well-deserved and overdue. She has solidified herself in the pantheon of Black female trailblazing politicians and will be mentioned throughout history along with the likes of Shirley Chisholm and Barbara Jordan. She continues the legacy of her fellow Georgian, the late congressman and mentor John Lewis. In the marathon for justice, equity, and voter inclusion, the baton was passed to Stacey Abrams and it is now abundantly clear that her decades-long efforts in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors have led us to this crucial moment. Millions of Georgians have been empowered and enfranchised by the work of her and her colleagues.
The takeaway from Georgia: Underestimate Black women, as leaders and as voters, at your own peril.