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Two Ways to Fortify American Democracy
Jack Smith and Stacey Abrams are leading a two-pronged charge to win the civil war against antidemocratic white nationalism
It’s better, of course, to fight for democracy in two ways rather than one. On Tuesday of last week Jack Smith stood up for the triumph of the rule of law over an authoritarian demagogue who led an auto-coup to overthrow the free and fair presidential election of 2020.
Smith knows that the rule of law is everything in a stable constitutional democracy. It is the sine qua non of democracy—its alpha and omega. In a democracy, the rule of law must win its battles against corruption, lies, and authoritarianism, or else lawlessness, followed by autocracy to suppress it, eventually prevails.
This story is hourly in the news. Everyone outside Trump’s cult of personality understands that the rule of law is the essential weapon of peace that must be exercised today to thwart the “civil war” Trump has unleashed against democracy, truth, the U.S. Constitution, and the Democratic Party that alone is guarding the ethical norms and constitutionalism that are the anchors of our republic.
The Second Front
But there is another front to the civil war that must be won to legitimize and safeguard our democracy. Picking up on my essay from last week showcasing Steve Phillips’ book How We Win the Civil War: Securing a Multiracial Democracy and Ending White Supremacy for Good, that second front is data-driven efforts to get out the vote that will make our multiracial democracy true to itself.
The potential votes to transform a historically white-dominated democracy into a reflective, all-the-peoples’ democracy are there. What is necessary is to energize and assist eligible voters to get registered and cast their ballots.
Recently I discussed the state of our democracy on the Qasim Rashid Show on Sirius XM, frequently referencing the main themes of “How We Win the Civil War.”
If you prefer to listen:
In How We Win the Civil War, Phillips presents numerous “success stories” that undergird his argument that the way to win the civil war against Black equal voting rights is to study and emulate the states and regions in the United Stats that have recently flipped from red to blue.
Among these, no story is so compelling as “the Georgia political miracle,” as he calls it, led by Stacey Abrams. Phillips says that the Abrams’ story in Georgia is “the best curriculum possible for anyone wanting to know how to win the Civil War.”
Abrams’ story is indeed a sterling roadmap. In brief, here’s what she did. Here’s how the state of Georgia took a giant leap forward in advancing reflective multiracial democracy in the years between 2013 and 2021.
How to Turn Your Red State Blue
In a 2021 New York Times opinion piece entitled “How to Turn Your Red State Blue,” Abrams herself describes the 10-year plan that led the way to the Georgia Senate victories of Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock that ultimately turned the U.S. Senate blue:
Georgians deserved better, so we devised and began executing a 10-year plan to transform Georgia into a battleground state . . . Years of planning, testing, innovating, sustained investment and organizing yielded the record-breaking results we knew they could and should. The lessons we learned can help other states looking to chart a more competitive future for Democrats and progressives, particularly those in the Sun Belt, where demographic change will precede electoral opportunity.
According to Phillips, Abrams followed the four strategic steps that are indispensable for mobilizing the vote of people of color in vital swing districts and states:
Invest in top-tier leaders who display a powerful mixture of commitment to public service, personal humility, and indomitable will.
Build strong civil engagement organizations that connect and synergize the energy and activities of inspired but disparate individuals who deliver messages of truth and hope.
Develop detailed, data-driven plans that, instead of taking a shotgun approach to getting out the vote, target ready-to-flip voting districts, allocating scarce financial and human resources with laser focus to those areas.
Finally, always play the long game, recognizing that the fulfillment of a multiracial democracy is the work of years and decades, not intermittent, inconstant efforts tied only to election cycles.
“The linchpin of Stacey’s plan was increasing the number of people of color who voted in Georgia elections.”
Steve Philips, “How We Win the Civil War”
The work of Abrams, in fact, helped Phillips to formulate the above-mentioned four steps into a universal action plan for achieving multiracial democracy.
Abrams is a political activist of “fire and determination,” Phillips says, devoted always to service to others and service to our democracy. “Her ambition,” he continues, “was for the cause, the purpose. Her focus was, as it has always been, on ‘doing the work.’”
She got her BA from Spelman College, her MA from the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, and her JD from Yale University. In 2006 she won a seat in the Georgia State House, soon rising to the position of House minority leader. She then went on to become the first Black woman ever to win her party’s gubernatorial nomination, and in 2021 she was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for her voter protection work.
Abrams founded two civic engagement organizations in Georgia—the New Georgia Project and Fair Fight Action—whose dedicated staff and volunteers continue today to work tirelessly to form relationships with unregistered (and registered) voters in an effort to build community and get out the vote.
The Greatest Reward
The greatest reward of these efforts came in 2021 when Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff won tight Georgia Senate races, turning that powerhouse federal body from shades of red to blue.
What made the difference was strategic voter mobilization and the resultant multiracial electorate casting ballots.
The work of Abrams is indeed a blueprint for what Americans can achieve across the nation. With great effort, as Phillips concludes his book, we can build a society that “exceed(s) our wildest imagination. It will be a place of beauty, creativity, and love. Once we win, what we build will be glorious.”
All citations are from Steve Phillips, How We Win the Civil War: Securing a Multiracial Democracy and Ending White Supremacy for Good (2022).
Recommended documentary to go more in-depth on the work of Stacey Abrams, voting rights, and American democracy: All In: The Fight for Democracy