Outreach and organizing must be done year-round to counter suppression and violent opposition to election equality.
The stunning and historic election results in Georgia’s US Senate races last week were due to years of hard work. Georgia saw the first Jewish person and the first Black person elected to the Senate from that state. What happened in Georgia didn’t happen overnight, just as what happened in Wisconsin in November also didn’t happen overnight.
Georgia had been organizing for years. I remember one of my first meetings in my role as executive director of BLOC was in Washington, DC, to strategize and organize with Black organizers across the country. It was a space to dream at the beginning of 2017. One of the people I met that day was Nsé Ufot, director of the New Georgia Project. We shared a hotel room on that trip and I remember being fascinated by the stories of power building she was telling me about.
She was saying the demographics and landscapes were changing and that Georgia could be in play in a few cycles. I remembered being in awe, but then also struck by some of the similarities here in Wisconsin. Voter suppression in both of our states was a huge issue this cycle. We see similar knee jerk reactions every time Black people in our states are standing up and displaying our power. Since then, Georgia has been a place I had been paying more attention to.
No one can mention Georgia without mentioning the incredible work of Stacey Abrams. Stacey is a gem that we do not deserve. She is a source of inspiration for my own work. Her vision and passion to make sure everyone has the basic fundamental right to vote is nothing short of inspiring. Her model of year-round organizing, reaching out to people who are left behind, political education, (and did I mention year-round organizing?) is what makes the difference in our communities.
Organizations like the New Georgia Project exist all across the country and we’ve been ringing the alarm that electoral organizing in communities of color has to be different in order to be effective. Organizers of color know exactly what to do, and it may not always align with the latest polls or advice of expensive, overpaid consultants who don’t always represent our communities.
A big lesson learned from November is to let Black people lead this organizing. We know what’s best. I’m sure there are places and demographics of people where traditional organizing works well. You can send out a mailer as a reminder, because they already had a vote plan. Our communities deal with so many challenges and obstacles. Not only are we tasked with getting out the vote, but we have to deal with so many challenges and barriers in the process.
For the privileged (and I’ll include myself here, acknowledging this is a place where I have privilege), voting can be easy. If we have questions, we know who to call. We generally early-vote (in order to free up time to help others on Election Day) or incorporate voting into our activities, and it can be mundane at times (or it used to be). Not everyone has this experience.
What happens when we try to level the playing field and we try to get everyone to have an easy experience? We see attempted coups at the Capitol, and a visceral reaction to Black people displaying our power. We see absurd legal challenges to our votes. We have to deal with voter suppression on the front end, the back end, and also deal with white supremacists being violent because we demand we be included in this democracy.
What happened at the Capitol this week was a strong warning. Multiple sides are fighting and wrestling with democracy, some trying to keep others out, some trying to hang on to their flailing power, others just wanting to have a seat at the table. What we saw last Wednesday was a dangerous indication of what the future of our democracy may hold. When Black, Brown, and Indigenous people of color start to raise their voices, it shouldn’t be met with an armed insurrection at the capitol. I’m afraid the genie can’t go back into the bottle at this point.
So what can we learn about what happened in Georgia and Wisconsin? This work takes time. It can be painful, it’s exhausting, there are days where it is daunting, but that’s why we need to give ourselves enough time and space for these conversations.
Year-round organizing is really the only solution. Year-round organizing displays to our communities that you actually care about our issues, you don’t just see us as votes for your agenda. Attempting to build power in that transactional way is not sustainable and actually makes things harder in the long run. If trust isn’t built, we won’t be able to build real power to continue to move progress forward.
Another lesson learned is we will need to be bold in speaking truth to power, even when it is dangerous or sometimes isolating. My mom always used to tell me that I needed to always stand up for what is right no matter how hard it can be. Moving forward, we need to make sure we reject white supremacy in every form, including voter suppression tactics. We need to think about how we perpetuate white supremacy even when we may not realize it.
[Editor’s Note: Black Leaders Organizing for Communities (BLOC) is a nonprofit organization working to ensure a high quality of life for Black communities in Wisconsin. Their website is blocbybloc.org]