We know it might not feel like it right now, but this election was a victory. On November 6 and in the weeks prior, voters turned out in unheard of numbers for a midterm election, making their voices heard across the state. Despite a huge effort to stop black and brown people from voting, we joined together to rebuke politics as usual and change our state for the better. We didn’t win decisively, but we scared the hell out of the forces of white supremacy that have held our state for generations.
In 2010, Georgia voters cast 2.5 million votes, 53 percent of which went to Nathan Deal. The result wasn’t much different in 2014, when, again, about 2.5 million Georgians voted and reelected Deal with 52.8 percent of the vote. This year, nearly 3.9 million votes were counted in Georgia, and Kemp is only at 50.5 percent, with votes left to count. That’s an increase of 64 percent despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of voters were kicked off the rolls, polling places were closed and voters of color intimidated. And that’s huge.
Our candidates for the state house and state senate lost in districts drawn to favor Republicans strongly, once again diluting Athens’ legislative power the way the map was designed to do. In the past, it has been hard for many Georgians to get excited about voting when the candidates don’t stand with us on critical issues. Participation in this election was high because we had better candidates — not middle-of-the-road, stand-for-nothing candidates, but ones who fought for organized labor, for better wages, for access to healthcare, for the rights of the undocumented and incarcerated, for abortion rights and, above all, for the rights of the many against the few.
There were other positives. Athens overwhelmingly passed its brunch bill, which means restaurants can serve alcohol beginning at 11 a.m. as soon as our commission approves the change. That, in turn, means more sales tax collected, including from tourists, which means more funding for the ideas that our upcoming mayor and commission hope to push through. Amendment 1 passed, creating a mechanism for conservation funding, which means more parks and land for wildlife. So did Amendment 5, which may result in better-funded schools in some districts. John Barrow likely managed to make it to a run-off for Secretary of State.
Nationally, there was better news, especially when it came to policy on the ballot. The Democrats took back the House, meaning there’s now a possible check on the president’s power (although we need to keep pressuring them to fight for bold policy). Transformative socialist women of color including Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, and Jahana Hayes are headed to the US House. Florida approved the automatic restoration of voting rights to previously convicted felons, the kind of change that could remake the state as it returns the vote to more than a million people. Oregon voted to keep public funding of abortions. Michigan legalized recreational marijuana use, and Missouri and Utah legalized medical marijuana. Utah, Idaho and Nebraska all voted to expand Medicaid. Colorado, Missouri and Michigan passed amendments that create independent redistricting commissions. Maryland and Michigan passed same-day voter registration. Michigan and Nevada approved automatic voter registration. Arkansas and Missouri passed minimum wage increases. Even when left-leaning candidates weren’t popular, these policies were, and that means something.
We put our effort into writing and distributing our voter guide as widely as possible,getting more than 5,000 Spanish- and English-language copies out into the community, and YOU helped us do that. You phone-banked with us, contacting thousand of voters. You knocked on over 1,000 doors. You made cookies to feed volunteers. You drove people to the polls. You learned how to register voters.
You helped your friends and neighbors vote. You taught them how to do the work. You made our endorsed candidates better by creating a platform that demanded that they support a massive public jobs plan, a $15 minimum wage, an end to money bail and much more. You showed that organizing matters and that we can’t make real change alone.
In 2014, Athens’ conservative mayor looked unbeatable, and no candidate from the local political establishment emerged to contest her position. A young progressive outsider launched a protest candidacy. The naysayers were right, and the young idealist lost that race 60 percent to 40 percent. Yet, it was anything but a hopeless defeat.
The grassroots activists of his campaign took the network of volunteers, donors and organizers that developed over the course of the campaign and launched a 501c4 nonprofit with a focus on changing the local politics of Athens, Georgia. That nonprofit was Athens for Everyone, and we have gone on to achieve many victories. We started by lobbying for specific local issues and organizing public demonstrations. We kept our focus local and built strength and grew our membership and public profile. This May, every candidate we endorsed in Athens’ local elections won.
Next time, we won’t have to build organizations from scratch. Next time, there will be even more experienced progressive activists and volunteers ready to lead a movement for change. This work is going on everywhere. Together, in our community and across this country, we’re making progress to transform this society so that it truly works for all of us.
Help us do more. Set up a monthly donation to continue to make our work possible or commit to volunteering with us as we fight for a better Athens.
Athens for Everyone
November 7, 2018