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How Black Grassroots Organizers In Georgia Changed Politics In A Longtime Republican Stronghold

A "Georgia Voter" sticker is seen on the jacket of Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Raphael Warnock after he cast his ballot during early voting on October 21, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images)
A "Georgia Voter" sticker is seen on the jacket of Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Raphael Warnock after he cast his ballot during early voting on October 21, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images)

The historically Republican stronghold of Georgia turned a shade of blue Tuesday night when Democrats won a coveted Senate seat.

Rev. Raphael Warnock beat Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler, making him the first Black senator to represent the state. The second Senate race between Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican David Perdue — which could give Democrats the majority in the Senate — is still too close to call. 

But no matter the outcome of that race, what remains clear is that Georgia politics have changed course in big part because of grassroots organizing. Warnock told NPR’sMorning EditionWednesday that a decade of on-the-ground work registering hundreds of thousands of voters has diversified the state’s electorate.

Britney Whaley is one of those organizers. She’s a political strategist with the Working Families Party, who has been organizing on the ground in Georgia for the last year.  

An early CNN exit poll shows that93% of Black votersin Georgia supported Democratic challengers Ossoff and Warnock. 

“The numbers don’t lie,” Whaley says. “Black voters, we showed up.”

Issues such as health care and economic relief during the pandemic drove Black voters to the polls, she says.

“Quite frankly, there was a lack of leadership in our representation with Perdue and Loeffler that we now will have,” she says. “I feel confident that we have people who will go and fight for us.”

The Working Families Party has been organizing in Georgia since Stacey Abrams ran for governor in 2017. Since then, Abrams, Whaley and other —  mostly Black women — organizers have pushed to both get out the vote and raise the issue of voter suppression.  

Whaley is originally from Las Vegas, but she says she chose to move back to the South like many other Black folks. Now calling Atlanta home, Whaley’s ancestors lived in Louisiana and moved West. Some are calling this real demographic shift the New Great Migration, where Black people from coastal and northern cities are coming back to the South. 

And a through line of Black folks who stayed in the South have continuously fought for democracy there, she says. Organizers have fostered a multiracial coalition of people of color moving down South, Black and Brown folks who have been fighting there for decades, and white progressives to center the needs of vulnerable communities, she says.

“[Marginalized people] are not disposable. You matter in this democracy. Your issues matter.” she says. “And this is how we work together, and we decide collectively to take back our democracy.”


Cristina Kim produced this story and edited it for broadcast with Tinku RayAllison Hagan adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.