Georgia had not elected a Democratic senator since 1996. Yet, on Jan. 5, the day of the Georgia Senate runoff election, two Democrats – Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock – announced their victories. What changed? This wasn’t a miracle. This moment has been building for over a decade.
Ten years ago, a new generation of black female leaders and other people of color created their own structures after moderates and conservatives dominated the state government and prevented electoral change. They were determined to turn out communities to vote and run for office that had been traditionally overlooked and left out of politics.
Of these black women activists, the most well-known is Stacey Abrams. In 2013, Abrams formed the New Georgia Project (NGP), a voter-registration and engagement group that focused on the newer generations of Georgia voters. NGP is now headed by Nsé Ufot. Under her leadership, NGP has registered nearly 425,000 Georgians to vote, according to the organization’s website.
After narrowly losing the gubernatorial election to Brian Kemp in 2016, Abrams was outspoken about the issue: voter suppression. She formed an organization called Fair Fight that works to end practices like poll closures and long lines that disproportionately impact neighborhoods with large populations of people of color. The organization trained voter protection teams and educated young voters and voters of color. Abrams was one of the few people convinced that focusing on underrepresented groups was a better strategy than the traditional plan of focusing on white voters in wealthy communities.
Evidence proves that Abrams hard work payed off. According to The New York Times, a greater proportion of Democrats, specifically Black Democrats, returned to the polls compared to Republicans and white voters without college degrees. Turnout reached 92% in precincts won by Biden, while precincts won by Trump reached only 88%. This is significant, as Black voters make up a large percentage of Democratic voters, over 30%. Specifically, turnout reached 93% in precincts where Black voters represent at least 80% of the electorate, while turnout dropped in white working-class precincts.
Abrams was not alone in this fight to engage formerly disenfranchised and new voters. Organizations like Georgia STAND-UP have been working since 2004 to persuade philanthropy groups and political organizations to consider Georgia as a potential battleground state. Others, like Felicia Davis and Helen Butler, have spent years working to turn out voters in Georgia. Susan Sandler, who donated $200 million to fund these efforts, believed that investing in these groups, and not campaigns, was the true way to success.
Georgia STAND-UP, the Coalition for the Peoples’ Agenda and the New Georgia Project have registered some 800,000 voters since 2018, many of them young people of color who are more likely to be Democratic-leaning. Just four years ago, 22% of Georgia’s eligible voters were not even registered. That figure fell to 2% this year, according to The Washington Post.
Other groups, like Asian Americans Advancing Justice and Poder LatinX, worked to bring out voters of color. Black Voters Matter is an organization founded by LaTosha Brown and Cliff Albright, that used targeted messaging to mobilize Black voters, and the Movement Voter Project provided funding to community groups in the state.
According to PBS.org, “Georgia’s population grew from about 8.2 million people in 2000 to 10.5 million in 2018. The Atlanta metropolitan area added 733,646 residents between 2010 and 2019, according to Census data, driven by a surge of new Latino, Asian and Black residents.” Not only does a blue Georgia signify that grass-roots groups are much more powerful than previously thought, but it also demonstrates the influence African-American voters and other people of color have at the polls – a signal of greater change to come.