CLARKESVILLE, GA. — On Tues., Sept. 17, former gubernatorial candidate turned national leader Stacey Abrams spoke in front of a crowd at Habersham Recreation Center, about 75 miles north of metro Atlanta in Clarkesville, Ga. Many locals came to see Abrams, founder of the nonprofit organization Fair Fight Action (which went national last month), with the event reaching capacity before its start time at 5 p.m.
Visitors were welcomed by Fair Fight staff members and volunteers, fronted by Director of Organization Hillary Holley. We were also greeted by a relatively small crowd of Trump supporters in an underwhelming protest (perhaps they were tuckered out from the white supremacist rally that was masked as a Trump rally held in Clarkesville on Sat., Sept. 14?), waving Trump/Pence campaign signs, as well as handmade ones reading “Don’t Mess With My Vote” and “Legal Votes Are Fair Votes.” These signs and their defensiveness, seemingly a response to feeling threatened, appeared to reflect a vast misunderstanding of Abrams’ movement. Fair Fight Action works to expand democracy and ensure all American voters have access to the polls—without threatening or “messing with” any other citizen’s access to this fundamental right.
In fact, according to Fair Fight and other civil rights organizations’ data dating back to 2008, former Secretary of State Brian Kemp and the State of Georgia exhibited an array of patterns that repeatedly messed with perfectly legal American citizens’ right to vote. Abrams and Fair Fight Action are putting in the work in their litigation, legislation, and advocacy to not only correct these patterns, but update and expand democracy to truly include the marginalized and disenfranchised.
Leader Abrams has been on the road since she conceded to Kemp as Georgia’s governor, speaking to audiences to tell her story and make the reality of voter suppression more widely known. Despite the important, consequential nature of voter suppression, it is probably the least discussed topic in the political landscape today—especially in the midst of hot-button topics including abortion, immigration, health care, and whatever Trump’s latest, most outrageous tweet was.
Abrams took some extra time to address the overflow crowd to make sure all—including the supporters of the right—had a chance to hear her message. Her full speech is captured in the video below.
“In every moment we find ways to make more happen,” she said. “In the wake of what was a cartoon villain deciding to manipulate circumstances to his own end, we have launched a national organization and a national movement to end voter suppression in 2020 in America. And that begins here in Georgia.”
Being in Habersham County, Abrams specifically noted that there was a 37% increase in Democratic turnout between 2014 and 2018 within the county. “So don’t tell me we don’t have Democrats up here in North Georgia,” she said.
Trump supporters began chanting something indecipherable, to which Abrams’ supporters began to buck up. Abrams urged them to stop, calmly explaining, “You don’t yell at a bug. There is no reason to get upset with noise.”
As the crew of Trump supporters began to cause some minor disruption, Abrams stated, “As long as we are willing to work together—and ignore the noise—we [can] create change together.”
Later in the main room full of inquisitors and supporters, Abrams mentioned the events that transpired in the town the previous weekend. A group of white nationalists organized an event and billed it as a pro-Trump rally, which ended in riots and arrests. In response to mild boo’s and heavy sighs, Abrams brought the room back to the positive side of things.
The weight of this is key: never before in U.S. history has a state election spawned a political movement. Furthermore, Georgia is the battleground state when it comes to voter suppression. According to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, no state other than Georgia has gone through such drastic measures and legislation to impede on voters’ rights. In fact, according to the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Georgia has seen 214 polling closures as recommended by Kemp since 2013. By comparison, since the same year, Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina have closed 215 polling locations combined.
“They wouldn’t be angry if you weren’t doing something right,” she said, instantly gaining unanimous applause. She added that the work supporters do in this region is what speaks to North Georgia’s character, not the “small but loud” groups like the somewhat aggressive one sitting just outside.
Abrams continued to deliver a message of community and bridging gaps despite our differences, while never wavering in her most important message: voter suppression in America is real. She pointed out that if voter suppression wasn’t, then there wouldn’t be such a defensive and visceral response.
While Abrams may have conceded to the election results in Georgia last November, she did not, as she put it, “concede to the process.” Following her concession speech (jokingly referred to as her “non-concession speech” amongst Fair Fight advocates) on Nov. 16, 2018, Abrams steadfastly formed Fair Fight Action and began litigation against Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and the State Board of Elections to address the deep-rooted issues that catalyzed the race’s results.
The current trial is a historic civil rights lawsuit. If the plaintiffs are successful in this case, it would uproot Georgia elections from systemically entrenched and currently legal voter suppression and set a precedent for the rest of the nation.
In response to this litigation—and with Kemp now residing in the Governor’s Mansion—the state of Georgia drafted and passed House Bill 316 in a weak attempt to sweep voter suppression under the rug and protect the system as it stands. The bill was passed in April 2019. The state then appealed for the trial’s dismissal on May 30, 2019, essentially claiming in its motion that, thanks to HB 316, all problems were now solved and there was no need for a trial.
Judge Steve Jones did not accept the state’s request to dismiss and instead fast-tracked the trial into discovery with an anticipated trial date in March 2020. This is a huge win for Fair Fight Action, slating the case to potentially revolutionize voting systems ahead of the 2020 presidential election.
This article has been updated to include a correction that the event held in Clarkesville, Ga., on Sat. Sept. 14, was not in fact a Trump rally. It was actually a white supremacist rally that promoted itself and operated under the guise of a pro-Trump rally. This was quickly corrected after this article’s initial publication at 9:15am on Wed., Sept. 18.
The Mainline provides in-depth coverage of Georgia’s example and its landscape as the battleground of voter suppression in the U.S. in its next installment, “The Way Out Issue.” The print version hits stands in Atlanta on Fri., Sept. 27.
The Mainline will host an event featuring special advance distribution of Issue Two on Thurs., Sept. 26, with additional cities receiving the issues in October.
We will also continue to follow Abrams and Fair Fight Action closely, including the trial.