By Renee Foose, Special to the AFRO
Anyone watching President Trump’s State of the Union address who didn’t know of Stacey Abrams does now. Abrams delivered the Democratic rebuttal to the president’s speech. The Democrats’ selection of Abrams is an indication that the party believes she will continue to be a trailblazer and will seek a prominent role in national politics in 2020. She is the first African American woman to deliver a response to the State of the Union address.
Abrams ran unsuccessfully for governor against Republican Brian Kemp in Georgia in 2018. Immediately following her narrow loss, by less than 1.4 percent of the vote, she called into question the wide-spread practice of voter suppression and ballot tampering in Georgia and nationwide. On February 15, the AFRO was invited to hear Abrams speak on the issue of voter suppression, race and political power in the United States at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.
Abrams was joined by moderator Jelani Cobb, professor of journalism at Columbia University and staff writer for the New Yorker who asked Abrams to talk about her November 2018 gubernatorial loss. Abrams said the election loss was “deeply personal, entirely legal but wholly wrong, like being in a boxing match and your opponent is both the referee and the score keeper.” The loss prompted her to start an advocacy group, Fair Fight Action, to expand voting rights and address acts of suppression which she said is the “greatest threat against our democracy.”
Abrams said the “architecture of voter suppression has a long history in America” and takes on forms such as “exact-match” where state issued identifications have to match exactly on voter registration rolls. This becomes an issue when given names have hyphens and spaces but government issued identifications do not recognize spaces and hyphens. “Laws like this scare people out of voting, specifically minorities and working-class people” Abrams said.
Other common practices include closing polling stations to inconvenience voters, and not counting absentee ballots cast. Her advocacy group is organizing to change these laws nationally in advance of the 2020 elections.
“In 2016, Democrats didn’t lose, we just failed to show up. Too many people did not hear themselves in the narrative or they were not directly encouraged to turn out to vote and we lost by 70 thousand votes through an artificial system called the electoral college. To win in 2020, we need to run smart campaigns that value every camp, that value every voter, and treat all voters with respect, and have authentic candidates who tell the truth” Abrams told the AFRO.
Elsie Scott, interim president and CEO of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation said she found Abrams “refreshing, she is speaking to Black women, and we have a big role in the next election cycle, voter suppression is real, and it needs to be addressed.”
Stacey Abrams is not the only trailblazer to watch in the next election cycle. Andrew Gillum, like Abrams lost his Florida gubernatorial bid by a very narrow margin and Mike Epsy, Mississippi Senate candidate, are progressive African Americans seeking political seats in the deep-south. All three candidates have campaigned on equality and creating laws and policies that benefit working class Americans.
The conversation with Stacey Abrams was part of the Brookings Institution’s celebration of Black History Month.