By Joel Segal & Harvey Wasserman
The predictable corporate Democrats’ Virginia defeat came because the party’s gerontocracy refused to do the “Georgia Way” grassroots organizing that won for Biden in 2020 and captured two US Senate seats on January 5, 2021—the day before Trump’s attempted Capital coup.
Running on issues of the economy, human rights and the ecology, Georgia’s breakthrough on-the-ground campaign did everything the Democrats should have done to win in Virginia.
Let’s look at the history:
The long-shot presidential victory of Joe Biden in Georgia, 2020—followed by the virtually impossible January 5, 2021 US Senatorial victories there of Raphael Warnock and Joel Ossof—changed the world.
Biden’s unlikely 2020 victory in Georgia was critical to removing Donald Trump from the White House. Georgia had not gone for a Democrat since southerner Bill Clinton ran in 1992, with Ross Perot splitting the right-wing vote.
Even more unlikely was the January 5, 2021 US Senate victory of two Democrats, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossof. Together they brought the Upper House to a 50-50 tie, giving Vice President Katherine Harris the decisive vote that has radically transformed the balance of power on Capitol Hill.
These earth-shaking Democratic victories sparked an epic political transformation not only because of where they happened—but because of how.
Georgia was founded in the 1700s by James Oglethorpe as a Utopian colony. Some 60,000 prisoners were brought there from England with the purpose of starting a new life.
But as the slave system took root, Georgia became a bastion of racism and inequality. A lynchpin of the Confederacy and then of the Ku Klux Klan, Jim Crow bigotry toward both blacks and Jews is deeply ingrained in the state’s DNA. If the 2021 victories of one of each in fact indicate a pivotal shift in the Georgia worldview, it would have huge long-term impacts on the American electoral calculus.
But even more important may be the nature of the modernized grassroots organizing that made those victories possible—and which the Democrats just ignored in Virginia, with catastrophic results.
Organizing within the African-American community dates back to before the Revolution, with the founding by Prince Hall of predominantly black Masonic lodges whose progeny are still active and effective. In 1911, during the first Progressive Era, blacks and whites together formed the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Today the NAACP is a major force in American politics. Substantial chapters function statewide in Georgia, and in Atlanta, where legendary organizer Ray McClendon serves as Political Director.
In 2018 Stacy Abrams worked with McClendon and others to fire up a grassroots network that put her on the brink of becoming America’s first female African-American governor. By virtually any standard, her rightful victory was wrongfully denied through a massive Jim Crow disenfranchisement staged by Georgia’s conservative white establishment.
Among those powering Stacy’s campaign were the “Divine Nine,” a network of African-American sororities and fraternities whose current membership and active alumni have become a major force in grassroots organizing nationwide.
For decades the Democratic Party has raised hundreds of millions of dollars from corporate donors and private citizens…and then ignored this critical grassroots African-American infrastructure while—as in Virginia this fall—squndering the core of that cash on electronic media buys, largely in urban areas.
In the new millennium, especially through the breakthrough campaigns of Howard Dean, Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders, much of the fundraising focus has shifted to small internet-based donors. Millions of such small donations—Bernie’s average was $27—could diminish or eventually supplant the totals coming in from the rich and the corporations. To say that would embody a monumental shift in the American balance of power is to vastly understate the case.
But at least equally important could be the shift to nitty-gritty on-the-ground organizing as brought to bear in Georgia 2020-1, primarily by Andrea Miller of the computer-savvy Center for Common Ground, Professor Emeritus Gloria Tinubu and the Atlanta NAACP’s McClendon. As documented in a breakthrough series of first-person accounts “The Georgia Way” (www.electionprotection2024.org) relied on person-to-person campaigning in both urban and rural areas where “retail” politics, advanced internet capabilities and hands-on Get-Out-The-Vote made all the difference.
As in Virginia, untold boatloads of Democratic Party cash traditionally pours into corporate media coffers to buy endless hours of radio-TV-internet advertising. But precious few grassroots dollars sustained hundreds of volunteers who did the nitty-gritty work in Georgia of meeting, greeting and activating otherwise ignored voters both in rural areas and the inner cities.
These dedicated activists also kept watchful eyes on how the registration records were being kept, how the polls were being operated, how the ballots were protected, counted and recounted…and much more.
In response, the Trump-Bannon Republicans are rushing to enact dozens of restrictive laws through the gerrymandered authoritarian Georgia legislature, and many more like it throughout the US. They are infiltrating election boards and precinct staffs with GOP operatives whose mission will be to subvert elections and guarantee the Republicans gain absolute power in 2022 and 2024.
It’s no coincidence that Donald Trump’s violent White Supremacist attack on the US Capital came within 24 hours after the non-violent grassroots victory in Georgia.
The only antidote to a democracy-killing Jim Crow coup is in the on-the-ground organizing that won these amazing victories. The Georgia Way showed that the power of coordinated grassroots campaigning can win even in the Peach State, even with very little money, even in a presidential and two Senatorial races where the odds on winning such a trifecta were virtually nil—and where the tangible political impact can hardly be overstated.
The reality that the American majority strongly supports a progressive agenda…and democracy itself. The Millennial/Zoomer generations—now a third of the country—are demanding broad social, cultural and ecological advances to guarantee themselves a liveable future. A powerful overall American majority has transcended the curses of racism, homophobia, sectarian hatred and misogyny. We support free and fair elections for all. We want an end to untreated illness, poverty, homelessness, hunger, ignorance, militarism, ecological suicide and more.
The usual howls of blame from the party elite and its bloviating army can’t hide that progressive social, economic and ecological programs are supported by a majority of the nation, of which Millennial/Zoomers are now fully a third. Only they can stop the Trump/Bannon putsch in 2022 and 2024.
Democracy depends on grounded, people-centric grassroots campaigning.The Georgia Way must now become American way.
By ignoring it, the Democrat elite opened the Virginia door to American fascism.
It can’t happen again!
Joel Segal & Harvey Wasserman co-convene the Grassroots Emergency Election Protection Coalition zoom calls every Monday, 5pm Eastern Time (www.electionprotection2024.org). Harvey’s The People’s Spiral of US History (www.solartopia.org) will be published in January, 2022. As an aide to former Congressman John Conyers, Joel wrote the Affordable Care Act.