Far, far down the very long list of Donald Trump’s transgressions, which range from petty insults to treason, is something trivial that nonetheless bugs me no end: His ability to suck all the oxygen out of everything, grab the narrative, and destroy anything good.
After Biden’s clear victory in the days after the election, my brief period of joy and relief quickly was subsumed as Trump’s and his enablers’ lies about election fraud sparked widespread denial and defiance among his supporters.
“I thought at least we’d get a bit of a mental health break,” my husband said, “but things just get worse and worse.”
Reality played out on a split screen: election officials counting ballots while white mobs screamed at them; many, though not all, GOP state legislators accepting the results while most Republicans in the U.S. Congress acquiesced to the President’s lies; the courts—including the Trump-packed Supreme Court–holding firm against ridiculous claims; Georgia Republicans Brad Raffensberger, Gabriel Sterling, and even the detestable Brian Kemp–all of whom voted for Trump—becoming unlikely Resistance heroes. Biden’s 7 million plus margin in the popular vote coexisted with the depressing possibility that once again the Electoral College would have rendered those votes irrelevant if a slice of votes in a few swing states had gone the other way. But in the end, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona, Pennsylvania, then Georgia all flipped from red to blue.
Georgia!! Thanks to demographic changes and more than a decade of on-the-ground organizing, mostly by Black women, this deep red state turned a lovely pale shade of blue. Georgia in Biden’s column was thrilling though not decisive. But a tantalizing opportunity emerged: the fate of the U.S Senate rested entirely on the outcome of Georgia’s January 5th run-off elections. Could it happen again?
I didn’t think so. I thought it was unlikely that the Democrats could win one race, let alone the two that would be necessary to pry the Senate Majority Leader’s gavel out of Mitch McConnell’s hands.
Stacey Abrams, founder of the New Georgia Project and Fair Fight, likes to say, ““I’m neither optimistic nor pessimistic—I’m determined.” I tried to channel her attitude. So I rolled up my sleeves and got to work, sending postcards through Reclaim Our Vote and phone banking once or twice a week. My husband and I sent a little money to Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, more money to grassroots organizations on the ground .We were among millions who did the same. Whether or not it would do the trick, at least it would be good for my mental health.
Phone banking is not glamorous. Mostly it’s a tedious exercise in marking “Not Home,” occasional hostility, depressing levels of disinterest. Every now and then, though, a conversation makes it all worthwhile. Calling Georgia for the run-offs had very little of the former, lots of the latter. Caller after caller picked up the phone, especially in the early weeks before every organization under the sun was calling multiple times a day.
Almost everyone was fired up and ready to go. People expressed appreciation for our efforts all the time. They eagerly agreed to get their friends and family to vote. “Don’t worry, we’ve got this,” one man told me right before Election Day. “We’ll be there with our whole block.”
They were, and then some—voters who mailed in their absentee ballots, put them in a drop box, or stood in long lines for early voting; newly minted 18-year-olds casting their first ballot ever; a robust Election Day showing. Turnout was high among Republicans, too, but it was higher among Democrats—with impressive gains not only among Black and suburban voters, but also among young people, Latinx, and Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders.
By the time I went to bed Tuesday night on the West Coast, Warnock had been declared the winner, and it was clear that Ossoff, too, was well on his way to victory. The first Black and Jewish senators from Georgia, running on an unapologetically liberal platform.
All our hard work paid off. Particularly impressive were the tireless and creative efforts of on-the-ground organizers and volunteers who have rolled up their sleeves forever for Georgia and the country. Stacey Abrams, Nse Ufot, LaTosha Brown, and Cliff Albright, of nationally known Fair Fight, New Georgia Project, and Black Voters Matter, are the stars of this movement, this moment. But so are those lesser known who got it done. Abrams noted, “We beat voter suppression.” As Rembert Browne, host of the wonderful “Gaining Ground” podcast summed up, “People stepping up from every corner of Georgia is what turned Georgia blue.”
On Wednesday morning, even though it was cold, I put on my flimsy peach-colored T-shirt to mark the occasion. I had not felt so jubilant, so emotional, since Obama’s 2008 victory. What a glorious day!
Or at least it was before it all turned to shit, joy and hope once again snatched away. Shockingly but not surprisingly, the Mob Boss incited his mob to violently storm the Capitol to stop Congress from formalizing the Electoral College votes. Of course this insurrection is the most important story
But it is not the only one. Remember what happened in Georgia, not just once but twice. This, too, is real. We have the power to help it grow and endure.