Stacey Abrams on Fighting Through Impossible Odds
“You can’t concede your power away. You can’t concede that wrongs should be right. We cannot let them take our power from us,” she said Saturday.
From the stage at Bustle’s #Rulebreakers2019 in Brooklyn on Saturday, she reflected on her historic bid to be America’s first Black governor in Georgia in 2018.
It was the kind of election that seemed the stuff of political fiction. Abrams, a life-long advocate for marginalized communities was facing off against Trump-backed convervative Brian Kemp whose ads feature him bragging about his shotguns and threatening to use his big truck to “round up criminal illegals.” As Georgia’s then-Secretary of State, the responsibility to oversee the election fell to Kemp, and under his tenure the state was sued for freezing the registrations of thousands of Black Georgians, and he was slapped with a voter suppression investigation. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he also went on to claim victory in the election it was somehow his own job to oversee.
When it seemed unlikely that Abrams would have a winning path forward, she re-wrote the rules of conduct for bowing out. Rather than making a typical concession speech, she instead offered a “non concession.”
“As a woman of conscience and faith, I cannot concede,” she said, adding she felt it was her responsibility — and everyone’s — “to demand fairness wherever it can be found.”
“I decided it was my responsibility to break a rule,” she recalled from the stage last weekend to roaring cheers. “On November 19th, I offered them my non-concession speech because you can’t concede your power away. You can’t concede that wrongs should be right. We cannot let them take our power from us. Don’t just break the rules to break them. Break them because they need to be broken.”
Abrams didn’t spend too much time sweating her loss in Georgia; it only inspired her look toward her next move. “Loss is just an opportunity to figure out what to do next. It's never permanent and it's never fatal. Loss is an important part of progress,” she told InStyle.
But while she looked ahead at what she wanted to do, Abrams, now a bonafide political star, felt everyone’s eyes on her. Expectations suggest high profile candidates continue running for office, like the path Beto O'Rourke took after his unsuccessful bid for Texas Senate.
Her name was floated as a potential running mate for various Democratic presidential candidates, or a possible bid for Senate.
“It was a disconcerting thing for someone who is very private on her decision making,” she told InStyle. Private as she may be, Abrams shared the spotlight on Bustle’s pink carpet with powerhouse singer Lizzo, who became something of a bouncer for Abrams during a whirwind photo-and-interview session that included one photographer getting rather bossy with the political bigwig. “Don’t tell Stacey what to do,” Lizzo warned as the two women shared an embrace that went viral the next day.
But Abrams doesn’t need protecting in the political sphere — where she’s been busy writing her own rulebook of late. Instead of pursuing elected office (despite the public practically begging her to), she announced the launch of the election watchdog group Fair Fight, a massive grassroots campaign to ensure what happened during the Georgia election wouldn’t happen again. “Georgia’s 2018 elections shined a bright light on mismanagement, malfeasance, irregularities, and more, and we work to expose both recent and also decades-long actions and inactions by the state to thwart the right to vote,” the website explains.
Rather than chase flashy titles, Abrams is focusing on affecting change in a way that feels comfortable to her. “Just because I'm not running for office doesn't mean I’m out of the process,” she explained backstage. “That's why I’m focusing on voting rights and the census, because the work needs to be done whether you have the title or not.”