The coronavirus disease, or COVID-19, has dominated headlines and conversations around the world as well as challenged the U.S. economy and disrupted the nation’s healthcare system.
As government and health officials unite to resolve the situation, other influential voices are reminding people that the virus will not prevent critical national activities – like the 2020 Census and the presidential election – from occurring.
Stacey Abrams is one of those voices who takes every opportunity to amplify the message, “Coronavirus or not, there will be an election this year and there will be a census this year and if they do not count us, we will not count for a decade!”
Abrams, a lawyer, author and former Minority Leader of the Georgia House of Representatives, gained international acclaim for her historic 2018 campaign as the Democratic candidate for governor of Georgia. Observers may remember that she narrowly lost the gubernatorial race to her opponent, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp. His dual role as election overseer and Republican nominee caused many to charge him of having a conflict of interest and suppressing votes.
Recalling the experience, Abrams said, “What the 2018 election showed me was that there is more work to be done and the urgency of that work. More than not winning the election, what I saw were hundreds of thousands of Georgians being denied their right to be heard and in a democracy, to be heard and seen is fundamental to your participation. It is the power that we have and without that power, we are bully victims of those who have a stolen that power from us!”
Clearly, the experience had an effect on Abrams, but instead of retiring from politics, she intensified her efforts to promote voting rights and voter registration. In 2019, Abrams founded Fair Fight 2020 to encourage voter participation and education and support voter protection programs.
“Fair Fight 2020 operates in 18 states and we have geared up voter protection teams in each of these states,” explained Abrams. “We are working with federal, state in local leaders to make sure that people’s right to vote is protected. We actually have hired staff in each of the states – a director and a field organizer – to make sure that we have the volunteers that we need to be poll watchers and poll workers, which of course becomes a very different conversation in the wake of the coronavirus and COVID-19.”
Even with the limitations caused by the disease, Fair Fight uses hotlines where people can obtain information or report voter suppression and utilizes traditional approaches, such as phone banks and public service announcements to communicate with supporters. In light of COVID-19, Abrams released a statement on March 20, encouraging states to incorporate different approaches to conducting elections that ensure participation without compromising public safety.
While Abrams emphasized each state’s role in ensuring fair elections, she also reminded African Americans and marginalized individuals that they have responsibilities in the effort, too. She stressed that people in those categories must register to vote, connect their vote with others and be purposeful about their voting.
Elaborating on her comments, Abrams noted, “Registration is our ticket to participation. The only real power that you are guaranteed is the power to be heard and that begins with registration.
“But, the second responsibility is to ensure that you don’t do it alone. Your voice alone does not make a decision. It is when you connect your voice to others and link them together. It is one of the hallmarks of the Black community,” she said.
“Number three is that we have to be intentional about our decision,” said Abrams, who remarked that people are often discouraged from voting after witnessing “bad actors” and deciding not to participate in an election. “Our voices matter even more than they have before. We can win our country back this year!”
Abrams advised people who are interested in criminal justice reform to vote “for your judges and your district attorneys.” To environmental activists, she urged voting for “your state legislators; they decide what happens. Be intentional about our vote because it is power to make this country better and make our community stronger and we have to use that power.”
The voting power works in concert with the census participation, added Abrams, who established the nonprofit, Fair Count, to ensure that hard-to-count communities in Georgia and across the nation are accurately tallied in the 2020 Census.
According to Abrams, “If you don’t get counted, you do not count. The census allocates $1.5 trillion dollars. The expectation is that there will be between 1.7 and 3.8 million Black people not getting counted.”
If that scenario plays out, Abrams predicted that the Black community could lose up to $3 billion per year. The reduced funding will not only hurt social programs such as food stamps and school lunches, but will also decrease political power, which can translate into fewer local, state and federal representatives for communities of color.
In response to the attitude of “I don’t want the government to find me” expressed by many Blacks, Abrams replied, “They already know how to find you. I have heard so many people say I don’t want to give them my information. But, if you have a light bill or a cell phone, they already know how to find you. So, fill out the census.”
Abrams’ passion for people, community and “doing the right thing,” has been a lifelong endeavor, which likely started with her parents, Carolyn and Robert Abrams, who were Methodist ministers. Their impressed upon Abrams and her five siblings that “it was our responsibility to serve the community and they took us with them to vote in every single election. They wanted us to see our citizenship in action,” she said.
Her parents also exposed their children to the concept of volunteering time and talents to those in need. “You don’t get to just think about yourself. Your responsibility is the people around you – the people in your family, community, country and the world as well,” Abrams said.
“Since that time I have never wavered from my commitment to civic engagement in protecting our democracy and by recognizing the fundamental power of the right to vote.”
Editor’s note: Stacey Abrams will be one of the honorees at the “Power, Leadership and Influence of the Black Woman” program, presented by Bakewell Media and the Los Angeles Sentinel, scheduled for later this year.