While She the People founder Aimee Allison waited for candidates to step on stage in Atlanta for the fifth debate in the Democratic presidential primary, she welcomed listeners on a strategy call to discuss mobilizing women of color to lead Democrats to victory in 2020. The featured guest on the call was Aimee Castenell, Communications Director of the New Georgia Project, who talked about the ways Georgia can serve as an example of how to fight against voter suppression tactics that undermine the voting power of women of color.
“Because there’s no path to the White House without women of color, it’s important that we organize and that we organize now,” Allison said. That’s the strategy behind She the People and New Georgia Project, which are laying the groundwork for 2020 by working to engage women of color and expand the electorate.
“Over the last decade, when turnout among women of color has been above the national average, Democrats have won. When their turnout is below, Democrats have lost,” according to She the People’s website, which also points out that women of color are one in four voters in key swing states, including Georgia. However, suppression efforts like voter roll purges and polling place closures have undermined the ability of women of color to exercise the right to vote.
“Voter suppression and structural racism in our voting system affects all of us, and that’s no where more true than Georgia,” said Allison.
Castenell agreed, and noted that the problem also extends outside the state.
“Voter suppression is real and is happening all the time here, but it’s not just a Georgia thing. We need to look to Georgia, because there are examples of voter suppression happening in any state,” Castenell said.
The key, they argued, was taking the electoral strategies honed in Georgia and adapting them in other states that also have major networks of women of color waiting to be activated. In addition to Georgia, in 2020 She the People’s efforts will focus on the battleground states of Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin.
“Paying attention to how we respond here [in Georgia] is important to how we respond in those other states,” said Castenell. The New Georgia Project, founded by 2018 Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams in 2013, aims to register young people of color to vote in Georgia by meeting them in their community spaces, such as churches, college campuses, and in their neighborhoods.
After her historic campaign, Abrams wrote a playbook for competing in Georgia, which she then shared with each of the Democratic presidential candidates. Despite the drastic voter purge overseen by her Republican opponent, then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp, Abrams came within 1.4 percentage points of winning the election. Her near-win was the result of months of organizing by political groups led by Black women, a voting bloc which Allison says has been crucial to Democratic victories like the election of Doug Jones, the first Democrat to represent Alabama in the Senate in 25 years.
On the strategy call, Castenell said that the purge of hundreds of thousands of voters in Georgia in 2018 was a direct backlash to organizers’ efforts to increase turnout among an increasingly diverse population. The New Georgia Project has since fought back, registering 75,000 new voters since January 2019 and working to reach 700,000 unregistered voters of color by 2020.
While voter suppression got no airtime during the first four debates, the subject finally arose on stage in Atlanta on Wednesday night following a question on abortion access which New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker noted “is a voter suppression issue.”
“Right here in this great state of Georgia, it was the voter suppression particularly of African American communities that prevented us from having a Governor Stacey Abrams right now,” Booker said.
During the debate, a few candidates echoed She the People’s strategic approach to voter mobilization. California Sen. Kamala Harris identified Black women as “the backbone of the Democratic Party,” but said they are nevertheless taken for granted by Democratic candidates.
“They show up close to election time, show up at the Black church and want to get the vote, but just haven’t been there before,” Harris said. “At some point folks get tired of [candidates] thanking me for showing up and say, ‘Well, show up for me.’”