Religious Fervor Portends Huge Black and Brown Voter Turnout in Georgia Senate Run-off
One day before the US Senate run-off in Georgia and the Democrats have the “Big Mo.” Momentum is on their side. In what is expected to be two close races to determine who will represent Georgia in the Senate and which political party will control the upper chamber, turns on which party can generate enough excitement to turn their supporters out.
If today’s news conference at the International Headquarters of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference indicates which way the political wind is blowing, look for Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff to be headed to the District of Columbia. The Democratic base is excited. The base has a religious fervor unprecedented since the days of the old civil rights “Mass Meetings” in the 1950 and ’60s that whipped up a church filled with Black people merely wanting to be free of the injustices of Jim Crow America.
Charles Steele, Jr., President, and CEO of SCLC and members of the Transformative Justice Coalition called a news conference in front of the SCLC building. The presser was more of a church revival or a camp meeting than a news conference to make a political statement concerning voter participation in the election one day away.
It was as the old folks said in my younger days, “A singing,” with dancing and shouts of “Amen,” “I’m Black, and I’m Proud.” Fists raised a’ la, Tommie Smith and John Carlos. Every presenter preached for justice and pledged that it would come by way of the vote since justice had not come from the courts.
The air surrounding the SCLC headquarters gathering was pregnant with the possibility that tomorrow, Black folks all over Georgia were going to get up, put their shoes on and march down to the polls, and give birth to justice.
Daryl Jones, a lawyer, and worship leader of the press conference, wearing the gold and blue dinner jacket he had worn to bring in the new year, defined 2021 as “the year of justice.”
“No matter where you are in Georgia, let us be clear, we are voting for justice, Jones said, adding, “This election is about the power of the people. They said it was impossible to win, but what they did not know is that there is a ground game in the Black community and Black people are turning out.”
“As President of SCLC, I can say some things that other people cannot say, people get killed for speaking out, they killed Dr. King for speaking out, but I am not afraid to tell you that the suppression of the vote has driven us back to States Rights. America doesn’t love us,” Charles Steele, Jr., said.
Then Steele preached: “America if you love me, why do you treat me like you do. They came to Africa and stole us, and some of you all don’t know it, but we are still in slavery. I’m not telling anyone who to vote for, but you must put the right folks in the office. When we put them in the office, we can’t go home and sit down. We must get up and make them do what is right.”
This press conference’s overarching theme was that while white progressives and liberals are voting for climate change, a $2,000 stimulus check and health care; this run-off election for Black voters is about justice for people of color. They believe that with control of both houses of congress, President-Elect Joe Biden will have the votes he needs to enact criminal justice reform and bring about justice in every fabric of American life: employment, housing, education, and business.
“I vote, but I have family members who have never voted in their life,” said Diane Arbrey, the eldest aunt of Ahmaud Arbrey, the young Black man gunned down by a father and son vigilante squad in Brunswick, Georgia.
Then she pled with the gathering, “Please go vote, vote so we can stop this killing. Vote so we can stop people from having to eat out of a trash can. Vote so we can get people off the street.”
Heartbroken, Willie Preston, the youngest aunt of Arbrey, said, “I didn’t see no reason to vote until they killed my nephew. I never voted. We are the strongest family to ever come out of Brunswick, Georgia, but this broke us. We need the people out of those chairs who don’t need to be there. Vote. I will vote for justice in every election, so long as there is breath in my body.”
Adriana Helenek, representing the Latino community, preached about changing people’s hearts and the Black and Brown people’s unity. “Minorities in this country need to fight together. We are all the same people; we have the same problems. I am tired of fighting along. We need to get together. I am proud to be a part of this history when we are waking up,” she said.
“Tomorrow, we will be all over this state holding marches and parades,” Barbara Arnwine, President, and Founder of Transformative Justice Coalition told the crowd.
“We will be in Augusta, Columbus, Bleckley County, Fulton County, Cobb County, Smyrna, Clayton County, and Valdosta. We are going to be standing up for voters. We are here to say that your vote is everything. We will vote in the name of John Lewis and the name of ‘good trouble.’ All of America is looking at Georgia saying, deliver us from this evil and turn this nation around.”
Whether Georgia turns the country around or not tomorrow, one thing is sure, the battle cry of the “Roaring Twenties” is set: Voting for Justice!
Harold Michael Harvey is the Living Now 2020 Bronze Medal winner for his memoir Freaknik Lawyer: A Memoir on the Craft of Resistance. He is a Past President of the Gate City Bar Association. He is the recipient of Gate City’s R. E. Thomas Civil Rights Award, which he received for his pro bono representation of Black college students arrested during Freaknik celebrations in the mid to late 1990s. Harvey is an engaging public speaker. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.