The white table cloth, mood lighting, clinking of glasses, forks, knives and spoons set the scene for a breakfast with friends rather than for a discussion about a very serious topic.
Topics like voter suppression, voters rights and expanding voter access and voter education dominated discussion during the first of what will be a series of collaborative roundtable discussions hosted by Axios, WURD Radio and URL Media. The first Hard Truths discussion took place at 5Church Midtown in Colony Square Wednesday morning. A cold and rainy morning did nothing to keep the invited guests and assorted media members from making it to Midtown.
Local experts and leaders from all walks of political life took their seats at a table in the center of the dining room floor. There was a little bit of every walk of political life at the table. Atlanta City Council, Black Voters Matter, Georgia General Assembly, New Georgia Project and lesser known, but equally as focussed organizations like Galeo Impact Fund and the New North Carolina Project sent representatives to speak on their behalf.
Atlanta City Council president Doug Shipman and Congresswoman Carolyn Bourdeaux represented the elected officials, while LaTosha Brown and Cliff Albright were on hand to speak on the behalf of grassroots organizations like Black Voters Matter. Tom Hicks of the Election Assistance Commission was also on hand for the event.
The event moderators, Axios reporter Krystal Dixon and Charles Ellison, WURD executive producer and host of Reality Check, kept the topics flowing as the focus of the event remained the same: Voting.
New Georgia Project Chief Legal Officer Aklima Khondoker said that as the black and brown voting registration drives grew in the south, more legislation began popping up in order to slow the momentum. “More Black and brown turnout means more voter suppression,” she said. The New Georgia Project is known all over the country for its work in educating and registering voters. Khondoker believes there is much more work to be done. “We need to make sure new voters are registered to vote,” she said. “If you are a Black person in Georgia it is more difficult for you to vote than anybody else.”
How to get voters to the polls and voter education were also topics that garnered the attention of the 20-plus experts and leaders on hand. That said, no other topic generated passion from all who were assembled like voter suppression. Though from many different corners of the election map, all of the invited guests had similar feelings about SB 202 and other voter suppression tactics.
Galeo Impact Fund community organizer Andres Parra had a very simple, yet poignant view on voter suppression: “We just assume that it is what is going to happen,” he said. Parra’s point was to understand that it exists and be ready for it when you head to the polls.
“Voter suppression is nothing new,” said Hicks. “So we ask people to be prepared, make a plan. Know if you’re registered, know where your polls are.”
Dixon asked the panel if they thought Georgia was going to continue being a national focal point for election results and process. All in attendance simultaneously answered yes. Amy Steele of the New North Carolina Project said Georgia wasn’t the only southern state suppression is taking place. “We are literally facing the same thing,” she said. “We are gerrymandered with surgical precession. Polling places have closed at a record pace.”
There were some positive outlooks during the one-hour discussion. LaTosha Brown, an organizer with Black Voters Matter, has high hopes for the voter turnout for this year’s midterm and general elections. “I anticipate that we will have a high turnout despite the acts of voter suppression,” she said.
The dates and times for other Hard Truths discussions have not yet been announced.