Georgia Republicans Abdicated Right to Lead
More than two decades ago, I ran for a seat on the Atlanta City Council and won. It was the Third Council District that included part of the Atlanta University Center, the old Bankhead Highway (now Donald L. Hollowell Pkwy) neighborhoods, Grove Park, Vine City, Washington Park, and many other areas that constituted the heart and soul of Black Atlanta.
My name is Jabari Simama and no one with an ethnic sounding name, not to mention an African name, had ever won elected office in the deep South when I was elected in the late 1980s. In 1978 Kweisi Mfume, before me was elected to the Baltimore city council and went on to be elected to the U.S. Congress and then later headed the national NAACP. He was the first and only elected official, at the time, with an African name to be elected to any office in American electoral politics.
Many told me I did not have a chance to win. They even said Atlantans would never vote for someone with a name they could not pronounce. The black community is conservative in Atlanta, the naysayers said, they are not ready to vote for someone with a “funny name.”
My wife, daughter, who is now a grown-up certified school teacher, and I went door to door in a targeted campaign to introduce ourselves and message of strength and trust to the residents of the district. When it was all said and done, I managed to squeak into a runoff by 3 votes and went on to win the runoff against a man with a famous name—John Lewis (no relationship to Congressman John Lewis). This victory proved the importance of every vote. The rest is history. I did not doubt the good people of Atlanta, then, and have never doubted them since.
Fast forward 20 years. There is another man running for elected office, president of the U.S., who has an African Name—Barack Hussein Obama II. Many said he would never be elected because of America’s inability to overcome the scourge of racism. “No one will vote for someone with a name they cannot pronounce,” the naysayers said. He became locked in a tough primary race against a person with a famous name—Hillary Clinton. He won the primary and then went on to win the general election becoming the first African American president of the U.S.
I did not doubt the American people in 2008; I believe in 2018 and 2020 they will correct the mistake that brought our 45th president to the White House.
Fast forward 10 years to 2018. There is an African American woman running for governor of Georgia. Some are saying she cannot win. “Georgians will never vote for a woman, particularly one with progressive politics and who is comfortable with herself in her own skin,” the naysayers say.
She is locked in a tough race with a candidate who is channeling the president’s themes of cracking down on “illegals,” opposing common sense policies on background checks for gun purchases, and vast voter fraud. Many Republicans since the 2016 election, following the example of their leader, have stoked fears of their base with anti-immigrant, white nationalist and patriarchal rhetoric. Kemp has fallen in line. I do not doubt that the good people of Georgia will do the right thing. Stacey Abrams is the right leader today to lead the diverse state of Georgia.
I was a teenager when the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was approved on a bipartisan basis. I remember Rev. C.T. Vivian and others being sucker-punched and knocked down only to get back up again, and declare, “We will not be denied the right to vote.” I will never forget the newsreels on television that showed sheriffs and police chiefs turning loose attack dogs on brave black women and men who were exercising one of the most democratic rights of all—the right to vote.
I am perturbed and concerned about Georgia Sec. of State Brian Kemp’s efforts to frustrate and suppress the minority vote in Tuesday’s election. Many are determined to ensure he will not be successful.
But I believe, as I did in my first election to city council and Obama’s election as U.S. President, that God works in ways that we sometime do not understand. Republican officials in the nation and Georgia have failed to lift the holy grail of decency, service and sacrifice for higher principles that serve the public good. In their failure they have abdicated their right to lead. Further, they will motivate residents who long for a better, fairer and more humane Georgia to get out and vote.
There are tens of thousands of Georgians without healthcare because local Republicans, following the national Republicans in an effort to destroy affordable care and rob President Obama of a major legacy program that helped millions of Americans with the greatest need, failed to expand Medicare. SNAP recipients have yearly had their safety nets pulled from beneath them as Republican leaders scored points with conservatives by cracking down on so-called “deadbeats,” too lazy to work or seek job training.
Republicans, at the same time they were demonizing poor Georgians, were giving away hundreds of millions in corporate welfare in the form of tax breaks and credits, tax-payer built corporate training facilities, and assurances to businesses the state would continue to fight efforts of employees to organize.
Above all, Republicans in power have robbed Georgians of the right to have their votes properly weighted and counted because of critically flawed and discriminatory practices of redistricting, election lists purges and voter suppression. Not one Republican has stepped forwarded and said this was not right. Not one Republican has declared that voter suppression violates sacred principles upon which our democracy is built.
The good people of Georgia will be aided at this historic junction by memories of those who gave their lives for the right to vote. By turning out in large numbers to vote, Georgians, particularly African Americans, honor their ancestors who took bullets, ropes around their necks, and stood up to the Klan knowing their homes and churches would be burned down to the ground. A large woman vote says to male politicians that women will no longer be silent while men decide for them on the most personal and private decisions concerning their health and bodies.
The Abrams coalition, and others, can build a new Georgia free of racism, poverty, ignorance and the meanness which so characterized the past.
Thank you mother. Thank you father. Thank you Martin. Thank you Medgar. Thank you Fannie Lou. Thank you Rosa. Thank all who sacrificed, bled, and died for this moment for us to seize.
Yes, we can! Yes, we must! Yes, we will!