How Stacey Abrams’ ‘black girl magic’ turned Georgia a bit more blue

How Stacey Abrams’ ‘black girl magic’ turned Georgia a bit more blue

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Abrams savors her victory.
AP Photo/John Bazemore

Last May, Stacey Abrams, an African-American, 44-year-old former attorney, Georgia General Assembly House minority leader and Yale Law graduate beat former attorney white Georgia state legislator Stacey Evans in the Georgia Democratic gubernatorial primary. While the race was hard-fought, the outcome was lopsided with Abrams winning 423,163 (76.5 percent) votes over Evans’ 130,234.

As a professor of political science and African-American studies, I was very interested in this election’s outcome. Although African-Americans and women participate frequently in the political process, few people from these groups win elections – especially at the statewide level.

Although Georgia is known for infamous, segregationist governors like Lester Maddox, this campaign which pitted a white woman against a black woman was largely absent of overt racial appeals. The campaigns of both women appealed to liberals and moderates. Evans’ campaign strategy heavily focused on building a coalition among African-Americans, Latinos, women, youth and other progressives by emphasizing issues such as educational and job opportunities, voting rights and an end to crime.

Abrams campaign platform was remarkably similar, but she also emphasized the need for LGBTQ rights, energy jobs, veterans’ rights and small business development. Abrams benefited from the “linked fate” philosophy among African-Americans that influences them to prefer black candidates because of their interests in advancing their individual and group interests. She also had more experience registering voters than Evans did, after having served as the director of the New Georgia Project that registered thousands of black, Latino and Asian-American Georgia residents who usually don’t vote.

History in the making?

This “battle of the two Staceys” was historic because two women competed as major contenders in a Georgia gubernatorial primary for the first time in its history.

Abrams becomes the first female nominee and the first black nominee of a major party for a Georgia governor’s race. If she wins in November, her victory will add to the small number of women who have served as state governors, the even smaller number of African-Americans, and she will become the first black female governor of any American state.

There have only been four black governors in American history. In 1872, Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback, a Republican, served as Louisiana governor for 34 days while incumbent governor, Henry Warmoth, faced impeachment.

The other African-American governors were Democrats. More than 100 years after Pinchback served, Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder became the first black elected governor of a state in 1989 and served for one term. The others were Deval Patrick of Massachusetts and David Paterson of New York.

Nearly half of American states have never had a female governor. Forty-six women are running for governor this year, which is much more than the previous record of 34 female gubernatorial candidates in 1994.

Black girl magic

So, what does Abrams need to do to win?

First, she needs to shore up her support among Democrats by encouraging a high turnout. Early Democratic primary turnout results indicate that the Democratic turnout is higher in this year’s primary than the primaries of four years ago. In 2014 and 2016, Republican turnout averaged about 61 percent and Democrats about 37 percent in early and absentee votes. This year the Republican turnout rate decreased to 53 percent while Democratic turnout increased to 46 percent.

Black voters can make or break Abrams’ victory. Their numbers have grown steadily over the last few decades. For example, in 1990, 27 percent of the state’s population was African-American. That percentage grew to 32 percent in 2016.

Abrams must find a way to motivate black voters into turning out on Election Day, while also winning as many white and Hispanic votes as possible. This won’t be easy. Black turnout has steadily declined in Georgia during the post-Obama years. In 2016, black turnout declined to 59 percent from a high of 66 percent in 2012. During the 2014 midterm elections, only 41 percent of black registered voters participated in the state’s elections.

In particular, Abrams must take advantage of the power of the black female swing vote. “Black girl magic” is the term used to describe black female beauty, intellect and empowerment. African-American women have emerged as a solid bloc of reliable voters for the Democratic candidates they favor. In 2016, 94 percent of them voted for Hillary Clinton, while 53 percent of white women supported Trump.

In the 2017 Alabama U.S. Senate race, the 98 percent black female vote for Doug Jones tipped the scales of the election in his favor and allowed him to defeat Roy Moore.

The key question that remains after the euphoria over the historic significance of having a serious black female contender for governor is, “What does this mean for Donald Trump?” If Georgia elects a black female governor who has the ability to mobilize black, female, progressive, young and other minority voters, will it tip Georgia’s scales from the red side to the blue side?The Conversation

Sharon Austin, Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of African American Studies, University of Florida

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.

Banned from meeting in church, Rwandan worshippers gather at home

Banned from meeting in church, Rwandan worshippers gather at home

Rwandans sing and pray at the Evangelical Restoration Church in the Kimisagara neighborhood of the capital, Kigali, Rwanda, on April 6, 2014. Rwanda’s government has closed numerous churches and mosques in 2018 as it seeks to assert more control over a vibrant religious community whose sometimes makeshift operations, authorities say, have threatened the lives of followers. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

KIGALI, Rwanda  – Grace Umutesi has secretly been conducting services in her house in the Bannyahe slum on the outskirts of the capital since officials shut down her church in July for failing to comply with building safety standards and other regulations.

“I’m very disappointed by the decision of the government to close our church,” said Umutesi, 35, a mother of four. “But we cannot stop to pray and praise God because our church has been closed. God is everywhere and he listens to our prayers.”

Umutesi, an elder at Joy Temple Ministries, said her church was closed because the pastor had no theological degree from an accredited institute as the government requires. She also said her church lacked proper toilets and bathrooms for guests and congregants — and can’t afford to comply with government regulations.

“It’s expensive for the church and it’s wrong for the government to tell us not to worship,” she said.

Joy Temple Ministries is one among thousands that authorities have shut down in recent months. An estimated 8,000 churches and 100 mosques have been closed across this East Africa nation of 12 million people, according to the government’s latest figures. Muslims comprise around 5 percent of the Rwandan population.

At the beginning of this year, Rwandan lawmakers enacted new laws requiring pastors to be educated and church buildings to be renovated, offer two bathrooms for men and women and provide paved access to churches on a half hectare of land or more.

Critics of President Paul Kagame said the crackdown is an extension of his long record of disregarding human rights. They say he has been clamping down on freedom of expression since he took power in 2000.

But the government has defended the move, saying it wanted to bring sanity in religious institutions and that it was not targeting any religion or church.

Rwanda President Paul Kagame in Dublin on March 23, 2014. Photo by John Ohle/Creative Commons

“We have freedom of worship in our country but that does not mean that you keep worshippers in a substandard house of worship that is likely to fall next day,” said Justus Kangwagye, a government official responsible for overseeing faith-based organizations in the country.

“We simply require churches to meet modest standards and all preachers to have theological training before opening a church.”

The new rules led to the closure of most Pentecostal churches where charismatic preachers draw huge followers because of purported miracles. Kagame has long accused Pentecostal pastors of using “fake” miracles to lure locals and enrich themselves. The authority arrested six pastors earlier this year for trying to defy government orders to close down churches. Those pastors were later released.

In response to the shutdowns, numerous worshippers have decided to conduct their worship services in their homes.

“Thousands of faithful are now secretly praying in their houses for fear of government crackdown,” said one senior pastor who did not want to be mentioned for fear of arrest.

“When the government arrested the six pastors,” he said, “it was like a stern warning to others not to resist the new laws on churches. We are feeling pain as pastors but we can’t talk about or discuss the issue. … How can leaders deny their people the right to worship freely?”

Rwanda, circled in red, in central Africa. Map courtesy of Creative Commons

Some faithful are walking for miles away from their homes every Sunday to look for other churches to worship in after their own were closed.

Esther Umohoza, who lives in Nyamirambo estate in the southwestern corner of Kigali, walks nine miles every Sunday to worship. She sometimes attends a Bible study at her neighbor’s house every Wednesday to keep close to God.

“Life has become hard, especially for Christians in this country,” she said. “You have to travel for a distance to seek God. But we are not going to give up on seeking God. I pray that the government revises these rules. We need churches to be everywhere so that people can pray freely.”

But Umutesi believes prayer will lead to changes in government policy. She hopes churches will reopen soon.

“We are praying God to change the government’s mind so that they don’t completely shut down churches,” she said. “We believe no leader can go against God, and if he does so, our country will be cursed.”