Editor’s note: For the purposes of our year in review, the focus will be placed upon the events that would shape Georgia politics.

The year 2020 A.D. began with US President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial and ended the State of Georgia thrust onto America’s biggest and brightest political stage. 

This year, like no other, will be defined by grassroots efforts by Black Lives Matter, Fair Count/Fair Fight, and the New Georgia Project, alongside individuals like Stacey Abrams, Nse Ufot, and LaTosha Brown, who all played a role in flipping Georgia blue for the first time since 1992—history in the making for 28 years. 

Moreover, this year will be known for the push that progressives made toward racial reconciliation and justice as well as the pull made by social conservatives as they longed for America to return to its “good old days.” As the dust settles, one thing is certain—the proverbial seeds of change were planted this year. We wait to see how those seeds will sprout and yield fruit. 

As we say goodbye to the most consequential year of the 21st Century at this point, it can safely be said 2020 will join 1968 as a time that delivered many historic metamorphoses. 

Welcome to the jungle

On Monday, Jan. 6, Kelly Loeffler was sworn into the United States Senate, as she began serving out the fourth year of Sen. Johnny Isakson’s term, as he announced his retirement, effective Dec. 31, 2019.

Loeffler promised to self-finance her re-election campaign in November in hopes of delivering Atlanta’s suburbs to the Republicans in the general election. Georgia’s GOP had designs of pushing back after the gains the Democrats made in 2018.

On Jan. 29, Rep. Doug Collins announced his intentions to run for Isakson’s seat. The next day, the Rev. Raphael G. Warnock would enter the jungle primary. Warnock serves as Senior Pastor of historic Ebenezer Baptist Church and has fought for criminal justice reform, social justice throughout his 15 years at the helm. 

“Struggling families across Georgia have it tougher than I did back then,” Warnock said, promising to raise issues such as health care and worker pay to help such families.

The way the jungle primary worked is if there was no winner by a 50.1 percent margin, there would be a runoff election between the top two vote-getters on Jan. 5, 2021.

Huge shoes to fill
At the end of 2019, Rep. John Lewis would announce he has stage four pancreatic cancer. The legendary Civil Rights leader, well into his 17th term in the U.S. House, vowed to continue his work and travel to Washington when he was not receiving treatment in Atlanta. 

“I have been in some kind of fight — for freedom, equality, basic human rights — for nearly my entire life. I have never faced a fight quite like the one I have now,” Lewis, who in March 1965 joined forces with Martin Luther King Jr. to lead a voting rights march out of Selma, Alabama, said in a statement.

He continued, “While I am clear-eyed about the prognosis, doctors have told me that recent medical advances have made this type of cancer treatable in many cases, that treatment options are no longer as debilitating as they once were, and that I have a fighting chance.”

Lewis, who participated in Freedom Rides throughout the Southeast in the 1960s, was arrested 40 times as he fought for civil rights for Black Americans. He was best known for leading some 600 protesters in the Bloody Sunday march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.

Lewis’s penchant for getting into “good trouble” would resurface later in the year.

On June 24, Lewis made an appearance at Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, D.C. He joined D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser as they both stared down the fence that encircled the White House. It would prove to be one of his last public appearances. 

The City of Atlanta would be rocked by the twin deaths of the Rev. C.T. Vivian and Rep. John R. Lewis on July 17. The two giant’s paths crossed much earlier in life, studied where they studied theology together at the American Baptist College in Nashville, Tennessee.

Like Lewis, Vivian became a dedicated member of the Civil Rights movement and was one of Martin Luther King’s field generals.

President Barack Obama honored Vivian with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013, saying that “time and again, (the Rev.) Vivian was among the first to be in the action: In 1947, joining a sit-in to integrate an Illinois restaurant; one of the first Freedom Riders; in Selma, on the courthouse steps to register blacks to vote, for which he was beaten, bloodied and jailed.”

Vivian was 95. Lewis was 80. Both men would lie in state at Georgia State Capitol.

World under siege

As 2020 crept in, a respiratory disease called SARS-CoV-2 would dominate the headlines. SARS-CoV-2 would later be commonly known as COVID-19. Little did anyone know, COVID-19 would leave an indelible mark on 2020. 

According to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 is caused by a new coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. Because it is a new virus, scientists are learning more each day. Although most people who have COVID-19 have mild symptoms, COVID-19 has also caused severe illness and even death. Some groups, including older adults and people who have certain underlying medical conditions, are at increased risk of severe illness. The virus has particularly ravaged Black and brown communities in the US and around the world.

Following its wildfire spread across the US, businesses were forced to shutter, cities would quarantine, live sports and entertainment stopped instantly and many other public venues closed indefinitely while Americans would be subjected to a new reality that required wearing face coverings, “sheltering in place” and learning to keep a “social distance” of six feet. 

Further, U.S. Congress would pass a series of bills that sought to lessen the economic effects of the shutdown. The most notable was the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act which was passed March 27, 2020, which distributed $1,200 checks to Americans that made less than $75,000 and households making less than $150,000 in 2019. Secondly, the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act was passed on April 24 to protect businesses from the impending painful economic downturn.

The U.S. government spent $6,551,872,000,000 in the fiscal year 2020 that ended on Sept. 30, according to the U.S. Treasury Department. Spending represented a jump of more than $2 trillion from the previous year, a 47 percent increase.

A second pandemic for Blacks

While the nation was under quarantine, a video recorded on Feb. 23 surfaced of an African American man on a fitness run in Brunswick, Ga., who had been believed to be a thief trespassing on private property. The video would later capture the young man’s execution, as he would be gunned down in the middle of the street by a trio of vigilantes. His name was 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery.

Gregory McMichael and his adult son Travis believed Arbery fit the description of a criminal. Both would be charged with murder. A third resident, William “Roddie” Bryan, who filmed the encounter after joining the chase, would also be charged with murder.

“All I want to do is get justice for my son,” said Marcus Arbery, Ahmaud’s father. “This is terrible. It could happen to anybody’s kid.”

“With COVID-19 of course, we can’t have a demonstration where we all come together,” said Jason Vaughn, Arbery’s high school football coach, adding that this demonstration is the best way to unite in his honor. “Any runner can identify with Maud, a guy who may have had a bad day, but he can go out there and hit the pavement and go jog.”

Coupled with simmering distress from the killing of Breonna Taylor on March 13 by the Louisville Police Department following the execution of an unauthorized “no-knock” warrant, Black Americans would be joined with concerned citizens from all over the country in demanding answers and for justice to be served.

Taylor, a 26-year-old Black emergency medical technician, and her boyfriend Kenneth Walker had retired for the night in her West End apartment in Louisville Kentucky. Taylor was shot eight times after officers used a battering ram to knock down her door and fired into the apartment after midnight March 13. One officer was shot by Walker, who said he thought an intruder was breaking into the home.

The slaying set off weeks of protests, policy changes, and a call for the officers who shot Taylor to be criminally charged. 

However, it was another surfaced video that shook America to its core, reviving America of its racist and sordid past coupled with its inability to embrace intersectionality within minority people groups.

On the evening of Monday, May 25, four Minneapolis police officers were involved in the arrest of a Black man, after an alleged forgery attempt. Video from bystanders shows the man handcuffed and pinned to the ground and one police officer’s knee pressing against his neck. The man pleaded with officers that he was in pain and said couldn’t breathe. He would call out to his mother seconds before he passed away on the burning concrete. His name was George Floyd.

“Please, I can’t breathe,” Floyd said in the chilling video that captures his last moments alive. “… My stomach hurts. My neck hurts. Everything hurts.”

As Americans watched protesters and rioters descend upon Minneapolis, the conversation surrounding America’s racial awareness, cultural appropriation, corporate diversity and inclusion left the dinner tables and became center stage. 

Here in Atlanta, many marches and protests took place. Even though the CNN Center and many Buckhead businesses were looted by agitators and those seeking cheap material gains on the night of May 29, the city that’s “too busy to hate” would be thrust onto the national spotlight.

Weeks later, on June 12, Atlanta native Rayshard Brooks was inebriated in his vehicle parked in the drive-thru lane of the Wendy’s on 125 University Avenue SW. After police were called to the scene, Brooks, 27, became involved in a physical struggle with officers, eventually obtaining one of the officer’s Tasers and attempting to flee from the scene on foot. 

Officers pursued Brooks on foot and, during the chase, Brooks allegedly turned and pointed the Taser at the officer. One officer fired his weapon, striking Brooks from behind. Brooks would later succumb to his wounds at Grady Memorial Hospital. The next day, hundreds of protesters peacefully protested at the Wendy’s but it would be burned down by midnight. As the Wendy’s franchise went up in flames, state lawmakers would be compelled to act.

On June 26, the Georgia Legislature would pass the Hate Crimes Act, the first of its kind in the state. Gov. Brian Kemp would later sign it into law. According to the bill, its purpose is defined as a crime involving bias or prejudice because of a victim’s perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender, mental disability, or physical disability.

An election hinges on Georgia

On Feb. 25, The Atlanta Voice traveled to Charleston, South Carolina to cover the pivotal Democratic Primary debate that would ultimately whittle the crowded field from seven candidates down to former Vice President Joseph R. Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders. Prior to the debate, Biden would pick up an endorsement from the U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, who is a Democratic lawmaker in South Carolina. 

“I can think of no one better suited, better prepared, I can think of no one with the integrity, no one more committed to the fundamental principles that make this country what it is than my good friend,” said Clyburn, appearing with Biden at an event in North Charleston on Feb. 25.

Heading into the debate, Biden wouldn’t admit whether or not Clyburn’s endorsement would separate him from the pack. 

“If you send me out of South Carolina with a victory, there will be no stopping us. We will win the nomination. We will win the presidency. And, most importantly, we will end the fear … of a second term for Donald Trump,” Biden explained.

The June 9 primary, known for long lines at the voting precincts and scattered rainstorms, didn’t deter a record turnout that had been buoyed by the aforementioned protests yielding a spike in civic engagement.

While Georgia protested, a 33-year-old investigative journalist Jon Ossoff won the Democratic Primary and obtained the right to face off against incumbent, David Perdue. 

As the election season would ramp up, the spirit of Lewis would be ever-present as Democrats energized by their growing distaste of President Trump, the belief that Democratic nominee Joe Biden was best equipped to win, another twist in 2020’s political odyssey was presented, with the selection of Senator Kamala D. Harris of California as Biden’s running mate. 

Harris, the second Black woman to ever be elected to the United States Senate, had been one of a slate of 34 candidates for the Democratic primary. Harris is the daughter of two immigrant academics, an Indian-American mother and a father from Jamaica. Harris would campaign in Atlanta during the final stretches of the general election.

Speaking of the general election, more than five million Georgians would turn out and vote in a presidential election that was the culmination of political unrest, a racial reckoning, and a referendum of President Trump’s response to COVID-19. Biden won Georgia by 12,000 votes, in an election that was equal parts contentious and equal parts sublime due to Trump’s unhinged attacks.

State Senator Nikema Williams handily beat Angela Stanton Nov. 3 and won the right to represent Georgia’s U.S. 5th Congressional District, and sit in John Lewis’s seat. Lucy McBath beat Karen Handel in the much-anticipated rematch in Georgia’s U.S. 6th Congressional District. Carolyn Bourdeaux would win Georgia’s U.S. 7th Congressional District, powered by the flipping of Gwinnett County from the Republicans to Democrats during the general election.

Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock would run as a ticket as they seek to be a firewall to Republican control in the U.S. Senate. If Loeffler and Perdue win either of their races, Senate control would rest with the Republicans and would provide a check on the Biden Administration’s agenda. 

The Senate runoff elections would become the most expensive election as $483 million would be spent on advertising in an attempt to reach undecided voters and replicate the turnout experienced in November.

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden, with Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., raise their arms up as fireworks go off in the background during the fourth day of the Democratic National Convention, Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020, at the Chase Center in Wilmington, Del. Looking on are Jill Biden, far left, and Harris' husband Doug Emhoff, far right. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Itoro Umontuen currently serves as Managing Editor of The Atlanta Voice. Upon his arrival to the historic publication, he served as their Director of Photography. As a mixed-media journalist, Umontuen...

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