Two visionary leaders discuss what the upheaval of 2020 is revealing about who we are as Americans and who we are called to be. At a moment that demands we reimagine so much about our democracy — as persistent, systemic inequities are laid bare — how do we pursue immediate reforms while not losing sight of long term, wholesale transformation? How do we cultivate civic engagement even as we confront a new chapter in a long history of voter suppression? And because we do not have the luxury of giving up, what are the big ideas that might give us hope in the face of cynicism?
- 2020 Festival
America is facing several urgent tests. The country is struggling to gain control of a raging pandemic, grappling with a long history of anti-Black racism, and rapidly approaching an important presidential election. Brittany Packnett Cunningham says that due to the confluence of the pandemic and our growing awareness of racial injustice, “the deepest inequities in our society have been laid bare.” However, this moment also presents an opportunity for change, and change is already happening. Neighbors are stepping up to support each other through the pandemic, and cities and states are beginning to take action to combat racism. Packnett Cunningham and Stacey Abrams say it’s essential that we take advantage of this moment and force change where we need it most.
Abrams was the first Black woman in the US to be a major party’s nominee for Governor. Her historic 2018 Gubernatorial campaign was closely watched around the country. She says voter suppression wreaked havoc on Georgia’s voting populace during the election. Abrams’s opponent was Brian Kemp, secretary of state for Georgia, who oversaw elections. Since 2012, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports the State removed 1.4 million people from the voting rolls. The state has put into place some of the strictest voting laws in the nation, according to the paper, and many of the disenfranchised voters are people of color. Abrams lost the election and in response founded the voting rights nonprofit Fair Fight Action, which seeks to end voter suppression. She talks about the history of voter suppression in the US.
Abrams has her eye on the future. She lays out strategies she thinks need to be put in place to fight voter suppression.
Big IdeaI want us to do what we know works, which is same-day registration, universal automatic registration, the elimination of prison disenfranchisement. We need to ensure that at the age of 17, you are automatically pre-enrolled to become a voter. The moment you become 18, you should have the full panoply of opportunities.Stacey Abrams
Given the blatant disenfranchisement of many people, it’s no wonder America struggles with voter turnout. Brittany Packnett Cunningham says people believe that “a system that has always counted them out is not going to change anytime soon.” The irony is that when people come together in mass numbers to make their voices heard, they can force change. What then, do we say to those who feel their vote won’t make a difference? Abrams says it’s their responsibility to keep voting anyway.
Big IdeaWhat I want people to understand is, there is no one-shot fix. And yes, you are absolutely right that you have not been told the truth. The truth is that it can get better, but it will not get better if we abdicate our responsibility. I don't vote because I believe it changes the world, I vote because I know silence absolutely doesn’t.Stacey Abrams
She urges voters to get involved in other ways. First, focus on the importance of the Census. “It dictates who writes the maps for the next decade,” says Abrams. Additionally, voters need to make sure their civic engagement doesn’t end at the ballot box. “We need to fight for policy because it doesn't matter if you elect folks if you don't hold them accountable for doing the things you demand,” she says.
Americans need to keep fighting, protesting, advocating, and engaging with representatives or our voices will continue to be unheard, Abrams says.