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There is Work for Us All to Do; We Can Start By Being Determined to Engage, Vote and Invest

At the end of 2023, I participated in a recorded conversation with several of my colleagues with the Black Southern Women’s Collaborative (BSWC) where we shared reflections on the 2024 election. In that call, I noted the central message that organizers must share when they are on the doors: ‘It doesn’t matter whether a person is excited about voting; we need to be resolved to vote.’ It’s not after a series of GOTV concerts, mailers and commercials. We must be resolved to vote and convinced that we can make a difference.


Research indicates that when Black people perceive themselves to be less powerful, they are less likely to take action such as going to the polls and voting. When Black voters feel powerful, they show up, vote their interests, and win big for their community. And the opposite happens as well. When Black voters feel they have little power, they are more likely to stay home. What I want us to appreciate is that we have power. We have tremendous power. And it is imperative that organizers speak with Black voters about their power and the gains that have been won because of that power.  


But organizers must also meet people where they are and connect the dots around the gains that improve all of our lives. For instance, at the New Georgia Project Action Fund, we are embarking on a ‘Thank You’ Georgia campaign to celebrate wins such as the election of Sen. Raphael Warnock, and others. We are taking the time to engage in conversation and dissuade people from falling into the trap of being a single-issue voter. I am Black, southern and determined to vote. We must all be similarly committed. 


Acknowledge Where People Are


However, it is important that organizers start by acknowledging the validity of folks’ feelings. Being a southerner all my life, I understand that it’s different in the South. A lot of people in blue states seem to be the recipients progressive policies. But when you live in the South, and you are a person of color, you are residing, raising a family and living in, a hostile government environment. We are clear that in the South, most state legislators do not represent our interests and are in fact are hostile against our very existence. At the New Georgia Project, we first acknowledge and then educate. It is incumbent upon us as organizers and civic engagement leaders to help ensure that people have a clear understanding of the nuances of government and policymaking.  


When people want to withdraw from the process, we have to follow up on that thread to find out if they are talking about their municipal, county, state or federal government. For Black and Brown people, we say “government” but we really mean the state government. Great things can be passed federally but governors and state legislatures from Red states can ensure voters don’t see it because they don’t want to give a progressive administration a win. For instance, Medicaid expansion passed 10 years ago and North Carolina legislators only recently accepted the funds. In North Carolina alone, 600,000 more residents now have access to healthcare; had their policies makes acted when the Affordable Care Act was passed, they would have had it over a decade ago. 


There is work for us all


When it comes to engaging voters, and voters engaging in the process, there is work for us all. I’ve spoken about organizers and voters. But donors play a critical role too. Donors must resist the temptation to invest in perceived heroes or saviors. No one is coming from on high to save us. Donors must continue to make place-based investments in groups such as the New Georgia Project, our c4 arm NGP Action Fund, and the other members of the BSWC.


Donors could siphon off a portion of their funds and allocate them for grassroots groups. We work 365 days a year to build capacity and engage the very citizens – high opportunity voters – who could be mobilized to support the issues we care about most.


To make an impact, donors must invest in people on the ground who are doing the work. No one individual candidate can create systemic change; it takes all of us. If donors invest in us, they will help bring our states from the bottom to a place where all people thrive. And just think about what could happen if donors, organizers and voters all aligned and committed to be determined to engage, vote and invest. The world would truly look like a different place.



Kendra Cotton is the president of the New Georgia Project and a member of the Black Southern Women’s Collaborative.

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