Voting is still a thing you should do and is another form of protest
Published: June 4, 2020, 11:29 p.m.
Updated: June 4, 2020, 10:49 a.m. to include further research conducted in the U.S. Senate race in Georgia.
It’s been 10 days since the death of George Floyd and protestors have begun ravaging the streets day in and day out across the U.S. for Black Lives Matter. Being an avid member of the movement, I deeply carry the frustrations and outrage of all the things that brought us here and what made events such as George Floyd’s death (substitute with Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Nina Pope, Tony McDade, Trayvon Martin, Philando Castile, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner to only name a few of the Black lives lost with no justice served) possible in the first place. Early Monday in Louisville, Ky., the city where Taylor was shot on March 13, Black business owner David McAtee was shot during an exchange of gunfire with local police and the National Guard. Even in the face of demonstrations fighting to save Black lives, more are lost as the police continue to in their attempts to flex their power and militarization to halt the movement.
It’s hard to know what will exactly put us on the road to a better way for our country. What can we do to dismantle the throes of white supremacy when the very system we’ve been living in has been designed to ensure it thrives? Following Atlanta’s first night of protests on Fri., May 29 — in which hundreds gathered downtown eventually leading to burned cop cars, a defaced CNN center, a destroyed College Football Hall of Fame, a fire at Del Frisco’s in Buckhead, among other things — Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms hosted a press conference along with Killer Mike, T.I., and Dr. Bernice King.
Their solution to all this madness? Go vote.
Now, that answer is not exactly the thing many want to hear. It\’s also not the only thing we can do and the command to vote should by no means serve as a way to quell the movement. For Georgia residents, though, it\’s a bit of a hard pill to swallow since we witnessed one of the biggest acts of modern voter suppression during its last gubernatorial race in November 2018 between Stacey Abrams and then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp. Kemp made his way into the governor’s mansion by a mere 54,000 votes, which was the number of votes suppressed by exact match alone. (You can access all our previous coverage of voter suppression in Georgia here.) We simply don\’t have much faith in the system. And that\’s legit.
Further, grand acts of voter suppression have already occurred nationwide so far during this year’s presidential election. (For the record, any barrier to the ballot is a form of voter suppression and it may be occurring more than you think.) We saw it in the presidential primaries in the case of Texas with unbelievably long lines at the polls. We saw it again in Wisconsin after the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S. when little to no precautions were established at the polls, thus meaning voters were literally risking their lives to COVID-19 to go vote in-person. Now, in the midst of the global pandemic, it’s been reasonably surmised that Republicans are taking advantage to suppress even more votes across the country.
The message to “go vote” from Mayor Bottoms and Killer Mike felt it had little to no resolve, especially when tens of thousands of Georgia voters have yet to receive their absentee ballots and polls continue to close during the COVID-19 pandemic. It especially felt cold without a full acknowledgement of the frustrations many have with a political system they feel has repeatedly failed them and continues to do so. While those sentiments are extremely valid and warranted, we can’t, however, ignore the importance of voting in this extremely pivotal year. In the spirit of the movement, it is not time to shy away from our political systems; it is time to overrun them, just like we’ve been doing in the streets.
It’s been a whirlwind the past week, especially if you’ve been on the ground connecting with organizers and fellow protestors. It’s difficult to not be fully consumed by it 24/7 and there is a lot of beauty taking place within our communities, particularly in all the ways we are connecting and showing solidarity for one another. However, it is crucial that we do not forget to show up to the polls to cast our vote; in fact, “they” might be banking on the fact that we won’t.
Bottoms cried out for us to go vote in November; but folks, our primary is on Tue., June 9. This is the day we cast our vote for our state’s next U.S. senator, sheriff, district attorney, public service commissioner, and answer questions about our state’s future legislation regarding climate change and other vital issues. However, many voters have yet to receive their mail-in ballots which are to be received by 7 p.m. on June 9, or else it doesn\’t count. Again, if they don\’t have your ballot in their office by 7 p.m. next Tuesday, your vote will not be counted.
The last day for early voting is tomorrow, Fri., June 5.
If you haven\’t received your absentee ballot in the mail, you can call the Democratic Party of Georgia Voter Protection hotline at 1-888-730-5816. You should also probably consider a plan for in-person voting. You can also check the status of your absentee ballot here.
If you choose to vote in person, then the first thing you need to do is to find your fucking polling place. Utilize that hotline to ensure that the polling location listed is actually open. After that, make sure you\’re prepared for the ballot and the likely chance that you\’ll be stuck in line for a hot minute (maybe take a protest sign with you?). Remember! Certain folks don’t want you to vote. That is the point of voter suppression. This is why voting is in and of itself its own form of protest. Stay in the streets in solidarity for Black Lives Matter, but make sure you vote, too. There\’s some hella important stuff in here.
Admittedly, the ballot is a little overwhelming — so we took it upon ourselves to do some research about the candidates in Georgia on the ballot this year and compiled it here in one place. Save that mental energy for important conversations with your friends, loved ones, and fellow organizers and playing a role in this revolution.
President of the United States
Just gonna drop a line here that you can still vote for Bernie Sanders in the primary. For the Sanders voters out there, you should know it’s important for us to vote for him so we can leave a paper trail in this primary. Yes, Biden is the presumed Democratic Presidential nominee, but this could benefit our movement by showing that Democratic voters support Sanders’ platform. This could potentially give it more leverage and weight in the national convention.
Okay, so there are seven people running for the senate seat this year. The presumed frontrunners appear to be Jon Ossoff, a white man and the biggest name on the ticket who clinched an endorsement from Sen. John Lewis; Sarah Riggs Amico, a white woman who is a business owner and mother of two; and Teresa Tomlinson, a white woman and former mayor of Columbus, Ga.
Now, we really didn’t want to rattle off the basic information each candidate’s website offers. You’re smart; you can do that yourself. To be honest, it felt rather uninspired reading the same rhetoric we’ve become accustomed to hearing from politicians. Additionally, it almost feels safe to say that all involved in the Black Lives Matter movement are, more or less, becoming bottom-line voters during this election. This may sound something like, “If the candidate doesn’t acknowledge police brutality and the need for reform in criminal and racial justice in the interest of protecting Black lives, then I don’t frankly give a shit what else they’re saying.”
Further, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that the other candidates who aren’t considered frontrunners are mostly POC and wonder why that is. For that I would have to yield to larger discussions about the racial inequality and dark money that have run our political systems for quite some time. This has always been the case, but this year we are especially feeling the brunt of the culminating effects of Citizens United which was passed in 2010. That’s another article.
DeJesus is a member of the NAACP Atlanta Chapter, Urban League of Atlanta, the Healthcare Financial Management Association, and the American Association of Healthcare Administrative Management. His website doesn’t offer much in the conversation of the issues themselves. Knox is a veteran whose website simply states the issues he’s focused on are “veterans’ health and services, quality and affordable healthcare, and educational opportunities for all,” with no further explanation. McCracken doesn’t have a website or an online presence outside of Ballotpedia.
Smith, however, is extremely noteworthy: a Harvard law student, civil rights lawyer and legislator, and she has overwhelming experience as a leader in “every branch of the U.S. government.” Her website cites that she has “reformed justice systems, expanded health access, protected voting rights and religious freedom, launched social enterprises and job training programs, earmarked capital to small businesses, developed affordable housing and so much more.” Right now, voting for someone with a 20-year career reforming systems and fighting corruption as a self-described “government watchdog” is sounding pretty good.
Correction: It is important we take a broad view of the candidates on the ballot outside of what their official campaign websites have to offer. Upon further research, we discovered Dillard-Smith stepped down from her position at Georgia ACLU in 2016 after she questioned the organization\’s stance on transgender bathroom policies and risked being branded a homophobe by raising her critique. Since her resignation and beginning her 2020 campaign for U.S. Senate, she has publicly apologized but it\’s hard to say if that\’s been enough. We want to hope that folks have the ability to transform, but Dillard-Smith\’s more recent encounter with Turner Field activists in April is also worth your attention.
As an aside, we strongly encourage you, the reader, to use this cheat sheet as a starting point to help you to inform your own decision. We, the people, are staring down the barrel of a crucial point in time where we have the ability to help transform our systems. It will most likely not happen in one election, and it\’s difficult to begin to raise these questions three or so days ahead of the primary. It should have happened a lot sooner. We should ask ourselves why local races aren\’t discussed more widely, why Black trans lives aren\’t treated with equal dignity in our systems, why there aren\’t more POC candidates in the running, the flaws of neoliberalism, and so much more. This is the time to begin to have those discussions and is beyond the scope of this article. We have a lot to do between now and November—stay focused and don\’t be discouraged.
Public Service Commissioner
The two running for public service commissioner to succeed Lauren Bubba McDonald, Jr. (what?), are Daniel Blackman and John Noel. If you’re wondering what the hell a public service commissioner actually does, their general role involves the “regulation of essential utility services such as energy, telecommunications, and water.” Currently, all the public service commissioners in Georgia are Republicans.
Blackman wants to work to bring high-speed internet to all of Georgia’s 159 counties. That might not sound important, but it is. Many of Georgia’s rural counties do not have any public wi-fi which creates another barrier for residents to vote and take the census (oh, don’t forget to take the census!). When we are discussing rural Georgia, please know we are talking about largely populated POC populations. Take Randolph County, for example, whose nearest hospital is about a 30-minute drive. Or Albany, Ga., which saw one of the highest spikes in the world of COVID-19 per capita in March. These areas were largely ignored, but as soon as Hall County — a much whiter county — became a new COVID hotspot in early May, Gov. Kemp was there with his undivided attention.
Noel’s platform has no mention of this initiative. This alone is reason to vote for Blackman on June 9 for public service commissioner as installing high-speed internet to all of Georgia’s counties would vastly help our state’s POC communities. Seriously, it’s a big deal and our state needs it to elevate our POC communities.
For U.S. Representative in the 117th Congress from the 5th Congressional District of Georgia
This section has been updated to reflect concerns regarding Lewis\’ diagnosis of stage four pancreatic cancer.
Barrington D. Martin II is running against incumbent Lewis for this one and that is … interesting. Martin is a Georgia State University graduate who appears to have no experience and is running against renowned civil rights leader Lewis for Congress. This, frankly, feels like a toss up and might be about where your heart is at. Want something new? Vote for Martin. Want more of the same? Go with Lewis. Totally your call.
It is a risk going with someone with no experience, but it could also be exactly what we need — someone who hasn\’t been exposed to the dark and corrupt inner-workings of our political systems. Martin II has a solid platform, introducing the concept of the People\’s Bailout, which includes universal healthcare along with universal guaranteed income. (YES.)
It\’s also important to consider Lewis\’ major health concerns. If something were to happen and Lewis were to become unable to fulfill his duties in Congress, Gov. Kemp would have the power to make his own appointment without having to hear the voice of the people. Weigh this into your decision and ask do we really need another mess in Congress like Sen. Kelly Loeffler, Kemp\’s last appointment?
For those unfamiliar, Loeffler is constantly under fire for her acts of corruption including insider trading and ultimately banking off the COVID-19 pandemic. Again, another rabbit hole for you to go down, but that\’s the kind of thing that\’s at risk if Kemp gains control of this seat in one way or another.
District Attorney of the Atlanta Judicial Circuit
This is a longer bit, but stay with us. On the primary ballot for Fulton County District Attorney, incumbent District Attorney Paul L. Howard Jr. is facing off with two former employees and former assistant district attorneys Christian Wise Smith and Fani Willis.
Howard made history in 1996 as Georgia\’s first elected Black District Attorney and has remained in this position for six consecutive terms. His office pioneered the Conviction Integrity Unit which has been publicly lauded for its innovation in working to implement good faith measures and amend wrongful convictions, along with the Complaint Room, which shortens the time between arrest and sentencing or dismissal to decrease jail populations.
Most recently, Howard rightfully brought charges against the six officers who were involved in Morehouse and Spelman college students Messiah Young and Taniyah Turner within the matter of a few days. Just yesterday, the AJC reported that police chief Erica Shields stated the APD was “blindsided” by the charges, and honestly, the story is a bit confusing. It appears Howard did the right thing but is being accused of doing so as a political move to garner a re-election. Vince Champion of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers (check out their website; we don’t trust it) stated in an interview with WSBTV that Howard’s actions are skeptical considering how quickly the charges were brought against the officers. This story is a whole thing and we don’t have time to dissect it at this moment. There are marches happening.
Here’s the bottom line: frankly, we don’t give a shit why Howard brought the charges forward, because it needed to be done. However, it’s important to look at the bigger picture when it comes to Howard’s experience and not let this one case alone determine a re-election. Howard has quite a bit of laundry list of controversies surrounding him.
On the heels of his seventh term, local political pundits and former colleagues alike speculate that recent controversies surrounding Howard paired with challenges to his incumbency could spell trouble. According to various reports from the AJC, Howard has faced criticism for the high amount of turnover in his office, his at times contentious relationship with law enforcement and judges, has been sued for harrasment and discrimination by three female employees, is currently sifting through a complaint from the state ethics commission for a dozen violations of public disclosure, and is currently under investigation by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation for receiving $250,000 in payments from the City of Atlanta. These payments bypassed City Council\’s approval under former Mayor Kasim Reed\’s administration and landed in Howard\’s non-profit People Partnering for Progress. Howard maintains that concerns relating to the misallocation of payments are rooted in clerical discrepancies and has issued statements about confidence in his own exoneration. Shit is fucked up and is probably not what we want more of.
TL;DR: Don’t vote for Paul Howard. He is trash.
Amongst the two challengers, Willis takes precedent in experience. According to her campaign’s official website, Willis has served as Howard’s former chief deputy, assistant solicitor for the city, Deputy District Attorney of the Complex Trial Division, Chief Municipal Court Judge for the City of South Fulton, and has headed her own private practice. Her platform distinguishes itself from the race’s other opponent’s in that it takes a more expansive approach in issues ranging from pre/post-indictment diversion, more thorough investigations to ensure rightful convictions, and establishing better relations with community leaders. She also received an endorsement from former Atlanta mayoral candidate Mary Norwood, who ran as opponent to both Kasim Reed and Keisha Bottoms, along with Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore and others. Here’s the thing: we are caught up in a lot of neoliberalism right now, and we’d go on to say it’s not helping us very much. Endorsements such as these should not serve to impress us; let us again look at the lesser known candidate.
Wise Smith’s campaign takes the boldest approach with seemingly less generalized platform items and more resonant and timely issues that are teeming in our nation’s protests: a justice system that values people over conviction rates, halting cannabis prosecutions, 86’ing cash bonds, a transparency board, refocusing resources on violent crime, and working to end the school to prison pipeline. He also appears to be the only candidate that appears to have a more realistic experience with the criminal justice system that the Black Lives Matter movement is familiar with and fighting against. Wise Smith has openly shared that he saw his mother “in and out of jail,” and that his uncle is currently serving time for murder. In another interview with the Nation, he explained, “Atlanta suffers from all of the symptoms of mass incarceration. If you walk into a courtroom in Fulton County Superior Court, you almost wouldn’t know there are white people breaking the law in Atlanta. Everyone being sent to jail is poor. And that’s under Paul Howard’s tenure.” He is also the only candidate we’ve seen on this ballot so far, besides Sanders, who’s made any comment on social media about BLM and the issues surrounding it. This is our guy; he gets it.
Theodore “Ted” Jackson is the incumbent in this race running for his fourth term against Walter M. Calloway, Myron Freeman, Patrick “Pat” Labat, and Charles D. Rambo. (Considering we’re all in Rambo mode right now, it might be difficult to not vote for him based on his last name alone.) But for real, though, here’s some brass tacks:
Jackson claims he wants to continue “all the programs from youth, seniors, and homeless initiatives.” However, if you live in Atlanta, you might be wondering what those programs and initiatives are and if they’re actually working. If you feel we are doing well in this area, then by all means, vote for Jackson. But take note of Atlanta’s homelessness population data before making that decision. (Spoiler alert: there are 3,076 people homeless in Atlanta on a given night. That’s almost one-third of the state’s entire homeless population.)
Calloway has served the Atlanta Police Department, Georgia Police Department, Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice, and the Fulton County Sheriff Office over the past 25 years. His platform includes “Project Take Back Our Youth,” which is intended to ensure that juvenile delinquency and misconduct is not matched with jail time. Instead, Calloway promises to ensure children have access to social services by being proactive with municipalities, county officials, and community organizations. On his site, Calloway says, “It’s time to stop using band-aids and start addressing the root causes of these issues.” He also speaks strongly about making sure the homeless population gets help rather than continuing the game of “catch and release” between them and the jail systems. This is solid.
Freeman served as sheriff before from 2005 to 2008. In 2005, he received criticism for an Atlanta courthouse shooting spree. He also spent 34 years with the Georgia State Patrol before retiring. No official campaign website here, so probably not the most trustworthy proposition.
This is Labat’s third time running for sheriff and he previously served as chief of the Atlanta Department of Corrections (ehhhhh). There’s no mention of the homeless population at all on his website and he actually wants to “improve jail conditions.” His website also states that “it is critical that we continue to find new ways to improve the safety for all 15 cities within our county, making it an even more attractive place for residents and business owners to call their home.” With Atlanta being the fourth fastest gentrified city in the country, that doesn’t feel very good.
Rambo’s biggest priority appears to be constitutional policing, which by definition means that “policing must be conducted in accordance with the parameters set by the U.S. Constitution, state constitutions, and the many court decisions that have defined in greater detail what the text of the Constitution means in terms of the everyday practices of policing.” This sounds okay, I guess? Except not if the legal parameters include leeway for police brutality, which we are seeing a hell of a lot of. His website doesn’t offer much else. Maybe let’s not go Rambo on this one.
Fulton County Commissioner From District No. 4
Last in the contests is Kathryn Flowers running against incumbent Natalie Hall. The two ran against each other in 2017, when Flowers initially won in the general by 209 votes; however, Flowers was then defeated by Hall by a mere 508 votes in the runoff.
Flowers and her campaign tout the slogan “overtaxed and under-represented” (amen). Her platform’s priorities are a fair property tax system, affordable housing, economic growth and opportunity, and seniors’ quality of life. It’s important to note that a fair property system and ensuring affordable housing for seniors as well as millennials (her words, not mine) will help Atlanta’s ongoing displacement of lower-income families and communities. Her campaign site also connects the issues of income inequality to homelessness and city costs going to our criminal justice system. A+.
Our search for Hall’s website led us to a giant “404 ERROR” page. Maybe that answers that? Just kidding. Again, go with your heart. These two had a really close race in 2017. Perhaps “out with the old, in with the new” is the way to go. We are in a revolution, after all.
We’re serious about taking a protest sign with you when you go wait in line to vote. The movement never stops. #blacklivesmatter
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