Stacey Abrams, the secret weapon of Democratic success in Georgia

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The African-American activist, who was able to become vice president, has been key to advancing in this southern and traditionally conservative state

Behind a giant Donald Trump mask crossed out with an X, a black man walks through the park shouting: “We are going to kick his ass.” Beside him, a girl in a white chiffon dress runs around with a sign in her hands: “Thank you voters.” Anger was mixed with empathy and happiness for Joe Biden’s victory this Saturday at Freedom Park in Atlanta, the capital of Georgia, a symbol of democratic advances among the African-American community in the deep south of the country. Here in the land of Martin Luther King, Biden’s candidacy has challenged a Republican hegemony that has lasted for more than two decades. And behind the Democratic success, pushing quietly has been Stacey Abrams, a young veteran of activism in Georgia.

Stacey Abrams could have spent these last days in armor at the headquarters of the Democratic party in Washington, surrounded by advisers, reports and polls, waiting impatiently for the time to officially proclaim herself vice president of the United States. Until spring, this 46-year-old black lawyer was still on the scene. in the final shortlist of possible candidates for number two of Joe Biden. Rising star of the party and a symbol of the new blood among the Democratic ranks, his candidacy was declined precisely because of his profile turned to activism and his little institutional experience. Back on the streets of Georgia, Abrams has continued to do perhaps even more valuable work: leading the battle against electoral laws that, in southern states like his, are one of the main obstacles to awakening the proverbially sleepy vote among citizens. most disadvantaged African Americans. An electoral fishing ground that, in the end, has been decisive in raising Biden to the White House.

Georgia is on its way this Saturday (with 99% scrutinized) of becoming the only Democratic oasis in the traditionally conservative southern belt. In Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana or Arkansas Donad Trump has swept, doubling his opponent in number of votes. Early election day results Tuesday put Trump ahead in Georgia too, but Biden pulled off an epic comeback, thanks to massive anticipated turnout, which is being scrutinized last. If the turnaround is confirmed and at the expense of the more than possible vote count given the narrow margin of victory (just 0.1%), it would be a great symbolic blow – no democrat has won this southern state for 24 years – to further shore up plus Biden’s victory.

Georgia has broken all of its all-time participation records with more than 4 million registered votes. And Stacey Abrams has been one of its biggest leaders. In Atlanta, subway stations have been advertising an exhibition of political murals all week. Martin Luther King appears in the center of the image, entwining his arms in a human chain with three other African-American militants from the 1960s. Below, Champ Williams, a 46-year-old black neighbor, explains the decisive influence of the attorney who was able to become vice president: “How much has Biden made in Georgia? 5,000 votes? And how many voters has Abrams helped register? 800.0000? The accounts come out easy. Thanks to her, the Democrats have finally won here. “

Abrams’ race is a succession of obstacles overcome. She was the first black woman in charge of responding to the State of the Union address. She was also the first black woman to be elected a candidate for governor, a battle she ultimately lost in 2018 to Republican Brian Kemp amid serious allegations of vote rigging. That defeat, in fact, made her stronger and projected her as a recognizable leader within the more progressive wing of the party. Already outside the bench of the Democratic minority in the State Congress, he redoubled his efforts against the electoral bureaucracy, guaranteeing the rights of the most forgotten voters who were often left out due to tricks and formal issues such as typographical errors on the ballot. In the last two years, the party’s official calculations are that his work at the head of organizations such as Fair Fight (fair fight) or Fair Count (fair count) has led to the entry of 800,000 new voters.

His work has been applauded this week across the diverse American progressive spectrum. From the actress Viola Davis, through the basketball player Lebron James, to the former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton herself. Another of the representative figures of the new wave within the Democratic party, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, detailed in a tweet the basis of her work: “It is an example of how crucial it is to reach out to communities. This is the traditional way of doing politics, which is so often sacrificed to negotiations in the corridors ”.

Downtown Atlanta, like other large American cities, became a stronghold from Election Day. At nightfall, shops and offices erect a stockade to protect themselves from possible disturbances. The churches are one of the few public buildings that are not armored. Instead of wooden walls, on the door of a Baptist temple there is a flag with the motto of Black Lives Matter, the movement for racial justice that has caught fire across the country. “It is a change of cycle, which puts us in tune with the times. At last in a black southern state the progressives win, ”said Alice Coleman, a 26-year-old costume designer who moved from neighboring Alabama two years ago in front of the church.

Regaining Georgia has been since the last election – Clinton fell five points behind Trump in 2016 – a Democratic dream. The progressive demographic and economic change in the State opened up new possibilities of victory, following the path of the fiefdoms already recovered in the south of the west coast —Colorado, Nevada or New Mexico— due to the weight of migration above all. Its main cities — Atlanta, Savannah, Augusta — have received heavy investment from different industries in recent years, attracting workers from other states and refining the traditionally conservative image of the South. Since the landing of the French group PSA, the second European vehicle manufacturer; to the burgeoning culture industry, with a determined policy of tax incentives that has attracted part of Hollywood’s liberal aristocracy.

Despite retaining a majority of the white population (more than 50%), internal migration and demographic changes have widened the segment of young voters and African Americans, a fishing ground for the Democratic vote and highly sensitized to the wave of protests for racial justice caused by the deaths of black citizens at the hands of the police. Among them, that of Rayshard Brooks, 27, shot dead in the streets of Fulton County (Atlanta), one of the progressive strongholds in the city. Of the pool of 800,000 new voters favored by Abrams’ campaign, nearly 50% are young African Americans between the ages of 30 and 45. Furthermore, Biden has not only capitalized on the black vote in the state. It has also managed to scratch almost 30% in the segment of white voters over 40, according to exit polls during the elections.

Despite being considered one of the least impregnable southern fiefdoms, Biden’s campaign did not show much interest until almost the last moment, more focused on recovering the post-industrial states of the North and Middle East, which have ultimately given him the mathematical victory. . The Democratic candidate did not travel to Atlanta until a week before the election. While Trump repeated his visits up to four times. On Tuesday’s election day, the Republican outnumbered him by more than 370,000 votes, more than four percentage points. Massive early and mail-in turnout, chosen overwhelmingly by the Democratic vote, led to the comeback. After scratching the distance day by day as the scrutiny progressed, he took the lead on Friday, although the scrutiny has not yet closed. The metropolitan, popular and mostly black areas of Atlanta have helped boost the candidate. Among them, Clayton County, highly symbolic, having been the district represented by Congressman John Lewis for more than 30 years.

Died in July at the age of 80, Lewis was the last symbol of the generation of black leaders who fought for civil rights in the United States. A monumental figure in the Democratic Party, he had been one of the staunchest opponents of Trump since he came to power, he said openly that he did not consider him a legitimate president, and he was actively involved in the movement. Black Lives Matter. In that same lineage, which begins in Luther King and passes through Lewis, Stacey Abrams now appears as the new heiress with her fight for the electoral rights of black minorities, a battle with strong echoes of the conquest of the black right to vote in 1965 that crowned the civil rights movement.

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