Wednesday was supposed to be a day of jubilation for organizers in Georgia.
Early that morning, news organizations projected that the Rev Raphael Warnock, a Democratic would win an upset victory over Senator Kelly Loeffler, making him the first Black senator ever elected from the state. Jon Ossoff was on the verge of defeating David Perdue in a second runoff. It was a dual result that would give Democrats control of the US Senate, and the first Democratic win for Georgia in decades.
After years of meticulously registering and organizing the state’s growing population of minority voters, Black voters turned out in droves and were responsible for powering Democrats to victory. It was a payoff years in the making.
But as the day wore on, those same organizers watched with horror as a pro-Trump mob took over the US Capitol in Washington, bypassing law enforcement officers and forcing lawmakers to evacuate. By the time the Associated Press formally declared Ossoff the winner in his race by mid-afternoon, it was no longer the biggest story of the day.
Felicia Davis, an organizer who is the convener of the Clayton county Black Women’s Roundtable, said her feelings shifted from when she woke up in the morning.
“I woke up feeling joy, I then went into a state of anxiety, and then finally I ended up horrified,” she said.
Deborah Scott, the executive director of Georgia Stand-Up, one of the groups that helped mobilize voters, said she and other organizers left their office on Wednesday morning on a high note, but the mood shifted just hours later. “It definitely was overshadowed,” she said. “You look at the paper today, and the election is almost an afterthought. I think that’s what they want, they want chaos.”
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Watching the images on television, Scott said she couldn’t help but think of how much more aggressive police were towards Black Lives Matter protesters.
“Most Black people saw that and watched in horror and said it would be such a different thing if it was us,” Scott said. “It kind of took away from the feeling of ecstasy, like the people won, they chose who they wanted.”
Warnock’s Twitter feed underscored the whiplash of the day, the New York Times noted. At 1.55pm he sent out a tweet celebrating the historic nature of his win. His next tweet, less than two hours later, quoted Martin Luther King Jr and condemned the violence in Washington.
It had been a victory in Georgia that was made possible by months of methodical canvassing on display even in the final days of the race. In a final push early on Monday morning, canvassers with Georgia Stand-Up worked in pairs in a quiet suburban neighborhood, quickly placing leaflets on doors with information telling people how they could vote. Their goal was to knock on just over 6,000 doors in the final day, bringing their statewide total to 100,000.
On Wednesday evening, after the violence at the Capitol unfolded Stacey Abrams, the former Democratic candidate credited with leading efforts to mobilize minority voters, tweeted a reminder of that work, and the historic achievement in Georgia.
The attack on the Capitol also took place as Republican lawmakers, led by Donald Trump, pushed forward with their effort to undermine confidence in the results of the 2020 race. Even though courts across the country have universally rejected Trump’s baseless claims of voter fraud, Republicans in Congress objected on Wednesday to the counting of electoral votes from swing states Joe Biden won in November.
Though the challenges were ultimately unsuccessful, they were still a form of voter suppression, said Helen Butler, executive director of the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda, a civil rights group that also helped register voters.
“They’re trying to put doubt in our process and they’re trying to make sure that certain people don’t vote, it’s not counted,” she said. “Kind of putting water on fire, kind of dampening spirits. But we’re resilient and we’re not going to let that stop us. Because we intend to protect the right to vote.”
Scott said her group had already received calls from people in other southern states – North Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi – seeking to learn and replicate strategies in Georgia in their states.
“By the end of [the day] it was like ‘OK, we know more work has to be done now,” she said. “It’s gonna make us stronger. I see this, particularly the Georgia win, as a tipping point for the rest of the south.”