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Stacey Abrams: Beaten but Undefeated

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Stacey Abrams on the campaign trail, blue shirt

My mother Jameya has long lived by a brief but compelling personal mantra: “That’s O.K.”. Coming from my mother, I often have and still do consider the mantra one of the most fearsome pairings of words in the English language.

My mother is a certified public accountant. She has specialized in non-profit accounting for the better part of three decades. It’s not easy being a black, female accountant. However much shady financial behavior and professional backstabbing one imagines accountants having to guard against, female accountants have to deal with all the drama of trying to keep the books clean WHILE combating hostile toxic work dynamics that try to objectify, diminish, and otherwise marginalize them on the basis of gender.

However much combat female accountants must wage against hostile gender-based toxicity and objectification WHILE keeping an eye out for shady financial behavior and backstabbing, black female accountants must constantly deal with race-based toxicity, objectification, and marginalization on top of everything else.

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As a black, female accountant, one is constantly aware of the likelihood of being thrown under the bus for any team setbacks. One is constantly aware of the need to document all conversations and decisions in writing, with multiple layers of dated emails and memos. One is constantly aware of the likelihood of having one’s professional input and decision-making second guessed, undermined, or even contravened at every possible turn. One is constantly aware of the likelihood of being stalled or even passed over on the road to professional opportunities like promotions to leadership, frequently in favor of demonstrably less qualified and less motivated alternatives. Such is too often the way of the world.

In gauntlet running, it helps to have a mantra. My mother’s is “That’s O.K.” Coming from her, it means “Fine. I’m disappointed you chose to do that. You may feel on top in this moment, but this is not over. You will not stop me from getting the job done, from getting where I want to go. I’m still coming. And my memory is coming with me.” Yikes.

The same driven mind it takes to prepare insanely precise financial statements, tax returns, and audit materials for multi-million dollar nonprofits has now decided that you are a problem. Said mind has decided that, no matter what else happens in life, it will not be defeated or even long deterred by you. Can anyone spare a binky? I feel a sudden urge to swaddle myself.

I pity the fool who makes my mother say “That’s O.K.”. Poor you. You’ve done it now. You’re done, and you don’t even know it.  

I also pity the fools who don’t realize my mother is not the only one of her kind. Not even close. There is a vast, unheralded army of excellent black gauntlet runners out there, powering their way towards their long-delayed share of the American dream. Determined to keep pushing forward, no matter what the world does to them. Unfazed by frustration, because frustration is an old and familiar friend. Undeterred by spiritual beatings, because beatings of all types have been a fact of life since their forebears were first stolen to these conflicted shores.

Stacey Abrams delivered the mother of all “That’s O.K.” statements on Friday. In acknowledging Brian Kemp as the soon-to-be certified governor of Georgia, the former tax attorney and first black, female gubernatorial nominee from either major party all but declared war on both the new Governor-elect, along with the state that has allowed people like him to operate. She’s not going to be governor or sit in any elected seat of power, right now. But she’s still pushing forward, with a federal lawsuit that should make vote suppressors a little wobblier in the knees than normal.

Abrams is pushing forward, on behalf of Georgia voters, and with the enthusiastic support of all the new voters she’s helped activate across the state. She’s pushing forward. And her memory’s coming with her. Dating back at least to 2014. Whoo, buddy. How are we coming on that binky?

Republican Governor-elect and former Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp really should’ve seen Stacey Abrams coming. She’s made fighting voter suppression a personal project since 2013, when she first realized the statewide extent of the problem while trying to get people signed up for the Affordable Care Act. That year she founded the New Georgia Project, which so far has helped register around a quarter of a million new voters, lessening the number of unregistered eligible voters by twenty eight percent.

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New registrations are not music to the ears of Brian Kemp or the old Republican guard that desperately wants to keep a deep red state from turning purple or blue at all costs. The New Georgia Project’s efforts have had Abrams and Kemp placed squarely in each other’s political crosshairs for years now.

Few American officials in recent political history have demonstrated more procedural contempt for democracy and political enfranchisement than Brian Kemp. As Georgia Secretary of State, Kemp was responsible for the negation of 1.4 million voter registrations. In July 2017, he purged 500,000 voters in one day, the overwhelming majority of those under the false pretenses that they had moved out of the state, even though they still resided at the address listed on their registrations. 

Just before Election Day this year, a judge struck down an “exact match” requirement Kemp tried to impose, which would have disqualified thousands of voter registration applications for miner clerical disparities. Investigative reporter Greg Palast discovered and ended up suing Kemp for purging another 340,000 voters from the registration rolls using a so-called “postcard trick”, whereby a postcard designed to look like junk mail is sent to voters and must be mailed back within a limited timeframe to confirm residency and avoid having one’s registration cancelled. And on October 19th, he was caught on tape voicing concerns about Abrams’ get-out-the-vote efforts and the urgency for the GOP to find a countermeasure in the event “everyone uses and exercises their right to vote”.

Stacey Abrams has been celebrated as a strong part-time fiction writer but I imagine even she would have a hard time making up a more damning case against an elected official. If Kemp’s actions do not qualify as abuse of power, abuse of power as a concept probably does not exist anymore.

Abrams’ experience and skill set have long been preparing her for the fight ahead. Her working-class progressive roots have steeped her in both adversity and the importance of getting more people seats at the table. When one hears her speak of both struggle and hope, one simultaneously knows she means it and has lived it.

When Stacy talks about the challenges posed by racial economic exclusion and political disenfranchisement, one senses her parents and their journey from Madison, Wisconsin to Gulfport, Mississippi to Atlanta, Georgia is never far from her thoughts. Her ability to press on carried her through pursuit of a public affairs degree at Spelman College and a law degree from Yale University. She’s worked as a tax attorney, a romance novelist, and an entrepreneur, in each effort thriving on immersion in the details.

Abrams’ ferocity regarding details should scare Brian Kemp more than anything. She can pummel her opposition with emotion and good storytelling if she wants to, but, unless she’s writing fiction, her weapon of choice is and always has been the bludgeoning power of fact. She collects facts, put them together into a coherent narrative, and lets the facts do the punching for her. And they punch harder than any gauntlet.

According to TIME Magazine, her obsession with facts and figures helped her to kill a tax cut bill in the Georgia legislature all by herself, when she dove into the numbers and proved that the purported tax cut coupled with a cable tax was actually going to raise taxes. “Abrams took home the data and reorganized it by income level to show that 82% of Georgia families would see their taxes go up.” Ask yourselves, if you were Brian Kemp, would YOU want her preparing a federal lawsuit based on your activities as Secretary of State?

As of Sunday morning, Abrams had already refused to acknowledge Kemp as a “legitimate” governor. She is not alone in that assessment. It would not surprise me in the slightest if Kemp ends up unable to finish his term, criminally liable for corruption. Who will he have to thank? An undefeated gauntlet runner, and an army of Georgian runners like her who have had enough of this particular beating. Does Kemp know what’s coming? I can’t help but pity the fool.

Last call for binkies. It’s never too late to swaddle.