Politician and bestselling author Stacey Abrams appeared live on Crowdcast in conversation with Ben Wikler, Chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, to discuss her new book, Our Time Is Now last night.
“We forget that not so long ago that the power of the ballot was a terrifying power that had been promised and withdrawn,” Abrams said.
She spoke as the Cheryl Rosen Weston Memorial Lecturer for the Wisconsin Book Festival. While discussing her book, she also spoke about her family instilling ideas of civic engagement. She told stories about her grandmother feeling afraid to vote for the first time, her father being arrested for registering African American voters in Mississippi, and her parents bringing her and her siblings with them to the polls.
Before she was born, her mother received a fellowship to study at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Abrams, who was born in Madison, spent the first few years of her life with her mother, father and siblings in Wisconsin.
“For three years of my life, I lived in Wisconsin and I remember two things; I remember cheese curds and I remember being cold,” Abrams said.
Shortly after, the family returned to Gulfport, Mississippi, and eventually relocated to Atlanta, Georgia. After high school, Abrams attended Spelman College. As a freshman, she participated in a protest on the steps of the Georgia Capitol where she joined in burning the state flag.
“When I think about and look at the protests, when I have conversations about this moment, I think about my personal decision to be involved with the protests back in 1992,” Abrams said.
Later, she served in the Georgia House of Representatives from 2007 to 2017 and as minority leader from 2011 to 2017. In 2018, she lost the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election to Brian Kemp.
“For the first time in a major campaign like ours, we centered communities of color. I believe identity politics is good politics because we said we said I see you and I want to acknowledge you,” Abrams said.
She attributed her efforts as a community organizer and her campaign for tripling both Latino and Asian Pacific Islander voter turnouts in Georgia. Abrams also said young people participated more in the election and Black voter turnout increased by 41-percent. White Democratic voter turnout also increased, however, Abrams said Kemp’s voter suppression tactics prevented a lot of votes from being counted.
“I spend a whole chapter talking about the census because this is one of those ingredients of systemic racism and voter suppression that we so often gloss over,” she said.
Abrams explained voter suppression has different iterations in each state. She referenced exact match, voter ID, shutting down polling places, and signature mismatches as voter suppression tactics used across the nation.
“We have 50 states and all 50 states do it but it all falls into these three categories; “Can you register to vote,” “Can you cast a ballot,” and ”Does your ballot count?,” Abrams said.
Throughout her career, she has founded multiple organizations working to educate and register voters, training and hiring young people of color, and tackling social issues at both the state and national levels. After the 2018 Georgia Gubernatorial Election, Abrams also launched Fair Fight to end voter suppression and ensure fair elections and Fair Count to ensure accuracy in the 2020 Census and greater participation in civic engagement.
“We are in the midst of another census year and Fair Fight is one of the only organizations that solely focuses on the census,” she said.
Abrams also launched the Southern Economic Advancement Project, a public policy initiative to broaden economic power and build equity in the South. She also said for the first time in history more people in the nation are fighting for equality.
“We have to remember that what happens in this election will set the tone, the line and legal parameters for the next decade,” Abrams said.