Southern Black Organizers Have Some Advice for Future Campaigns
They’ve always been present yet efforts to invest in their communities have been uneven
Kiana Jackson isn’t interested in mobilizing Southern Black voters with the notion that the fate of our democracy rests in their hands. As the 23-year-old Albany, Georgia native and regional organizer for Black Voters Matter prepares voters ahead of two local runoffs that will determine majority control of the U.S. Senate, she’s continuing to focus on local issues. This includes the election of a public service commissioner on Jan. 5, the same day as the senate runoffs. “We can’t sell people in Georgia, especially poor, minority communities on ‘Hey, Georgia is the one that’s going to save America.’ That’s not the message we’re trying to send,” she says.
Hillary Holley, organizing director of Fair Fight, echoes this sentiment and the importance of the local election. “The cost of utilities for electric and gas in southwest Georgia is through the roof. That is one of their primary concerns. That’s an environmental justice issue that we see play out down there,” she says. “When people talk about targeting Black voters, and they’re like, ‘oh, let’s put up an ad about criminal justice reform and just check off that box.’ I’m like, absolutely not. You have to address health care, you have to address these environmental utility issues, because that’s their livelihood.”
For many organizations and grassroots organizers, mobilizing Black voters in the South — which helped a state such as Georgia vote for a Democratic president for the first time since 1992 — has been a decade’s worth of work. But, organizers say tactics to get out the vote don’t differ much than it would for mobilizing Black voters elsewhere. “The way that environmental or water issues show up in Flint, Michigan is a little bit different than it shows up in Uniontown, Alabama, but they’re fundamentally the same and the way we organize is fundamentally the same,” Cliff Albright, co-founder of Black Voters Matter says.
“Call me crazy but people tend to turn out more when they’ve actually been touched.”