Stacey Abrams: It is ‘wrong’ to compare her refusal to concede with Trump’s stolen election rhetoric

Originally published by The 19th

ATLANTA — Stacey Abrams on Monday cautioned against conflating her refusal to concede in the 2018 Georgia governor’s race with former President Donald Trump’s false claims of a stolen election, calling the latter wrong and dangerous for democracy.

“I will never ever say that it is OK to claim fraudulent outcomes as a way to give yourself power,” Abrams said. “That is wrong. I reject it and will never engage in it. But I do believe that it is imperative, especially those who have the platform and the microphone, to talk about the access.”

Abrams acknowledged her loss to Kemp days after the 2018 election. But she attributed that defeat — by less than 1.4 percentage points — to efforts by Kemp, then the secretary of state, to suppress voter turnout. Kemp denied the allegations.

“The issues that I raised in 2018 were not grounded in making me the governor,” Abrams told The 19th’s Editor-at-Large Errin Haines at a Monday event. “Not a single lawsuit filed would have reversed or changed the outcome of the election. My point was that the access to the election was flawed, and I refuse to concede a system that permits citizens to be denied access. That is very different than someone claiming fraudulent outcome.”

Abrams, who will face Kemp in the November midterm elections, has made voting rights a cornerstone of her priorities as an elected official, first as a legislative leader in the Georgia legislature and as the now two-time Democratic nominee for governor. She has also highlighted health care needs and economic issues as she seeks a rematch against Kemp.

But in the years since her first bid for the highest office in the state, Republicans have repeatedly pointed to her actions in 2018 as the original “Big Lie.”

Abrams emphasized in her remarks Monday that words matter, and her 2018 speech was carefully planned.

“The challenge is that people are always going to cherry pick the language that they want to make the points that they need,” Abrams told Haines. “... And I apologize that people can only listen to four seconds of a speech and not the whole 15 seconds. But what I think is absolutely critical is that we not allow ourselves to conflate access and outcome.”

Recent polling shows Kemp with a slight lead over Abrams. Abrams emphasized that if potential voters like Black men turn out, she can win. She also indicated that she would welcome key Democrats to stump for her, such as President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, who Abrams campaigned for in 2020.

“There is no reticence on my part,” Abrams said. “I know people will try to spin up stories where they don't exist. I welcome President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to come to Georgia because that’s one of the ways we show Georgia what the Democrats have delivered for our state.”

With 50 days to go until Election Day and less than a month to go until the start of early voting in Georgia, Abrams said her goal is to win the election outright and avoid a runoff. In some ways, Abrams said the election feels familiar to 2018, but 2022 also feels different.

“This is an evenly divided state,” Abrams told The 19th in an interview ahead of the event, noting that 1.6 million voters have been added to the rolls since 2018, more than half of them Democratic leaning. “Victory is completely contingent on turning out voters, especially those who feel marginalized or distrustful of the system. And it also requires navigating voter suppression that’s been architected by former secretary of state, now Gov. Kemp.”

Kemp signed a bill into law in 2021 that made sweeping changes to Georgia’s voting rules, including new requirements for absentee voting, reduced drop boxes in the state and statewide oversight of local election boards. Kemp, whose campaign did not respond to a request for an interview, has defended the law and his general approach to voting policy. In recent weeks, he has pointed to rising inflation and its effect on the economy to tie Abrams to national Democrats.

Abrams said her candidacy is complicated by her parallel efforts to ensure that voters are able to cast their ballots safely and securely in November. That work has been made harder, she said, by her opponent and Georgia Republicans, who have passed voter restrictions in the wake of the 2020 election.

“My job is to protect democracy, regardless of whether my name is on the ballot,” Abrams said. “That said, I also want to be governor so that we don’t have to keep litigating and relieving this problematic behavior.”

Key to Abrams’ strategy is targeting what she calls “persuasion voters,” people who need to be convinced to show up, not of who to vote for. She credits these voters with delivering for Democrats in 2020 and 2021.

“We are leaning in and saying that our path to victory, our playbook, works, but we can’t believe it will just magically happen,” Abrams said. “These voters deserve the same assiduous attention, the same investment, and the same support as any other voting bloc.”

Abrams said her campaign will focus on turnout and encouraging people to vote early, but added that she is concerned about the potential impact of the state’s new voting laws.

“The people who are supposed to be responsible for protecting the right to vote are manipulating that right,” Abrams said. “The failure to commit treason does not mitigate their active engagement in denying democracy. When it becomes a partisan issue, what gets lost are the people who get hurt.”

Joe Manchin's backyard is the latest battleground for voting rights in America

The battle for voting rights came to West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin's backyard this week, as the mustard seed-sized Black population of the state got reinforcements from across the country.

A caravan of Black organizers pulled into Charleston Thursday for a late afternoon rally in the shadow of the gold dome of the Capitol where Manchin served as a state lawmaker before he was elected secretary of state, governor and U.S. senator.

In one of the whitest states in the country, the activists were there to deliver a message: Black voters matter.

“We want to let our senator know we are watching," said Bluefield, West Virginia activist Charkera Ervin. “The Black community in this state knows what it's like to feel invisible. In November, Black folks showed up and we showed out, but they are trying to make us invisible again."

Manchin has been a key figure in the effort among congressional Democrats to pass federal voting rights legislation. Democrats argue that the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would counter the voter suppression laws being passed in GOP-controlled state legislatures in response to the record turnout among minority voters and women in the 2020 election.

But Manchin has raised concerns about the pair of bills, has withheld his support barring changes and has said he will not vote to abandon the filibuster — a necessary step without bipartisan support for legislation with Democrats narrowly in charge in the Senate.

LaTosha Brown, a co-founder of Black Voters Matter, said the fight for voting amounts to “a political civil war."

“There are a small group of white men who want to continue to hold power," Brown said in an interview after the For the People Act was blocked from advancing on Tuesday. Manchin voted to allow debate on the measure but has said he is against the overall plan. “They've never had to share power, and they've always created a system to give themselves the advantage."

In recent weeks, Manchin has met with civil rights leaders who have urged him to get rid of the filibuster and to join Democrats in support of both bills. The issue is one of urgent concern to the millions of Black voters who were crucial in delivering a Democratic White House, maintaining a majority in the House and eking out a slim majority in the Senate in 2020.

But in 2018, it was Black voters who mattered in Manchin's nailbiter re-election.

African Americans make up just 3.6 percent of West Virginia's nearly 1.8 million residents, but as overwhelmingly Democratic voters, they helped Manchin win a second term by a margin of just 3.3 percentage points — less than 20,000 votes.

Manchin has a responsibility to represent all West Virginians, not just the ones who look like him, said Danielle Walker, the lone Black woman in the West Virginia House of Delegates.

“I represent all of my constituents and he should do no less — he should be doing more," Walker said in an interview before addressing the rally, adding from the stage: “I am an American. I am a voter. I am a taxpayer. I am a patriot. Senator Manchin, you may be the most powerful man in D.C., but you could earn a pink slip."

Manchin, 73, will be up for reelection in 2024.

Teresa Willis said she voted for Manchin in 2018, but likely won't do so again. The 62-year-old retired state transportation employee has worked to register voters of all backgrounds with her sister church members and said the backlash against Black voters in Republican statehouses is “terrible."

“It's like he's not considering the Black voters in West Virginia," Willis said. “Manchin should be here. He needs to look out for all of West Virginia."

Priscilla Waddy, who joined Willis on the Capitol square for the rally, agreed that Manchin is “not worthy of her vote." The retired postmaster also helps with voter registration efforts and said as a Black woman, she has to make her voice heard now. Thursday's event let her know there are other Black Americans who feel as she does, she said.

“They're trying to keep us silent," Waddy, 69, said, adding that she plans to continue to register voters. “I hate it. They're still trying to suppress us. We are as free as they are. Our people have already died for all of that."

Ann Forcson, also part of the church voter turnout efforts, said she was in fifth grade when the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed.

“If I'm still here, I'm still here for a purpose," said Forcson, who recalled her father giving her a voter registration form when she turned 18, along with the words: “Voting will help you get where you want to be."

Forcson watched Thursday's rally holding a sign with a picture of the late congressman John Lewis with the rallying cry, “PROTECT OUR VOTE." Now 65, she said she will be registering voters this weekend.

“That's my job," Forcson said. “As hard as we worked for it, it can be taken away from us with a vote."

Originally published by The 19th

Darnella Frazier, the teen who filmed George Floyd's murder, wins honorary Pulitzer

Originally published by The 19th

Darnella Frazier, the teenage girl who whipped out her cell phone and recorded the police murder of George Floyd last summer, a video that rocked the nation, has received an honorary Pulitzer Prize for her courage.

Frazier, now 18, was honored with a special citation for her video, which “spurred protests against police brutality around the world, highlighting the crucial role of citizens in journalists' quest for truth and justice."

“Even though this was a traumatic life-changing experience for me, I'm proud of myself," Frazier wrote in an Instagram post on the one-year anniversary of Floyd's murder. “If it weren't for my video, the world wouldn't have known the truth."

On May 25, 2020, when Frazier saw Floyd pinned under the knee of former police officer Derek Chauvin outside of a Minneapolis convenience store, she said she felt what she saw “wasn't right." While she didn't know Floyd, she recognized another human being suffering and in pain.

In that moment, she was the lone witness, a high school student and Black teenager with her cell phone camera trained on four police officers and Floyd taking his final breaths.

The act reflected many of the core tenets of journalism: Afflicting the comfortable, shining a light on wrongdoing, bearing witness on behalf of the marginalized, speaking truth to power. It was not her job, but Frazier described it as her duty when she testified at Chauvin's trial earlier this year.

Frazier's video became exhibit 15, a key piece of evidence played repeatedly during the trial, where she also delivered emotional testimony and lamented that she wished she had done more to help Floyd. Last summer, her video galvanized millions of people of all backgrounds to take to the streets, calling for an end to the unrelenting killing of Black people at the hands of law enforcement and vigilantes.

Floyd's murder took a personal toll on Frazier, who described her ongoing trauma around witnessing his killing on Instagram.

“Everyone talks about the girl who recorded George Floyd's death, but to actually be her is a different story," Frazier wrote.

“My video didn't save George Floyd," she added, “but it put his murderer away and off the streets."

Kamala Harris faces thorny policy challenges on first international trip

Originally published by The 19th

Vice President Kamala Harris on Monday urged would-be Guatemalan migrants not to come to the U.S. border illegally even as she expressed empathy for why they might make the difficult decision to flee their culture, their kin and the only home they have ever known.

“I want to be clear to folks in this region that are thinking about making that dangerous trek to the United States-Mexico border: Do not come. Do not come," Harris said at a press conference with President Alejandro Giammattei of Guatemala as part of her first foreign trip as vice president. “We will discourage illegal migration and I believe if you come to our border, you will be turned back."

Harris' visits to Guatemala and Mexico are aimed at stemming the tide of migration at the United States' southern border and will focus on several of the factors that lead migrants to flee their home countries, from poverty to food insecurity to corruption to economic instability.

“Most people don't want to leave home, the place where they grew up, the place where they pray, the place where their grandmother is," Harris said, adding that when people do leave, it's “either because they're fleeing some harm or because they simply cannot satisfy their basic needs by staying at home."

Harris told reporters that she and Giammattei came to agreements on a range of issues. She announced a joint task force on smuggling and human trafficking and an anti-corruption task force to help Central American prosecutors, and confirmed that she is sending an initial 500,000 excess COVID-19 vaccines to Guatemala.

The two-day trip kicks off a busy June for Harris, who lacked a robust portfolio in her first 100 days, but has since simultaneously inherited some of the country's biggest and most historically intractable challenges.

Last week, the vice president was deputized to lead Democrats' fight against GOP voter suppression efforts at the federal and state level, and to address vaccine hesitancy and inequity as part of the president's “month of action," an effort to reach a 70 percent vaccination rate against the coronavirus ahead of the July 4 holiday.

In March, Biden tasked Harris with addressing the root causes of migration from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras — the so-called “Northern Triangle" countries — in her first specific assignment as vice president. He told reporters he could “think of nobody who is better qualified" to take on the issue, one of the administration's hairiest and earliest challenges beyond the pandemic and economic recovery, climate change and racial inequality. Amid rising violence — particularly for women and children — and crushing poverty and other calamitous conditions, migrants are increasingly fleeing their home countries and have been arriving at the U.S. southern border seeking entry.

Harris has pledged to work with leaders of those countries, as well as the private and philanthropic sectors, to explore the reasons migrants make the dangerous journey north — but has also reiterated the administration's stance that people should not leave their home countries for the U.S. border now.

In late April, Harris met virtually with Giammattei to discuss border security; cooperation between the two countries' law enforcement agencies to combat smuggling; establishing orderly channels for migrants; and creating an investment-friendly environment in the region.

The Biden-Harris administration has announced $310 million in humanitarian aid for the three countries. And last month, Harris announced initial commitments from 12 U.S. corporations, including Microsoft, Mastercard and Chobani, to support economic development in Latin America.

On Monday, Harris is also expected to meet with community leaders, workers, women entrepreneurs and U.S. embassy staff members to discuss economic security and the core factors of migration to “give people hope for a better life at home," according to administration officials.

Last month, Harris met virtually with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and agreed to collaborate on border security, human and workers' rights — including forming or joining unions and combating human trafficking —and economic development in the Northern Triangle and southern Mexico. Harris is expected to meet with López Obrador and hold a conversation with women entrepreneurs as part of her itinerary.