Never count a Black woman out.
Stacey Abrams, the Georgia Democrat whose historic run for Governor almost flipped the state blue, isn’t letting her loss in November stop her political momentum.
Democrats have selected Abrams to give their State of the Union response to President Donald Trump on Tuesday night. The nationally-televised event will be closely watched in the aftermath of a disastrous and history-making government shutdown, which caused the first SOTU to be postponed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
While millions may tune in to watch Trump, many of those eyes will be on Abrams, which makes this moment that much more critical for her and Democrats who strategically selected Abrams for the spotlight.
We spoke with Dr. Avis Jones-DeWeever, a leadership strategist and author of the award-winning book, “How Exceptional Black Women Lead,” to break down the significance of this moment.
Stacey Abrams is the first Black woman in history to deliver the Democrats’ response.
For the past two years, Democrats have selected white men to deliver their SOTU responses: Rep. Joe Kennedy III provided the Democratic answer to Trump in 2018, and in 2017, former Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, gave a folksy clapback in a diner surrounded by (mostly) white folks.
But this year, Dems have decided to not to “blend in” but to stand out.
“She is going to be coming right after Trump’s address and what we’re going to see is someone who in every possible way is completely, diametrically the opposite,” says Dr. Jones-DeWeever.
“She is a truly self-made person, someone who is intelligent, thoughtful, hardworking, who actually was able to overcome all of the odds to get to where she is.”
Abrams, a Spelman and Yale Law School graduate, was elected Georgia House Minority Leader and would’ve been the first Black woman governor in U.S. history if she won in November.
It signals that she is a rising star in the Democratic party.
“A person is chosen to represent the party, [who] is seen to be an up and coming star,” says Dr. Jones-DeWeever of the State of the Union response.
“Stacey has been acknowledged as the standout, as the leader, quite frankly as the future of the party. What she did in Georgia was groundbreaking.”
Abrams came within fewer than 55,000 votes (2.2 percentage points) of winning her election and faced well-documented voter suppression efforts, but earned new fans due to her determination to keep fighting.
“Anyone who understands the context of what she was up against knows she had the toughest race in the nation, and I believe quite frankly had everything been fair she would probably be the governor of Georgia right now,” says Dr. Jones-DeWeever.
Aside from her race for governor, Abrams was instrumental in helping to register tens of thousands of new voters in Georgia, many of whom were minorities.
Dr. Jones-DeWeever points out that while much of the post-midterm election talk focused on Beto O’Rourke, Andrew Gillum and Stacey Abrams actually had lower margins of votes between themselves and their competition.
“She was by far the person who came closest to turning Georgia blue,” says Dr. Jones-DeWeever.
It shows that Democrats are acknowledging Black women are essential to their success.
It’s no secret that Black women have been miracle workers, both with historical voter turnout and major election wins.
“There is no demographic group that is more loyal to the Democratic Party,” says Dr. Jones-DeWeever. “There is no demographic group that is more important to the success of that party than Black women.”
Black women voters, however, don’t want to be taken for granted. A recent survey indicated that more and more Black women feel the Democratic party doesn’t represent their interests.
In an interview with theGrio, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi addressed the concern.
“Black women are the smartest voters of all. They know exactly where the truth and facts are in a campaign,” Pelosi told theGrio. “People say ‘take for granted’- we don’t take anybody for granted, but if they feel that way then we have to communicate differently.”
“We’re absolutely thrilled [Stacey Abrams] made such a courageous run, and as you see, the reaching out and electing more women of color is a statement too,” continued Pelosi. “African-American women are a force to be reckoned with.”
The data backs her up.
Analysis from the Brookings Institute shows that two-thirds of Black women who ran for office in 2016 were elected in primarily Black districts, but were also viable in regions where Black people don’t make up the majority of residents.
Black woman showed up in 2016, with 94 percent voting for Hillary Clinton, compared to 53 percent of white women who voted for Donald Trump. They also showed up to defeat Roy Moore in Alabama, with 98 percent voting for Doug Jones.
“It’s important to signal to black women that we see you and we appreciate you,” says Dr. Jones-DeWeever.
It could boost her entire political career to new heights.
With so many eyes on Abrams and growing support from her party, her political career could skyrocket further after her speech on Tuesday.
“At the minimum this positions her well to be able to have a very successful senatorial run by 2020,” says Dr. Jones-DeWeever. “I think that she’s already coming to this as the most Googled politician of 2018. She did get on a lot of people’s radar screens last year.”
With the endorsements from Oprah Winfrey, Common, John Legend and President Barack Obama, it was hard to ignore Stacey Abrams. She even packed out college campus auditoriums of students who want to hear her speak.
According to White House sources, President Trump, who enjoys throwing rallies of his own, is expected to present a more “unifying” message tomorrow. A leader like Stacey Abrams, may be able to cut through any nonsense to call Trump to the table.
“We’re at a moment right now where, as a party, we are looking for people who are not afraid to speak truth to power,” says Dr. Jones-DeWeever. “She does have the advantage of someone who’s not in Congress right now. She has more leeway in being a bit more critical [of Trump] because of that relative independence.”
Despite a history of racial and partisan division in Georgia, Abrams is a skilled politician and he still knows how to appeal to a diverse coalition of voters. They’ve connected to her as a fellow Georgia citizen. What she can do at a national level may be even more tremendous.
“We need to realize that when we watch her, in many ways, we’re watching history,” says Dr. Jones-Weever. “I truly believe that’s really just the beginning of her star rising. We’re going to see more of Stacey Abrams.”
Natasha S. Alford is Deputy Editor theGrio. Follow her for news and political updates at @NatashaSAlford on Twitter and IG.