JTwo days before Election Day, more than three dozen black men and boys gathered in Jonesboro, Georgia, to share what they would say if they were seated across from the state’s next governor.
“I would like to ask our politicians, ‘What specifically is your black agenda for black people? said one. “Not a run-off, where you do something for everyone, no. “What do you have specifically for black men and black people?”
The issues raised by the men ranged from low wages and education issues to concerns about the health and safety of their children and the silent shutdown. But for most of the men gathered that day, a lingering theme emerged: Whether Georgia’s next leader — whether Democrat Stacey Abrams or Republican Brian Kemp — will maintain a focus on Georgia’s black residents. State.
“I would ask them, ‘Apart from the election period, are you committed to us?’ asked another participant. “Are you committed to black and brown people and helping us move forward in property, voting rights and anything that gives us a level playing field to make us equal to our counterparts?” The other men cheered.
Black voters have become a potent force in Georgian politics – in 2020 they flipped Georgia blue for President Joe Biden, then proved a crucial voting bloc to elect the state’s two new Democratic senators, whose victories secured control of Congress to the Democratic Party. It was a celebratory moment for Georgia Democrats and the state’s black community. But two years later, many black voters are more ambivalent about their vote, as was clear in the discussion hosted by the Black Man Lab, which provides a space for black men and boys to talk about their feelings and learn. one another.
Democrats Abrams and Sen. Raphael Warnock will need strong support from black Georgians to win on Tuesday. This year, black voters are again showing up in large numbers, but not because they’re particularly happy with Democrats. Some polls suggest Democrats are losing support from this group. In 2018, for example, exit polls and AP VoteCast found that more than 93% of voters backed Abrams, up from 83% in an average of early October polls, according to the Washington Job.
Early turnout in the midterm elections broke the state’s previous record, according to the Georgian state secretary’s tally. By Saturday, after early in-person voting ended, more than 2.5 million Georgians had cast their ballots at polling stations or returned their mail-in ballots. Several outlets reported that the share of early voters who are black has increased compared to 2020. “We were able to sound loud in the last election, so we are definitely looking to sound really loud in this election” said Tocarro Combs, a member of the Clayton County NAACP leadership team.
Read more: Millions of Georgians voted. It hasn’t been easy for everyone
Polls in Georgia continue to show black voters overwhelmingly supporting Democrats. But at the Black Man Lab rally in Clayton County — where nearly three in four residents are black, one of the highest proportions of any county in America — most attendees weren’t particularly enthusiastic. about a candidate or a political party. (The Black Man Lab tour was conducted in partnership with the New Georgia Project, a civic engagement group Abrams founded about a decade ago. Abrams hasn’t been involved with the group in five years, according to CEO Kendra Cotton.)
“People try to delight our community with nice words,” says Glenn Gilkey, a freelance inventor of natural hair tools who attended the Clayton Country event and said he doesn’t identify with any Parties. “What change have we seen? We are talking about the same issues we were talking about 50 years ago.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams speaks during a campaign event for Georgia Democrats in College Park, Georgia on October 28, 2022.
Elijah Nouvelage—Getty Images
High Opportunity Voters
In 2020, grassroots groups like the New Georgia Project worked to boost turnout among black voters and other voters of color, which helped bring Democrats to power. They’re trying to do the same this year, but they say there’s not enough money: Facing a $2 million budget shortfall, Cotton said the New Georgia Project had abandoned several initiatives to focus on canvassing.
“We have a formal party apparatus that seems to have decided it no longer has the stomach for the intensive organizing that needs to take place 365, 24/7,” Cotton says. But she admits black voters are beginning to tire of constant election cycles: “There has been some voter fatigue.
Instead of courting the high-propensity voters who tend to show up on campaign lists, organizers try to find what they call “high-opportunity” voters where they already are, at civic events, farmers’ markets or outdoor concerts. These are the voters that politicians traditionally view as “low propensity” because they vote only sporadically or without clear party preferences.
But LaTosha Brown, who co-founded the voting rights group Black Voters Matter, says low enthusiasm doesn’t necessarily mean low turnout. “I’m a super voter, and I voted and I wasn’t excited,” Brown says. “Do you know how many elections black people weren’t excited about, didn’t they have a single candidate that we were excited about, that we voted for?”
Organizers, including the New Georgia Project, are encouraging black voters to cast their ballots early this year to address potential registration issues and avoid an expected increase in voter intimidation at the polls. Ranard Wagner, a 36-year-old man who lives in Atlanta, is a resident who voted early. He does not identify with a political party and says he has “no feelings” about this election. He voted for Biden in the 2020 general election after supporting Tulsi Gabbard in the Democratic primary. Now, he says, she “has been punched in the head,” the same words he uses to describe Georgia Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker.
Near the end of Georgia’s early voting period, Wagner voted for Warnock. But on his way to the polls, “Two guys in a van come out [of] the car and ask me, am I legally registered to vote? And I looked at them and said, ‘Get away from me’,” Wagner recalled. “I went inside the polling center and said, ‘There’s two guys over there with tactical gear’…and [a poll worker] was like, ‘Oh my god, are they back there?’
Senator Raphael Warnock speaks to members of the press during a canvass launch on November 6, 2022 in Savannah, Georgia.
Alex Wong—Getty Images
“There is more work to do”
Some black voters in Georgia feel they have been wronged over the policy decisions of the leaders they helped elect.
Taifa Smith Butler, president of the progressive think tank Demos, has lived in Georgia for years. She thinks Democrats could have done more to win support from voters of color and blames corporate lobbying interests for forcing Democrats to cut the Build Back Better bill and turn it into the Cut Back Act. inflation, which passed without the provisions Biden had promised for the campaign. path, including federally paid family and medical leave, funding for universal pre-kindergarten, and subsidized child care. “Black and brown communities were certainly advocating for climate and environmental elements in this legislation,” Butler said. “But there’s so much more that was on the cutting floor, in terms of the Inflation Reduction Act, around childcare, healthcare opportunities.”
Some Black Democrats also see flaws in the party’s framing of economic issues, which consistently rank high on voters’ minds: Instead of talking about underemployment and the state’s low minimum wage, some believe the party is too focused on inflation, which polls suggest is an issue that may give Republicans an edge. “People feel left out after the election cycle,” Butler continues. “There is still work for Democrats to do. I think there’s more work to be done, certainly, for the Republican Party.
The same day the group of black men met in Clayton County, Herschel Walker held a rally one hour northeast of Hiram. Although the crowd was largely white, there were a handful of black attendees. The two black voters who spoke to TIME were not recent converts to the Republican Party; they had voted for Trump in 2016. Walker “is going to be better than Warnock, because Warnock hasn’t done anything for Georgia,” says Dorothy Harpe, a 72-year-old woman who has been a Republican since the Reagan era and has followed the Walker’s football career for just as long.
Amid intense scrutiny of the black electorate in Georgia, progressive black voters are reluctant to take the blame if Warnock or Abrams loses to Republicans next week. “Don’t white people lose elections? says Brown of Black Voters Matter. “When white people lose elections or Republicans lose elections, it doesn’t become a complete indictment of who they are as a people.”
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