“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” — Maya Angelou
“Have you ever seen the movies where the junior lawyer comes running into the courtroom right before the end of the case, shaking a piece of paper, yelling, ‘Wait!’ and then they drop the bombshell and that’s the thing that wins the case? That’s the moment that I had.” Before we hear more about Dr. Jasmine Clark’s real-life movie moment in the Well of the Georgia House Chamber, let’s find out how the Emory University Professor of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, who’d never been politically active before 2017, became the Georgia State House Representative for District 108 in 2018.
March for Science Atlanta
Clark vividly remembers the moment she was inspired to enter the political arena. “Donald Trump had just been inaugurated, and the first thing he did was attack climate science. I’m a scientist, I have a degree in microbiology. I took it personally.”
Clark immediately joined the March for Science movement on Facebook. Working groups formed in Georgia and held meetings. Ultimately, they democratically chose Clark to lead Atlanta’s March for Science, which she says was “the most time consuming, hardest thing” she’d ever done — and she has a PhD! On the day of the march, she had no idea how many people would actually show up. It’s easy to check a box on an invitation, but how many would follow through? Maybe 100? 500? 10,000 marched in the name of science! Looking back, Clark recognizes that together — the challenges, the sweat equity and the ultimate success of the Atlanta March for Science — provided critical experiences she needed on her journey to the Georgia Capitol.
After the march, Clark became the Community Outreach Director of the Georgia Alliance for Social Justice. The GAFSJ uses political mobilization to promote social justice and defend underrepresented communities.
The Call to Serve
Then came the 2018 midterm elections. The Republican incumbent in Clark’s district, Clay Cox, who’d held the seat for six years, was running unopposed. Clark saw this as the perfect opportunity to start making the decisions rather than asking legislators to make them. “I needed a seat at the table. I needed to be in the room.”
Having never been politically active, she had no idea where to begin. Where do I sign up? Who do I talk to? Despite not having a roadmap or a political mentor, Clark, an expert problem solver, knew she would “figure out how to get from Point A to Point B.”
Clark may have lacked political connections, but she had a wealth of support from her fellow activists and scientists. Dr. Eric Hunter, Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at Emory University, heartily supported Clark’s run for the Georgia State House. “She is a really smart and committed individual who is always helping others,” Hunter said. “I think the data-driven perspective that Jasmine brings is sorely missing in the legislature.” Despite her lack of political experience, despite living in a state with a GOP supermajority for nearly twenty years, and despite being a scientist and a Black woman in the South — Dr. Jasmine Clark beat the odds. She became the Georgia House Representative for District 108.
“I read a bill like I read a scientific paper”
The new representative anticipated that the propaganda and lies of the Republican campaigns would end once she entered the hallowed halls of the Georgia Capitol. “You expect in the building we will be dealing in truth. I quickly found out that was not the case.”
One time, a Republican was at the speaker’s podium (known as the “Well”), calling for a vote on a bill that would have impacted Clark’s constituents — but she hadn’t seen the bill. When she was unable to find a copy of the bill anywhere, Clark spoke up. “I’m not voting on a bill I haven’t had a chance to read.” The vote was stopped.
A more significant incident occurred during the vote on Georgia House Bill 481, also known as the “Heartbeat Bill.” The bill decreed abortion illegal once a fetus’s heartbeat was detected — a blatant attack on Roe v. Wade and on Clark’s firm belief in a woman’s right to choose.
“For bills that are life-changing, those are the ones I want to understand at a microscopic level, not just at a big picture level. I’m not looking at the trees in the forest, I’m looking at the leaves in the forest.” Clark stands firm when it comes to bills like HB 481. “I read that bill back and forth multiple times,” she explained, but the Republicans kept rewriting it, making it more difficult to stay on top of the language.
The bill cited a quote from a physician from the American Academy of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Clark had never heard of the American “Academy” of Obstetrics and Gynecology, only the American “College” of Obstetrics and Gynecology. With the assistance of her colleagues, they determined the Academy did not exist and the quote was invented. That was the bombshell moment when she realized, “Oh my gosh, they made it up!”
Despite procedural obstacles and an impending vote, Clark was able to share her findings with the group of astonished legislators. The record was corrected with the quote removed although ultimately the bill passed the House.
That day Clark made a positive difference. But she also realized she was just one person, one voice in a general assembly of 180. Congress is supposed to represent all the people. And many Georgia voices are not being heard. Their interests and needs are not being recognized. As a scientist, a mother of two children — a boy and a girl, and a Black woman, Clark represents many of those unheard voices.
“Everyone is nice in the elevator”
What has it been like for Clark, serving in the very red Georgia House during the Trump era of blatant, unrestrained racism? What has it been like to work in an environment dominated by well-connected, Southern white men?
While Confederate monuments were being toppled across the country, Georgia legislators were voting to protect them. In March 2019, the Georgia Senate passed GS 77, a bill enacted to provide more protections for monuments and increase the penalties for defacing them.
“The people who will smile at me in the elevators, wave to me in the hallways, ask me how my day is, ask me how my family is — those same people were standing in the Well saying they can’t think of anything worse than someone defacing Confederate monuments,” she said. They refuse to acknowledge that “people who look like me were dragged behind trucks, hung from trees, abused and killed.” How could anyone deem spray paint worse than slavery and murder?
It made me realize everyone is nice in the elevator, and when it comes to making laws there are no friends in politics. The same people who will invite you to lunch, are the same people who will vote against you, who will vote for horror and terror. And have no qualms about it. It was a wake-up call about people.”
Many Americans still desperately cling to the abhorrent beliefs of the past. What’s even worse, Donald Trump has emboldened, even encouraged, racists to act illegally, violently, even to kill. “Who’s going to stop them when they are the players and the referees?” Clark asks. There is not a single Democratic chair in the Georgia House. Not a single Democratic subcommittee chair. Even when Georgia Democrats finally break the GOP supermajority — she laments, “The roots of what Trump and [Gov. Brian] Kemp have done will take a long time to undo.”
Clark’s Second Term: Education and Health Care
During her second term, Clark plans to continue to pull out those roots through legislation. Her top platform issues are education and healthcare, and she hopes to chair the Committee of Higher Education. She wants to expand access to higher education by providing in-state tuition for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) students and foster children as well as create more needs-based scholarships. Clark’s background makes her supremely qualified to lead that committee. “Education is the way we can lift everyone up,” she says. She also will work to enact HB 133, of which she was the primary sponsor, into law. HB 133 would require medically accurate sex education, including the prevention of HIV.
Of critical importance is Clark’s continued fight for Medicaid expansion. In 2013, Georgia Republicans refused to accept the federal matching funds that would have allowed the state to offer Medicaid programs to more Georgians who lacked adequate health care. This party-line decision has already led to unnecessary illnesses and deaths. Rural hospitals are closing, and some counties don’t have a maternal medicine physician or even a general practitioner. The grave irony is that the state that fights to save a fetus with a heartbeat has the highest maternal death rate in the country. The hypocrisy of these “pro-life” Republicans is stunning and deadly.
Further, Gov. Brian Kemp and Georgia Republicans want to repeal the ACA (Affordable Care Act), which would leave hundreds of thousands of Georgians without any healthcare. “If you’re poor and you don’t work — you get Medicaid,” explains Clark. Expanding Medicaid would provide health insurance for those working Georgians who can’t afford it and those whose coverage is insufficient. “People have died because they were more afraid of debt, than illness.”
As Clark points out, although Republicans claim to be fiscally responsible, Georgia is losing $3 billion a year by refusing the Medicaid expansion. Georgians may not realize they are already paying those Medicaid dollars with their taxes. It’s just that those tax dollars are going to other states, not their own. “Show me a Republican who would turn down that money for a highway,” she demands. “They love federal matching funds for every other project, except the ones that help people, the ones that save lives. That I have a problem with.”
During her first term, Clark has shown great integrity, tenacity and intelligence serving as Georgia’s House Representative for District 108. She lives by the words of the late Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
More information about Jasmine Clark for Georgia here
Photo credit: https://www.millennialaction.org/jasmine-clark
DemCast is an advocacy-based 501(c)4 nonprofit. We have made the decision to build a media site free of outside influence. There are no ads. We do not get paid for clicks. If you appreciate our content, please consider a small monthly donation.