Georgia Organizers and the GOP Square Off in a Fight for the Future

The Senate runoffs in Georgia could change everything. Here’s what you need to know, what you can do to help and what you absolutely should not do.

TRANSCRIPT

Note: This a rush transcript and has been lightly edited for clarity. Copy may not be in its final form.

Kelly Hayes: Welcome to “Movement Memos,” a Truthout podcast about things you should know if you want to change the world, I’m your host, Kelly Hayes. Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump in the state of Georgia was finally certified on Friday. The Trump campaign has insisted upon a recount, which will be concluded by computer scan, but at long last, the results are official. Now, with critical Senate runoffs in the works, all eyes remain fixed on Georgia. So what did it take for Georgia organizers to get this far, and what do they need to win? Most of us have a lot to learn from people on the ground, so with so many people’s hopes invested in these Senate races, I wanted to bring back my friend, Anoa Changa, who joined us in September for one of my favorite episodes of “Movement Memos” ever, which was called “How to do More Than Panic About Voter Suppression.” Anoa Changa, welcome back to the show.

Anoa Changa: Kelly, thank you so much for having me.

KH: How are you doing, friend?

AC: It’s real. I am doing pretty all right, but it is a very real moment we are in right now.

KH: Well, I know this has been a marathon for you all, so first, I just want to say congratulations on those election results finally being certified. What a hard fought victory.

AC: It feels like it has been, I don’t know, years since that happened. Thanksgiving week makes three weeks since the actual election concluded. And yet here we are. We just had our election in Georgia certified on Friday, and we are now still seeing rumblings of Trump lawsuits and another recount. And it’s just, it’s a never ending cycle, but it is an amazing testament in terms of like that initial outcome in the general election, in terms of the state shifting, it’s a testament to the long term and deep organizing that has been done by so many groups of people.

And you know, folks will pay homage, give credit to Stacey Abrams, and rightfully so. Stacey definitely deserves a good bit of credit. But there are also, as I wrote about recently for Truthout, there are so many other folks who have also contributed to this. And again, you know, Stacey herself has acknowledged it. It has been a huge collective effort. And just watching people’s watching, I guess, proof of concept, you know, kind of come to fruition for everyone else to see and to know what we’ve been seeing happening here was kind of amazing to watch unfold.

KH: When we talked about the voter suppression and what you all were up against, back in September, we talked about how little support you all have had over the years, in confronting the gains that Republicans were making, in terms of voter suppression, the last decade. To overcome that apparatus and secure a Biden victory, in the middle of a pandemic — I think you are absolutely right that we all have so much to learn from what you all accomplished, which is why it’s important to dig into the details. Because the mainstream media will always exceptionalize one or two people, and really that’s structural maintenance. It’s a way of acknowledging an accomplishment, as though they are giving credit where it’s due, when really, they have isolated one person and erased the rest of the story. And people like Stacey Abrams don’t make those decisions, because they know it undermines the work. People who depend on the status quo make those moves. Because they don’t want us to know how people fuck up the status quo.

But getting back to what’s currently unfolding with Trump and his denial of the outcome of the election, he has requested yet another recount. He is also ranting about signatures being reexamined, and [Governor Brian] Kemp has suggested that “concerns” about signatures be revisited. But the Secretary of State has been clear that it is impossible to reevaluate the signatures, because the ballots were separated from the envelopes they were delivered in a long time ago. Kemp obviously knows this because he used to be secretary of state.

AC: Yeah, kind of used to be his job.

KH: Totally. And for other Georgia Republicans, the stakes aren’t limited to the presidential race, which Trump has clearly lost. So as we look toward the runoff, what do you think Kemp and other Georgia Republicans are trying to accomplish right now?

AC: We are still in the middle of a public health crisis of major proportions. We’re still in the middle of a pandemic… And the puppy just came in. I’m sorry. Hold on for just a second.

KH: It is getting harder and harder to stop my cat from making cameos on the show.

AC: [Laughter] I’ll be right back, sweetheart, you stay there, I’m going to go. I’ll be back. Don’t look at me evil like that.

Okay so, we’re still in the middle of a public health crisis, right, COVID-19 pandemic. And not only are we still in the middle of panic, it’s actually surging again. And so we are seeing this onslaught, this attack on the use of absentee ballots. We saw it happening earlier on the pandemic around the primary when folks were first talking about an encouraging vote by mail and scaling up absentee ballot use. We saw Wisconsin Republicans, we saw the head of the Republicans in the Georgia House speaking out against absentee ballot use. We saw the outgoing president making some comments about absentee ballots. And generally there’s this fear that if we start having people use a more accessible form of voting, particularly in the middle of a public health crisis, that somehow Republicans will never, ever get elected ever again. And they keep saying these things out loud while simultaneously trying to convince everyone that it’s not safe, that there’s all this fraud, that there are all these issues. And really all the fraud is are people not voting for them. And in particular, we’re talking about brown and other voters of color.

And so what we’re seeing happening here in Georgia is, we have the two U.S. Senate race runoffs for the two U.S. Senate seat runoffs. And then we also have a public service commission, a statewide election that’s at stake that’s also happening on January 5th. So there’s quite a bit at stake, but it’s not just these seats that are happening in this current moment. It’s looking forward to what can happen in 2022. And whether or not — whomever runs for governor, whether it’s Stacey Abrams, who has been rumored in a few articles recently to be mulling another run, or whatever, being able to shift the state level government, the state elected officials, would be a huge game changer for folks here in Georgia, particularly when we’re talking about the administration of elections, if a new secretary of state happens to not be a Republican, right? Same with governor, same with so many decisions. We’re one of the states that — I mean, our governor literally sued my mayor, the mayor of Atlanta, over a mask mandate, and y’all, not because he wanted to enforce a mask mandate, but quite the opposite. So there’s a lot happening at stake right now.

And so we’re seeing the groundwork be laid through the ridiculous notions and Trump’s claims. When they’re talking about checking the signatures — and to people who may not know more, to people who are not listening beyond soundbites, that may seem like a logical, rational request being made. But it is not when the Republican secretary of state, who is also trying to make sure everybody knows how much he loves Trump by, in the middle of press conferences or interviews saying, you know, “I’m a Trump Republican, by the way,” which is wild. But when we’re talking about the signature match concerns, these are not valid concerns. The process as prescribed by law is what has been followed. What we have are a bunch of sore losers and people scared about losing their power, being mad that the laws, as restrictive as they keep trying to make the laws, the will of the people, our power, endurance, collective organizing, has just surpassed their abilities to limit and minimize us.

And so when we’re talking about these signatures and matching up, when you think about an absentee ballot for folks who voted absentee, you put your ballot inside the envelope. For those of us who live in states that require a signature matching, we sign the envelope. So the envelope has been signed that is your actual envelope for your actual ballot. Once it is verified, as the secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, has said multiple times, the procedure is that it’s verified, that that ballot, that envelope, belongs to that person. Right? That they requested, that submitted it. The other point in the process where that signature is checked is at application. So when folks are applying on the paper forms, so whether they’re sending it in by mail or scanning it in to either fax or send by email, you have to sign the application. So the signature, because they’ll reject, they have rejected people’s applications for not matching the signature on file with the DMV or wherever else upon a signature from. So that’s the other point where they check the signature before even processing the ballot. The other procedure for requesting a ballot, which is requesting it through the online system, it matches up the voter record with what has been pulled over from the DMV to make sure that person is who they say they are, right? So the online request system, not anyone can just request an absentee ballot. You have to have a valid Georgia driver’s license or state I.D., and you have to have been registered and your voter registration has to be attached to your DMV record, which means that you register to vote through the DMV. If you are not someone who has registered to vote through the DMV, but you’re registered to vote and you have a valid license, it’s possible that your record might not show up in the system. We found this out, a colleague of mine, that’s her exact situation. She is a registered voter. She does have a valid license. They’re just not connected because she didn’t register to vote through the DMV. So there are all these different steps in the process long before a vote was even counted.

So, to claim that the land of voter suppression, Georgia, like Georgia has a storied history of voter suppression, right? So it’s fascinating for Republicans to, with straight faces, make the accusations about the system in the process that they’re making right now.

KH: Well, first of all, I love this, because I feel like I’m in school right now and that’s exactly where I need to be. So can you tell us a bit more about the on-the-ground work that’s happening?

AC: I mean, right now, part of this is multi-tiered, as it has always been, right? So it’s like a truncated version of what has already been happening over the last several years. There’s about seven weeks or so into the upcoming election, six, seven weeks to the upcoming election. Folks are trying to make sure anyone who wasn’t already registered is registered. There was a change in law, so previously under Georgia law, if you had not voted in the general election, you would not be allowed to vote in the runoff. That has changed. Folks can register and vote newly for this runoff election, so long as there are not some cheeky Twitter liberal who’s like, “Hey, I’m going to Georgia for the runoff, let me go vote.” Those people have actually caused us a lot more grief because now we have all these unfounded allegations being made about people moving in from out of town to come vote, which isn’t happening. But we have folks making sure folks are able to vote. There [are] about 25,000 or so anticipated potential voters who will be turning eighteen by January 5th. Those young folks are eligible to register to vote between now and December 7th to vote in this upcoming election, so there’s been a major push. We saw historic turnout in terms of younger voters under the age of twenty five. And so folks are really trying to get youth out and engaged around the ballot this cycle.

And so we see that happening in terms of voter registration, making sure folks who, even if you voted, just double checking your registration, because we do live in a state with this current administration, just like the predecessor, is known to remove people from the rolls. And so just making sure that people are alert and aware of what’s happening and if people are noticing any issues when they’re trying to vote, either in early voting or we have some runoffs that are actually happening now for some local races, if folks are noticing anything, we encourage people to make sure that they’re checking in with election protection folks or other voting rights organizations that are collecting that data. Because part of how we’ve been able to change things like the signature match issues, like the cure — well previously there wasn’t really a cure process. Now there has been a cure process, which is why the number of ballots that were dismissed because of signature issues reduced significantly, is because now there’s this cure process in place that wasn’t there before. So these are all things folks are capturing the different testimonials and stories of people in the process so that if there has to be any legal challenges, that is also part of it. And then we see folks scaling up their organizing. WFP has a Georgia team, Georgia presence now. So their team actually has launched a series of canvasses yesterday. And when we’re talking about canvassing, they’re doing no contact canvassing. So it’s more like lit drops than door knocking per se. So lit drop is literally what it sounds like, y’all. You’re dropping literature at somebody’s house. You do not put anything in people’s mailbox. It’s illegal, actually, to touch people’s mailboxes when you’re doing that type of work.

So these are some of the things that are kind of going on and just still kind of engaging with cultural influencers, and community leaders, and people, so that folks are staying up to date. Because we had some changes — because of all the delays with the count and certification, there was some constantly changing deadlines around early voting. So making sure people have good information. I mean, making sure people have good information is so crucial to all the work everyone does. But really right now, when we have a runoff election, making sure people understand why this is important and why you need to come out, “Yes, you’ve got to vote one more time,” in this present moment is a part of that work and just making sure that we have as much turnout as possible. It’s a little tight for their December first, like I said, local runoff races. So it’s been tight and folks were not able, for the most part, to probably request their absentee ballots, but encouraging people to take advantage of early voting. But then encouraging everyone who’s able to request an absentee ballot for January 5th to do so, particularly again with the virus. You know, corona is still spiking, it’s the holiday season, just trying to minimize as much harm to folks as possible and just recognize that people are probably tired. It’s been a long year, but we still have one more hurdle to climb in terms of the election process itself.

KH: Thank you for that rundown of what local folks who know the terrain, and know what they’re doing, are working on. What should people who live outside of Georgia, who are really passionate about this race, and really want to help out, be doing right now? And what shouldn’t they be doing?

AC: I appreciate you asking about what folks should not be doing, right? Because it’s really –I mean, I think this is something, and I’m sure you know this from your own work in Chicago, it’s just the parachuting in or coming in and telling folks who have been doing the daily grind — that’s like number one, right? That’s for like all of us who do all the things everywhere, like the parachuting in and telling other people what they need to be doing or what it takes to win, particularly when you haven’t won. It’s so wild seeing people who have worked with winning or losing, rather, losing campaigns, losing strategies, talk about what should happen and, yes, specifically talking about Dem leadership claiming that Georgia needs to run to the middle or whatever the case may be. That literally was not — that has not worked.

You know, back in 2014, when Jason Carter ran for governor, Jimmy Carter’s grandson and Nunn ran for senator, the idea, it was the same type of idea — run to the middle. You need to kind of pull off some Republicans. This is how you win. But that has been proven time and again to not be effective in the mass moving. And while there are some who want to rush to give credit to white Trump voters defecting and voting for Biden, what we’re actually seeing is that it was a massive, multiracial coalition across the state that helped push Biden over the threshold for winning the state. And so while some folks did stay home, in terms of people who supported Trump, that’s different than converting people and having people turning out and voting for Biden, right, who are appealed to some moderate message. And so what we’re seeing happening now is that we have this parachuting in. We have folks telling people what to do. And myself, others, we’re really posting like, “If you want to help what’s happening in Georgia, you need to connect with organizers, organizations that are already doing this work and see what they need.” And there’s been, like, one or two different articles about this. I think Huffington Post and Washington Post both have articles about that, specifically. I wrote for Truthout a piece looking at some of the work that’s done by Black Voters Matter, the Asian American Advocacy Fund, and 9to5 Georgia, just three organizations out of the many that have been doing work here. But it’s so colonial in mentality, it’s so, it’s like electoral white supremacy to assume that you know more than the local people, right? And again, we see this happening in a lot of places, particularly around matters of voting rights. Well, not even this particularly, I mean, around anything, really.

But I also think that we need to be listening. So that’s a part of the parachuting in. But we also need to be listening to what people are saying they need support with. We have collectives of people who do this work year round. They do it year round nonstop, and oftentimes they’re under-resourced, under-supported, they are stretching budgets to the max, if they’re blessed enough to even have a budget. And while I know it might seem trite, folks might feel some type of way, like, at the, “Just give money,” but people really need to decentered themselves and understand, like, “Are you upset that you’re being told to donate just because you want to feel more valuable and important and you don’t feel like donating gives you that sense of importance?” Because that’s what we’re seeing with a lot of this stuff, too, is people want to feel needed and want to feel important versus what do folks on the ground need to snatch these wins, right? And so ultimately, that’s what we need to think about, “What can we all do collectively to move this effort forward?” Not, “What do I need to do to feel the most valuable?” And so, decentering ourselves, or not centering yourself — is definitely something that shouldn’t be happening.

And then also, I mean, I know people mean well with postcards, and I think different people have different opinions on postcards and whether they help. So postcards feel good, as a volunteer, you’re knocking out a bunch of postcards, your group is doing them. That’s wonderful. But if they’re not connected to something else, it’s something — especially where if you’re contacting new or first time voters, it can be eerie, like having people that you don’t know, especially if you’re new to the process, sending you information. Because if people don’t know any better, I mean, we went through this. My daughter knows more about all this stuff because she’s been around me for several years and we talk all about this. But it was even creepy for her receiving all the different postcards. This stuff about first time voters, she’s like, “Why do they know my business?” First, she was mad at me, actually, because she thought it was because I talk about our voting together for the first time on social media. She was so mad at me because my kids really don’t necessarily like to be the center of attention of my social media. But then she realized that the organizations were just doing this because her dad, who, he hasn’t voted in, I don’t know, probably since Obama’s first term. He also was getting the postcards and stuff. And so she was like, “Oh, they’re sending them to Dad, too. Well, I know you don’t talk about him on social media.”

So it was just really interesting, the recognition. But, like, so the postcards, I mean, they can be good, you know, if they’re coupled as a part of a larger campaign of outreach. Right? But if they’re not actually connected to something else, folks may want to rethink spending that volunteer time, maybe phone banking or text banking. Or I was reading something else that said, actually, letters do better than postcards, which is really interesting. But I think there’s something else that’s less personal about the postcard, maybe, I’m not really sure, than the letter.

But I think those are three things: not parachuting in, decentering yourself, and finding another way to volunteer than postcards could be some things that I think folks should really be thinking about right now.

KH: So you had mentioned a bit about the pandemic and how it’s been affecting things, as we know, things are getting a lot worse right now and things are expected to continue to escalate. How do you expect that to impact the run off or do you think it’s even impossible to know?

AC: I think it just depends on if we see any shenanigans from the state or with election administrators, if we suddenly see a change in the number of polling locations, if we start seeing things like that, I think there could be some issues. We have seen, just like we saw with youth voters turning out to vote. We’ve seen younger folks showing up, and younger I mean like, under 50, 60 year-olds, showing up to volunteer to work the polls, too. So we are seeing, you know, the staffing necessary exists for working the polls. A lot of the organizations are asking for things like PPE. So even though we have folks who are out there doing contactless outreach through lit drops, etc., organizations are still trying to make sure that they’re keeping folks who are working for them as safe as possible, making sure they’re providing PPE, hand sanitizer, gloves, etc. And so we’re seeing people make requests for donations for that type of stuff to continue to do the work that they’re doing. But I also think, again, when we’re seeing this push coupled with the holidays, coupled with what we’ve already seen, issues with the mail and being able to request absentee ballots, and making sure everyone understands, and then the processing — there were delays in terms of processing absentee ballots, the requests before, getting the ballots, and so making sure, it’s at such a tight turnaround, so making sure that people have what they need to actually get out there. It’s also really interesting because we have these ongoing, we’ve had I think in the past week, we’ve had two protests, two or three protests from Trump supporters, getting upset about the outcome of the election. And it’s unclear how these people will show up. Because there was a video from one protest, from one group of folks saying that they were going to show up if folks didn’t do something about the election. And so we have the ruling party here in the state creating this air of concern or suspiciousness around an election that was actually carried out rather fairly in many instances, but now using that as a subterfuge to, what we suspect, is going to set up the precursor to being able to undermine the ability of carrying out free and fair elections, and increasing voter suppression, voter disenfranchisement in the state. All of this conversation, they’re also talking about challenging people’s ballots that come from newly registered people. There is a real massive effort that’s scaling up. And so being able to provide support to organizations that are doing voting rights, election protection work, is really critical right now.

KH: The last time you were on the show, we talked about the mass disenfranchisement of people with felony convictions. In Florida, where voter suppression is also rampant, voters actually used the electoral process itself to re-enfranchise people with felony convictions by voting in support of Amendment Four. But Republicans couldn’t have that, so now people with those convictions have to pay fines and fees that, sometimes, there’s not even an existing record of, so there’s literally no way for them to pay. The U.S. has really normalized criminalization as a means of disenfranchisement, to such an extent that people act like it’s a fundamental rule in any democracy, when clearly it’s anything but standard. Many countries allow imprisoned people to vote, and only four other so-called democracies prevent people from voting once they get out of prison. So I am thinking about that particular brand of voter suppression, and how Republicans get away with it, which I think connects really horribly with how politicians are getting away with leaving imprisoned people caged in the path of COVID-19. The confluence of a pandemic and mass voter suppression is nightmarish under any circumstances, but for people who are already experiencing civil death, I can’t even imagine what this moment is like. What are your thoughts on how civil death and the threat of death by COVID-19 connect in this moment?

AC: I don’t know that there is really a valid reason for imposing civil death on people in terms of their individual right to be able to cast their individual ballot. Right? That is just such a wild thing that has become accepted as normal when, in fact, we have some of the whiter states that allow for incarcerated folks to still vote, or they have varying degrees of restoration after release. I mean, when we’re looking at places like Georgia, like Florida. Florida is where Amendment Four was passed and then the Florida legislature, you know, curtailed it the way it did. We’re looking at, I mean, or Alabama, Tennessee, basically anywhere in the south and some several other states that make it very difficult for folks to have their rights reinstated. And so we have people who are being subjugated to atrocious conditions, again, in the middle of a major health pandemic. They’re not being given proper ability to actually deal with social distancing, all the things that we’re able that we’re supposed to be doing, folks [inside prisons] are not being given the same resources, materials or opportunities to do those things. And so they’re not treated as a population worthy of advocating for by so many elected officials.

One of the lead organizers with Formerly Incarcerated Convicted People and Families, who said to me once in an interview, she was just like, folks take for granted that incarcerated folks are folks who have been formerly incarcerated and had felonies, don’t have the right to vote, who don’t have the rights restored, can’t vote, but their families, their communities, the people that are tied to them do vote. And so we as a collective need to start leveraging our voice and our vote. And we’re starting to, I think we’re starting to see some of that starting to happen. But it’s still too widely acceptable for folks to be treated as if they are expendable simply because they’re behind bars.

And that I think when we talk about especially we have people who talk about like, “I vote the Bible,” or, “I’m a good Christian,” like even people who are not religious like the claim to have certain moral values, our willingness to overlook the the humanity of other people, like just the basic human rights and human decency, because people, quote unquote, “did something wrong.” I mean, a lot of people did something wrong.

Like I really like how more than half probably of folks who are in elected office, quote unquote, “did something wrong.” And yet and still they’re given all this deference and respect even as they’re out here infecting other people. I mean, I’ve lost count of how many Republican elected officials have now contracted COVID and are possibly exposing other people with their intentional refusal to wear masks? But that’s a whole nother conversation. But I just think that what we’re seeing right now as we’re transitioning into a new administration, as we still have this election process going on here in Georgia, that we need to be thinking about those folks who aren’t necessarily able to access the ballot. I think it’s a similar situation where we talk about members of the undocumented community who are also not able to vote different reasons. But their rights, their ability to exist and thrive is just as important as anyone else’s. And so how do we help organize as allies and people in these spaces, but also taking their values with us when we’re going into the voting booth?

KH: Well, thank you for that very thoughtful take on how these issues are colliding, and I hope our listeners are also reflecting on the connectedness of these issues. Because we aren’t gonna make it by leaving people behind. Well, if folks want to get more involved and support organizers on the ground in Georgia, you can find links to some important resources in the show notes of this episode on our website. We try to always add links to the show notes that can help you all follow up on the issues we discuss and get more involved, and I hope you all will check out that content and support groups like the New Georgia Project, because they definitely deserve it. Anoa, I want to thank you so much for joining us today. I definitely learned a lot, and always do when we talk.

AC: Absolutely, I love talking with you, Kelly.

KH: Same goes. I hope we can do it again soon.

I also want to thank our listeners for joining us today, and remember, our best defense against cynicism is to do good, and to remember, that the good we do matters. Until next time, I’ll see you in the streets.

Show Notes

Recommended reading:

Grassroots Organizers Flipped Georgia Blue. Here’s How They Did It. by Anoa Changa

Some groups to support in Georgia:

The New Georgia Project

Black Voters Matter

Center for Pan Asian Community Services

Fair Fight

Georgia 55 Project

GALEO

Georgia Muslim Voter Project

Georgia Shift

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