There was an idea, hatched back in 2017, of bringing together a group of remarkable people to see if they could be something more; to see if they could work together when we needed them; to fight the battles we never could. … They were the Stacey Abrams campaign for governor of Georgia ….
Forgive me for pulling a Melania on Nick Fury’s Avengers speech, but essentially, the Stacey Abrams campaign was the most impressive collection of black female political power assembled in decades; black women as consultants, activists, and elected officials all descended on Georgia to help. It was like the black women’s Avengers and sistagirl Voltron all signed up for the Hogwarts School of Black Girl Magic, and it worked.
Stacey Abrams, a single, 44-year-old black woman and former Democratic Caucus leader, beat the brakes off her opponent, Stacey Evans, a 39-year-old married white woman and former state legislator. With over half-a-million votes cast in Tuesday’s primary, Abrams won, 76 percent to 24 percent. Abrams beat Evans so bad, “Karen” called the cops.
Now, the Democrats are left with a question: Will they repeat the success of Abrams’ campaign during the 2018 midterms, or is political Hogwarts for Black Girl Magic closed for the season?
Forty-eight hours before the election, I was at a dinner reception put on by the New Georgia Project at Twisted Soul, a fantastic, modern soul food restaurant in Atlanta’s West Midtown area. Owners Deborah VanTrece and her wife and business partner, Lorraine Lane, mingled around the room serving drinks as other black women from California, Wisconsin, Missouri, Texas and all around the nation trickled in to share strategy, stories and enthusiasm for the Stacey Abrams primary campaign.
“This is the most empowering experience I’ve had in a long time,” Tishaura Jones, the city treasurer of St. Louis who came for the weekend to volunteer, told The Root.
About 25 black women who were organizers and officials were there, and the vibe was like nothing I’d ever felt before in any campaign environment. For all of the “Trust black women,” “Listen to black women” rhetoric that has come out of progressive circles since the #Resistance started, the room was actually filled with black women who were making decisions in and around the campaign, not just showing up as window dressing.
Stacey Abrams’ primary campaign did well with big names: Angela Rye of CNN and Impact Strategies, Nina Turner of Our Revolution, Valerie Jarrett from the Obama administration, and U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris from California all came out to stump or fundraise for her. Those who came and stumped for Abrams, see: the Democratic Party’s future, not its past (but, we see you, Joe Biden, who snuck into Atlanta and met with Evans and not Abrams).
The “working-class white voter” obsessed with the Democratic National Committee needed a reminder that primary campaigns are won by good candidates who reflect the base of the party and that a black woman can compete just as well as anyone else.
“When black women vote, they don’t vote alone,” said LaTosha Brown, co-founder of the Black Voters Matter Fund, who helped Doug Jones win his U.S. Senate seat in Alabama. “They bring their husbands, their kids, grandmas, aunties, everybody.”
Everyone in attendance clapped and snapped their fingers in agreement. They talked about how this kind of cultural knowledge has to inform strategy, too. This new campaign model meant that Abrams focused on messaging and turnout for African Americans as well as young women, single women, the LGBT community, married men with daughters, and low-propensity minority voters in majority-white districts.
This was not exactly the Obama coalition, but it may be a new coalition of voters that might be more generalizable across the United States. African-American female consultants who are used to cobbling together coalitions that extend beyond cute demographic models were the architects behind many of these strategies for Abrams, either within the campaign or as outside groups.
The result? Abrams won 152 out of Georgia’s 159 counties, which included parts of north and south Georgia where there were hardly any minority votes. You see, black female political strategies aren’t just good for turning out black people, they’re just as qualified as anyone else’s. Imagine that!
Consider the unique messaging the Abrams campaign developed around the revelation that she was more than $200,000 in credit card and tax debt. She wrote an op-ed in Forbes (ironically) that spilled all her financial tea in a way that would only work for a black woman:
I’d love to say that was the end of my financial troubles, but life had other plans. In 2006, my youngest brother and his girlfriend had a child they could not care for due to their drug addictions. Instead, my parents took custody when my niece was 5 days old. Underpaid, raising an infant, and battling their own illnesses, my parents’ bills piled up. I took on much of the financial responsibility to support them, and even today, remain their main source of financial support.
The Stacey Evans campaign thought this would be a home run attack against Abrams; instead, it backfired. It actually humanized Abrams to many voting women in Georgia. How many women, let alone black women, know the struggle of being the eldest daughter and the only one with a stable job? (That was literally a running theme through five seasons of Being Mary Jane!)
Your typical campaign probably would have botched the debt response, or tried to avoid the issue, but having women, and women of color, in the room, led to messaging strategies that turned a weakness into a strength. When you can spin $200,000 worth of debt into a Yasss, Queen story of family commitment and empathy? That’s Black Girl Magic.
For too long, Democrats have been embracing the wrong kind of identity politics.
“Being white is enough,” a campaign organizer I met at the dinner who didn’t want to be named said, “that’s basically her [Evans’] campaign.”
The woman also added that many Democrats still think only a white woman can cross over and get white votes in the South, but that’s no longer true on the ground.
Stacey Abrams’ unprecedented victory in Georgia lays out a new template for success. Knock on every door; target black women with unique messages; get out the vote; bring in prominent national black women who are political leaders; don’t be afraid that rural white voters won’t embrace a black woman; develop strategies that bring out black families to vote, not just black individuals.
If it worked in Georgia, it could work in Alabama, and Florida, and North Carolina, and every other Southern state that Democrats have only recently begun to pay attention to again.
Abrams’ campaign just taught a master class in political Black Girl Magic. Now, it’s just a question of whether the DNC will fill out an application for the next class, or keep working from its own Muggled textbooks.