The Lesson Of Stacey Abrams

Sometimes columnists like to write about the United States the way we frequently refer the “third world” (much of which is doing better at confronting Corona than the “first world.”) Provincial words rarely used for Americans, like “villager,” crop up in these columns, as do references to despots and corruption. Sometimes, when you use the same language to describe two separate places, they end up sounding remarkably the same.

The first time I saw this done — I’m sure it was done before this, but this was my first — an election was described thusly: a man in danger of losing his leadership role turned to the prelate ruled by his brother, and the court he helped hand-pick, and grabbed back his power. That would be the Bushes, George and Jeb, and the Supreme Court, all in 2000.

Now try this: In 2018 the man in charge of supervising an election decided he wanted to a bigger leadership role, and to aid his effort, threw over 100,000 voters, mostly minorities, off the state rolls — and then won by about 60,000 votes.

That was Brian Kemp, who “beat” Stacey Abrams to become governor of Georgia. Because this happened in the United States, we’re just going to take it as “that’s the way things happen,” but if you were reading about that in some foreign journal the brazenness of the corruption would be breathtaking.

(And then, this being America, we would shake our heads and go about our business, much as we/me are too wrapped up in our own issues to pay heed to the earthquake in Turkey, the massive typhoon ripping through the Philippines, or the university shooting in Afghanistan. Never mind the daily covid counts, which have become numbing even if you’re talking about your own state or locale.)

But instead of getting mad, Ms. Abrams decided to get even. But not really: it’s not revenge she’s seeking, but inclusion. And so instead of slinking off in defeat, or retreating to plot her next campaign, she got busy.

She formed three different organizations, and for the past two years these groups have focused on combating voter suppression, expanding economic equality and making sure marginalized groups got counted in the census.

Activists have come out in force in Georgia, but almost all of them point to Abrams and say that if their state is in play this year, it’s due to her tireless efforts. Although one man did give some credit to the U.S. president, who won Georgia by five points four years ago: “He’s really organized Democrats in the suburbs.”

Georgia is still a crapshoot, with no guarantee of a blue turnover tomorrow, but the fact that it’s this close is a tribute to Ms. Abrams’ herculean efforts. Don’t slink away mad; organize!

Today, as the “president” takes to his social media to overtly congratulate his supporters’ attempts at voter intimidation, and just up the road from Georgia where police took it upon themselves to pepper spray a peaceful group pausing in protest before a confederate monument before heading to vote, the wrongness of this ought to strike every true American, regardless of whether a columnist frames it in terms we usually reserve for Africa or not.

Every citizen deserves the right to vote.

There seems to be an appalling slice of Republicans who don’t believe that, people who see suppression of the “wrong kind” of voter as something to champion. How is that remotely democratic? These are the same people waving their American flags and touting their American patriotism.

From my earliest years in school I heard America referred to as “a melting pot,” and now that our whiteness is melting away that seems to be alarming people who apparently only bought into the premise of this nation as long as it suited their needs.

I also keep hearing that people who vote for the president don’t necessarily like him. What they love is that he is “sticking it” to people like me, a coastal elite, apparently, in the rural mountains of Colorado.

I have to say, I have never gone to the polls with the intention to vote for someone just because it would make other people mad, like that would bring me some joy. I have voted against some people, for some others, but I always based it on the candidates themselves rather than on the notion that I might be able to provoke some reaction from my fellow Americans.

Dangerous genies have been let out of their bottles, and as I watch store after store in cities across the country start to board up their windows in anticipation of a land-borne, politically-induced hurricane this week, I wonder what we have become.

We should be celebrating the historic voter turnout. I read of a 70-year-old woman, casting a ballot for the first time in her life. I believe former basketball great Shaquille O’Neal has done the same thing. Young people seem to be taking more of an interest than usual. These are moments to champion, not scorn.

We should be lamenting the idiotic policies put in place to try to stem this tide that’s turning. Not counting ballots because they don’t come in their secrecy sleeve? That has absolutely nothing to do with a person’s ability to cast a ballot, and it is meaningless in terms of that ballot’s worthiness.

Setting out only one collection box per county, regardless of whether it’s a rural county sprawling across the miles, or a county of nearly 5 million eligible voters? That doesn’t seem to have stopped the determined voters in Texas, who have already exceeded the total number of voters from 2016.

As a person of privilege, I have never had a problem voting. The county clerk came to my English class my senior year in high school and registered any of us 18- and even 18-to-be (like me)-year-olds who wanted to sign up. I have missed some special district elections along the way, which is nothing to be proud of, but I have voted in every city, state and national election since. It is not just my right as a citizen, but my responsibility.

The Crested Butte News ran a fun picture of a woman dropping off her early ballot by horseback. But for a young horsewoman of the Dine (“You say corn; we call it maize”; we call them Navajo; they call themselves the Dine, the people), this has turned into her crusade this year, to motivate people across a far-flung, three-state reservation to turn out and vote.

Allie Young’s pride in being both Dine and American shines through this video, which doesn’t have nearly the number of views it should, so I’m encouraging you to forward it to your friends and social contacts.

But above all, please heed the work of folks like Allie Young and Stacey Abrams. This is your country. Vote for it.

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