The indomitable Stacey Abrams made London a stop on her crusade to end voter suppression last week, calling on US citizens abroad to help her put up a ‘Fair Fight’.
Speaking at a fundraiser for Fair Fight Action — the organization she founded last year after losing the Georgia governorship amid widespread voter suppression — Abrams said that when it comes to representative democracy, practice makes perfect.
“Our mission [in the Constitution] is ‘a more perfect union’. And that pursuit takes time, it takes energy — but it also takes practice. America is an exercise in practice,” she said.
‘We have to practice what we preach’
The ‘America’ Abrams envisions is one where all citizens have a right to their own voice, based on their unique identities and lived experiences — as well as a right to have that voice heard in free and fair elections.
To this end, the former minority leader of Georgia’s state legislature dedicated her gubernatorial campaign to engaging underrepresented voters — with impressive results. Compared to the 2014 Georgia governor race, in which 1.1 million Democrats voted in total, the 2018 race drew 1.2 million black voters alone. Youth participation also increased by 139%, and Latino and Asian-Pacific Islander turnout both tripled.
“We have to practice what we preach. We talked about diversity, and we built the most diverse team in Georgia’s history when it came to leading a campaign,” she said.
“Every community was represented…bound together by being progressive, but they also got to maintain their integrity and their difference. We created space not for everyone to become one by being the same, but by retaining their difference and becoming one by our mission.”
So committed was the would-be governor to “walking the walk” that she took this literally in the LGBTQ community. The first gubernatorial candidate in Georgia to lead its Pride Parade, she declared, “As an ally I cannot defend my civil rights if I’m not willing to speak up for the civil rights of all.”
Although some critics feared Abrams’ focus on identity would alienate white voters, 2018 saw the Democratic share of white voters increase for the first time in 25 years.
Still, she lost the governorship to her GOP opponent Brian Kemp in one of the most closely watched and controversial races of 2018. Then serving as Georgia’s secretary of state, Kemp had broad powers over state elections — combined with a long history of purging voter rolls and obstructing voter registration. Even among registered voters, widespread obstacles at the polls prevented thousands from casting their ballots.
“[Brian Kemp] got to be the contestant, the referee and the scorekeeper — and shockingly, he won. Or at least that’s what he tells us. But I know in my heart of hearts, we won,” Abrams said.
“When I think about that 92-year-old woman denied the right to vote for the first time in 40 years, spending two hours pleading with the poll workers who knew her face and knew her name, pleading to be given back the right that she had fought for, I know we won — because she is an example of why we fight.”
“The young people who stood in line for hours at Atlanta University only to be told they had to pick who got ballots because they were out of paper…the moms and dads who stood in line for hours with babies in arms and in strollers…the 1.4 million who had their names stripped from roles, some legitimately, but too many illegitimately — they are who we fight for.”
Fair Fight Action
The desire to fight for these voters — and for the democratic ideals at America’s heart — inspired Abrams to start Fair Fight Action to advocate for election reform and educate and engage voters in Georgia.
“We are fighting with litigation, legislation, advocacy. But most of all we are fighting with patience. Because we know it will take a while to undo what they have done, because voter suppression has been baked into the DNA of America. It has been part of our legacy since our very inception but it does not have to be part of our future,” Abrams said.
“I don’t know what I’m running for next, but [whoever] runs for office in the state of GA in 2020, that person and those people will be denied their rights if we have not put up a fair fight.
“Because more than any other person, this is about the citizen who sits on the bus for 3.5 hours coming back from having spent 4 hours trying to cast a vote, only to be told no. This is about the person who is registered along with her husband, only he’s allowed to vote in their precinct and she’s told she has to go across…or worse, that there’s only one precinct and it’s up a hill, and her wheelchair can’t get her there.
“We are better than that in Georgia. We are better than that in the US. And I know we will be the best we can be when we have a fair fight.”
To learn more about and support Fair Fight Action, click here.