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Hub activists helped in Georgia Senate race

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
Hub activists helped in Georgia Senate race
(left to right) Raphael Warnock COURTESY PHOTO, Jon Ossoff PHOTO: JOHN RAMSPOTT

It was one of the most fiercely-contested races in an electoral year where control of the Senate was on the line. When Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff took Senate seats in Georgia, they flipped the Senate to Democratic control, giving the party control over all three branches of government.

The victory was not won on the strength of the candidates’ campaigns alone, but through the efforts of volunteers across the country, including many in Massachusetts.

The effort kicked off after former Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp in 2017 purged more than 500,000 mostly Black voters from the rolls, then in 2018 defeated Stacy Abrams for the governor’s seat. With many voters unaware of their status or how to re-enroll, Democratic activists sprang into action.

In Boston, Ward 18 Democratic Committee members phone-banked and wrote letters to Georgia voters.

Members of Progressive West Roxbury/Roslindale sent infrequent voters applications to vote by mail along with stamped envelopes.

“We did over 2,000 letters,” said member Rachael Poliner.

Volunteers with the group paid $35 for postage per packet of 25 letters, sending out dozens.

“People were really eager to help,” Poliner said.

Members of the Boston-based Jewish Alliance for Social Action’s political arm, JALSA Impact, recruited 1,250 volunteers in Massachusetts and 22 other states to conduct voter outreach, helping people who were dumped from the rolls to re-register.

Executive Director Cindy Rowe said the organization was inspired to take action as members were contending with four years of Donald Trump’s presidency.

“The politics of white supremacy had entered the White House and our Jewish values were under attack,” she said. “We knew voter suppression was going to be a major tactic in this election.”

In Georgia, not only were voters dumped from the rolls, but newly instituted guidelines required them to submit often difficult to obtain documents to re-register.

“We made sure people knew where to vote, when to vote and how to vote,” Rowe said.

Georgia is one of ten states — most of which are led by Republicans — that purge registered voters who haven’t participated in recent elections on the assumption that they have moved.

In the run up to the 2018 election, Kemp purged more than 53,000 voters from the state’s rolls because the information they provided did not match exactly that in the state’s database — even if the difference was as slight as a missing apostrophe. Polling places in predominantly Black counties were targeted for closure.

With so many factors working against Black voters in Georgia, Boston activists say they saw the voter mobilization efforts as key to leveling the playing field.

Ward 18 Committee member and radio host Jean Claude Sanon led local efforts to reach out to the estimated 80,000 Haitian Americans living in the state. He held a simulcast radio program with members of the Haitian community there to encourage early voting.

“We were all in from November until Jan. 3, banking on a victory for all of us,” Sanon said in an email to the Banner.

Other Ward 18 committee members joined up with Progressive West Roxbury and Dedham Democratic activists on their respective efforts, calling hundreds of registered voters as well as mailing applications for mail-in ballots to voters.

The Democratic victory in Georgia held a special meaning to JALSA Impact’s Rowe, who saw the group’s phone calls, post cards, texts and mail-in ballot packages tip the scales in an historic election.

“We’re just so proud that Georgia elected their first Black and first Jewish Senator in the same election,” Rowe said. “Being able to work on this election really was so significant to our community.”

Georgia, JALSA, Jon Ossoff, Progressive West Roxbury/Roslindale, Raphael Warnock, voter purge