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Not an Air War, a Ground War: Dems Should Redirect Election Funds to Organizing If Black Votes Matter

StoryOctober 26, 2022
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Image Credit: Facebook: Black Voters Matter Fund

As Republican-led states clamp down on voting rights, we look at how Black voters are helping to organize unprecedented voter turnout ahead of midterms. “We are literally fighting for democracy,” says LaTosha Brown, co-founder of the Black Voters Matter Fund, who says organizing voters is “the winning strategy” despite the resolve of the “consulting class” to invest campaign funds primarily in TV ads. Georgia’s special election Senate races in early 2021 were “not a fluke,” says Brown. “We need to recognize that it is going to be community-led efforts, grassroots democracy groups that are literally our best defense on the frontlines from protecting us against fascism.” This comes as President Biden announces he has authorized the transfer of $10 million from the Democratic National Committee to House and Senate Democratic campaign committees.

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

Amidst a rise in white supremacy and increasing political division, we look now at how Black voters continue to organize ahead of the November 8th midterm elections. The group Black Voters Matter is on a bus tour through 13 states.

BLACK VOTERS MATTER MEMBER: Tell the people where we at.

OMARI HO-SANG: We’re in Caddo Parish, Louisiana, aka Shreveport, in front of the early voting location downtown. And we are ushering people in to vote!

AMY GOODMAN: This comes as new restrictions on voting rights in Republican-led states and confusion over the rights of formerly incarcerated people to vote, particularly in Florida, could lead to a decline in voter turnout.

Last week, a court in Florida’s Miami-Dade County dropped voter fraud charges against a man who was arrested in August by officers with Republican Governor Ron DeSantis’s new Office of Election Crimes and Security. Robert Lee Wood had a felony conviction but was not aware he was not allowed to vote under Florida law.

Separately, a judge in Texas dismissed a charge against Hervis Earl Rogers, who was on parole when he waited over six hours on line to vote in the 2020 primaries in Houston. In Texas, casting a ballot while still serving a sentence, including parole, is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

For more, we go to Georgia, where voters shattered turnout records in the first week of in-person early voting for tightly contested races for Senate and governor this week and last week. Black voters comprised 35% of all of those who turned out to vote on the first day.

For more, we’re joined in Atlanta by LaTosha Brown, co-founder of Black Voters Matter.

LaTosha, welcome back to Democracy Now! So, just give us a lay of the land and what you’re taking on right now and these shattering numbers of early voting in your state, Georgia.

LATOSHA BROWN: You know, we started — as you said, we started early voting last week. What we have seen is we’ve seen record turnout. We’ve broken all records around midterm elections. And what we’re seeing is people are coming out. The interesting thing is that, for weeks, there were headlines to say that there was going to be — what were we going to do with a Black depressed vote, that Black voters weren’t excited about this election. You know, I often say that part of what happened is, if you came to Georgia, you may not have seen the bells and the whistles, but people are very resolved, and people are very determined. That’s what we’ve been seeing as we’ve been going out throughout these streets really organizing people, that folks have not forgotten that Brian Kemp passed his S.B. 202 bill, which, quite frankly, was a blueprint of voter suppression. You know, as a matter of fact, that when Black folks are coming out, what we’re seeing, that we’re actually overperforming our numbers — right? — not because voter suppression doesn’t exist, but in spite of it, that part of what they did not anticipate is that we would get teed off because of this voter suppression bill, we would organize ourselves, we would study the race.

I think this is indicative that organizing works. And what we’re seeing is there are pro-democracy groups that are on the ground doing the work to make sure that we actually get people informed, make sure that we get people mobilized and make sure that we are encouraging people to vote. And what happens, you know, it’s disappointing to hear that, oh, the Republicans are now using this narrative to say that, “Oh, voter suppression has not been a fact. See, look at the Black voters. This voter suppression is not a real thing.” No, it is absolutely a real thing.

What we’ve seen is that we’ve seen in counties just like Gwinnett County, which is the most populous county in the state of Georgia, have 60,000 challenges. How did those challenges come about? Because in the S.B. 202 bill that was passed in Georgia immediately after the 2020 election in a legislative session, what it did is it gave — any citizen has the right now to challenge the voting rights or the voting eligibility of another citizen, indiscriminately. And so, what we’ve seen is we’ve seen bad actors and a group of — a small group of people who are attached to Trump that actually challenged over 60,000 voters for no other reason but to say, “Oh, we don’t think that they’re eligible to vote.”

And so, what that does is, while it will be determined if they’re eligible to vote — determine if they’re eligible to vote, it backs up these voting boards in these counties. And what it does, it is literally expending — we’re expending an enormous amount of resources, of time and energy not just mobilizing people and getting them and informing them about this election, but now we also have to combat voter suppression. And that’s why we need to know how dangerous what is happening, that it is impactful. But we are just simply determined and literally dealing with and navigating around the barriers, as much as possible.

AMY GOODMAN: LaTosha Brown, you and Cliff Albright, co-founders of Black Voters Matter, just have an op-ed piece published in The Hill this morning that’s headlined “Democrats need Black voters — time to campaign and spend accordingly.” And you say also that “It’s time to challenge traditional funding models to reflect the new and diverse Democratic base and our priorities,” you say. So, you’re taking on the Republicans but also the Democrats. What do you want to see them doing?

LATOSHA BROWN: What we’re saying is that there is an antiquated model that we’ve used, that there’s this antiquated model that we’ve seen Democratic funders and the party use, based on the infrastructure of a candidate or where the party may have a party apparatus. We’re saying that that’s not enough, that we are far beyond this notion of it’s just a two-party fight. We’re literally fighting for democracy. And it has been pro-democracy groups that have been on the ground. Literally, this isn’t about whether the Democrats have power or just whether the Republicans have power, even though we know certainly it would be extremely dangerous for the Republicans to go into power. But this is really about the people having power. And if that is the case, we are the best defense against democracy.

When you look at the wins and what happened in 2020, that wasn’t a result of just the infrastructure by political candidates; that was driven mostly driven by third-rail organizations, pro-democracy and social justice groups that knew what was at stake in that election, and we came together, formed this infrastructure and this ecosystem to push the vote out. Here we’re seeing right now that we’re in many ways in the state of Georgia, groups are actually scrabbling for resources. In one of the most significant elections that we are having, why is it where there are billions of dollars in this election and you’re seeing those pro-democracy groups do not have the resources that are needed and are being creative trying to pool resources? You know, because what we see is there is a consulting class that is primarily white men in D.C., in the Beltway, that literally are being the consultants, the political consultants on these political campaigns, and they’re advising candidates to put all of their money in television. And that supports these white media conglomerates, right? Which is extremely problematic for a number of reasons. Number one reason is young voters and many communities of color, but particularly young voters, are not watching television, the traditional television outlets. We’re looking at programs that are more progressive. We’re looking at programs like Democracy Now! We’re looking at Netflix and YouTube and getting news from different sources. That’s one.

Secondly, this is not an air war; this is a ground war. You know, polls don’t win elections; people do. And so, if we are to really take seriously this election, we have to literally go where people are mobilizing voters, they’re encouraging and inspiring voters to get to the polls. Those are community organizations and groups that are doing civic engagement work that have their pulse on the people. That’s going to move folks.

And the third thing is we have to really think about kind of messaging, that oftentimes what we see in the messaging when you look at television and you look at the political ads, there are one or two issues oftentimes that have been decided by some national poll or national consultant that may or may not speak to the issues that people care about in the communities that we are talking to. Those voters who have not been moved to vote or participate so far in the election, they’ve heard all of the sound bites. That’s not moving them. They need another message. And in order to do that, you have to make sure you have the right messengers that are literally putting that out, putting out a different kind of narrative, to really be able to speak to folks and let them make the connection of why this election is critical to them. They may not care about the issues that are the top issues on the national platform, or it may be in a different kind of priority, but those are the reasons why we really — you know, bad habits are hard to break. What we’re saying is what happened in Georgia was not a fluke. That is the future of politics in America, to literally recognize that it is going to be community-led efforts, grassroots, democracy groups that are literally our best defense on the frontlines for protecting us from fascism.

AMY GOODMAN: And your latest — this latest fact that President Biden is authorizing the Democratic National Committee to transfer $10 million to House and Senate Democratic campaign committees and helping to pledge to raise $8 million for party candidates. The DNC now has transferred a total of $27 million so far this cycle, a record-breaking amount of money. Where you see that money going, and what you want to tell the Democrats to do with it?

LATOSHA BROWN: I see that money going primarily on TV. We’re seeing that money — we’re bombarded. You can’t turn on a television, and every single ad is over and over and over again. And while, yes, that may have some impact, what I do know is those voters who have been disengaged in the process, those voters who are already suspect around participating, those voters who have not been moved so far, in order for those voters to be moved, that there has to be — that’s like hand-to-hand communication. That has to be peer-to-peer organizing.

So, what I would like to see and what we attempted to do in this op-ed is to put it out — to lay it out, that there is a winning strategy. We have receipts. We can actually show that we are able to win when you’re building out and you’re supporting the ecosystem of support of pro-democracy groups, that that is a game changer. We saw that in Alabama in 2017. We saw that in Georgia in 2020 and 2021. And so, why are we abandoning a strategy that we know works, and going about a strategy that has gotten us here in the first place?

AMY GOODMAN: What about this record turnout that we’re seeing in Georgia? I mean, you have this highly contentious senatorial race, Reverend Raphael Warnock versus Herschel Walker, very close. Raphael Warnock, according to the polls, slightly, slightly ahead, who’s already served two years in office. And then you have Kemp versus Stacey Abrams, a colleague of yours, one of the leading voting rights activists in this country, but she is further behind Kemp, who you talk about as quashing votes, removing people from the voting rolls. That’s Kemp.

LATOSHA BROWN: You know, what the Republicans have done, which I think is despicable, one of the things that they have done is they’ve actually used messages to actually exploit the pain and discontent of Black voters. What we’re seeing is, even with Herschel Walker, they don’t care about Herschel Walker. For the most part, Herschel Walker is a placeholder for them. Certainly, here is a man that we are actually seeing have a meltdown daily in terms of literally putting it out where he has major, major character issues, that we know that he has major, major issues around violence — violence with women, violence in his family. There’s major issues that he has. And we know that if you listen to him, you can actually hear that there’s some cognitive things going on with him, as well. And so, while this is not to make an excuse for him, because he’s certainly a grown man and should be accountable to his actions and putting himself out there, the bottom line is he is being used. He is being manipulated and used in this moment. And because they have decided that all they needed to do was to find: “We’ve got to try to peel off the Black voters, to find a Black face that can actually support and stand for a white agenda that would actually divide the vote in Georgia.”

You know, we have seen in a recent month, which was very disheartening to me, this whole notion that Brian Kemp is now saying that, oh — there’s this message that Brian Kemp says that he is good on businesses, on small businesses, and he will be good for Black businesses. Well, how so? He’s been in office for four years, and what we know is of the millions — the millions — of dollars of contracts that the state of Georgia gives out, Black voters — Black people, who make more than 28%, almost 30% of the population in Georgia, have received less than 1% of the business contracts for the state of Georgia.

Here’s a person that says — Brian Kemp is saying that, yes, he cares about the people of Georgia, and he is good for Georgia. Well, how so? Since he has been in office, six hospitals have closed, and we’re on the verge of another hospital closing in metro Atlanta. All of that is — yes, can we place that in his lap? Absolutely. Because he has refused to expand Medicaid, which is part of the reason why even the latest hospital said that it is closing, because it cannot handle the weight of so many uninsured patients that are coming in. And so, if he expanded Medicaid, it would actually bring in more than a billion dollars in our state, then we could have saved those hospitals. We could save this hospital that is on the verge of closing. But he doesn’t care about that, because he doesn’t care about the people of Georgia. What he cares about is his own power. He has been voter suppressor [inaudible].

AMY GOODMAN: We have five seconds. Well, we’re going to have to leave it there, LaTosha Brown, co-founder of Black Voters Matter, speaking to us from Atlanta, Georgia.

Oh, and tune in on November 8th for our three-hour midterm election night special. We’ll be broadcasting live starting at 9 p.m. Eastern. That does it for our show. I’m Amy Goodman. Stay safe.

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