The first African-American woman to secure a major party’s nomination in a gubernatorial race just made a different, more salient type of history that will be remembered for decades to come.
Trailblazer Stacey Abrams stood up last week and, even as she ended her bid to be Georgia’s next governor, acknowledging she would fall just short of the votes needed to beat Republican Brian Kemp, she refused to concede, rightly saying that “democracy failed Georgia” and demanding integrity, fairness and accountability in a political environment run amok.
“I was supposed to say nice things and accept my fate,” Abrams said. “But stoicism is a luxury and silence is a weapon for those who would quiet the voices of the people. And I will not concede because the erosion of our democracy is not right.”
A Mississippi native, Abrams will go down in history as a candidate who like her foremother Fannie Lou Hamer was sick and tired of being sick and tired and fought for the rights of the disenfranchised. Fighting an uphill battle in an election dogged by classic voter suppression tactics and a clear conflict of interest—as her opponent oversaw his own election as secretary of state—Abrams did not back down.
While Kemp’s camp called Abrams’ demand to have all votes counted a “ridiculous temper tantrum,” Abrams knew that her demands were about more than just winning her race. Counting votes is about justice for those who need it the most—the historically disenfranchised.
Abrams spoke up for those literally living on the margins of society, giving voice to their right to have a say in how their lives are lived. Her refusal to toe the line and allow the democratic process to be perverted resuscitated the campaigns of other candidates. Abrams “tantrum” is part of why Lucy McBath, who ousted GOP darling Karen Handel, will now fight for common sense gun laws while representing Newt Gingrich’s former Congressional district.
Abrams’ “tantrum” is part of why Kyrsten Sinema can continue to break new ground for Democrats in Arizona after a 30-year shutout. Part of why Andrew Gillum, who conceded far too early in his gubernatorial race in Florida, stood up to demand every vote there be counted and then recounted, since a vote denied is justice denied.
Abrams’ “tantrum” in refusing to submit to a crooked status quo has taught those outside of politics how voting actually works, and that is invaluable. Prior to this race, most people who registered assumed they stayed registered. People who voted via provisional or absentee ballot assumed their votes were actually counted. Now voters know differently, and they are demanding a more transparent process and for all votes to be counted before declarations and concessions are made.
Abrams’ “tantrum” exposed voter suppression for what it is—an attack on democracy and a black eye for this nation. Kemp has removed 1.4 million voters from the rolls since he first took office as Secretary of State in 2010. In 2017, 668,000 voter registrations were canceled. What would Georgia look like now if most of those votes had been restored? What will the next election for governor look like now that Georgia has become the national billboard for voter suppression? Kemp will forever be known as the architect of voter suppression—the man who stole an election even as the nation caught him with his hand in the cookie jar.
Abrams’ “tantrum” put the Georgia legislature on notice for being what it has always been—a good ol’ boys’ network afraid of progress and change. The GOP can mock Abrams all they want because they were successful at stealing this race and suppressing for now the will of many Georgians, but her actions and words are a narrative and blueprint for how to fight voter suppression in all the elections to come, and model of why that fight is a necessity.
Abrams blazed new trails as a black Democratic woman daring to run for governor in a red state, and her “tantrum” has helped to expose and change the way the political process works in this country.
Kemp and the GOP may have won the battle, but history will show that Abrams won the war.