Thus far, Wednesdays seem to be a special day in 2021. The year’s first Wednesday started with the results of Georgia’s long-awaited Senate runoff, followed by the coup attempt at the Capitol. Yesterday, 2021’s third Wednesday, we witnessed many firsts at the inauguration, including the swearing in of Vice President Kamala Harris by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, two women of color at the highest stations in government. We also witnessed how poetry is one of the most powerful and accessible art forms with National Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman’s reading at the inauguration.
The coup attempt had ample news coverage, but Georgia’s incredible feat did not quite get the attention it deserved thus far. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff’s wins cemented Georgia’s political shift. Their wins will not only give the Biden Administration a better chance at passing legislation but was powered by an exceptionally high African American voter turnout, quite the opposite from the rural vote Republican leaders of the state have relied on. Over the past few years, Georgia has seen a shift in demographics; however, despite having eight runoffs since 1992, they failed to turn blue. On January 6th, it finally did. Warnock is now Georgia’s and the South’s first Black Democrat that voters decided to become a part of the Senate. Ossoff’s win also puts a fresh face to the state’s leadership as being the first Jewish senator from the state and youngest elected to the Senate since President Biden in 1973. Their wins have been credited to the grassroots organizing of Stacey Abrams, who served on Georgia’s House of Representatives, and many others.
Being alive to witness so many shifts in the reshaping of our governance has shown me the malleability of America, which is both a blessing and a curse. Although these new faces represent a new beginning, this country still stands behind a constitution that does not serve everyone within its borders.
The historic wins in Georgia are being rightfully credited to Abrams. In Oakland and beyond, Black women have also been leading political change for a long time. Oakland has incubated many leaders at the forefront of reform and racial justice such as Black Panther Party member Ericka Huggins, political activist Angela Davis, and community advocate Cat Brooks. The role of Black women in leadership continues in local politics. For example, Carroll Fife, a key leader in the Moms 4 Housing movement, recently began her first term as a city councilwoman in Oakland after a long history as a local organizer. Congresswoman Barbara Lee, who represents Oakland, was famously the sole voice in Congress voting against the war in Iraq in 2001 and also has roots in local political organizing.
Cat Brooks, executive director of the Justice Teams Network and co-founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project, about the role of Black women in the nation, notes that organizers do not come out of the blue, and usually have been working relentlessly for years.
“People don’t understand that organizing is a skill set. It is a discipline,” Brooks said. ”It is something people dedicate hours of their lives to training to do, and then more importantly, leaders sacrifice their lives to doing it right.” Many of the Georgia-based political organizers beyond Abrams include Black women such as Felicia Davis of the HBCU Green Fund, Deborah Scott of Georgia Stand Up, and countless others whose names we may never know.
Their organizing mobilized “folks that had been untouched, untapped or unwilling to come to the polls before,” Brooks said. “It’s a fight for the heart and soul of this country.”
As President Joe Biden said at the inauguration, “my soul is in this.” Inauguration Day came as a sigh of relief to many. Standing beside him in her deep purple coat was Oakland-born Vice President Kamala Harris who, similar to Brooks and Abrams, has roots in activism and social justice. While Harris has been deemed the “top cop” by many in Oakland with her roles as District Attorney in San Francisco, and later, as Attorney General of California, Harris has also fought for the rights of the marginalized. Harris has fought for the rights of DREAMers, sexual assault victims, for successful reentry for first time drug offenders, and for the rights of veterans. Harris is opening a new pathway in our nation’s politics in taking office at a time where our country is still reckoning with the compounding effects of racial justice. As the first Black woman and Asian woman to hold this powerful position, she has a lot on her shoulders, and what she is capable of is yet to come.
Yesterday, Gorman gave us space to reflect collectively on our past, present, and future. Harnessing the spirit of Maya Angelou, another poet laureate who performed at a presidential inauguration, Gorman recited:
Where a skinny Black girl
Descended from slaves and raised by a single mother
Can dream of becoming president
Only to find herself reciting for one.
Her words and presence inspired hope for every little Black girl and woman watching. “Even when we grieved, we grew.” And that is precisely what Black women have always been doing, and will continue to do.
Additional reporting by Sarah Belle Lin.