Only a full week into the new year, the U.S. has already seen its fair share of division, political polarization and attempted governmental upheaval. An attempted coup d’état took place at the U.S. Capitol just after Georgia’s runoff election results projected the two Democratic candidates Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock, would win their senate races Jan. 6.
A runoff election is held if the winning candidate in a primary or general election does not reach the minimum threshold of votes required to win that state. According to Georgia law, if no candidate receives at least 50% of the vote, the top two candidates advance to a runoff election in order to determine a winner.
Exit polls from the Jan. 6 Georgia runoffs show both Democratic candidates were exceedingly more favorable to their incumbent candidates, Republican Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, among Black women and men. The Democrats, however, were significantly less popular among white men and women, with only 27% and 28% of white men and 31% of white women voting for Ossoff and Warnock respectively. Overall, more than 7.7 million Georgians were registered to vote in Georgia’s runoff election.
IU political science professor Sean Byrne explained the importance of this win.
“The only reason the Democrats have a majority is because of the two senatorial positions in Georgia,” he said.
These races were crucial in determining who controlled the Senate, and ultimately cast the tie-breaking vote in the event of a 50/50 split, according to Byrne. Over the past 32 years, the Senate has been split between both Republicans and Democrats. But, Democrats held a majority all but one time for 50 years after Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency, according to Byrne.
Even though Democrats have a majority in the senate, their efforts and legislation will not necessarily be easily agreed upon and passed through Congress.
Professor Vanessa Cruz Nichols of the IU Political Science Department explained the need of a supermajority for Democrats to ensure legislation will pass.
Cruz Nichols said there is a filibuster rule that made it hard for former President Barack Obama to work past. She said the 60/40 threshold of the existing filibuster rule is something that is still going to be a problem for President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris because they have to gain a supermajority.
This Democratic win comes as a result of the hard work of grassroots organizations such as The New Georgia Project and individual powerhouses such as former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, according to Cruz Nichols and Byrne.
In 2014, the New Georgia Project launched as a voter registration program with a goal of registering all eligible, unregistered citizens of color in Georgia by the end of the decade. As of September 2019, the project had registered almost half a million Georgians in all 159 Georgia counties.
In a decade long fight, Stacey Abrams has proven the Black and Brown vote could very well determine the outcome of an election for an entire state while also setting the trajectory for the nation.
Abrams helped register more than 800,000 new voters in the state of Georgia. Her efforts were spurred from her claim that Georgia’s Republican Gov. Brian Kemp had been involved in acts of widespread voter suppression in 2018 when Abrams ran against him for the seat.
Since then, Abrams has been determined to ensure all Black and Brown people who are eligible to vote in the state not only register but show up at the polls.
What happened in Georgia not only helped the Democrats gain control of the federal government, but also gave way to the fact that votes matter.
A majority of Georgia’s Democratic voters are Black — they make up roughly 30% of the overall electorate — and it was these voters who drove the strong Democratic turnout.
Overall, turnout reached 93% of 2020 levels in precincts where Black voters represented at least 80 percent of the electorate. When Black and Brown people come together, we are a force to be reckoned with.
Black and Brown people are at the forefront of the list of individuals to thank and appreciate for this big win for the Democratic party. The favor should be returned through legislation.
Black and Brown people have fought for equality and the same opportunities for hundreds of years, and a Democratic Senate could help address some of their needs.
“The disproportionate rates at which the pandemic has affected Black and Brown communities is huge,” Cruz Nichols said.
She said issues of police brutality and immigration will potentially be what the administration should address.
As the coronavirus pandemic surges and new strains are popping up within the U.S., Black and Brown communities remain the populations with the highest reported COVID-19 death rates Black people are 2.3 times more likely to die from the virus than white people.
Black and Brown people account for a large portion of frontline workers, constantly placing themselves at risk of contracting the virus.
Biden plans to introduce a plan to increase stimulus checks and COVID-19 relief funds for U.S. citizens from the $600 proposed by Congress to $2,000. With Democrats in control of the Senate, Biden has an advantage to seeing this legislation passed within Congress.
This relief will help to create a financial cushion and support working class individuals living in low income areas.
Another issue that is pressing within Black and Brown communities is student loans and the aftermath of obtaining a degree in higher education.
The average Black borrower owes close to $34,000. With Biden’s proposed plan to forgive $10,000 of student loan debt for all borrowers, Black and Brown people will benefit financially.
While recent events such as the attack on the U.S. Capitol have shocked the nation, it is important to understand good can prevail. Even though it may not happen suddenly, the efforts of unity found in Georgia and the entire nation have proven there is a shift occurring in this society and people are displaying which side of history they want to be on.
With this in mind, one must never forget the power that exists within. Use your voice. Use your power for good.