Inside Fellaship Cigar Bar located at Atlanta’s home for Black art, the eclectic Castleberry Hill neighborhood, more than 200 Black men discussed their role in the ever-stewing crock pot that is the current political climate in the State of Georgia. As the rich cigar smoke and aromas of succulent foods filled the air on June 30th, the featured guest and the subject of conversation was Georgia Democratic candidate for governor, Stacey Abrams.
While V-103’s Big Tigger played the role of host, Abrams held court during a forty-five minute conversation that touched on abortion rights, education, jobs, the economy, voting rights, and the role Black men play in the advancement of each issue. According to Abrams’s campaign, the conversations will be ongoing throughout the state.
The reasons why the conversation was important are tangible and ever present as Abrams and her opponent, Governor Brian Kemp, battle for every vote in Georgia. According to Pew Research, the Latino population took over the Black population as America’s largest minority voting bloc. Moreover, former President Donald Trump gained more Black male voters in the 2020 Presidential election. As a result, 12 percent of Black men voted for Trump in the 2020 presidential election, while just 6 percent of Black women did the same, according to the AP VoteCast survey. It means some voters changed their minds, after either not voting or voting for another candidate in 2016.
“See, the first thing is, Donald Trump does not know the concerns of Black people,” said Calvin Payne of Atlanta. “And I feel like Stacey Abrams is the voice of us. She understands what impacts our community.”
During his November 8, 2019 speech, Trump proclaimed during his rally in Atlanta, “What the hell do you have to lose?”, a question designed to sway Black Americans to the Republican Party. Since then, the Georgia Republican Party has opened a recruitment office in College Park.
“I feel like Donald Trump was just speaking to speak and as far as entertainment, that’s pretty much what he does,” Payne continued. “But as far as Stacey, I feel like she understands what impacts our community and how to make those changes.”
The reasons why some Black men have found some solace within the MAGA faction of the Republican Party are due to the former president’s emphasis on individualism while not hiding his disdain for the Black Lives Matter organization and its ancillary cultural movement. Trump’s hyper-masculine bravado has hooked Black men while seizing on the belief that some Black men believe Democrats and Republicans are inherently racist.
“When we hear about the challenges, what politicians often do is pretend that they’ve got a magic wand,” Abrams said. “I know that we’ve got to have a shovel, and a pick and a hammer. We’ve got to have a whole toolbox. But we also have to tell the truth about how long it takes to fix what has been broken for some 150, 200 years.”
During the conversation, Black men took the opportunity to voice their concerns to Abrams. For example, Abrams was told by one attendee he felt he is sold a bag of goods during every election period. Black men go out here to represent and then disenfranchisement is served as a cold dish of revenge. The Democrat pushed back on those claims and explained the nuances of high-stakes politics.
“Voting is not magic. Politics isn’t magic,” Abrams explained. “Voting is medicine. And the challenge is that the medicine sometimes tastes nasty, it is hard to swallow. And it doesn’t solve every problem because sometimes the diagnosis was wrong. And so part of the responsibility of an effective politician is to actually think beyond the role that they play as a single person.”
Abrams went on to explain the power the governor of Georgia possesses with relation to the affordable housing crisis and gentrification in Atlanta. Abrams said when an individual or couple did all they could to keep that neighborhood stable, and suddenly people are moving in causing an increase in property taxes, but wages and salaries have not risen to meet the costs of rent and taxes.
“The governor of Georgia is one of the most powerful leaders in the country. We know what the President can do, we know what the mayor can do,” Abrams explained. “But most things a good mayor wants to do get stopped at the state level by the governor.”
Abrams went on to describe the role the Governor can slow the tide of gentrification. She described a method called “the circuit breaker.” For example, if cities were able to utilize a circuit breaker, it would allow the local government to disconnect an individual’s rising home price from their income. When the income rises to match it, the government can hold the person accountable. But currently Georgia’s mayors and municipal leaders, including Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens, cannot pass the laws through the Atlanta city council because the state won’t allow it.
“When I worked with Shirley Franklin, one of my first jobs was writing the only living wage law in the history of Georgia,” Abrams said. “We worked hard and we got that bill through the city council. We got it passed and all the corporations said, ‘oh no, you can’t make us pay a living wage.’ It became the law of the land.
The very next year, the State of Georgia preempted that law and nullified it,” Abrams explained. And that is why we don’t have a living wage law in Georgia today, because the governor of Georgia said no, you make me governor and I’ll say yes.”
As national Democrats are fending off the winds of change during the midterms, Georgia’s Democratic torchbearer is set to speak to Black men in a series of conversations heading toward Election Day on November 8th.
“Bravado a leader does not make and while listening to all of the rhetoric from Donald Trump, I think about how he was so disrespectful going in,” said Cedrick Jackson of Atlanta.
“And so for all of my brothers out there, I would encourage you to think about how Stacey has a heart for our people and our concerns,” continued Jackson. “Think about how Stacey has a heart for economics for all people. Think about how Stacey has a heart for women’s rights, women’s reproductive rights. And, she’s the prime candidate for this moment for this time.”