Stacey Abrams Understands Why Young People Don't Vote
An unprecedented number of women are chasing political office in the 2018 midterm elections. This month, we're profiling several worthy candidates who are seeking to effect change.
If Stacey Abrams wins her election next week, she’ll be the first black, female governor in United States history. But the 44-year-old Georgia Democrat — whose race against Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp has become one of the most talked about this cycle — has already begun carving out a political legacy, going neck-and-neck with her far-right opponent in the typically conservative Deep South.
Did I mention she’s also a romance novelist?
The eight romance books Abrams published under the pen name Selena Montgomery while attending Yale Law School — noir-ish, sexy thrillers about brilliant, crime-solving women of color — weren’t a talking point of her campaign, but they exemplify the complexity that’s drawn voters to her base, and that Abrams seems to see in Georgia.
“I was raised in a family of voracious readers,” she says of her upbringing in Mississippi, as one of six children in a household that cherished books and didn’t have much else. She and her siblings, who include an anthropologist, a judge, a social worker, a microbiologist, and an ex-convict who struggles with drug addiction, hold a virtual monthly book club.
Abrams is full plot twists, which, along with a record of effectiveness, have turned her into a story the public can’t put down. She’s racked up six-digit debt helping her parents pay their bills, making her seem relatable to some voters while raising others’ eyebrows. After a career in law and business, she served as the state House minority leader — the first black woman to do so — promoting liberal agendas of Medicaid expansion, gun control, and criminal justice reform, while gaining the respect of her peers across the aisle. She speaks proudly of her Southern roots while rebuking racism.
That, unsurprisingly, has become another key issue in her race against Kemp. They’ve sparred over healthcare and taxes, but media coverage often comes back to their major divides around black voter suppression, statues that pay tribute to Confederate leaders, and flat-out bigotry. In one particularly disturbing Kemp ad reporters like to point to, he revs a pickup truck engine, boasting, “I got a big truck, just in case I need to round up criminal illegals and take ‘em home myself … If you want a politically incorrect conservative, that’s me.”
But Abrams believes that the Georgia of today bears more resemblance to her vision of the state than his. In addition to receiving plenty of Hollywood attention (Oprah Winfrey and Will Ferrell are both in Georgia stumping for her), Abrams’ bid has galvanized a new wave of young and non-white voters. And she believes that if more people make it to the polls on Nov. 6 in Georgia — where Kemp has been accused of stifling voter registration to his benefit — she just might win.
Breaking Barriers: “For a long time in our nation’s history, Black women have been left out of the political conversation and left behind. But I am running for Governor of Georgia to give all people who do not see themselves represented in politics the opportunity to thrive and live up to their highest potential,” Abrams says. “I am honored by the possibility of becoming America’s first black woman governor and proud to stand on the shoulders of black women leaders who fought for progress so that I could be in a position to lead the state of Georgia forward.”
Georgia’s Mistaken Identity: It’s been argued that, demographically, Georgia is a blue state whose legislature is solidly red only because a large chunk of the population doesn’t vote. Part of that may result from voter suppression; Kemp has suspiciously canceled more than 1.4 million voter registrations in the name of fraud prevention since 2012 and been accused of blocking votes to advance his interests. But Abrams is also aware of the apathy endemic to the American election process. “For years, young Georgians have chosen not to vote because we have failed to give them a reason to,” she says. “My campaign is focused on reaching out to every community, including young voters, who are looking for solutions on important issues, such as student loan debt, income inequality, access to health care, and affordable housing. There are enough young voters to turn Georgia blue, but it takes a commitment to reaching voters where they are.”
Most Badass Achievement: “I finished my book Minority Leader: How to Lead From the Outside and Make Real Change, while running for office,” says Abrams of her latest writing project. “This book is the culmination of the personal and professional experiences that shaped me into the leader I am today.” Abrams will always have a soft spot for romance. “However, the completion of this book evoked a different feeling of accomplishment — I was able to summarize and consolidate all the crucial moments as a student, tax attorney, small business owner, and legislator that uniquely prepared me to serve as this state’s next governor.”
On the Road: In addition to sneaking chapters of historical fiction reading between campaign stops, Abrams enjoys watching sci-fi — for work reasons, of course. “The plots of sci-fi shows, like Star Trek and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, serve as fascinating studies into political and leadership dynamics,” she says.
Home Stretch: In the days leading up to the election on Nov. 6, Abrams says her camp is still hard at work. “The only urgency at this stage in the campaign is the closing window of time to be able to speak with and hear from as many Georgians as possible. We have canvassers and volunteers all over the state who are doing the necessary work of knocking on doors, making calls, and recruiting more people for our cause,” she says. “In the final days of the campaign, we need even more people dedicated to spreading our message of uplifting all Georgians. This is a race of inches, not miles. Every phone call and door knock matters. Those personal touches with voters mean the difference between moving Georgia forward or setting us back.”
Raised on Service: “My parents made service a way of life for all six of their children. If someone was less fortunate, it was our job to serve that person,” says Abrams. “I have always been committed to serving my community, whether through law as Deputy City Attorney in Atlanta, public office as House Democratic Leader, or through the creation of civic organizations such as the New Georgia Project, a non-profit that registers eligible Georgians to vote. I also co-founded a financial services firm that helped small businesses grow. I have always been — and always will be — committed to serving others and ensuring every family can succeed.”