To save democracy, more than a candidate ‘vote getter’ is needed. Ms. Abrams heeds the call.
Above: Stacey Abrams, photo courtesy American Libraries Magazine
Some challenge elections when they don’t like the result; others challenge elections when voters are disenfranchised:
“Voter suppression typically targets the marginalized, the disadvantaged, and the inconvenient — those whose decisions challenge the established order of things, like college students or ex-offenders. But the effect is broader and exponentially more pronounced. These communities tend to share a common belief that political leaders should pass laws to guarantee equity and justice and they vote that way.”
“However, the disenfranchisement of individuals and entire populations from democracy through the booby traps of registration, access to the ballot and ballot counting works to divide groups, often leaving the privileged unscathed by the process but hurt by the outcomes. Representative democracy is a brute force exercise, where who counts matters. Rigging the game affects all the players on the team, even those who are not targeted.”
-Stacey Abrams, Our Time is Now, 2020 (1)
Lady Polls’ ‘do me no favors’ tone is remarkable. This is not altruism, nor opportunism speaking but “polis practicum.” One is reminded of Bush 43’s comment after Hamas candidates “out voted” the PLO in the Gaza: “sometimes ‘democracy’ doesn’t work out the way you’d like.”
Layer hierarchical thinking onto her call-out, ‘rigging the game’ and the “tyranny of the minority” becomes sinister. The ‘pyramid’ organizing principle at work: demonstrate fealty to those ‘at the top’ by committing to more deviancy, committing more outrageous behaviors. (2)
Even violate laws.
“When the most vulnerable communities become isolated from public discourse, especially from voting, their ills might appear to be contained as well. But like any dangerous contagion, the symptoms of voter suppression serves as a warning for a more virulent and deadly disorder. When democracy is broken, the effects are national and even international. (p.123)
In this ‘race to the bottom,’ Abrams offers some advice:
“Change must begin at the federal level, where Congress establishes a bottom line for democracy rather than relegating the quality of access to the states.” (p.129)
If there is a frailty in Abrams’ assessment it is not redefining the platform for political discourse: participation in a democratic process is one thing, being heard is another. Indeed, the two foremost advocates for grassroots voter participation — Abrams and Beto O’Rorke — are daily circumscribed by those within their own party, reducing their efforts for quality voter participation to state election focused reforms. One can argue, their efforts are “contained” by the mental state ‘boundaries’ of Georgia and Texas.
Akin to “containment” is sacrifice, what Abrams characterized as the ‘brute force exercise’ of representative democracy. The “whose vote counts matters” principle: one vote garners expectation, borrowing against affirmative action.
As recounted in Peril (3), 3 term Michigan Democrat Senator Debby Stabenow paid a visit in March 2021 to the hideaway office of 2 term Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin. Her purpose in meeting with Manchin was to convince him that his support of the America Cares Act, the second Biden Pandemic Stimulus Bill, was in the best interests of the nation. What seemed on surface like a normal discussion of politicians… and yet, hold on…take away the rhetoric and a looming realpolitik emerges — would Manchin make a sacrifice? Would Manchin give up a personal need for vindication in place of party support of continuing aid to the marginalized and pandemic stricken? Stabenow’s call was a riff on ‘country above party,’ — ’nation above state:’ “I come from Michigan and there is a lot in this bill that my constituents don’t like, Joe,” started Stabenow. “But I don’t just represent Michigan, I also represent what affects voters across America. And America needs this bill to pass. It’s not just about voters in West Virginia or Michigan.”
Giving something up — sacrifice for a greater good — is what Republicans refuse to do. And Manchin and Stabenow knew that. On this they both could agree: nothing was going to happen without Manchin’s affirmative vote. Reluctantly, Manchin endorsed the Portman Amendment (4), triggering the 50 vote threshold needed to pass the America Cares Act.
Ms. Abrams acknowledges this reality: voter suppression is something you need to ‘give up’ to protect democracy:
“Those of us who believe in the promise of democracy must become outraged about even a single act of suppression. In an honorable system, the loss of a single voter’s right to participate is a wrong that cannot be tolerated — and as Americans, we should know that a failure in the system weakens us all… Suppression may target a select group, but when the process breaks down, we are all at risk.” (p. 127)
Advocating for voting rights is not playing a zero sum game. Understandably, some in Congress are playing ‘apres nous, le deluge:’
“Still, too many Republicans accept voter suppression as the price for continued power, regardless of the damage it does to the machinery of our country.” (p. 127)
Who will put their career on the line? Who will turn over the pyramid?
Forget emailing your Congressperson. The emails are scrubbed; the answering machine drones on. Congressional staffers may put your name on a campaign donation ask list.
Rather, the response of Our Time is Now is ‘look in the mirror.’ Hence the title: ‘we’ can do this, now.
“Yet, as we fight against those invested in the status quo and our friends too afraid of the potential of this melange of opinions and needs, we must come to grips with our victory…
“We have to reclaim the notion of what democracy means. A major part of this project is that we have to stop thinking about elections as being about candidates…in Georgia we won. I didn’t see victory simply as my getting across the finish line and getting a title. Winning is about ensuring that people who do not think they matter in our system believe that they can lift their voices up… Regardless of the level of government, the impact of the role, or the breadth of impact, voting is power.” (p. 250)
What makes Stacey Abrams — to borrow a metaphor (5) — a “vanguard,” for our electoral politics at this time?
- She has not conceded losing the 2018 Governor’s Race. She saw the abandonment of fair elections in Georgia.
- She didn’t take her loss personally. She took her loss nationally, opening the door for Democrats to claim protecting democracy as their mission.
- She avoided the non-partisan argument blinders. Voter suppression is partisan: that’s the point.
- She is 45’s and the RNC’s leitmotif: whereas he/they claim false defeat, Abrams claims ‘real success.’ In this way she plays the role of bellwether in politics. The go-to canary-in-the-democracy-coal-mine. And she deftly throws back the pundit gauntlet. She is the “now is our time” politician. She gives lie to the cynicism of “there are no second acts in American politics,” (cite) which she daily rewrites as “there are always second acts in democracy…”
- She rewound the ‘Michelle Obama clock.’ (cite) It’s 2008 again. Behold: ‘A second act.’
One can claim that Ms. Abrams ‘lost’ the Governor of Georgia and ‘won’ two seats in the US Senate. That helped get the America Cares Act passed.
And would have retrieved the House passed Voting Act if two Democrat Senators practiced shared sacrifice.
Ms. Abrams doesn’t need a ‘landing pad.’
Democracy in America does.
2-”Trouble in Michigan,” October 15, 2021, Medium
3-Peril, Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, reviewed in “Truth Chasing Facts,” October 21, 2021, Medium
4-Peril, chapter 62
5-Janelle Bouie, Opinion Page, NYTimes, Sunday, February 6