How Georgia Turned Blue

How Georgia Turned Blue

An exceptionally talented activist and leader, a new model of organizing, and years of tireless work—that’s how you change the system. 


When Stacey Abrams won the Democratic primary in Georgia’s gubernatorial election two years ago, System Check hosts Melissa Harris-Perry and Dorian Warren wrote an article for Time Magazine, saying, “If Abrams can win the general election and become the first black woman governor in U.S. history, in a Southern state that sits in the heart of the old Confederacy, it will be a powerful symbol of the capacity of black women to be the face—and not just the backbone or helpmate—of American politics.”

It turns out, Abrams did not have to win the governor’s mansion to bring about this change. She has been able to revolutionize the Democratic Party and the state of Georgia even without the electoral victory.

Georgia has a brutal racial history: Slavery, Jim Crow, racial violence, and massive voter suppression all are party of Georgia’s story. That history isn’t going away overnight—the Center for Public Integrity called Georgia a “hotbed for voter suppression” just last month, warning that voter purges and other suppressive tactics could help sway this year’s presidential election.

But in the end, it was Stacey Abrams, and the deep grassroots organizing that she has been building for nearly a decade, that made the crucial difference in 2020. Georgia went blue for the first time in more than 25 years, and now holds the balance of national power in its hands as both Georgia Senate races head to runoff elections on January 5, 2021.

How did Abrams—and the countless activists, organizers, door-knockers and phone-callers her work has touched—bring about this monumental realignment in American politics? On this week’s episode of System Check, your hosts Melissa Harris-Perry and Dorian Warren dig into the dual realities of Georgia’s history, highlighting both the enduring marks of white supremacy and the resilient movements for racial justice woven into the state’s fabric.

They talk to the grassroots organizers whose years of organizing, mobilizing, and strategy have created new models of system change. Nse Ufot, executive director of the New Georgia Project Action Fund has spent years working to expand democracy by registering nearly 1 million eligible but unregistered African American, Latinx, and Asian American Georgians. She tells us why music, food, and child care—and drag shows—are important tools of organizing.

Georgia is the epicenter of the New South, and the racial makeup is no longer confined to the Black/white paradigm. Genny Castillo, regional engagement director, Southern Economic Advancement Project, and Aisha Yaqoob Mahmood, director of the Asian American Advocacy Fund of Georgia, tell Melissa and Dorian what the state’s changing demographics mean for the future of politics in Georgia, and across the country. Tune in to find out why Genny wants you read pages 63 to 65 in Stacey Abrams’s first book, Lead from the Outside, and why Aisha’s dad invited Stacey Abrams to his daughter’s wedding.

This week’s final word goes to Renee Montgomery: A star of the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream, Montgomery stunned sports fans this summer when she announced she would sit out the 2020 season to concentrate her energies on the voter mobilization efforts in Georgia. And she isn’t done yet: after all the runoff elections are still eight weeks away.

Transforming analysis into action, our hosts give listeners three action items this week.

  • First, help us make a playlist inspired by the work Georgia has already done and the work Georgia is tasked with doing between now and the January 5, 2021, runoffs. Think of this as a sonic organizing tool to remind the people of Georgia they are not alone, Georgia is on ALL our minds as we try to save and strengthen American democracy. Share your choices to our Twitter and our Facebook. Use the hashtag #SystemCheckPlaylist.
  • Second, even if you are not in Georgia, you can experience the wise counsel and learn the key strategies of Stacey Abrams by checking out her two best-selling political strategy books Lead from the Outside: How to Build Your Future and Make Real Change and Our Time Is Now: Power, Purpose, and the Fight for a Fair America. Read them, give them as gifts, follow the advice.
  • Lastly, remember that election 2020 is not over. Contribute your time, talent and treasure in whatever ways you can to the efforts to expand democracy and sustain voter mobilization in Georgia! Look for the organizers and organizations doing the work in your neighborhood, your community, your state. Find out how you can get involved and make a difference in your own backyard, then send us a note on social media and let us know about the amazing work you are doing to check the systems that affect your life.

System Check is a project of The Nation magazine, hosted by Melissa Harris-Perry and Dorian Warren and produced by Sophia Steinert-Evoy. Support for System Check comes from Omidyar Network, a social change venture that is reimagining how capitalism should work. Learn more about their efforts to recenter our economy around individuals, community, and societal well-being at Our executive producer is Frank Reynolds. DD Guttenplan is Editor of The Nation, Erin O’Mara is President of The Nation. Our theme music is by Brooklyn-based artist and producer Jachary

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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