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Building Movements — Civic Engagement and Voting: A Southern Perspective

Redlining. Mask mandates. Redistricting. The Census. Restrictive voting laws and voter purges. Malfunctioning voting machines. Long waits to vote.

Georgia has emerged as a major 2020 battleground state and a hotbed for voting rights issues.

Black, Latinx, and Asian voters are growing in Georgia, and they’re the overwhelming targets of voter AND census suppression. How can we ensure every voice is heard and vote counted?

In the midst of protests, a pandemic, and possible voter suppression, what are the challenges ahead as elections loom, and how can social sector leaders help pave the way for a constructive path forward? Join us as our panelists discuss civic engagement in Atlanta and throughout the South, with insights relevant to folks across the country.

Below, watch the video, listen to the podcast, or read the transcript.

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Transcript

Sean Gibbons:

Hope you were with us yesterday. If not, if this is your first time, welcome to V. We had a series of conversations yesterday and we’re incredibly grateful for all the folks that showed up to be with us. If you’re hoping for a lot of that today, I think that’s what we’re going to offer. You’re not going to want to hear from me for very long. But I wanted to give you some housekeeping. Chances are you’re looking at the chat box. Go ahead — and especially if you didn’t yesterday — no one bites. I can testify to that. Go ahead, use the chat, be in conversation for others. It’ll be enriching for others. What you have is different from everybody else. Hope you feel comfortable participating. We were surprised to see 1500 folks participating, on chat and on Twitter and other social media. If you are one of those people that can manage two screens, we use a couple hashtags. The primary one is #ComnetworkV. C-o-m-n-e-t-w-o-r-k-V. Please go ahead and available yourselves of that. A lot of conversations unfolding in the chat.

Another thing that we do or have been doing since we found ourselves in these incredibly turbulent times is we’ve the idea of when we gather, a two-word check-in. This is an idea we borrowed from Professor Brené Brown. She’s extraordinary, a huge teacher to all of us here at network HQ. And what she does is two-word check-in. If you would, just now in the chat, go ahead and put in your name, where you’re coming in from, and then two words. How are you doing right now? And just be honest. Listen, for me, after yesterday, a little less nervous and incredibly excited for today. That’s more than two. So relaxed and thrilled or excited. That’s three. But suffice it to say, put that in the chat. I’ll be checking in with you in just a quick minute.

You have a couple of wonderful choices in front of you. You’re watching me because you already made one. One, we’ll focus on voting and off to the control room on my right, I can see all the great folks. Erik will lead an incredible conversation. But if you’re waiting for Xochitl and Marilynn, you’re in for a treat. We’re recording everything we’re doing. If you give us about 24 hours, you’ll find it up online. Stick with what you got. You made an excellent choice. Let’s get into the day and I’ll see you back into the day a little bit later on. Be well, be good to each other.

Erik Olvera:

Good morning. Thank you for joining us for Civic Engagement and Voting: A Southern Perspective. My name is Erik Olvera and chief communications officer for the Southern Poverty Law Center. I’ll be the moderator today. Before we begin, I’d like to go over some important information. The audience is currently muted. Closed captioning has been enabled for this discussion. To view, please click the closed captioning button at the bottom of your screen.

Georgia has emerged as a major 2020 battleground and hotbed for voting rights. Black, Latinx, and Asian voters are growing in Georgia and overwhelming targets of voter suppression. In today’s discussion we’ll talk about restricted voting laws, voter purges, malfunctioning voting machines, long waits and lines, redlining, redistricting. I’ll introduce you to the panelists. Tamieka is the executive director of ProGeorgia. And then we have Stephanie Cho, the executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice Atlanta. And next, Jerry Gonzales, executive director of GALEO. And then Wanda Mosley, director of Black Voters Matter. I wanted to talk a little bit about your organizations and what you’re doing for engaging and mobilization of Black and brown voters across the state of Georgia.

Tamieka, did you want to go first?

Tamieka Atkins:

Thank you, good afternoon to the audience. Thank you, Erik, for the kind introduction. I’m Tamieka Atkins, director of ProGeorgia. We’re a state table that coordinates statewide civic engagement and voter registration plans with 38 partners across Georgia. We use data to inform our work so we can be strategic and effective in reaching as many voters of color, as many new and low-propensity voters — so, people who are typically not engaged in our democracy, were not contacted, we reach out to them to bring them into a democracy and we prioritize expanding the electorate for those eligible to vote in Georgia.

ProGeorgia, some of our experiences have been — COVID has really changed how we reach and register voters. It made it very difficult for us to register voters in person, and we wanted to make sure our community and our partners [would stay engaged]. To that end, we created … QR codes and Bitly links so that our partners can go out in the field with materials and have people scan their T-shirts, scan their handouts, and get directed toward online voter registration links.

We also in Georgia — we have 159 counties. We have the most amount of counties behind Texas. And in order to make sure we can reach our people of color across the state and not just in metro Atlanta, we sent out what we call specific care packages, and that included cell phones, laptops, and hot spots and tablets, across the state so that canvassers and organizers can continue to reach out and engage voters of color across the state.

And to date, since the June primary, our partners have had over 700,000 conversations with voters over the phone and via text. We’ve also sent out over 800,000 census outreach text messages to make sure our community is counted in the census. This is all work that is done by our partners in the field, many who are on this call now. And ProGeorgia provides the data and the tools so that our partners can focus on doing what they do best, which is reaching out and engaging our shared communities.

Erik:

That’s so great. Thanks for that. Stephanie?

Stephanie Cho:

Hi. Thanks for having us. We’re a proud partner of the state table with Tamieka and the other lovely people on the panel. It’s a pleasure to be with people who really understand what’s happening in Georgia. Asian Americans Advancing Justice promotes rights of Asian Americans, Hawaiians, and the Pacific Islanders community in Georgia. We do that through our policy advocacy work, legal services — that includes deportation defense, which we work with, and our litigation when we need it — and organizing civic engagement.

This year, we’re seeing so many different challenges because of our population that we serve in the Asian community. In Georgia, the ballots are all in English except for in one area. And I think when we’re looking at access, we’re looking at the challenges, we need to communicate to different communities, particularly communities that are immigrant, people of color. And we’re looking to see ways that more people can engage. We also use the QR code that Tamieka is doing in multiple different languages. We have it on hand sanitizers, on the doors of ethnic markets. We have it at senior centers. We have it at churches because a lot of the churches are involved in Georgia as well. We’re doing that as safely as possible with a mask. But it’s a different reality.

And what we would like is — which is the reason why we started this in Georgia at that time, is more language access at the ballot. Just to have more information in different languages that’s translated, absentee ballots, where to vote, about where the new ballot boxes are going to be, that is really critical, especially with the misinformation that’s happening within the different communities of color in Georgia. We need to give accurate information in multiple different languages.

Erik Olvera:

Thank you, Stephanie. Jerry?

Jerry Gonzalez:

I’m Jerry Gonzales, executive director of GALEO. Glad to be with you all. Our organization focuses on two primary things. One is promoting leadership development of the Latino community across the great state of Georgia, but promoting civic engagement — and that involves voting engagement, working with the census, it involves encouraging people to become U.S. citizens, and involves people advocating for their own beliefs and rights. So one of the things that we’ve had to pivot a lot, significantly, as well as Tamieka and Stephanie had alluded to, we’re doing a lot of the similar things. I think one thing I do want to point out is our partnerships with our Spanish media have increased tremendously, because there is important information and we need to get out to our community. And as Stephanie alluded to, language access in Georgia for the Spanish-speaking community or for other language minority communities is not really available except for in one county out of 159.

So we’ve had to do a lot of work in Spanish to make sure that we’re reaching new Latinx voters that are wanting to engage in the process, may have questions or problems —

Erik Olvera:

And Jerry, I think we may have lost you. Let’s give him a couple of seconds. I think you’re back, Jerry.

Jerry Gonzalez:

We’ve been doing a lot of partnerships with Spanish media. That’s something we’ve been working very hard with. We’ve also made sure that we go out to our communities through mail, and social media has played a very important role in what we’re doing. Our team has become very active on social media. The Latinx community is very active on social media, so we have to be where our community is, and social media has been a big part of what we had to do for this election.

I did mention language access, but also, in Georgia, we’re still in the middle of litigation against the state over citizenship verification processes that was put in place in 2008. We’ve been trying since 2008 to implement that in a nondiscriminatory way, but unfortunately, we have seen year after year the disproportionate impact not only in the Latinx community but also on the African-American community. It is a flawed process, and we’re working to make sure that we can address that moving forward.

Erik Olvera:

Thanks so much for that Jerry. Wanda?

Wanda Mosley:

I’m Wanda Mosley with Black Voters Matter. We are a power-building organization and we focus primary on building infrastructure and offering resources to Black-led organizations in 10 states, and my work takes place here in Georgia. We’re also a proud member of the C3 table and we’ve been able to utilize a lot of resources offered by the table in terms of hotspots and other equipment. And also the QR codes and the Bitlys, we have put those on walk cards, push carts, and put them also on our vans that are wrapped to mimic our bus.

If anybody knows anything about our organization, we pride ourselves in having the Blackest bus in America. We travel around to check on our folks and bring excitement and Black power to rural communities. And we said, you know what? If we can’t get another bus, let’s get some baby buses. While we’re at it, let’s put the QR codes on the buses, because we still have to go out, find our folks. We still have to provide them the information that they need and the tools that they need to be able to participate in the census, to vote, and also a lot of emphasis this year on vote by mail.

And so again, our work primarily takes place in areas outside of Atlanta. And without the resources from the state table, it would be that much more difficult for us to be able to achieve these goals of power building in these areas that don’t always have access to internet, don’t always have access to a lot of technology. We pride ourselves in having to go back old school in a lot of ways. When internet goes down and it affects our phone banking abilities, our folks are savvy. They will pull out the phone book. Yes, the phone book. And they will start making calls from those landlines. And again, being able to use the walk cards with the QR codes. We are anticipating that we’re going to deliver over 300,000 door hangers throughout rural areas of our state, some of the largest cities outside the metro. So look, we’re resilient. We’re going to figure it out by any means necessary. We’re going to get this information out to our folks because our folks are determined. And they are by any means necessary going to get to that ballot box this year.

Erik Olvera:

That’s awesome. So I want to talk a little bit about the history of voter suppression in Georgia. Can you tell us experiences of Black and brown people specific to voting throughout the history of the state? This is an open question for you all, whoever wants to jump in first, feel free. Tamieka?

Tamieka Atkins:

I mean, so — this is one of those questions where we know the answer, but sometimes we have to keep talking about it to really understand the impact it has on the access to the ballot now.

So you know, we can talk about, you know — in particular, Black people being murdered, their stories of African Americans in Georgia. One was a veteran coming back and exercising his right to vote and being murdered a few days later after voting in southern Georgia. We have the counting of the jellybeans, being able to interpret the Constitution word for word in order to access. So all the poll taxes in order to access the ballot. This is not new. You fast forward to today, right, and then we see, one, the gutting of the Voting Rights Act that now leads to no preclearance. And all that means is that states that have a history of bad behavior when it comes to giving equitable access to the ballot now have, you know, freedom to close polling locations, consolidate polling locations, right, with little to no notice, a little piece of note in the local newspaper.

They don’t have to send that to the federal government to make sure, right, that they are not disenfranchising voters. And in 2016, the first presidential election after the gutting of Section 5 of the voting rights act, all of us were in the field and getting calls at polling locations. We’re talking about seniors who may have organized buses to be able to get to the voting location, getting there, and it’s no longer a voting location. And now there’s a cardboard sign, maybe, that says you have to go to this next location. There’s no address, not a map. You just have to figure it out. People who took public transportation before they go to work, showing up at these polling locations and not being able to stay and vote because now they have to go to a different spot and they still have to go to work.

So in a lot of ways, history of voter suppression is our present and what we are currently tackling.

I think some of, you know, the — what keeps us — I’ve been doing this work… the faith, the positivity, the “we got this” is the level of coordination that civic engagement groups across the state have. You know, I think Georgia’s progressive infrastructure is strong. And these are not organizations who have a surface

. These are organizations that are providing advocacy, grassroots organizing, leadership development, in many cases food and access to —

Wanda:

And so we see things like we don’t have a livable wage in this state also play a role in being able to vote.

For example, if I have to travel, 30, 45 minutes to a polling precinct and if I live in the city where we don’t have public transit, I show up at my polling precinct and because of a pandemic there’s fewer workers or workers that haven’t been trained properly because they’re trained last minute, and you overlay that with new machines, and we’ve caused the delay of two or three hours before folks are able to vote, and then we think about that 30-, 45-minute trip. Four, five hours of time that I was not making money to feed my family. Then overlay that with the fact that in some industries in our state, the minimum wage is still only $5.15 an hour. I was struggling before COVID and now you add on top of everything the bad policies. Some people can literally not afford to vote because they haven’t been granted fair access to the ballot box. We can spend a whole session talking about voter suppression in 2020. But I did want to offer up another example that maybe some other folks hadn’t considered when we think about some of the overt representations of voter suppression.

Stephanie Cho:

I wanted to highlight — [poor audio quality] very well in Georgia and it’s called one person, one vote. She talked in great detail the history of voter suppression, particularly for Black people in the South. And it still is the design here that you have to actually prove your personhood and eligibility to vote in the South. If you’re Black, Latinx, Asian, voting in these different areas, your personhood and eligibility in Georgia is questioned while white communities are deemed eligible. Today, I’m fully sickened by that thought, because that is the legacy and that is the history and foundation of voting here. The way it plays itself out, it is divide and conquer, it is any kind of strategy that they can think of, and it can be subtle or it can be completely overt. But not giving people the right information or giving people misinformation in addition to this foundation of you as a person of color have to prove your legitimacy to be here as a person is a part of the South that is so incredibly racist and white supremacist. That is actually what I wrestle with every day when doing this work. So it’s something that I want to highlight, because she talked a lot about that, and a lot of people don’t understand why it’s still an issue now, because the entire system is that.

Jerry Gonzalez:

And I’d like to add to the mix, also, a story about a few — several years ago, actually, in two counties in Georgia, Latino voters were singled out simply for their last names. And there’s a peculiar law in Georgia that allows any voter to challenge another voter for their eligibility. And that requires — it requires a hearing and for the voters to have to be present to be able to defend themselves. Justify themselves, as Stephanie was saying, to be eligible to vote. So in two counties, Long and Atkinson counties in rural south Georgia, they challenged every single Latino voter on the rolls and challenged them on their eligibility to vote. Fortunately at that time, during the Obama administration, the Department of Justice got involved and was able to fix the situation there, and it prevented that type of blatant challenge that was racially discriminatory going forward, but that’s something that happens here in Georgia.

I mentioned the citizenship verification, and what this process does essentially is what federal law says, once you become a U.S. citizen, that same minute that you become a U.S. citizen, you have the right to be able to exercise your franchise to vote. The state of Georgia, however, says no, not at that moment. You have to prove your citizenship first in order for us to make sure — to clear you to register to vote. So there’s a clear conflict with federal law, and it creates additional barriers and burdens for newly naturalized citizens, as an example, in that process.

But if there’s typo in a database, it also impacts native-born U.S. citizens in the African-American community and other communities as well. That’s another mechanism in which voter suppression takes form. And we mentioned language access. It may not seem like a big issue, but many of our community — not everyone in our community is English proficient, and voting is a daunting task and is intimidating to many people if they don’t have language access. So language access is a big issue and it’s a big form of voter suppression in the state of Georgia.

And lastly, I do want to talk about even when we go to court, even when we fight for federal injunctions to take place and when a federal court rules in our favor for protecting rights of voters, some counties disregard those federal court orders on election day. In the chaos of an election day, some county officials —

[text missing due to transcriber switch]

Between the secretary of state and the Board of Elections.

We don’t even have standardized early voting in our state. Again, we have 159 counties. That is significant when you think about how they manage their elections so independently of each other and from the state. I would say a little bit of what we saw in June, what we saw, you know — we all know the impacts of COVID by now. We know Black and Brown folks have been hit the hardest. Many of our poll workers are seniors. There was supposed to be a plan, again, somewhere between secretary of state and Board of Elections, to move pre-existing polling centers, to move out of senior centers to make sure the at-risk population is not going to be engaged, interacting with a whole bunch of voters.

By our June 9 primary, we still had seniors who were poll workers who, witnessed with our own eyes, walked off — walked away from polling locations when they saw the lines. They chose their health over the position. No one can blame them, right? But then what comes out of that —the result of that is that we don’t have enough poll workers to manage the machines. Then, as Wanda said, that’s how these lines start to extend, and what you thought was going to be a one-hour process becomes a five-hour process. That was one example. My partners on the call can share their experiences too.

I would like to add, from what Tamieka said, and pick up on something she said in the intentionality of it. It’s not by accident that this is happening. It’s not a coincidence that this is happening. This is not an oversight, of this happening. This is intentional incompetence that is systemic across the voting system here in Georgia. They point fingers at each other, and no one is held accountable associated with the implementation of free and fair elections in our state, and really, it’s gross negligence about how they’re conducting their jobs of running these elections in a matter that serves the constituents, and they lose sight of that. I think it is every year you have to check to see you haven’t been purged. For whatever odd reason, you have to check to see if the polling location is changed. Every year you have to check to see if you have been flagged as a citizen or not, even though they’re not supposed to be doing that on a retroactive basis. It’s intentional and incompetent and it’s negligence of doing their job of running free and fair elections.

Yes, there is lack of responsibility at the top. There’s a problem. No, it is not an accident. It’s not a happenstance. Then I would also add to that that it’s strategic. If you look at the numbers of past elections and outcomes, look at the numbers of people who have been purged and then overlay that with results, all of this is part of a strategy, right? It is intentional to keep Black and Brown people in our state from having access to the ballot box. We know that the persons in power right now see the same studies and reports that we see, where Georgia is trending majority/minority faster than the country, and these folks know that they are going to lose their seats of power. When you react from a place of fear, then this is the result. You know that there are ways that you can tweak the system, that you can let some things slide, that you can not provide what is needed in some places, and that at the end of the day it is going to disproportionately affect underserved communities. Those are the rising electorate. Those are the numbers in the communities that are growing, and so you can keep them down just a little bit further. They know that they are going to benefit from this. All of those things overlay in 2020.

Let me also offer, as I mentioned earlier, Georgia voters are resilient. We are determined. We are going to have our votes count. On June 9 I witnessed myself a polling precinct in Union City, in the south of our largest county. We watched as the last voter emerged from the polling precinct at 12:40 a.m. She walked out of that precinct with her daughter in tow. Couldn’t have been more than 10 years old. She still had on her scrubs. She had on sneakers, and they had their camp chairs because she knew when she — before she left her home, before she left work, rather, she knew that she was going to face long lines, and there was going to be a long night. Yet, and still, she refused to have her voice, her vote silenced. She came out proudly holding that “I Voted” sticker, and she said to us, “Whew, they made me work for it this year, but that’s OK. I got it done.”

With that resilience and with that determination, we keep fighting alongside them. We know that we have to fill in the gaps where our government has failed us, and so thank goodness for the table that brings us all together so that we can be strategic in this work and fill in those gaps where our government has failed us to help our folks have access to the ballot box.

Stephanie:

In the Asian-American community, election day was a hot mess just like everywhere else, and the precincts that we were at were just — white voters requested absentee ballots two times more than others. In Gwinnett County 32 percent of white active voters filled out a request to vote by mail, while only 16.5 Asian and 10.5 Latinx voters did. Among the absentee voters who successfully requested ballots — this was the other issue — Asian-Americans were 2.5 times more likely to get rejected for their absentee ballots than the white counterparts.

This is the issue, right? It is beyond by design. It is totally intentional, as everyone has said, and they’re not even subtle about it really. You know, they completely rejected it. They rejected it by saying it’s not the right signature. They say that it’s not, you know, maybe the right — they can’t tell about the names, right? There’s all the issues with that too, that all of us have been a part of. It goes back to that same thing where we constantly as Asian-Americans and immigrant communities and Black communities have to prove our eligibility to rightful voting every year.

Thanks so much for sharing that. As we start looking into November and the election, what are your organizations and other members of the movement doing to try to prevent this from either happening or from deterring people from wanting to go out and cast ballots?

Tamieka:

We’re doing a few things collectively with partners working together. One is that we did an analysis of June 9. We looked at, what were some unique challenges that we didn’t anticipate based on COVID-19? One of the results is we have a coordinated poller recruitment program. Our goal is to recruit 800 poll workers. We’ve already recruited 600. You know, what we are then doing is tracking their application process, tracking their recruitment application so that no one can say — no county can say we didn’t have enough poll workers. We have the documentation to show that applications were submitted and so there’s no excuse for you not to have the poll workers you need.

Two things are going to happen. Either we’re going to have the amount of poll workers needed to run the machines, to help us have successful elections, or there’s going to be follow-up that would, of course, involve litigation because of the documentation of our work. That’s really the secret sauce to us. The documenting and being able to measure our work. That’s number one.

Two is that the ProGeorgia table, we purchased something like 30,000 masks and distributed them to our partners. This fall we have purchased 100,000 masks, and we are distributing them to our partner organizations for them, for their members, and then to distribute to the public. In June, again, back to the situation where there was some polling locations and seniors and senior centers, poll workers were turning people away if they didn’t have a mask. Again, there are levels to this, right? We understand people have a right to feel safe. Especially if you are a vulnerable community. Also, turning people away because they don’t have a mask is not OK. That’s been disenfranchising those voters. Table partners who do poll monitoring were going to different poll locations and handed out masks. We will be doing that again on a larger scale this fall. We want to make sure that everyone has the mask to be safe amongst each other. We want to make sure that there are enough masks for the poll workers. We’re including poll workers in making sure they receive our masks, and we’ll also make sure that there are enough poll workers to run the machines.

I would say one of the last two things that we’re doing is we are looking to purchase a significant number of chairs. We’re actually looking for a vendor so we can distribute polling — folding chairs at polling locations. The Americans with Disabilities Act says that voters with disabilities are supposed to move to the front of the line. We did not see that happening this June. I think to Jerry’s points, it can be chaos on election day as each county starts to do their own thing and no one is watching. We want to be prepared, and also, not everyone has a visible disability, and also, five hours is a lot to ask anyone to stand. We want to be prepared to have folding chairs for people to sit in, to borrow, so that people can rest while they are waiting.

Then the last thing I would say that we’re doing, we are doing a multi-county-wide community communications and messaging campaign. Again, we are accustomed to being able to knock on doors, right? Knock on hundreds of thousands of doors and leave materials and have conversations with voters, personalizing the experience, help them develop their voting plan. Do you need a ride to the poll? We’re not really able to do that in person. We’re supplementing by increasing our phone calls and texting, [but] no one wants to get 20 calls. …

ProGeorgia and partners created the stable vote campaign. This is our way of connecting activism and voting. We have had our own rallies and uprisings here in Georgia. … up to last night, with the egregious results that came from Louisville about Breonna Taylor and the prosecution that’s not happening of the police. We have a stable vote campaign where we are purchasing paper billboards, digital billboards, bus ads, bus shelters, in trains, across something like 88 counties with the “Stay Well: Vote” messaging, how to find out how to register to vote, and if you see something, if you have any issues or questions, contact 866ourvote.org. That is the national election protection line; they are themselves geared up to receive questions, comments, and concerns. Not just over the phone anymore, but via direct messenger, direct message, DMs on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and text messaging. We are prepared to quickly respond to any concerns that come up in the field this fall.

Erik:

866ourvote.org.

Tamieka:

Yes, then we have govote.GA.org. You can there apply to be a poll worker. That’s where we recruit you to put you in the poll worker pipeline, and that’s where you can find information about the dropboxes where you can drop off your ballot in every county, along with other information about requesting your absentee ballot, registering to vote online, et cetera, et cetera.

Erik:

Thank you for that. Jerry.

Jerry:

The other thing I would like to add associated with that is, the other thing is, education is a big issue as well. Making sure that voters understand their options to exercise their right to vote. They can vote by mail. They can vote early in person or they can vote on election day. Even, I mentioned language access issues before, and the language access issues under Section 208 of the Voting Rights Act. Any person that needs help with translation can take a person of their choosing to the polls to help them through the entirety of the voting process, including voting on the machines, to make sure that they can understand what they’re voting on in that process.

It’s making sure that voter education is a big piece of our work and outreach to our community. So that way they are equipped with knowledge of their rights as they have had to exercise their options and exercise their right to vote. And then if they encounter problems, as Tamieka said, 866ourvote will be a great way of making sure that we can resolve problems and issues on election day or while people are voting in that process.

Stephanie:

For us it’s already recruiting people differently, which is as poll workers, but also poll monitors, and also interpreters in the field. Every year we’ve been running interpreters. We have these beautiful sashes that you can wear. They’re pretty cute. People understand that they have the right to the interpreter of their choice, and we did a lot in 2018 to make sure that that was true in all elections, both federal and local.

I think it’s to have that on deck and actually have more people willing to do that in person. We also have a voter hotline that is specific for the Asian-American community, and this is another example of how voter suppression works. We’ve had new poll workers who we have recruited and the different organizations have recruited, and they have asked, Is there a hotline that they can call if they see a voter struggling with a different language? The answer is, unfortunately, there isn’t one from the secretary of state’s office, but there is one through the different organizations, you know, that are here at this table.

I think it is still solving and problem-solving and thinking through strategies about early voting, strategies about the day of, and talking to people, and just like Jerry says, we have to do stuff in multiple different languages. In addition to all the different Asian languages that are represented, and we need to be out in the different communities, in different ads too. We also — in Georgia billboards are really important, so we’re going to be doing a lot more billboards coming up, in multiple different languages in key immigrant areas, because — I think it’s not the question of if people know there’s an election, because I think everyone knows there’s an election — but I think it’s more educating people about what their options are, because there’s a lot of misinformation that’s spreading like wildfire in different immigrant communities as well as English communities.

Wanda:

My colleagues are spot on. It’s about educating and empowering voters so that they know what the process is supposed to look like and how to troubleshoot should they come upon an issue. I just put in a request for another 500 of the 866ourvote yard signs, and we will be distributing those across the 50 or so counties where we do work, many of them in the rural areas, to make sure our votes have that information right there at the polling precinct. And then we will also be using a lot of Black radio to make sure that we inform folks about the resources that are available to help them protect their vote. Digital isn’t always the best option in rural areas. Black radio still has a long reach, and then using that to provide those links, those web sites, those URLs, and those phone numbers for folks to call should they encounter a problem and give them the opportunity to advocate for themselves.

ERIK:

You all are on the front lines. Were your voters engaged this year, or are you seeing something else?

Stephanie:

I think that there’s a generational split. We’ve seen the Asian-American community that I’m seeing. So you have older generations that are engaged enough into the voting process, but you have younger generations that are kind of over the election process because they feel like it’s frustrating, and they are not seeing the changes that they’re wanting to have happen. It’s really getting more messages and listening to younger folks about what they would like to see, because I don’t think the candidates right now are really talking enough to the Gen Z and new folks involved. That is very critical for any elected person to look at that group of people. That is a huge number. It can really change the election with having the young people vote, and particularly in the Asian-American community, the social media and everything, it’s going to be critical on the social media ads, influencers, et cetera. Those people are the ones that are pushing out information about voter information.

For us it’s important to talk to folks via TikTok and other means because it’s not — you know, it’s to bridge that gap, right? We’re seeing — and then there’s a language barrier too between family members when talking about voting. It’s also giving young people the vocabulary around voting, because they don’t actually know the words in different languages, how to talk about voter suppression, how to talk about white supremacy, how to talk about Black Lives Matter in a way. For us it’s also doing that education with young people too. It’s bridging the gap, and I think that a lot of groups are doing that, but that is — there is a little bit of a divide there.

Wanda:

To Stephanie’s point, that whole “bridging the gap” part, I think, also requires us to look at the current situation we’re in, with the racial reckoning and uprising that are taking place. And seeing this as an opportunity to bring more people into civic engagement. Especially young people. Right? Helping them understand that while being in the streets and protesting and having your voices heard that way is just one step in how we’re going to create change and how we’re going to go about it. Helping them understand that there is a direct correlation to an elected official, an elected seat, a policy, a law, something, and then helping them understand that they have the power to effect these changes. Especially at the local level, right? Yes, it is important, but when we really think about the call to defund the police, that’s going to happen at your local level. That’s going to happen with your city council, with your mayor, your county commissioners. That’s where we want to start to focus their attention on what it is that they can do to improve their circumstances and to start to tear down these systemic efforts that are literally killing us in this country right now.

This is not a time to shame folks. This is not a time to put people down. This is a time to bring people in and expand this electorate, expand our power, and get ourselves in a position where we can start seeing these changes that we so desperately need and deserve in these United States.

Jerry:

The Latino electorate in Georgia has outperformed the national Latino voter participation rate, and that’s been an incredible work that’s been done by multiple organizations, but in particular, Latina are leading the effort here in Georgia in Latina voter turnout. Without Latina, the Latino voter turnout would just not be where it is today.

For example, in two counties in Georgia, Cobb and Gwinnett County, there’s competitive races for sheriff, and the sheriff determines whether there’s a partnership with immigration, and the partnership with immigration has caused an erosion of public trust with law enforcement, where I get phone calls when a crime is committed. An immigrant community doesn’t trust law enforcement that they — that might be a victim of a crime that they will then, in turn, turn around and turn them into immigration and for deportation. There are local offices for sheriff, for example, that are really important for our community, and we’re paying attention to that, and I think there is a motivation within the Latino community, among other communities as well, for turning out to vote this election cycle, and we’re going to continue to break records.

Tamieka:

One thing that connects all of us is that Georgians have been resilient. I think there was a lot of conversation and debate at a national level during the 2018 gubernatorial race, that Georgians might be despondent or apathetic. That was not the case at all for those of us who were doing this work on the ground and living here in Georgia. If it means we have to stay in line for as long as we have to, that is the attitude and the language that’s happening at kitchen tables, that’s happening on the doors, that’s happening in chats at Kroger.

You know, there is — there is a community thing happening here, where we are all acknowledging as Black and Brown people that they are making it very hard for us to vote, and that we, the collective we, won’t let that happen. We are doing our part to then foster, to support that, to provide the tools to make it as easy as possible and as comfortable as possible in addition to doing the ongoing challenges and protecting access to the ballot, and so that means breakfast in the morning. That means dinner in the evening. That means magicians and jugglers throughout the day. That means jazz bands. That means all of the above, right? Our folks — we are resilient people. We have to be. Right? And so if anything, it’s inspiring. We are in lockstep with our community, which is we’re going to do, to quote Wanda again, we’re voting by any means necessary.

Erik:

I want to thank you for everything that you are doing. You are all on the front lines, and I appreciate the fact that you are mobilizing Black and Brown communities across the state of Georgia, and I think that’s an incredible job, and I just commend you for doing that.

I do want to move to another discussion or another topic. That’s on gerrymandering. I just want to get some information from you about what you all have seen, what you all are working on, and the way forward.

Tamieka:

ProGeorgia and Table Partners said we’re going to hold our ongoing work and planning for census and redistricting in 2020 and beyond. I would just want to share in Georgia, white men make up about 27 percent of the state’s population, but they hold 56 percent of all elected seats across the state. That is overrepresentation. And women of color make up about 23 percent of the state’s population and only 7 percent of all elected seats. There is a discrepancy there. I’ll leave it to Jerry and Stephanie and Wanda to share specific examples of when we pushed back against bad redistricting bills. I will say for us that we see representation as part of building power for Black and Brown communities.

You know, we want to make sure that people can vote, that they want to vote, because we’ve connected the act of voting to the issues that matter. But when we do vote, we want to make sure their vote is not diluted by packing or cracking, which is packing all the people of color into one district so we get one representative, or diluting us, right, into majority white districts so that our vote and our voice will never really show up when it comes time to choosing our representation.

Erik:

Jerry, Wanda, Stephanie, any additional insights?

Jerry:

Some of the lessons that we learned prior — in the last redistricting cycle ProGeorgia did not exist. One of the things that we learned collectively as civil rights organizations that are working particularly on voting rights issues is that we can’t continue to work in our own silos and not collectively build power for all our communities, because our communities have shared values. Our communities have shared destinies. We know how to share power within our own communities.

We started working in 2017. We are building a multiracial coalition to ensure that not elected officials, not elected political parties, but that our communities are the center and the anchor to how redistricting is being done in 2021, and we are making sure that we arm ourselves with the ability to create our own maps to make sure that our communities’ power is lifted up in that process. Not for party, but for the power for our own communities. That’s the work that we’re doing. That’s part of the collective work that we’re doing. The census is a key building block to that. That’s why we want to make sure that everybody is counted. Then after that is making sure that our communities get fair representation. As Tamieka indicated, right now that’s not the case with elected officials around the state. We can change that in 2021.

Wanda:

Black Voters Matter didn’t exist the last time, and now that we have got the guidance and the information from the table, we are going to be able to empower our folks to make certain that they know that this is happening, and what we can do to try to lessen it and mitigate that, the results of that. Georgia has either — we either have the most or the second most number of predominantly Black counties. We’re right around the same number as Mississippi, but we have far more counties. All that is to say that in most of these counties, Black people still don’t have power. We don’t have representation on school boards, on county commissions. We see it. We live the effects of gerrymandering every day. Now that we’ve got this base and this process and this understanding in a way to talk to our folks about this, we are going to be better prepared for harm reduction, to lessen the harm on that, and to be at the table demanding — not asking — demanding that we get the fair representation that is guaranteed us as citizens of this country.

And so, like Jerry said, we are on these coalitions and we start working together, look out. Unstoppable. We are going to get these seats and this representation. We are no longer asking. We are way too smart. We are way too — we have way too many resources, and litigation, that is always an option. Happy to use that in a tool in a toolbox. Whatever it is going to take. We are going to get this representation. We are going to start stopping that out here in Georgia because as we can see, it’s literally costing us our lives.

Stephanie:

We’ve started the Georgia Redistricting Alliance. We have seen that all the groups right now, like in real TV time, are working actually triple time. So it’s census. It’s voter registration, voter education, plus getting ready for redistricting. That is on everybody’s mind. We really wanted to make sure that we were ahead of the game. That’s why we started working on it so early. And so one of the staff from our organization really coordinates the groups, to put it together, just to make sure that the people of color voices are at the center of it, like everyone is saying, and just to be prepared in getting our communities really ready for it.

Also, it’s important for communities to see the connection between voting, census, and redistricting.

Erik:

We have time for one last question. This conversation has been amazing, by the way. It’s very, not only informative, but also very inspiring. I do have one question. I think a lot of people who are watching and listening and asking, What can they do? Not only their own states, but in other states, and also in the South. What can people actually do [to] develop a way forward?

Tamieka:

Before I worked at ProGeorgia and in democracy reform, I was a community organizer for most of my career. You know, I think what is special beyond ProGeorgia — what can people do? I encourage people to find their organizational home. We will not succeed as individuals. I think we can often say, you know, you should sign this petition or sign up to be a poll worker; you should also, you know, sign up to do any text bank or phone bank that’s being coordinated, where you can call in your state or call other states. We recruit and retain people for our progressive movement, and I think that then requires people to find their organizational home. That means find, you know, the Asian Americans Advancing Justice chapter in your state. That means find the Georgia Association for Latina Elected Officials in your state. That means find the Black Lives Matter in your state. Yes, this election is critical. Yes, we have a lot of work ahead of us. History is going to look back. This is going to be one of many pivotal moments in history, and the work is going to continue past fall 2020. That means we need people who say, What is it I can do? We need them to be in this for the long haul. Step one is to join a local community organization.

Erik:

Specifically folks joining us on this call and on the Zoom, what would you like to say?

Stephanie:

I have one thing I’m pushing lately. Think of election day as tax day. Election day is the deadline to vote. It’s not actually the day you have to vote. Especially now with everything that’s happening, you have multiple ways, right, to access voting earlier. Don’t even think about it as early voting. Just think that November 3 is the deadline that I have to vote by, but try to really encourage people to think about voting as early as possible. Think about it in a way so that you don’t have to make the plan, right? You allow people who are essential workers, you will you people who don’t have the capacity to do it any other day than that day, that’s their day to vote. Other people who have the privilege to vote at a different time, do it now.

Wanda:

I would just add that folks who find themselves in a position of leadership, that they take a step back and really review and reflect on a few things. Inclusiveness. Look at the people in the circle around you. Look at the people in management positions. Look at the people who are in positions of power. Are they reflective of the community? It’s within your organizations. Is it predominantly male? I would also say to people … in positions of leadership and power, when you are making inroads in inclusiveness, also trust the people that you are bringing in. Right? Trust me. Trust Stephanie. Trust Jerry. Trust Tamieka to come up with a sound strategy to get the wins and the victories that we need to help build power in our communities. Trust us to tell our own stories. Trust us to define success. Trust us to lead this work.

We are in the position where we are now, quite frankly, because the wrong people are leading, and they are leading based on what they know, and with that — without that inclusiveness, without that diversity, we go down one path. There’s more than one path to victory. There’s got to be more than one way to speak to all in diversity in our country, in our state. I would say lead with trust. Lead with love. Hear us. Listen. Be good organizers. That’s the first thing we learn as organizers is to listen, hear our voices, and acknowledge what is going on in their community, in their life within their circle.

Jerry:

Just briefly to add, because I know we’re running out of time, and I think that particularly folks that work in the comp space, I think leading with stories, that Wanda talked about, the resiliency and not feeding into the apathy myth that exists out there is critically important.

Erik:

Again, thanks for everything you all are doing out there for our communities. I not only appreciate it, but I imagine that thousands and millions of people across the country are also appreciative of everything that you all are working on and working toward. Thank you. Thank you very much for that. This wraps our panel discussion. I wish we could have gone on a lot longer because we could have. Maybe next time. Next year we can get back together and have a bigger, broader discussion about victories and changes and everything that we’re bringing to the table coming in 2021. Again, thank you all so much. Hopefully next year we can be meeting in person. Until then, we can continue having Zoom cocktail hours with each other. Thanks so much. Talk to you all again soon.

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