Meet the organizers still working to get Georgians back to the polls this January.
Georgia made history earlier this month when President-elect Joe Biden was the first Democrat to win the state in nearly three decades. And that performance could be repeated. On Jan. 5, 2021, control of the US Senate comes down to two run-off races in the state.
If the Democratic candidates, Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock, both win, it would be the first time the state has had two Democratic senators since 2003, and the first time the state has ever had a Black senator.
This didn’t just happen by chance. It took the dedicated work of organizers throughout the state to flip Georgia blue. Stacey Abrams, the Democrat who narrowly lost her race for Georgia governor in 2018, has been methodically working through a multipage plan since 2012 to expand the electorate in Georgia. She focused especially on engaging minority communities to help Democrats win seats in the state legislature and in national races.
Stacey Abrams’ work in helping achieve the outcome in the Georgia presidential results cannot be overstated. However, she did not work alone, and even called for Americans to shine a spotlight on the network of organizers that have made a big impact in how Georgia voted.
With that in mind, COURIER spoke to several groups that were part of that effort—and are continuing their work—about what they did in the general election to notch this historic victory, and what they are doing ahead of the Jan. 5 runoff to keep the momentum going.
Founder and Executive Editor, Spread the Vote
Spread the Vote is a national, nonpartisan organization that started in Georgia and aims to make sure underrepresented communities are heard at the voting booth. For founder Kat Calvin, the work is really making clear how the nuts-and-bolts elements of voting work.
“What we need to focus on is how we are working to make sure that our most targeted populations—our most vulnerable populations, our least represented populations—are able to vote,” Calvin said in an interview with COURIER.
She continued: “Nobody knows how to vote. You could’ve voted a thousand times. You still have a really hard time figuring out what the ballot measures are saying. And so we need to think about that across the board—how are we addressing all of the barriers that have made that difficult or impossible for them in the past?”
In preparation for the run-off elections, Calvin is mobilizing staff and volunteers on the ground. Their game plan includes creating and distributing voter guides to first-time voters, helping eligible voters obtain a government-issued photo ID, and arranging rides to the polls. Calvin told COURIER that there isn’t much of a difference between the strategies in the general election and in the run-off election, except that instead of mobilizing voters in 12 battleground states, they are putting all of their energy and resources into Georgia.
Right now, Spread the Vote is reaching out to over 300,000 young voters and young non-voters of color that will need to either renew or obtain an ID. According to Calvin, 77% of their clients have never voted before and they are hoping their organizing efforts in the run-off election could bring the number down.
Founder and Executive Director, Latino Community Fund Georgia
Gigi Pedraza is the founder and executive director of the Latino Community Fund based in Atlanta, Georgia. Her non-profit and non-partisan organization, which encompasses nearly 40 other partner groups, works to increase civic engagement, create Latino-serving programs, and invest in the community.
“Elected and appointed officials need to be reflective of the policies and issues that matter for their constituents,” Pedraza told COURIER. “So we are going to get out the vote through digital mailers, registering people to vote, informing people why this runoff is important. Georgia is the center of the political universe in the US, with the possibility of defining what way the Senate is going to go.”
Pedraza said that during this election, it’s about getting the word out.
“A lot of our work is education, like letting people know these are the important dates, this is what you need to do to get your absentee ballot,” she said. “But also for the young folks that we were not able to register for the Nov. 3 election. They can register now until Dec. 7. And so boost that cohort of young folks showing up.”
For Jerry Gonzalez, this election is like the last: It’s all about the virtual campaigning. Gonzalez is the CEO of GALEO, a non-profit organization designed to spark civic engagement within the Latino community in Georgia. Gonzalez told COURIER that through social media, direct text messaging, and partnering with Spanish media, GALEO has worked to educate the community and increase engagement.
And part of that is speaking to people in their first language, which isn’t necessarily how things operate in Georgia. In this case, that means outreach in Spanish.
“Everything that we do leads with Spanish,” Gonzalez said in an interview with COURIER. “Language access is a big issue in Georgia. There’s only one county in the entire state that is mandated by the Voting Rights Act to provide English and Spanish information…Georgia is very hostile toward expanding access with regard to language access.”
But that isn’t stopping Gonzalez. “Demographics are not destiny in Georgia,” he said. “[The state] has been getting more diverse and all of our communities are working together, working collaboratively to make sure Georgia better reflects the values that we have as a collective in the state.”