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Georgia Election, D.C. Riots Hold Many Public Policy Teachable Moments

Game Plan for Democrats and Republicans Will Change

Normally, a political scientist or a law school professor is unnoticed. But the events of Jan. 5 and 6 made them a treasured resource. How do you explain a run-off election and the Electoral College? And what does anybody make of the U.S. Capitol under siege by white people?

Where we are now is different from where the country was in 2008 and 2016, according to Justin Hansford, Law professor and director of the Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center at the Howard University School of Law.

“With the election of President Obama and his eight years in office, we were like, ‘That’s our guy, he’s in!’” Hansford said. “The energy the community had during the 2008 campaign, was not there once Obama got in office. People chilled. We were not organized to bang down those doors.”

“Once the Black Lives Matter movement sprouted up, there was a generation of folks, me included, that naively thought that getting the people in office that we wanted was going to solve the problem,” Hansford explained. “We did not realize we still had to organize, we still had to push. Even if we had our person in there, they still needed to be made to do what we needed them to do. The political capital of having folks push them was necessary.”

Where Are We Now?

America’s political landscape now feels like a “ball of confusion.” Hansford says it has been 12 years since there has been organized energy pushing from the outside in. That type of outside energy describes the mobilization behind the successful Georgia senatorial campaigns. Georgia became a huge national campaign. Stacey Abrams took the loss from her 2018 Georgia gubernatorial run and created Fair Fight an initiative to combat voter suppression. Georgia did not stop with the victory by Joe Biden.

A new dynamic will be in place with the Jan. 20 inauguration. Democrats will control the executive branch and Congress. What does that mean for how Democrats and Republicans will organize for desired results?
The biggest fear is that people will say let us go back to the status quo. Hansford along with faculty and students at the Howard School of Law gathered to discuss what happened over the past week with a look to the future.

“With any crisis, there is an opportunity for us to make some real changes,” Hansford said of the rioting. “Instead of focusing on calming things down focus on creating more justice, more fairness, and creating a better system.”

The GOP is forced to undergo a major evaluation. Hansford reminds us that Republicans went into their convention without a platform. That lack of a platform offers a lot of flexibility for the party, but who will lead the party? Will it really be Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), or will another GOP leader emerge?

“The Republican Party totally collapsed from an ideological standpoint because they had no agenda other than following Trump and a certain level of grievance against the Democratic Party or liberals,” said Hansford. “What is left for Republicans are cultural issues, pro-choice/pro-life, and pro-guns. If you ask the average Republican what the party stands for, they can’t cite formal policy positions.”

The Democrats have a similar rebuilding process following years of trying to come back in a robust manner. Hansford sees a scenario like the ANC in South Africa where there is a one-party dominance with different wings of the party.

“For Democrats, here is going to be a struggle between the agenda from the Bernie Sanders wing and the Biden-Pelosi wing,” said Hansford. “So, there is still going to be a lot of fighting within the party.”

Faculty and students in the Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center will continue to monitor the reworking of the political and public policy landscape in America. The Center offers pro bono assistance to various organizations and lawyers who are working on justice and policy cases. Recognizing its history, Hansford says the Howard University School of Law will continue to work on solutions.

“Whenever there is a medical crisis, you go to the doctor,” Hansford said. “When there is a crisis with justice, leadership, and governance, you to go the lawyers in the community.”

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