Ben Jealous: Georgia is ground zero for democracy

by Ben Jealous

Like so many of us right now, I’ve got Georgia on my mind.  

As I write this, I’ve just gotten back from meeting with Black ministers who are working nonstop to get out the vote across the state. And with good reason, because there’s just no other way to say it—Georgia is ground zero for the future of our democracy in this midterm election.   

Control of the Senate could hinge on whether Rev. Raphael Warnock can keep his Senate seat or is defeated by Herschel Walker, a familiar former athlete who has become a far-right extremist. Depending on who gains a Senate majority, the rest of the Biden-Harris administration agenda is either on track or dead on arrival in Congress.    

The governor’s race features an incumbent MAGA diehard, Brian Kemp, versus Stacey Abrams. I have written about Stacey and our decades-long friendship before. No one is more committed to civil rights and greater opportunity for Georgians than Stacey. Reelecting Kemp would be a disaster: not just for Georgians, but for a country in which MAGA schemers are looking to capture as many states as possible to advance their reactionary agenda.  

Kemp’s record is appalling. In a state with a large share of uninsured Black Americans, including high numbers of Black children, Kemp has refused to expand Medicaid so that more Georgians could have health care. He signed a law making it easier for just about anybody, including dangerous white supremacists, to carry concealed weapons. His administration has cut state contracts with Black businesses, and is responsible for denying unemployment claims for twice as many Black workers as White workers. Kemp recently signed an anti-choice law so extreme that women who have miscarriages could be arrested. Women who terminate pregnancies could be charged with murder. 

The MAGA folks in Georgia know the coalition of Black voters and young voters who made history in 2020 won’t vote for this agenda. Those voters changed the course of the nation when they went for Joe Biden and Senate candidates Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff. The MAGA Far Right went crazy, and they made Georgia the home of some of the worst voter-suppression laws in the country since the original Jim Crow. One of those even made it illegal to give snacks and water to voters waiting in long lines.  All of that was for one reason: to stop people, mostly Black people, from voting in the next big election. And that election is now. 

We can’t stand by and let that happen. Black voters have the power to decide the election in Georgia, which will probably decide the future of our country in some ways we can predict and others we can’t. This is especially true for Black men, who still don’t vote in the high percentages Black women do. Black men in Georgia have to come out to the polls this year.   

It doesn’t surprise me that once again, Georgia is so central to Black American history. It has been that way for as long as we’ve had a history. Every time I visit, I’m moved by it. That sense of a momentous past is everywhere, mixed with the New South energy that makes the state such a unique place. Meeting with Georgians this time, I could feel the deep commitment to moving the state forward instead of back. That fills me with hope.  

The eyes of the country—and even the world—are on Georgia this fall, and I believe Georgia will make us proud.   

(Ben Jealous serves as president of People For the American Way and Professor of the Practice at the University of Pennsylvania.)

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