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07 January 2021

Georgia on my mind: a historic victory for Democrats

By Maxine Thomas-Asante

While Trump insisted he would “ never concede” his loss of the US Presidential election, history was being made with the outcome of the US Senate race. On 5 January, many Georgians eagerly awaited the outcome of their latest trip to the ballot boxes.

But didn’t they just have their election?

American elections work slightly differently to the British election. In the US, they first vote for their president (executive), which we will remember from Biden’s win we celebrated not too long ago. The presidential election comes around the same time as the vote for the Senate and House of Representatives legislators. However, if the threshold has not been reached, a subsequent vote follows later on. In the 2020 election, the Senate race for Georgia was incredibly close and even went to a second round, or “runoff”, when no candidate emerged as a clear victor.

Making history in Georgia

One of the most groundbreaking results of this runoff vote was election of the first black man to represent Georgia in the Senate. Reverend Raphael Warnock, a preacher from the same church as Reverend Martin Luther King Junior, is tapped to be elected into the Senate. US TV networks have announced his win, with 98% of the votes counted.

Not only is Warnock the first Black male Senator in Georgia’s history, this election marks the first (two) democratic senator for Georgia in 28 years. Where both Senate seats for Georgia have historically been Republican, the recently elected Senators for Georgia, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, are both Democratic candidates. The size of this win is bigger than we would imagine in Britain, with Warnock being only the 11th Black senator in history. This is even more remarkable, when we realise there are over twice as many Black Americans in Georgia (33%) as compared to the rest of the US (13%).

It is clear that there is a fresh energy in Georgia, demanding immediate change. There was a spirit of dedication, with 40% of registered voters voting early. The decision in Georgia comes off the back of 2020, which was a truly landmark year for Black Americans who mobilised powerfully and successfully.

Does Georgia owe a debt to Stacey Abrams?

CNN host Van Jones, attributes the credit for this newsworthy result to Black women working at the grassroots level, particularly Stacey Abrams. Abrams is widely being celebrated as a key figure having changed the political direction of Georgia for both the US Presidential election and the Senate election. She has mobilised the grassroots in the form of organisers, volunteers and canvassers, who targeted their efforts to communities with historically low turnouts. Their campaign was so successful that over 100,000 people who didn’t vote in the recent presidential election, submitted mail-in ballots for the run off elections.

Georgia’s numerous grassroots voting projects – namely Black Voters Matter and Fair Fight – projected Black joy to encourage people to make their way to the ballot. The Black Voters Matters campaign was driven by Black Lives Matter co-founder LaTosha Brown. Through a combination of food, music, dance and community gathering, local activists enthused people to actively participate in their democracy. Their strategy was about “meeting voters where they are.” The framing of this vote was less about party politics, and more about people taking agency over the institutions who are supposed to represent them. Van Jones has coined this the triumph of Black joy over Republican white rage.

This win cannot be underestimated. It required Abrams to establish Democratic infrastructure in a state that has been Republican for decades. Interestingly, Abrams, herself, ran for Governor of Georgia unsuccessfully in 2018, which first inspired the launch of her organisation. Despite losing, she regrouped and has been influential in recent political outcomes in her state. With this evident change of tide, her chances are looking much stronger for a potential re-run in 2022.

Save America Rally

While we are encouraged and inspired by this result, pro-Trump supporters have already taken to the streets of Georgia, armed with guns. They aim to reclaim an America they believe is being lost to progressives. The threat of violence intensified with Trump supporters storming the Capitol building across the country in Washington D.C. The situation was so bad on Wednesday, that Representatives were tweeting behind their locked office doors. Meanwhile Senators were taking news interviews from safe rooms. Gas bombs and guns were some of the weapons taken into the Capitol building by rioters. These groups are being referred to as legitimate protestors or the MAGA mob depending on who you ask.

At the early stages of the protest the mayor of Washington D.C. requested the national guard. This request was rejected initially by President Trump. It is very telling that Trump refused to release the national guard, considering the ease with which he empowered the army to shut down the Black Lives Matter protests with rubber bullets, just last year. As an attempt to control the situation, the mayor of Washington D.C. established a 6pm curfew and brought in riot police.

The riot was inspired by a talk delivered by Trump on the same day (Wednesday 6th Jan), where he encouraged those at his rally to march to the Capitol. An instruction that was seemingly heeded by the far right. The breach of the Capitol building saw protestors sitting in the President’s seat in the House of Representatives. It is the first Capitol breach of this nature since 1814, according to CNN.

It is our sincere hope that staff in the Capitol building will be kept safe and this violent protest will subside.

What does this mean for Biden?

The challenge in American politics is that when there is tension between the president, the Senate and the House of Representatives it can be the struggle of Sisyphus (rolling the stone up a hill) to try and pass meaningful change in the form of legislation. Resistance in the Senate is widely identified as the reason Obama was unable to achieve the extent of the change he had promised during presidential term.

The hope here is that with a Democratic Senate Biden will be able to move forward with some of his more progressive policy ideas such as tackling the climate emergency. This will still be close as the Georgian run off has meant the Senate will have a 50-50 split between Democrats and Republicans, with the Democrat president (Vice President of the US) as the ceremonial tie-breaker. As Congress approved the Electoral College’s decision to elect President Biden the image is certainly hopeful for the Democrats.  It is worth noting that the next set of Senate and House votes will be in just 2 years, which means Biden will need to make good progress before then.

At this stage, it is projected the Democrats will hold a majority in the Senate for the first time in 6 years. Following the attempted coup last night, Trump has assured America that he will facilitate an “orderly handover”. The Democrat win, in the words of the Senate Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer, feels like a “brand new day”.