How a multiracial coalition powered Georgia's Democrats to victory

How a multiracial coalition powered Democrats to victory in Georgia's Senate battle
5 min read
14 January, 2021
In-depth: Georgia's different minority communities worked together to help tip the balance in Senate runoffs, ultimately shaping the trajectory of American politics.
Organisations representing the state's different minority communities worked together to get out the vote. [Getty]
On 6 January, America was waking up to the news of two new senators from Georgia that would tip the balance of power in the US Congress. 

By noon, pro-Trump armed rioters had gathered for an invasion of the Capitol, which by the end of the day would leave five dead and the world shaken.

Though the news from Georgia took a back seat, the outcome of the election could very well determine the trajectory of American politics – from how voters are mobilised to which states are considered battlegrounds. Georgia showed that when different communities come together, they can turn around what has long been considered a reliably red state. 

"It can make or break the election," says Azka Mahmood, Communications and Outreach Director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)-Georgia. "If you don't share resources, if you're not banding together to represent different communities – in a state like Georgia with razor thin margins, every vote counts."

In both of the state's Senate runoffs, the two candidates, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, won by less than one percent, showing that high voter turnout across different communities made an important impact. 

Coalitions have strengthened over time. The cost of not working together and not being engaged is very big. Eventually everybody joined hands

Community alliances were developed and strengthened following the close and controversial gubernatorial election of 2018, in which the Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams narrowly lost to then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp. Since then, Abrams has focused on voter rights and engagement, and is widely credited with helping turn the state blue for Joe Biden. 

At the time of her own race, there were widespread allegations of voter suppression, particularly in the Black community, which accounts for around 32 percent of the state's population (whites make up nearly 60 percent, and other groups make up the remainder of nearly 10 percent). Immigrants also found themselves affected by voter suppression and found common ground on a range of key issues.

Read more: Battle for the Senate: How Georgia's Muslim
community is mobilising the vote

"In the past, there has been massive voter suppression," says Mahmood. "Immigrants are not always engaged. This has made a big difference in the awakening over the past several years." 

"Some people who have never registered before are voting for the first time. Coalitions have strengthened over time. The cost of not working together and not being engaged is very big," she said. "Eventually everybody joined hands."

Organisations representing the state's different minority communities – mainly Blacks, Asians, Hispanics and Muslims – worked together to get out the vote.

Among the most prominent were Fair Fight, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Asian American Advocacy Fund, the Georgia Muslim Voter Project, CAIR-Georgia, the New Georgia Project, Black Voters Matter, and Mijente (reaching the Latino community). This was in addition to many smaller NGOs that were able to pool their resources with the common goal of generating as much voter turnout as possible.

"A lot of organisations and non-profits have thin budgets," says Mahmood. "If they can put their staff together and make a team, that can make a big difference." Following large-scale coordination efforts, they were able to help mobilise 4.5 million voters, more than twice the number of any previous Georgia runoff race, beating the previous record of 2.1 million.

The Georgia runoff shows that if different groups come together, they can accomplish a lot by building a multiracial and multigenerational coalition

"The Georgia runoff shows that if different groups come together, they can accomplish a lot by building a multiracial and multigenerational coalition," says Samad Hakani, a high school student in Gwinnett County, who recently finished a two-week fellowship in which he was trained in voter protection and campaign finance.

"When I started this, I saw a lot of people of colour voting. It was something cool to see first-hand," says Hakani. "I think most people just write off Georgia as a backwater. People think it's just old white voters. But there are definitely a lot of people of colour willing to stand up for what they believe in."

Though he is not yet old enough to vote, he is doing what he can to be part of the process, and he encourages others to do the same – and not just during the election cycles. "If Fair Fight continues year-round in Georgia, it will be much easier to get Democratic victories in Georgia," says Hakani. Indeed, many of the key issues for these voters will not be going away anytime soon, whether it's education, healthcare, or the fallout from the pandemic.

Read more: Is this the end of Trumpism or the beginning
of an American insurgency?

"It's been a few years in the works where we've seen different community organisations, whether they're Black, Latino or Asian, come together," says Shafina Khabani, executive director of the Georgia Muslim Voter Project.

"It was really this last election where people have hit the ground running to turn out the vote. We continue to organise together, and we're having conversations post-election. Now is the time to come together to hold elected officials accountable."

Meanwhile, Mahmood is looking forward to continuing the momentum of working across communities.

"You won't see anyone say we flipped the senate blue. This historic voter turnout was the result of work on everyone's part. One group can't say we're the deciding factor," she says. "Once you've tasted how effective and efficient you can be working across different groups, you don't want to lose that." She's also happy to finally be on the "other side" of this effort.

"This has been very exciting to be part of," she says. "It was unfortunately lost in the fray of the news. The 4.5 million voters didn't come out of thin air. People had to work really hard. 2020 did not end for us until this election. Now we're on the other side." 

Brooke Anderson is a freelance journalist covering international politics, business and culture

Follow her on Twitter: @Brookethenews