'Voting is a celebration': the groups mobilizing voters ahead of Georgia’s runoffs

The state of Georgia made history this past November during the 2020 presidential election, when it turned from a red state to a blue state, the first time in over 20 years.

After Joe Biden beat Donald Trump by more than 12,000 votes in the state, many took a closer look at the groundswell of activists who had helped engage and educate Georgia voters. Multiple profiles of Stacey Abrams, the gubernatorial candidate who has mobilized voters to combat voter suppression, and Black Voters Matter, splashed across media headlines. But behind the scenes, other groups have been operating on all cylinders, too. Now, with a heated Senate runoff on 5 January — one that will determine which party takes control of Congress – many are wondering if the ground game will remain strong.

These groups are working hard to make sure it does:

The Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda (People’s Agenda)

Founded by the late Ccivil rights leader Joseph E Lowery, the organization performs year-round voter registration, education and mobilization in Black communities throughout Georgia and works to support and establish state coalitions in south-eastern states. Headquartered in Atlanta, the People’s Agenda has offices throughout the state of Georgia and covers more than 53 Georgia counties statewide.

“We work 365 days a year registering people to vote and educating them on the candidates running for office. We hold forums and town hall meetings and have been doing phone and text banks to inform Georgia citizens about voter registration and the voting process. We want people to know that the voting process is easy and transparent,” said Butler.

Like most other outreach organizations, much of the group’s work is being done remotely due to Covid-19. Organizing, registering people to vote and even requesting absentee ballots is done online.

But some outreach continues in person. Members have been working with churches and community leaders in each of the cities where offices are located. Volunteers are canvassing door to door, following social distancing guidelines, handing out free literature and getting people registered. The group is also giving citizens rides to the polls and making sure that there are no indications of voter suppression through their Election Protection Program. There are monitors at polling locations to speak on problems and issues in real time, according to Butler.

“Decisions about unemployment, healthcare, the economic stimulus, and utilities in rural areas is determined by these two Senate seats,” explained Butler. “Currently the Senate is held up and has not acted on the George Floyd Criminal Justice Reform Act, or the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, or the Cares Act.

“We don’t tell people who to vote for and we’re not endorsing any candidates, but we tell them why it’s important,” Butler said. “The election is not over. We are alerting people to vote again.

Clayton county’s Black Women’s Roundtable

The Black Women’s Roundtable works in states with large Black populations, building leaders and encouraging them to run for office in their communities and is an extension of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation. The organization is an intergenerational coalition of Black women who are civil rights leaders, corporate leaders and elected officials. They organize around issues of concerns for Black women, including healthcare, racism and injustice.

Felicia Davis, head of the roundtable in Georgia’s Clayton county, said she is working hard to get people registered to vote. Her group is mobilizing and educating voters through door to door canvassing, hoping to get people to early vote and to keep people motivated throughout Covid-19 and the holiday season, to ensure they vote in the January run-off.

“This year we lost Dr Lowery, Rev CT Vivian and Congressman John Lewis, three civil rights heroes whose sacrifices played a key role in the passing of the Voting Rights Act. Their memory fuels our resolve,” said Davis. “Our part right now is to vote. When we show up, we always win.”

Transformative Justice Coalition

The Transformative Justice Coalition, a non-partisan group, fights for solutions that address racial injustice and result in systemic change and dismantling structures of white supremacy. Most of the work is in voting rights, not just during elections, but year-round.

Barbara Arnwine, the founder of the Transformative Justice Coalition, is based in Washington DC but works closely with the People’s Agenda to mobilize, educate and register voters.

“Georgia has an ugly history of purging voters,” said Arnwine. “Voting isn’t just about elections, but political accountability. We have built up good relationships, working together to battle southern suppression in Georgia and other states in the south and have trained over 100 people to be voting rights activists.”

Starting 14 December, the first day of early voting, the Transformative Justice Coalition will organize what they call Votercades, car caravans/marches getting people excited about voting. The Votercade is a three- to five-block caravan of cars with voting signs, 14ft banners and loud speakers and megaphones, making people aware that it is time to vote. There is music, dance, food and also a moment of silence where participants take a knee to remember those killed by police. There will be 15 Votercades throughout Georgia, including the week of 14-19 December.

“The Votercades are attention grabbing, joyous, infectious marches to the polls. We are doing these marches to encourage people to vote early,” said Arnwine. “We believe voting is a celebration, not something people endure. We are giving people support and are committed to going everywhere there are voters.”

Georgia Black Youth Vote

The Rev Jared Sawyer, co-coordinator of the Georgia Black Youth Vote, is also doing his part to mobilize young Georgia voters by engaging and training community advocates and young professionals aged 18-30, getting them fully involved in the voting process. This includes a statewide media campaign and online services that focus on voter registration.

“The right to vote is sacred,” said Sawyer. We are preparing voters for the run-off and getting people excited about the election.”

This group is touring throughout the state of Georgia and also hosting Votercade caravans and are canvassing to prepare young voters for the runoff election. The goal is to educate young people about voting and public policy. Sawyer was called to train a new generation of civic leaders and political activists and is calling on others to serve their communities. The group is phone banking and text banking to inform people about the runoff election, encouraging them to vote early.

“As long as we are as proactive as we’re being, people will get out and vote. The Black youth vote helped push Georgia blue,” said Sawyer. “It inspired people and they realized that it’s possible. Young people believed their voices count, not just in the streets, but at the ballot box. We are encouraging people to vote early. I believe there will be a strong voter turnout.”

source: theguardian.com