One of the main mantras of the chant was #trustblackwomen. As a result, some have alleged that the protests were racially inspired, and that Evans was the target of protests simply for being white.”
There was quite a bit of “left on left” drama at the progressive Netroots conference in Atlanta this past weekend. Netroots Nation bills itself as the largest annual “Progressive” conference in the United States. The conference is regularly graced by high-level progressives, such as Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. This year, the conference was held in Atlanta, Georgia, a relatively liberal enclave in a generally red state. Unsurprisingly, several Georgian democratic candidates running for office showed up to speak at the conference.
The biggest local names were the “Staceys”, referring to Stacey Abrams and Stacey Evans, the two biggest Democrat names in the primary race for the Georgian Governor’s office. Stacey Abrams is the minority leader of the Georgia House of Representatives. She was the first woman to lead either party in the Georgia General Assembly, and the first African American to lead the House of Representatives. Abrams spoke at Netroots last Thursday, and her speech was generally well-received.
When it came time for her opponent, Stacey Evans, to speak, common courtesy quickly disappeared. Evans is also a member of the Georgia House, and many hope that her blue-collar background will appeal to Georgia’s rural, blue-collar voters. However, when Evans tried to speak during her allotted time, chants quickly erupted and protesters formed a line in front of the stage, holding up signs and chanting over her. Despite repeated pleas for dialogue and to “talk it out”, the protesters continued to chant. Evans would eventually plow through her remarks but few people, if any, heard more than bits and pieces of it owing to the incessant chants.
— Greg Bluestein (@bluestein) August 12, 2017
Were Protests Racially Inspired?
One of the main mantras of the chant was #trustblackwomen. As a result, some have alleged that the protests were racially inspired, and that Evans was the target of protests simply for being white. Race may have been a motive, but the primary issue at stake was Evans track record on education. Evans has supported school voucher and charter legislation, both of which have traditionally been Republican policies. However, over the past several years a considerable number of Georgian democrats have also supported these policies. Stacey Abrams, Evans’ opponent, has generally opposed them.
It’s worrisome when the very protesters shouting down a candidate don’t even really know why they are protesting except that the candidate doesn’t “represent their community.”
Still, skin-color “optics” cannot be ignored. When the local Atlanta-Journal Constitution interviewed protesters, one woman explained that she wants “a candidate that truly speaks to my community,” and “this is our opportunity, especially as black women, to make it known or clear that this is standing on true progressive values, and if you’re not, we’re going to make that clear.” Yet when asked to point to specific policies or votes, the protester drew blanks.
It’s worrisome when the very protesters shouting down a candidate don’t even really know why they are protesting except that the candidate doesn’t “represent their community.” Protests are great, and they offer powerful tools for sending a message. However, when protests are used to silence and shut down opponents they become tools of oppression.
It’s hard to know the motives of the protesters, and some were probably motivated by different things than others. Evans track record on education is certainly fair game, and all Georgians should examine it and base their votes accordingly. However, her opponent Stacey Abrams has also made some questionable votes on education, including trimming back benefits for Georgia’s often-lauded HOPE scholarship program. This program uses lottery money to provide scholarships for students.
Few people were able to hear what Evans had to say. This means she and her voice was suppressed. Various people on social media have claimed that they were shouted down for being white and that the predominately African American protesters didn’t have to explain themselves to “white people.” These claims could be (and hopefully are) false, of course, but they are serious. If Evans was shouted down for being white, that’s unacceptable. It’d be equally unacceptable for protesters to drown out a candidate for being black, Asian, Latino, Native American, or anything else.
The protesters may have had a relevant point, but they chose the route of suppression to voice it, and to drown out Evans’ voice along the way. Being a democratic candidate in Georgia, as well as a female, means Evans already has a long and tough road ahead of her. Suppressing her voice is unacceptable.
Unfortunately, Stacey Abrams declined an opportunity to denounce the protests. Instead, she said “I will not condemn peaceful protest”, as is suppressing the voice of a candidate is “peaceful.” Absence of direct physical violence does not equate to “peaceful” or even non-violence.
Abrams also noted “The mantra of “trust black women” is a an historic endorsement of the value of bringing marginalized voices to the forefront, not a rebuke to my opponent’s race.” She may be right about this, although it should still worry us that protesters were focused on Evans not ‘representing their community’ and what that might mean.
Still, Abrams let a beautiful opportunity to take the high ground slip through her fingers. She could have acknowledged the concerns of the protesters, while also urging civility and allowing every voice to be heard.
Silencing political opponents or candidates is never appropriate and it is certainly not what “democracy looks like”, as many have been claiming. It’s what suppression looks like. Rumors are circling that some of Abrams own staff participated in the protests. I haven’t substantiated those accusations, but they certainly should be examined.