The wins by Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in Georgia’s Senate runoffs this week — an unlikely but pivotal sweep for Democrats in the traditionally Republican stronghold — were fueled by high turnout from Black Georgians.
But while national attention has focused on Georgia for the past several months, the victories were the culmination of years of hard work from local activists and organizers in the Peach State.
Back in November, activist Nse Ufot told The Hill that the recipe for success was through grassroots mobilization. She said that wasn’t going to change.
“At the end of the day, it’s our direct voter contact and recognizing that Black voters, Latinx voters and AAPI voters are your base,” Ufot, CEO of the New Georgia Project, said at the time. “Elections in Georgia are determined by who shows up, and whose votes get counted. Period.”
Grassroots organizing has long been the main weapon of choice for Black activists in Georgia against voter suppression tactics used by state officials and legislators.
“The groups in Georgia are really good at registering disenfranchised voters,” China Dickerson, Forward Majority’s national political director, told The Hill. “Georgia won because of Georgia, not because of national Democrats.
“Georgia won Georgia. The organizations that have existed in Georgia won Georgia. The people of Georgia won Georgia. Period.”
At the center of grassroots mobilization is knowing local communities and their residents, and Dickerson noted that Black organizers in Georgia like Ufot and Stacey Abrams know Black Georgians better than anyone in the country.
“Georgia decided, ‘Listen, we got to knock on these doors, we got to see these people face to face because culturally that’s how we talk to each other,’” Dickerson explained. “We don’t talk to each other through TV commercials, through digital ad campaigns, through mail. Black and Brown folks talk to each other face to face. And that’s what Georgia did.”
For example, Ra Shad Frazier-Gaines, who is the chief strategy office for Amplify Action — a nonprofit focused on getting Black men involved in all aspects of the political process, including voting — was on the ground in Georgia starting in November to give Black Georgians the agency to mobilize their own communities.
“We hired just regular folks to go out in their neighborhoods and the community surrounding theirs … and we empowered them to go out and speak intelligently to their neighbors on the importance of the vote of their vote,” Frazier-Gaines, who grew up in South Carolina near the Georgia border, told The Hill.
“These volunteers and these canvassers, they are the real heroes in this election,” Frazier-Gaines continued. “My team, we came in and offered support and training, we offered them the tools to empower themselves, but they did the work.”
The work of Frazier-Gaines is one instance of an organization lifting up those on the ground in Georgia, and Dickerson said that the financial muscle given to organizers from national organizations was critical.
“These Black and Brown folks have always been doing the work in Georgia, but they didn’t have the money to scale the work,” Dickerson said. “God bless Stacey Abrams. Because she is a star, folks decided that they were actually going to send money to Georgia. … Stacey will not take all of the credit because she understands these organizations have existed. But thankfully for her, she was able to bring in national money to help scale these programs.”
Turnout for runoff elections is usually less than that during general elections, but the overall turnout on Tuesday was outstanding, with over 4.4 million Georgians casting a ballot, a record for a Senate runoff race in the state.
Organizers were vindicated for their hard work when turnout was broken down by precinct. The New York Times tweeted that turnout in precincts that are predominantly Black was greater than the turnout in precincts that are predominantly White and not college-educated, parts of the state Republicans were relying on.
Turnout are as a share of general by type of precinct:
>80% Trump: 88%
>80% Biden: 92%
>80% Black: 93%
>50% college: 92%
>80% no college&white: 87%
Black voters overwhelmingly voted for Warnock and Ossoff over GOP Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, with over 90 percent of the Black Georgians who voted choosing the Democratic duo.
Black youth voters potentially were organizers’ ace in the hole. Overall, voters ages 18-29 voted for both Warnock and Ossoff at over a 60 percent clip, more than the 58 percent of young Georgians who voted for President-elect Joe Biden in November.
Per early runoff data from Tufts University’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, 16 percent of youth voters in the state voted in the runoff elections but not in November. Among Black youth voters that number was higher — 23 percent — suggesting that Black organizers did a better job of outreach than others.