By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
As a child, Stacey Abrams’ parents used to take her and her siblings to the voting booth whenever it was an election day. It was one of her first introductions to civic engagement and politics. Years down the line, Abrams is known as a voting rights activist, politician, author and more.
Last week, Abrams, who served in the Georgia House of Representatives, spoke with Ben Wikler, the chair for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, about her new book, “Our Time is Now: Power, Purpose, and the Fight for a Fair America.” The conversation was a part of the Wisconsin Book Festival.
The book, in which Abrams details her own experiences, examines the actions taken by politicians to suppress voters. In the book, Abrams not only examines the history of voter suppression but offers an alternative to ensure that every citizen has the chance to exercise their right to vote.
During the conversation, Wikler and Abrams discussed voting rights, her plan to fix the system and how her parents inspired her.
Wikler opened the conversation asking about Abrams’ thoughts on the protests.
Abrams said that the protests of today in response to George Floyd are like what happened in the nineties and the decades before then. The first time Abrams chose to get involved in protests it was the year 1992. That year marked an election year, video recordings of police brutality and the beating of Rodney King by police.
She noted that in 1992, by the time the elections came around, people seemed to have forgotten about the protests. This time, things are different.
“What we’re seeing in this moment is sustained engagement, that is also generating legitimate and thoughtful responses,” Abrams said.
There may finally be a remedy, she said, but that requires that the activism seen in the streets today carries over into November.
Abrams’ book opens with the story of her grandmother’s first-time voting. There was a fear there and not just a fear of the hoses and other forces working to prevent Blacks from voting, she said.
“The power of the ballot was a terrifying power,” Abrams said, adding that it was something that had been promised and taken away far too often.
“The reason I open the book with that story is that I want people to recognize that it’s not this simplistic arithmetic ‘If I want, I vote,’” Abrams said. “For so many Americans, especially Americans of color, the right to vote has been this thing that was held out as this shining opportunity, but it has also so often been a trap.”
It was through her parents’ efforts that Abrams felt a huge responsibility to educate and help others when it came to voting. In college, she set up a table on campus and helped her peers register to vote.
“My responsibility was to be out there and say, ‘Here’s this power that we have access to,’” she said.
For Abrams, voting wasn’t just about civic engagement, it was about recognizing the disparities that were happening in her community and doing something about them. When she eventually entered the world of politics, she learned that change can be slow coming, but it still happens.
The systemic barriers and institutionalized racism are slowly being chipped away at, Abrams said, and those barriers can feel permanent at times, but they’re not.
Protect the elections and complete the census, she added. Those are the building blocks to a better nation in 2021.
“The right to vote is one of our foundational rights as citizens and no one can take it away,” she said.