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Georgia Turning Blue? In Victory for Grassroots Organizers, Warnock Wins Senate Runoff; Ossoff Leads

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Democrats appear on the brink of taking control of the U.S. Senate after Reverend Raphael Warnock won a special election over Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler, while Democrat Jon Ossoff has a slim lead in his runoff against Republican Senator David Perdue. If Ossoff wins his race, the Senate will be split 50-50, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris serving as the tie-breaking vote, giving Democrats more power to pass President-elect Joe Biden’s legislative agenda. Reverend Warnock, the pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, which was the spiritual home of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., will become the first Black Democrat to ever represent a Southern state, as well as the first Black senator from Georgia and just the 11th Black senator in U.S. history. We speak with Anoa Changa, an Atlanta-based journalist who covers electoral justice and voting rights, who says the Democratic victory in the state is down to grassroots organizers. “Organizing and the amazing work that has been done by a broad coalition of multiracial, mutliethnic organizers across the entire state, from rural to urban to suburban communities, really is the true story of what has been happening in Georgia,” says Changa.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, this is a remarkable day after an election. Democrats appear on the brink of taking control of the U.S. Senate, after Reverend Raphael Warnock won a special election Tuesday over Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler, while Democrat Jon Ossoff has a 16,000-vote lead in his runoff against former Republican Senator David Perdue. If Ossoff wins his race, the Senate will be split 50-50, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris serving as the tie-breaking vote, giving Democrats more power to pass President-elect Joe Biden’s legislative agenda. Georgia’s runoff races were among the most expensive Senate races in U.S. history.

Reverend Raphael Warnock is the pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, which was the spiritual home of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and King’s father. Warnock was raised in public housing. He was the 11th of 12 children, the first to go to college. He will become the first Black Democrat to ever represent a Southern state, as well as the first Black senator from Georgia and just the 11th Black senator in U.S. history. Senator-elect Raphael Warnock spoke last night.

SEN.-ELECT REV. RAPHAEL WARNOCK: We were told that we couldn’t win this election, but tonight we proved that with hope, hard work and the people by our side, anything is possible. May my story be an inspiration to some young person who is trying to grasp and grab hold of the American dream. And so, Georgia, I am honored by the faith that you have shown in me. And I promise you this tonight: I am going to the Senate to work for all of Georgia, no matter who you cast your vote for in this election.

In this moment in American history, Washington has a choice to make. In fact, all of us have a choice to make. Will we continue to divide, distract and dishonor one another, or will we love our neighbors as we love ourselves? Will we play political games while real people suffer, or will we win righteous fights together, standing shoulder to shoulder, for the good of Georgia, for the good of our country? Will we seek to destroy one another as enemies or heed the call towards the common good, building together what Dr. King called the “beloved community”?

And so, to everyone out there struggling today, whether you voted for me or not, know this: I hear you. I see you. And every day I’m in the United States Senate, I will fight for you. I will fight for your family.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s the Reverend Raphael Warnock, senator-elect, speaking last night. Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler, who was appointed to the Senate last year, lost to Warnock just a day after she promised to join a Republican effort to contest the Electoral College result during today’s joint session of Congress. Loeffler has yet to concede to Warnock, who has a 50,000-vote lead with 98% of ballots counted.

To talk more about the Georgia runoffs, we’re joined by Anoa Changa, freelance journalist based in Atlanta, Georgia, covering electoral justice and voting rights. Her recent article for Truthout is titled “Raffensperger Stood Up to Trump, But He Also Attacked Voting Rights Groups.”

And that’s where I want to start, Anoa. What happened yesterday and in the days before, of course, with early voting, was astounding. I think Politico talks about the Republican implosion — right? — with Trump coming to Georgia and talking about how the voting is a fraud there, didn’t help things. But isn’t the story of Georgia and the unprecedented level of voting and new voters — 4.1 in 2016 voted, 4.1 million; 4.4 million, it’s believed, voted in this runoff; 4.9 in the 2020 election. I mean, this is just unheard of, the number of people who voted. Isn’t the real story here organize, organize, organize? That’s what you’ve been following these weeks.

ANOA CHANGA: Yeah. Good morning.

And absolutely, Amy, organizing and the amazing work that has been done by a broad coalition of multiracial, multiethnic organizers across the entire state, from rural to urban to suburban communities, really is the true story of what has been happening in Georgia — and not just in this one election cycle. Folks may have picked up, you know, around the 2018 general election with Stacey Abrams versus Brian Kemp and may have caught some of the highlights in terms of Brian Kemp and his voter suppression, but it has been constantly overlooked that folks in Georgia have not stopped working post-2016, and even before then, and have been engaging year-round in how to help more voters come into the process, but not just converting them into voters to vote for a particular candidate in a particular cycle, but really trying to sustain civic engagement so that when we have municipal elections or we have legislative issues, whether at city council or in the state Legislature, that we do still have informed participants of democracy showing up and participating.

And so, what we just saw — and votes are still being counted this morning, but what we just saw in terms of Reverend Raphael Gamaliel Warnock becoming the next senator of the state of Georgia — to my daughter’s delight, a radical liberal — we saw an amazing effort to engage people in this two months since the general election to get people to vote yet again. Voting in this high turnout in a runoff election is unheard of, I think, in any state that has had runoff elections or particularly here in Georgia. You know, some folks like to compare this to the runoff election we had in 2018, when we had a Public Service Commission seat and secretary of state seat up for grabs. And really, there was not the effort and investment and connection with communities, with organizers.

And what we saw this go-round, the lessons that have been learned, and really the determination and forthrightness of organizers — like I know you all have heard of LaTosha Brown and Cliff Albright, Nsé Ufot, but you also have people like Amanda Hollowell, based in Savannah. You have Fallon McClure, who works with Working Families Party here, and countless other — Stephanie Cho with Asian Americans Advancing Justice. There are so many amazing people who do this work — Anjali Enjeti — who are organizing all over the place — Delinda Bryant down in Dougherty County. Like, this has been a statewide, amazing effort, because people knew what was at stake, and everyone is investing in the long haul, in how do we not just flip the state because it’s good for headlines or national morale, but what is good for Georgia.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Anoa, I’m wondering if you could talk about specifically — because Georgia, of course, today is not the Georgia of 10 years ago or 20 years ago. It’s a much more diverse state with large and fast-growing populations of Asian Americans and Latino Americans. I think I saw some estimates that 79,000 Latinos had voted early in this runoff, and compared to about 124,000 who voted early in the November election. That’s a — given that it is a runoff — 

ANOA CHANGA: Impressive.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: — and there’s normally a huge drop-off in votes, that’s a staggering number. And also, you’ve written about how the focus has been not just on metropolitan Atlanta, but in many of the other rural areas of the state. Could you talk about those two trends, the diversity and the focus of organizers on outside of metropolitan Atlanta?

ANOA CHANGA: Absolutely, you know, have to start off and give amazing praise, give the flowers, as the young folks say, to organizers from organizations like Mijente, GLAHR, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Asian American Advocacy Fund, They See Blue. There are so many great, amazing organizers that have really done this work, and did it authentically in their own communities, right? Instead of having, you know, Beltway consultants parachute in and tell people what was going to be the winning thing, Georgians have been very clear: Like, we got us here, and we’re going to bring it all the way to the finish line. And so, you saw an amazing effort. I think two days before the runoff election, I think Mijente had actually made contact with every Latino voter in the state, which is amazing work being done.

But it’s also connecting with younger voters, right? We have a diverse coalition of younger voters, under the age of 30, who came out to vote, some for the very first time — my 19-year-old was one of them — who are being connected with in a very real way.

We also have, especially when we talk about folks who are non-native English speakers, having people communicate in language, right? And that provides for so much more rich dialogues and conversations. And this is of value. Like, this is — we talk about diversity within spaces, but it was actually recognized, honored and lifted up in many ways in this election cycle, that led to folks feeling a part of the process and not just another check mark.

And when we saw the November election, a lot of people tried to give various reasons why Joe Biden was able to flip the state. But Joe Biden did not flip the state. A multiracial coalition of Georgians who have been working for years flipped the state, right?

And Senator Warnock — Senator-elect Warnock and, hopefully soon, Senator-elect Jon Ossoff have built into those organizing spaces. I mean, Senator-elect Warnock has actually been a part of the same movement that has helped to catapult him to the U.S. Senate as the prior board chair for the New Georgia Project, through work that he’s done through the Ebenezer Baptist Church around public health or through ending mass incarceration back in June of 2019. He was a part of a group of multifaith leaders who held an ending mass incarceration conference at Ebenezer Baptist Church. And so, we saw imams, we saw Jewish faith leaders, we saw rabbis, we saw preachers and pastors from across the South and across the country, come together to address these very critical issues. So, that’s the type of convener he’s already been. And that’s what has resonated with folks on the ground who are doing the work, because they’ve worked alongside him. They’ve seen him already showing up. And so it was a natural fit for folks to step into these spaces regardless of background.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I’d like to ask you about the Georgia secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, the Republican secretary of state, who in the commercial media has been increasingly raised as a hero for daring to stand up to President Trump’s false claims of fraud in the vote in Georgia. But you’ve written that Raffensperger really is not that much of a hero. If you could talk about his involvement in voter suppression?

ANOA CHANGA: Absolutely. I mean, Brad Raffensperger takes right after Brian Kemp, who preceded him in that office. Ever since he was elected, coming into office after the 2018 election, I mean, Brad Raffensperger has pulled some of the same tricks.

And in this very election cycle, as we have been still dealing with voting within a pandemic and how that has disproportionately impacted communities of color, Brad Raffensperger has sided with Republicans who have been talking about issues around voter fraud. Even though we have seen Raffensperger and other members of his staff rightfully saying, like, there haven’t been — you know, there is no evidence of widespread issues, there is no evidence of X, Y, Z, the process has gone smoothly, we’ve still seen double-talking and actually providing support for some of the less extreme allegations that have come out.

We’ve seen the use of the investigations of his office being leveraged to attack organizations. So, organizations like the New Georgia Project, right early in the runoff period, were attacked by Brad Raffensperger’s office based on wild claims that they were trying to register people in New York City, when in fact it was a matter of volunteers who were doing postcards. As we all know, volunteers all over the country have been sending voters postcards in various states. And these are things that are very easily verifiable by someone in the position that he’s in, and yet he has immediately rushed to media to announce things like investigating voter fraud.

There was also an allegation, connected with that, that he claimed that the same organizations were trying to register or encourage fraud by having people who had passed away register to vote, when that’s unfortunately an issue with the voter rolls and making sure that the data itself is clean. So, sending out notices to encourage people to register to vote is not itself an invitation to commit fraud, and Brad Raffensperger knows that.

We also have recently seen him — I think it was December 23rd, Associated Press reported that Raffensperger announced that he supported legislative Republicans moving to get rid of no-excuse absentee ballots. No-excuse absentee ballots have made the difference in this race. And ever since the pandemic has started, Republicans in Georgia, Republicans nationally, have been crying about the use of absentee ballots, that if everyone is able to vote absentee, they will not win. And so, because they’re not winning, they create these narratives to justify restricting our access to these other means besides showing up on Election Day and seeing the long lines. Why we have not seen long lines in the general election and now in the runoff in the way we’re used to seeing them in Georgia is because of the use of absentee ballots, because of people taking advantage of early voting.


ANOA CHANGA: And their logic is —

AMY GOODMAN: I was just going to say: And the African American community in Georgia hit particularly hard by the pandemic. I wanted to play Reverend Raphael Warnock’s comments. We talked to him in July on Democracy Now! ahead of the funeral for Congressman John Lewis. He officiated over that funeral at his church, the Ebenezer Baptist Church.

REV. RAPHAEL WARNOCK: The irony of this moment is that even as we celebrate and honor John Lewis, the patron saint of voting rights, he hailed from the state which in many instances is ground zero for voter suppression. We are still fighting against voter suppression in Georgia, but not only in Georgia, all across this country.

In 2013, the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, which is a law, in a real sense, dipped in the blood of John Lewis and Hosea Williams and so many others who fought the good fight. And even as we celebrate him, it has not been reauthorized. The last time this bill was reauthorized, George W. Bush was president. It passed the United States Senate 96 to 0. But in recent years voting has become increasingly a partisan issue, and there are those who are not embarrassed by making it difficult for people to vote.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that is the Senator-elect Reverend Raphael Warnock. Salon reported that in Senator Kelly Loeffler’s ads against him last week, she ran a paid Facebook ad that artificially darkened Reverend Raphael Warnock’s face. They had one that didn’t darken it, but then they boosted the ad that did darken it many times over and played this — of course, Reverend Warnock, who is African American. And you have Jon Ossoff, who Senator Perdue, in his ads, Ossoff said, artificially lengthened his nose, calling it an anti-Semitic act, to say — to point out that he’s Jewish.

If you can talk first about Warnock and who he is — you did a profile, among other places, in Harper’s Bazaar — the significance of what he has represented over the years? I mean, grew up in public housing, first to graduate from college in his family, 11th of 12 kids. His mom picked cotton and then she voted yesterday to pick the next senator from Georgia. And, as well, Jon Ossoff, who does seem to be leading by 16,000 votes, well more than Biden won by in Georgia?

ANOA CHANGA: Yeah, I mean, Reverend Warnock has been someone, like I was saying earlier, who has been in community, in organizing spaces, alongside folks. And when I wrote the piece for Harper’s Bazaar, Reverend Warnock started out as a sexual health educator back when he was a teenager working with the Department of Health. And being a peer mentor, he did it also in college. But those lessons stayed with him as he became and went into the ministry and started working in communities. And he has had a commitment in terms of making sure his congregations and other folks in the community were more aware of being tested and protecting around HIV and other STDs.

But also, he has had a commitment — I mean, he’s a pro-choice pastor from the Black Belt. That is like wild, right? We are sending two pro-choice senators to U.S. Senate from Georgia, and one of them is a pastor who — his appreciation and his respect for choice comes from his understanding and grounding in Black liberation theology. And so, that also is what undergirds his support for economic justice, for climate justice, racial justice. I mean, that is at his center core. And so, we are seeing that, hopefully, be borne out in the way in which he participates in the U.S. Senate. And if he doesn’t, there is an entire state full of people who will gladly remind him and keep him accountable for what he has promised to do.

And the same goes for Jon Ossoff, who has a very different relationship, I think, with Georgians. We have seen some of the same movement folks who have shown up and helped drive this outreach that has led to both Ossoff and Warnock leading by greater margins than Joe Biden won in November, in spite of some of the rocky start that may have happened back in 2017 when Jon Ossoff ran in the special election. And so, he has really had to learn and listen to communities, to movement, and has really changed his approach in the way he has campaigned this cycle, in some ways. I do have my critiques, but he has changed how he has approached things, how he’s been willing to listen, and hopefully will continue to do that in building a coalition going forward.

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, if —


AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead, Juan.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, no, I just wanted to ask Anoa if you could talk a little bit about how you see what’s happening in Georgia as reflecting what is going on in the South. For decades now, the South has been the bedrock of the Republican Party, backed — beginning with the days of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, of seeing a Southern strategy to win for the Republican Party the allegiance of Southern voters. What your sense is? Is this a bellwether of vast changes occurring across the South?

ANOA CHANGA: Yeah, I think this is also a continuation of the work that we’ve seen done by folks like Ella Baker and Fannie Lou Hamer, going back to the work done in Mississippi decades ago. What we have seen and what we have known is, Black Southerners and others who have migrated to these areas have always been willing to roll up their sleeves and do this fight, to not just make sure that they have access to this thing called democracy, but that democracy is actually something that is working for everyone. And so, those are the types of people — or, that’s the type of work that folks who are now running campaigns and running elections and doing this organizing work here are building on those efforts.

And so, when we’re talking about, like, the Republican stronghold, we see this diversification. I mean, Georgia is on track to being the first nonwhite-majority state later this decade, if projections hold up the way they have been. So, we are seeing also in Mississippi and other places the potential for organizing, but what we know here in Georgia is that having a concerted, organized, year-round effort, but also having that systemic investment for the long haul, and not just giving organizations money to do voter registration but not also helping to fund organizations to be able to do the follow-up, the conversations, talking about issues — because that’s really what’s going to lead to a change across not just the South, but other states, you know, that have had various changes and issues, as well.

So, what we are seeing here in Georgia in terms of the concerted effort and the self-determination and the pushing back on the naysayers, everyone’s praising Stacey Abrams today around the state, but there was so much pushback in 2017, 2018, before she became the nominee, in terms of this method she had in terms of how to spend, engage and go across all 159 counties here in Georgia, regardless of whether they’re, quote-unquote, “red or blue.”

And so, when we really start to have that type of investment in community, in organizing, regardless of whether or not traditional thinking would dictate whether or not a state would flip or a county will flip, we’re going to start to see more shifts. I mean, Texas inched closer this cycle, and there’s similar organizing. Similar thought processes exist with folks in Texas. Similar organizing exists in Ohio, in so many others. It just needs to be invested in, supported.

AMY GOODMAN: Anoa Changa, we want to thank you for being with us, freelance journalist based in Atlanta, Georgia, covering electoral justice and voting rights. We’ll link to her piece in Truthout. Again, Georgia is on the cusp of changing the balance of the U.S. Senate, with Raphael Warnock, the first African American senator to represent Georgia and the first African American Democrat to come out of the South in the Senate. And if Jon Ossoff is declared victor, he will be the youngest member of the U.S. Senate.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, authorities are preparing for violence in the streets of Washington, D.C., today. Stay with us.

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