Black Feminists Taught Democrats To Go Broad And Win BigRoundup
tags: African American history, womens history, 2020 Election, Stacey Abrams
Erica R. Edwards is associate professor of English at Rutgers University-New Brunswick and author of Charisma and the Fictions of Black Leadership and the forthcoming book, The Other Side of Terror: Black Women and the Culture of U.S. Empire. Follow
Sherie M. Randolph is associate professor of history at the Georgia Institute of Technology and author of Florynce “Flo” Kennedy: The Life of a Black Feminist Radical and the forthcoming book Bad Black Mothers: A History of Transgression. Follow
For the first time since 1992, a plurality of voters in Georgia cast ballots for a Democratic presidential nominee. The balance of power in the Senate now depends on Georgia’s runoff races in January. It’s no secret Stacey Abrams helped to make this historic turnout happen.
In 2018, Abrams lost a bid for the Georgia governorship amid reports of large-scale voter suppression. Then, instead of continuing to challenge the results, she turned down numerous opportunities to capitalize on her newfound political renown and instead pushed ahead in a nonpartisan effort to organize a grass-roots ground operation to register voters, focusing on routinely disfranchised and overlooked citizens. Her group, Fair Fight, registered 800,000 Georgians, contributing to the percentage of eligible voters in the state not registered plummeting from 22 percent in 2016 to 2 percent in 2020.
Abrams’s commitment to democracy for all has transformed Georgia, and it has the potential to do so much more.
Georgia’s likely flip to a blue state is not just about Abrams and her heroic attempts to rehabilitate voting rights in the post-Shelby era. It shows the power of a Black feminist model of activism, leadership and democratic participation at work. When faced with defeat in 2018, Abrams might have parlayed her position into Democratic Party support for her personal rise to political power — a run for a U.S. Senate seat, perhaps. Instead, she joined with other grass-roots activists to fight voter suppression and build electoral participation among groups traditionally written off by the Democratic Party: Black unregistered voters, former felons, people younger than 29. This move to go bigger and broader, to enlarge democracy, to sublimate personal power to the power of coalitions and an ever-expanding network of local leaders is a classic Black feminist strategy.
Although Black feminism is often thought of as a mere reaction to the racism of White feminists and the sexism of Black male activists, it is a generative, far-reaching philosophy and program whose playbook includes extensive democratic participation. Since the late 1960s, Black feminist activists have situated themselves in a history of freedom fighters who viewed grass-roots participatory democracy not merely as a pragmatic numbers game of getting certain candidates elected. Rather, they viewed it as means of radically reversing systemic inequalities by enfranchising the disenfranchised and engaging the people who are routinely seen as politically untouchable in debate and consensus-building.
When he accepted the Democratic nomination for president, Joe Biden lauded Ella Baker as a giant of the civil rights movement. Baker was an enormous political force because she pushed generations of activists to practice democracy from the bottom up and from the margins to the center and showed them how to build diverse alliances that challenged intersectional oppression. She worked in every major civil rights organization of the 20th century, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, as well as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). She created coalitions and cooperatives pledged to full inclusion and equal participation of all people, especially Black people, women of all races and ethnicities and poor people.
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