Black organizations across Georgia put in the work to turn state blue

October 12, 2020 Atlanta: Cadarius Parks made it through the line and voted on Monday, Oct. 12, 2020 during the early voting process at State Farm Arena in downtown Atlanta.  (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)
October 12, 2020 Atlanta: Cadarius Parks made it through the line and voted on Monday, Oct. 12, 2020 during the early voting process at State Farm Arena in downtown Atlanta. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

In the months before the Rev. Joseph Lowery died, Helen Butler sat down with him to talk about the organization that he created and she now runs — the Georgia Coalition for the Peoples' Agenda.

In preparation for the November election, Butler had already opened seven offices across the state aimed at mobilizing Black voters. Lowery, her friend and mentor, was looking forward to the day when the Peoples’ Agenda would have offices in each of Georgia’s 14 congressional districts.

“He was very proud of the work that we were doing,” Butler said of the civil rights legend who died in March. “And he would be proud of people and proud of what is happening in Georgia now. He wanted people to exercise their rights and never give up.”

10/13/2020 - Lawrenceville, Georgia - Gwinnett County residents who say they had been waiting in line for 5 hours are eager to cast their ballot as they stand at the front of the line on the second day of early voting at the Gwinnett County Voter Registration and Elections building in Lawrenceville, Tuesday, October 13, 2020.  (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
10/13/2020 - Lawrenceville, Georgia - Gwinnett County residents who say they had been waiting in line for 5 hours are eager to cast their ballot as they stand at the front of the line on the second day of early voting at the Gwinnett County Voter Registration and Elections building in Lawrenceville, Tuesday, October 13, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@

Butler is part of a growing and now powerful coalition of Black leaders and voters who appear to have helped Georgia swing blue in last week’s presidential election. That hasn’t happened since Bill Clinton took the White House in 1992.

Though the votes are still being tallied, and plans for a Georgia recount already have been announced, the numbers right now in exit polls how Black voters in the country supported Joe Biden at an 87% clip, more than any other racial group, by far.

“Black people saved America from Jefferson Davis and now Donald Trump," civil rights activist Jesse Jackson told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

And now, as Georgia barrels toward two runoffs that will decide who controls the U.S. Senate, Black voters will become even more important.

11/03/2020 —  Atlanta, Georgia — Supporters of Raphael Warnock, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, watch as Warnock makes remarks at his headquarters on Election Day in Atlanta’s Sweet Auburn District, Tuesday, November 3, 2020. Warnock is expected to advance to a run-off election in January against a Republican opponent. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
11/03/2020 — Atlanta, Georgia — Supporters of Raphael Warnock, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, watch as Warnock makes remarks at his headquarters on Election Day in Atlanta’s Sweet Auburn District, Tuesday, November 3, 2020. Warnock is expected to advance to a run-off election in January against a Republican opponent. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

“We put in a lot of hard work and that hard work is reaping the rewards,” said John Jackson, chairman of the DeKalb County Democratic Party, the first Black man to hold that position. “Georgia cannot flip without a reasonable turnout from the Black community.”

While Trump was able to peel some Black voters away from the Democratic Party, urban centers such as Atlanta, Milwaukee, Detroit and Philadelphia propelled Biden to the White House.

In addition, Georgia’s Black voters were instrumental in getting the Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff into senatorial runoffs and sending Lucy McBath back to Congress. She’ll be joined by Nikema Williams, who was elected to succeed the late John Lewis in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Congresswoman-elect Nikema Williams, right, gets a hug from a sorority sister of Alpha Kappa Alpha as people celebrate election results for President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris in Atlanta, Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020. (Steve Schaefer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
Congresswoman-elect Nikema Williams, right, gets a hug from a sorority sister of Alpha Kappa Alpha as people celebrate election results for President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris in Atlanta, Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020. (Steve Schaefer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

“Black voters have seen their power in this election,” Williams said. “Once the final votes are tallied, the world will see that power. Black people have always wanted to be engaged in the process.”

Since at least 2018, organizations such as the Peoples' Agenda, Stacey Abrams' Fair Fight‚ Black Voters Matter, the New Georgia Project and even “Get Your Booty to the Poll,” a campaign that rose out of Atlanta strip clubs, have been fighting against voter suppression and to increase the voter rolls, especially for Black and disenfranchised populations.

Some didn’t believe Georgia would flip, “but we just continued to do the work,” said Mary-Pat Hector, an activist and graduate student at Georgia State University. “We refused to leave any votes on the table.”

Focusing on voter suppression and voter turnout, Abrams has registered about 200,000 new voters in Georgia since she lost the 2018 gubernatorial race by 1.4 percentage points.

Former Georgia Minority Leader Stacey Abrams speaks to dozens of Raphael Warnock supporters during Election Day; the democratic candidate try to flip the State Senate to a democratic side on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, 
Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Former Georgia Minority Leader Stacey Abrams speaks to dozens of Raphael Warnock supporters during Election Day; the democratic candidate try to flip the State Senate to a democratic side on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“We are doing a much better job than we have done in the past, but we still have a long way to go,” said the DeKalb County Democratic Party’s Jackson. “It surprises me that we are not bluer. We are a state that is nearly half nonwhite with the second-largest Black population in the country. Georgia should be more like Virginia and less like Florida, and we are not close yet. But that is the goal.”

Trump got about 19% of Black men across the country to vote for him and 9% of Black women. Both figures were higher than his support in 2016.

Nationally, according to exit polls, he garnered 61% of the white male vote and55% of white women.

Derrick Johnson, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said the rising number of Black voters for Trump didn’t surprise him.

Even so, he said: “That still says that about 90% of Black voters will not tolerate white supremacist behavior. There is no community that is expected to have 100% of anything, as if we are a monolith. African Americans have never been a monolith, but we can speak volumes about what is important and the values that we hold.”

John Jackson said that, while Black women have always been extremely active in the political process, there have been too many missed opportunities to engage Black men.

“Men are always the more conservative bloc, so it should never be surprising that more Black men figure out, ‘Hey, I am a conservative,’ ” he said. “But even with that, Black men are the second-most-Democratic demographic in the country. We deserve to be courted and engaged.”

During the presidential campaign, Trump was very active in trying to woo those Black male voters. Last November, he launched his Black Voices for Trump campaign by opening the first office in Atlanta. In the closing months of the campaign, he came to Georgia to unveil his Platinum Plan, which was supposed to invest $500 billion in capital into Black communities.

Leo Smith, a Republican strategist who says he now identifies as an independent, said that, while Trump was losing the white suburban female vote, he was “adding Black male voices and that makes a difference.”

“Trump gave them something they could relate to because he talked to them and told them that they were important,” Smith said. "For the first time, Black men were told, ‘You were important.’ And it had an impact.”

Helen Butler, the Georgia Coalition for the Peoples’ Agenda executive director. TAYLOR CARPENTER / TAYLOR.CARPENTER@AJC.COM
Helen Butler, the Georgia Coalition for the Peoples’ Agenda executive director. TAYLOR CARPENTER / TAYLOR.CARPENTER@AJC.COM

Before the election, Butler said the Peoples' Agenda made more than 1 million phone calls or sent text messages to potential Georgia voters.

The group also held several candidate forums across the state, sent out mailers to educate voters on the candidates, provided rides to the polls and trained more than 1,300 poll workers.

In some places in Georgia, Black residents waited up to eight hours to cast their ballots.

“Black voters showed up, stood in line and were committed to making sure their voices were heard," Butler said. "They were willing to exercise those rights.”

In addition to other issues, the lingering COVID-19 crisis has had an impact on Black and minority voters, she said.

“COVID has really highlighted how all of this is connected to their everyday lives and what it means not to have benefits or be able to work,” Butler said. “Not getting relief programs, not having a plan for mitigating COVID so they can get back to their normal lives, it brought home what public policy and what elected officials do to their everyday lives.”

Mary-Pat Hector poses for a photograph in front of the  John Lewis mural on Auburn Ave in Atlanta, August 6, 2020.  STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
Mary-Pat Hector poses for a photograph in front of the John Lewis mural on Auburn Ave in Atlanta, August 6, 2020. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Hector, the 22-year-old graduate student, was hopeful that the end of the election would allow her to concentrate on school.

She said she hasn’t done her homework in months.

“But we have a runoff coming,” she said. “Now we need to figure out how to keep this momentum going through Jan. 5.”

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