Stacey Abrams

Stacey Abrams

The presidential primary season kicked off Monday, Feb. 3 with Iowa caucus controversy. The Iowa Democratic Party recovered following a recanvass of votes. On Sunday, Feb. 9, the party determined South Bend, Indiana Mayor Peter Buttigieg won. He will be allocated 14 delegates.

One-tenth of a percentage point placed Sen. Bernie Sanders close behind. Sanders earned 12 delegates and has called for a partial recanvass.

Stacey Abrams has familiar insight to Sanders’ second place dismay. Abrams is the first Black woman to become a gubernatorial nominee for a major party in the United States.

Abrams lost the race for Georgia governor in 2019 to Brian Kemp by 50,000 votes. The non-profit CEO recalibrated and sued the state for “gross mismanagement of the election.” Now, she is ready to be the vice-presidential nominee on the winning delegate’s ticket.

“My candidate is the one who wins. Call me!” Abrams said Wednesday, Feb. 5 at a Voter Protection Town Hall hosted by the Florida Democratic Party at Miami Dade College North Campus. “I’m the best loser I know. I didn’t get what I sought, but I’m committed to making sure voter suppression doesn’t keep us from winning in 2020.”

Wanting her words to be more than a war cry, Abrams launched a national initiative called Fair Fight 2020. One key focus is voter suppression — a tactic to intimidate and confuse voters or block poll access. Racial minorities, poor people, elderly and students are common targets. 

Florida Dems brought Abrams to South Florida to help amplify the power of the youth vote and to tout the importance of college campus as voting sites.

The latter was underscored Tuesday, Feb. 11 by Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum who announced that the state of Florida finally settled the lawsuit that ensures that early voting will be allowed on campuses this presidential cycle.

“This is a huge victory for voters in Florida, especially for the young voters who have the power to decide this election. Overall, young voters, voters of color and voters who did not cast ballots in 2016 disproportionately, voted at on-campus voting locations in 2018,” said Gillum whose primary political mission in 2020 is turning Florida Blue.

Miami-Dade District 2 Commissioner Jean Monestime offered opening remarks at the town hall. He emphasized Florida Democratic Party strategies and gains.

“The Miami Dade College North Campus represents an excellent institution of learning for many of the residents of District 2. Proudly, I am also a product of this great institution,” said Monestime. “It also represents our great democracy where students and other voter participation advocates rallied to change the statewide ban on early voting at college campuses.”

Monestime shared that college organizing is only one part of the Florida Democratic Party’s massive 2020 mobilization and registration effort. College organizers with clipboards in

tow greeted attendees. They are a key part of the party’s unprecedented voter registration program and general election infrastructure preparation. The party has invested over $3.2 million to register more than 200,000 voters in 2019 and 2020.

The near capacity-filled lecture hall released thunderous applause when Monestime introduced Abrams. With a hand-held mic and a leader’s firm stance, Abrams articulated political expertise with precision and command. She demonstrated that the state of Georgia blew it by not electing her governor.

“I am a Black woman, Democrat from the south, and I do not believe in incrementalism,” said Abrams as she emphasized why it is crucial for Democrats to vote in record numbers in 2020.

“Politicians are proxies. Politicians are avatars who speak your will into existence, and your greatest antidote is our presence,” said Abrams. “Make sure everyone you know is registered. Ask them so much they get annoyed and tell you to shut up.”

Abrams told The Miami Times her deference to endorse a candidate was not an indictment on her leadership, but a personal right.

“My lead is that people should vote for the person who resonates most for them…luckily we live in a democracy where we vote by secret ballot, so I encourage everyone to stop trying to game the system and trying to anticipate what your friends are doing. Vote for the person who means the most to you because that’s how we pick the strongest candidate,” she said.

Anti-voter suppression - educate, energize, engage

Abram’s most resonant town hall charge was a three-step approach to defeat voter suppression in key battleground states: educate, energize and engage.

“Our young people need to know why voting matters to them. Educate them,” said Abrams. “Energize by engaging in a practice. Find a condition or an issue that you’re passionate about and go get ‘em. Engage by registering and reporting what you see and hear and volunteer.”

Prior to the town hall, Abrams met with six diverse student leaders from area colleges and universities.

“In 2018, almost 60,000 people voted at 12 college campus locations around Florida – over half of those that voted on campus were under the age of 30,” said Terrie Rizzo, chair of the Florida Democratic Party who welcomed Abrams.

In a round-table discussion, Abrams stressed the role of diversity in voting and her Spelman University student government association presidency.

“Many people choose HBCU campuses because they are grappling with issues of race and class and they want to be centered in a place that excites them about who they are and their potential,” said Abrams.

“One of the most effective ways to engage students is to connect that potential with the power that voting can provide. Make sure there is an active conversation about voting rights on your campus.”

Zion Gates-Norris was the sole Black student panelist. The 20-year-old represented Florida Memorial University where he is vice president of the student government association. He aspires to be an elected official.

“We need more innovative ways to attract young people and Black people or we’re not going to win,” Gates-Norris told The Miami Times.

“Gone are the days of souls to the polls; now it’s souls to social media. Things like this are good. Bring people to the table who aren’t expected to be there…the HBCUs, the Hispanic student leaders. Talk to us. Let our voices be heard.”

Senior Staff Writer

Penny Dickerson is a journalist joining The Miami Times following an Africa sojourn and 10-year freelance career in newspaper and magazine. She earned her MFA in creative writing from Lesley University, and B.A. in Journalism from Temple University.

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