“Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.” —Traditional rhyme
Traditions. They are the things that bind us together over time, create the fabric of society, and mark momentous occasions in our individual lives. While this time we are not commemorating a wedding, we are celebrating a union, the union of Georgia with the Democratic — or blue — Party.
January 20, 2021, was a day that honored the tradition of the peaceful transfer of power in our country. This event brought us (virtually) together in wonder and joy, particularly for those of us who worked to elect President Biden and Vice President Harris, the first Black, first Asian and first woman to hold that office.
But the day was doubly special to me as a Georgian to see the swearing-in of our two newly elected Democratic senators: Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock.
Their swearing-in was also steeped in time-honored tradition as the new vice president swore them in on the floor of the Senate. This body returned to its legislative purpose — scarred but standing — after the January 6 insurrection against our government by white supremacists who believed the daily hailstorm of lies from outgoing President Donald J. Trump.
He claimed slates of electors certified by Republican and Democratic governors alike were invalid, that the election was fraudulent and he had won. Then he personally gathered to rally — amid cries of “fight” and “trial by combat” — the seditionists he sent down Pennsylvania Avenue to storm the Capitol that day.
But truth prevailed and tradition carried on.
Both Ossoff and Warnock carried parts of their own traditions with them to Washington. Ossoff, who is Jewish, was sworn in using a Hebrew Bible that had belonged to Rabbi Jacob Rothschild, the former head of Atlanta’s Hebrew Benevolent Congregation Temple and friend to Martin Luther King, Jr. In his pocket were copies of the ships’ manifests from Ellis Island that were recorded when his great-grandfather Israel and his great-grandmother Annie immigrated to the United States in 1911 and 1913, respectively.
Rev. Warnock was senior pastor of Atlanta’s Historic 4th Ward Ebenezer Baptist Church, where MLK once led the congregation. He grew up in the Kayton Homes housing projects of Savannah and carries in his head his father’s words that started each of his childhood days: “Get up, put your shoes on, get ready.”
Between them, they carried the spirit of the late Congressman John Lewis (D-GA) who had been a political mentor and friend of the new senators.
While many are celebrating Georgia’s votes for the trifecta of a Democrat for president and two history-making Democratic senators, this victory was not an overnight phenomenon. Nor is it predictive of Georgia’s own governing future, which is still controlled by Republicans from the governor’s office on down. Republicans at this moment are rushing to eliminate “no excuse absentee voting” while Democrats are pushing to expand voting options for Georgia’s electorate.
In the past, Georgia’s Republicans “literally constructed hurdles to make it difficult for people to participate and to shrink the electorate and to discourage participation …” said Nse Ufot, CEO of the New Georgia Project, shortly before the election presidential election.
Still, we got to this “blue” moment in Georgia from a convergence of people and events:
● Stacey Abrams: The groundwork to register voters undertaken by Abrams, starting in 2013 with the creation of the New Georgia Project and, later, Fair Fight Action, is the foundational reason Georgia flipped blue in 2020. Coupled with her near victory over Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp in 2018, Abrams has put in the blood, sweat and tears to make our victory on January 20 possible. She has emerged as a national voice against voter suppression and voter disenfranchisement, inspiring many along the way. “She laid the groundwork for young people to get involved,” noted 19-year-old Bhavin Patel, president of the state’s College Democrats Association.
● George Floyd: The May 25, 2020, death of Georgia Floyd awakened widespread concern about race and policing. Social justice demonstrations sprung up not just here in the U.S. but across the world. The year had already seen two publicized deaths of Black Americans: Breonna Taylor, shot by police officers in Louisville, Kentucky, while she slept in her apartment, and Ahmaud Arbery gunned down by white citizens in Brunswick, Georgia, while jogging. These horrific murders helped drive voters to push racial justice to the top of Biden’s agenda, which he honored within his first 48 hours as president.
● New voters: Georgia saw a dramatic increase in the youth vote and the Black vote. Racial justice and policing concerns have been particular drivers for young Black voters. “There’s a lot of anxiety amongst Black youth — youth of color, youth period: Is this our country, is this what we are inheriting?” said Ufot. The Los Angeles Times reported that between 2016 and 2020, youth voter registration in Georgia rose by a whopping 34%, while according to a 2020 Pew Research report, “Black eligible voters have accounted for nearly half of Georgia electorate’s growth since 2000.”
● Grassroots organizing: Numerous on-the-ground groups got the Democratic vote registered and to the polls. Only days after the presidential election, an article in Time stated, “It came down to grassroots organizing by groups like the New Georgia Project, Campus Vote Project, Students for 2020 and Opportunity Youth United, which made innovative social media moves and hired younger volunteers to help young voters see themselves in politics.” These efforts carried over into the Senate runoffs for Ossoff and Warnock, and included numerous other Democratic nonprofit groups like DemCast and its state team, DemCastGA.
● Demographic change: Over the last decade, Georgia’s population has grown from 9.6 million to 10.6 million, fueled in part by Asian and Latino people moving to the state. Also, in a striking reverse of the Great Migration, many Black Americans, particularly those under age of 35, are now moving to the South for economic opportunities. These patterns have significantly changed Georgia’s demographics. “About 10% of its [Georgia’s] population is now foreign born, and the state has the nation’s fastest-growing number of immigrants eligible to vote,” said the Los Angeles Times.
Let’s hope that Georgia’s turn to blue in the last election cycle bodes well for the future of Democratic voters in the state.
Image of Ossoff and Warnock from the Ossoff campaign Twitter account.
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