In reporting on how Georgia went from red to blue, the media has naturally sought a protagonist — and found the perfect one in Stacey Abrams. Early on, Abrams recognized that demographic changes in Georgia meant Democrats could have a chance there if they organized. So she formed a blueprint for a gubernatorial race, presented her argument to donors across the country and executed that plan, winning more voters than any Democratic candidate in Georgia’s history.
After Abrams narrowly lost — and perhaps was cheated out of her victory — some speculated she might even run for president herself. Instead, she decided to solve the problem in front of her by working to overcome the voter suppression efforts that had cost her the governorship. She formed an organization called Fair Fight to end illegal voter purges, unjust poll closures, the long lines that seemed to crop up largely in neighborhoods of color and other underhanded tactics. After several years of hard work and registering more than 500,000 new voters, Georgia turned blue.
But Abrams did not single-handedly turn demographic change into Democratic wins, and she was one of the first to point out that fact. This year’s victory in Georgia was thanks to a hugely diverse and collective effort across the state — a base-focused campaign among dozens of organizations to activate thousands of volunteers, who talked to their neighbors and turned out the vote. While organizations like the New Georgia Project registered new voters, others such as Asian Americans Advancing Justice in Atlanta and the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials worked to bring out voters of color. Black Voters Matter, an organization led by Black women, invested in more than 600 Black-led groups on the ground and used targeted messaging to mobilize Black voters, and the Movement Voter Project directed significant funding to community groups in the state.
This strategy repeated itself in other states. A popular narrative said that Biden flipping Arizona was the late Sen. John McCain’s “revenge” after his widow, Cindy McCain, and his daughter Meghan McCain threw their support behind Biden. But that story leaves out the Apache and Navajo voters, about 97 percent of whom voted for Biden, who accounted for more than his margin of victory in Arizona. Nor does it properly recognize years of organizing by an army of Latino organizers in Arizona, such as those working with Living United for Change in Arizona, who showed their skills this year by turning out the vote among often-neglected communities across the state. In fact, the only two Senate seats that the Democrats have flipped thus far were in Arizona and Colorado — two states with large Latino populations.
And while Democrats didn’t win in North Carolina this year, they have renewed hope for the future, in part because of the grass-roots organizing at work there. The Moral Mondays movement activists, led by the Rev. William Barber II, have staged protests hundreds of times at the state Capitol, activating new voters. They helped defeat Republican Gov. Pat McCrory in 2016 and have vowed to keep working.
In contrast, in Kentucky and South Carolina, the Democratic Party is reckoning with its decision to invest over $195 million in two longer-shot Senate candidates — ultimately with little to show for it. As Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) has argued, the losses resulted, in part, from a failure to invest in infrastructure that lasts longer than the latest candidate. After losing his own reelection bid, Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) said that Georgia should serve as an example to the party and that the “DSCC and DCCC spend too much time investing in candidates and not the electorate.”
Today, those in Georgia know that the focus can’t only be on the Rev. Raphael Warnock or Jon Ossoff; it has to be on the people of the state. With so much riding on these two Senate races, the question remains whether national organizations will invest in the tactics of organizers there, including relational organizing and in-person canvassing. In the words of Black Voters Matter co-founder LaTosha Brown, only a friend or family member can get “people to believe in their own power.”
In the next seven weeks, as progressives everywhere do everything they can to help win these Senate seats, out-of-state volunteers would be wise to look for opportunities that will support the organizations that have been creating the kind of long-term infrastructure that drives that belief. Instead of parachuting into the Peach State, let’s lift up the organizing efforts that will deliver wins for decades to come. If we do that, Georgia could again be a victory by the many — and for the many.