EXCLUSIVE: Stacey Abrams On What’s At Stake For Black Women Voters

EXCLUSIVE: Stacey Abrams On What’s At Stake For Black Women Voters

Midterm elections are coming up on November 8, 2022, and a lot is on the line for voters. An election that people across the country are particularly focused on is the gubernatorial race in Georgia that has once again found the current governor, republican Brian Kemp, and the democratic candidate and former Georgia state representative Stacey Abrams competing for the coveted governor role. After the 2018 state election that was marred with voter suppression that favored the Georgia republicans, Abrams has committed herself to making sure that Georgians’ votes matter.

xoNecole recently caught up with the gubernatorial hopeful about her campaign, what’s at stake for voters, and what voters can expect from her if she’s elected.

xoNecole: The last time you ran for governor in 2018, that election ended in voter fraud that favored your opponent. What informed your decision to run again knowing the corruption that exists and can succeed in electoral politics? 

Stacey Abrams: I wanna make sure we use the right language: it was voter suppression. Voter fraud is when someone manipulates the outcome, and that's what Donald Trump attempted to do. And what's so important about understanding voter suppression is it's not about the outcome – it is the outcome – but it's mostly by manipulating who has access. And that is what is so concerning about what happened in ‘18 and why I'm running. Because every Georgian who is eligible to vote deserves to have access to the right to vote. And unfortunately, this governor, both as Secretary of State and now as governor, has instituted multiple barriers to access, which leads to voter suppression. But the reason we have democracy is so that communities can have what they need.

We vote for leaders who will see us and serve us. And unfortunately, over the last four years, Brian Kemp has proven he doesn't see us. He has refused to tackle the core issues affecting our communities. He won't expand Medicaid, which means that thousands of people are denied access to healthcare for cancer treatment, for diabetes treatment.

We know that he has refused to invest in our schools. Too many of our young Black kids who are trying to go to college can't get financial aid and he won't tackle that issue. And we know that affordable housing is a crisis across the state of Georgia. In fact, he's sitting on 400 million for rental eviction assistance and won't spend the money. And then we know that in the state of Georgia there is a 100-year gap between Black and brown economic revenue and white revenue. He said that he'll study the issue. I actually have a plan to solve the issue in 15 years. And I say all that to say this: I'm running because I believe Georgia is at a moment of opportunity but we need a governor who sees us and is willing to serve all of us, not just as friends, not just people who he thinks are like him. And by pushing back against voter suppression, we have done the work of letting voters know that they have the right to be heard. And I believe in this election, they're going to show up and decide that they want more for their lives and for theirs.

xoNecole: You were praised after the 2020 election for your organizing efforts in getting Black people registered in Georgia in record numbers. Still, in the two years since then, many Black voters have expressed frustrations with democrats for seemingly once again using them for votes only to abandon them once in office. How do you convince someone who has felt let down by the democrats over and over again to once again cast a ballot for the party?

Abrams: First I begin by saying that Democrats have actually delivered in the last few years and it's going to feel as if it's not as much as we need, but it's more than we had. I point to the Inflation Reduction Act, which has poured money into our communities. The Infrastructure Act, which is going to employ so many of our communities. The CARES Act and the ARPA Act, which allowed so many millions of Americans, including Georgians, to have access to healthcare and some small relief.

But we need more. And part of that is that we need governors who actually work with the federal government to get the money to the people. What so many in Georgia don't understand is that yes there's money coming from the federal government –6 billion extra dollars in the state of Georgia – but the governor won't spend it on our people.

And so my reason for running and what I want people to understand is, I need you to trust one more time. We've tackled the federal level. We understand mayors, but until we control governorships, until we have people who actually are the intercessors between the federal and the local to actually do the work, we aren't going to get what we need. We aren't going to get the support that we deserve. And so, I am proud of the work that Democrats have done to send resources here, but now it's time to have a governor to get the resources into the pockets of our people, to get more money into our communities and more opportunity into our neighborhoods.

And when we have that governor, when I am that governor, we can deliver and we can finally push back on the reason people don't trust. They don’t trust because they don't see change. And with a new governor in the state of Georgia, they will see change.

xoNecole: What do you believe is at stake for Black people in this election?

Abrams: Everything. We know that Brian Kemp doesn't care. He won't help. And he has attacked our freedoms. I say he doesn't care because he has refused to expand Medicaid. That means that half a million Georgians are being denied health insurance, 40% of whom are Black people. 40% of the people being told “no” are Black people who need that access to healthcare so they can take care of themselves and their families, and it's physical healthcare and mental healthcare.

And by refusing to draw down those dollars, he is saying no. We also know that under Brian Kemp, we have seen a skyrocket in gun violence rate, including guns being the number one killer of our children, and most of the children dying are Black. If we don't have a governor who believes in common sense gun laws, our children and our communities will continue to be the victims of gun violence and those guns are gonna get easier and easier to secure. But we also know that because he's let so many of our hospitals shut down. When they get shot, when they get hurt, there's nowhere to go for help.

Number two, we need access to housing. Affordable housing is a crisis and for Black communities, it is also the major pathway to wealth if we don't have access to housing.

We lose not only the daily opportunities for stability but long term opportunities for growth. And I intend to invest in affordable housing in the state of Georgia, especially to make certain that black communities have the chance to build generational wealth.

Number three, we know that the issue is can you make a living in Georgia? And unfortunately, this governor has been very comfortable with 1.5% of all contracts in the state of Georgia going to Black and brown people. Now that means that 98.5% go to white people in a state where Black people are 33% of the population. I want to be the Maynard Jackson of Georgia. I wanna make certain that we are growing wealth in our small businesses immediately, and you don't need legislation. You just need a good leader.

But I also know that Black women are in danger in Georgia because of Brian Kemp's draconian abortion ban. After six weeks, Black women already have a three times higher likelihood of dying from pregnancy-related illness than anyone else, and Georgia is number one in maternal mortality with his refusal to expand Medicaid. One in five women does not have access to healthcare. Then he puts on top of it, forced pregnancy and no opportunity for help. On the other side, I want to be the governor who repeals that abortion ban. And this is crucial, not only for Georgia but for Black people across the country because 56% of Black people live in the south. And that means unless I become the governor of Georgia, for Black people from Texas to North Carolina, from Tennessee to Florida, they will be denied access to reproductive care unless Georgia becomes an oasis for freedom and so on gun violence, on having the right to choose, on the right to vote, on the right to make your life better.

I am the only person who is looking at Black communities, talking to Black communities, and has plans for the success of the Black communities.

xoNeocle: Speaking to your pledge about investing in affordable housing, childcare, and minority-owned businesses: there has been criticism of your platform on policing which is to pour even more money into police departments, saying “higher pay [for police] leads to fewer negative interactions.” During a time when many Black people are still being unjustly killed by police and many people are organizing around defunding police departments and putting those resources directly into communities instead, how do you justify giving even more money to the police?

Abrams: So what I've called for is expanding pay raises for law enforcement because we have law enforcement officers in Georgia who make less than a living wage, and we cannot say that we believe in a living wage and not say that that includes the people who protect us. We know that when someone commits a crime, it's often that they commit a crime against someone in their community. And I've got a brother who's been one of those people who has victimized members of our community. And I want people to be able to call for help. I want them to be able to call the police and say, please come and protect me. But I also know that my brother doesn't lose his humanity simply because he makes a mistake. And that's one of the reasons I'm calling for increased pay for correctional officers because our correctional facilities are in crisis and those who are in our prisons are being victimized and abused because we don't have adequate protection for them inside.

And so one of the pieces I'm pushing for is making sure we increase pay for correctional officers so those our prisons aren't being run by gangs who are victimizing and doing dangerous things to our communities. I also wanna pay for the salaries for our community supervision officers. When my brother finally stabilized, when he finally got out of prison, he for the first time had a good parole officer who kept him off of the road to recidivism.

And now my brother has been readmitted to Morehouse College. He is stable, he is clean, and I want that for every Georgian. And so my push is to make certain that we, the public, those who do law enforcement, who do it right, that they make a living wage, but that we also have adequate support to protect our communities.

But I also have a brother who's been pulled over for driving while Black. Many times. He's a social worker who was helping keep people out of jail, and he risked his life every time someone pulled him over. I believe in accountability. I believe that anyone in law enforcement who exhibits disregard and disrespect for our community should be held accountable.

And I am the only candidate calling for that accountability because I know that we have to have both public safety and accountability. That we have to have criminal justice and we have to have law enforcement. It is dangerous to pretend that we can pick one over the other. And because of my two brothers, I know we need to have both.

xoNecole: During the 2020 primaries, you defended Biden for president, even going as far as defending him against allegations of sexual misconduct, even as people like Vice President Harris said she believed the women [accusers]. Even to some of your supporters, this defense [of Biden] was unexpected. When it comes to issues of sexual misconduct and justice for victims, what policies can voters expect you to uphold and defend as governor?  

Abrams: I believe that women deserve to be heard. I believe women deserve protection from sexual violence, and they deserve to have a platform and access to opportunities. And I will stand on my record any day of the week. I believe that it is important for us to create spaces, not only for hearing our victims, but making sure they get access to the help and the support they need and that's one of the reasons I want to expand access to Medicaid and expand access for those who have needs to get the mental healthcare treatment and have the law enforcement responsibility to take care of them as well.

The other piece of this is that in a state like Georgia where we have no access to abortion, we know that victims of sexual violence are going to be forced to carry their attackers' progeny and that is wrong. We need a governor who's actually going to protect the right of a woman to choose to control her body and to control her future. And I am proud of my record defending women and defending our right to choose.

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