Led by the Georgia NAACP, protestors gathered with masks on and fists raised to send a message to state legislators. Chants of “do your job” and “you gonna lose your job” rang out from protestors attending Monday’s March on Georgia.
Before marching to the state capitol, participants gathered beside the Richard B. Russell Federal Building in Atlanta to listen to a full program of speakers including Georgia NAACP President Rev. James Woodall, Atlanta Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce, state Rep. Bee Nguyen, state Sen. Tonya Anderson, and Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of GALEO. Rapper Jeezy emceed the event.
Focusing on the convergence of several injustices in Georgia’s current political landscape, march organizers vocalized four demands: repeal the state’s citizen’s arrest statute and stand-your-ground laws, oppose SB 463 and improve Georgia’s elections after last week’s disastrous primary, and define the vague term “moral turpitude” in the Georgia Constitution, which is currently interpreted as applying to all felonies and thus used to deny formerly incarcerated persons the right to vote. Citizens arrest and stand-your-ground laws have a racist history and often provide cover for racist vigilante justice, as in the case of Ahmaud Arbery who was killed last February in Brunswick, Georgia.
As previously covered by Prism, voting rights advocates expressed concerns about the fast-tracking of SB 463 ahead of the legislature’s hiatus in March. With the support of the secretary of state, SB 463 was rushed through without a proper hearing and limited public comment on the matter. The bill was originally intended to go into effect ahead of the primary election. Major concerns raised involved issues pertaining to ID requirements and signature match issues, the latter which the secretary of state suggested could give rise to a criminal investigation for voter fraud. Another issue involved a perceived unfunded mandate shifted from state election officials to the counties. In a Twitter thread, Fair Fight Action CEO Lauren Groh-Wargo connected the problems experienced by Georgians on June 9 with the problems previously raised about SB 463.
On the main stage at the federal building, Wanda Mosley, the Georgia state director for Black Voters Matter, addressed the mess that was last Tuesday’s election head on. “What we saw was a failure of our secretary of state to do his job,” said Mosley. “On Tuesday you had one job sir, one job: be the chief administrator of elections. And you failed.”
Pierce was joined onstage by several Atlanta Hawks players and assistant coaches. “What we’re doing today is strategy,” said Pierce. “This is a strategy for us to go before the legislative office and impact change. To impact change in our city and our country for African American men.” Pierce said he wanted to make the State Farm Arena a polling place, reflecting on increasing challenges due to voter suppression.
After marching from the federal building and arriving at the Georgia capitol, organizers held another rally where more lawmakers joined the crowd to share a few words on their first day in session since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Across the morning, speakers emphasized the importance of voting but also the need for sustained civic engagement.
Keith Strickland, founder and CEO of Making the Transition, an organization working with youth, gave the crowd his telephone number to help them get connected to the right elected officials. “We will find out who the people are in your county or city who make the decisions,” said Strickland. “We got to show up, and we got to disrupt where the decisions are made. So we can’t just do this today, we have to do this everyday until the laws protect each and every person.”
State Sen. Nikema Williams stepped out from chambers to share a few words with the crowd, telling participants she intended to introduce multiple pieces of legislation, including a bill to repeal Jefferson Davis’ birthday as a state holiday, end qualified immunity for police officers, and implement same-day voter registration.
“Thank you for being here, [but] I’m going back into the capitol and getting to working for y’all,” said Williams. “Hold me accountable. Keep me apprised. Let me know what I can do for you, because I work for you.”
No stranger to protest at the capitol, Williams was among over a dozen people arrested during a November 2018 protest demanding the acting secretary of state ensure that every vote was counted. Members of the state legislature cannot be arrested in the capitol while in session. Williams was arrested despite being in session while a white male colleague standing nearby was left untouched.
For his part, Woodall has called for people to show up at the capitol for the remainder of the legislative session, which resumed Monday after a three-month break due to the COVID-19 pandemic and has nine business days remaining. “The power is out here on this street,” said Woodall. “The power has been in these streets for the last 19 days. And the power is going to go inside that capitol and demand that they do their job! And if they don’t do their job, guess what we gonna do? Shut it down! We no longer compromise with white supremacy.”
The Georgia NAACP shared plans to publish a voter guide. The entire Georgia legislature is up for reelection this year.
Woodall previously announced the march on a press call with members of the Voter Empowerment Task Force the day after the primary. While obviously distressed across all aspects of election administration for the June 9 primary, task force members expressed optimism about voters showing up shifting away from a narrative that often blames voters when things go awry.
“[These] elections were very hard and were disappointing for a lot of reasons,” said Aklima Khondoker, Georgia state director for All Voting is Local on the press call. “Our democracy failed us, but our people did not fail us. … I am encouraged by our voters, especially in our Black and brown communities, but I am utterly disappointed in the state of our elections in Georgia. And we are here to fight for improvements that we must have for successful November elections.”
As of Tuesday, June 16, election officials were still counting absentee ballots from last week’s election. During the call, several members of the task force stressed that they made multiple attempts to help various county election boards and even the secretary of state’s office cure some of these issues before Election Day.
Helen Butler, executive director of the Georgia Coalition for the Peoples’ Agenda, acknowledged the secretary of state did mail out absentee ballot applications to registered voters as requested. But Butler then pointed out the flawed follow-up process on behalf of the secretary of state and his staff. “We asked prior to Election Day that some [changes] be made and were ignored. This cannot happen in November.”
Gonzalez remarked that the degree of chaos and incompetence was such that would call for election monitors if this were any other country. “We should take every step necessary to ensure a fair and free election in the state of Georgia.”