Julianne MalveauxOp-EdOpinion

MALVEAUX: Stacey Abrams Standing on Strong Shoulders

I am among the millions who are ecstatic that Stacey Abrams won the Democratic nomination for governor in Georgia. She didn’t just win, she rocked, clobbering opponent Stacey Evans by over 50 percentage points — Abrams had 76 percent of the 533,450 votes cast in the Democratic primary.

Of course, Abrams very graciously congratulated Evans on her effort during her victory speech last week. Still, it is clear that the work Abrams put into bringing new votes to the polls paid off. Now, Abrams and her supporters will have to roll up their sleeves and bring even more new voters to the polls — two Republicans will vie for the Republican nomination in a runoff, and there were 70,000 more Republican voters in the primary than Democratic voters.

If this turns partisan-ugly — and it is likely to — the challenge for Stacey Abrams will be to connect with those voters who rarely vote in midterm elections.

She already has a head start. Her New Georgia Project is credited with increasing voter turnout and registering as many as 200,000 new voters. While the estimates vary (with some saying that the numbers are not as robust as Abrams reports, the fact is that the New Georgia Project is effective, but must be even more so if Abrams is to prevail. She’ll need dollars and soldiers, but she has amassed an impressive amount of support from women’s candidates’ groups such as Emerge America and political action committees such as the African-American-focused Higher Heights and the pro-choice woman-focused EMILY’s list.

In addition, Melanie Campbell, CEO of the National Coalition of Black Civic Participation and the Black Women’s Roundtable, has partnered with Black women organizations in Georgia on its project — “Unity ’18 Power of the Sister Vote.” The women she worked with, including Essence Editor Emerita Susan Taylor and the esteemed Judge Glenda Hatchett, did outreach to more than 50,000 households through social media. On Election Day, the Unity ’18 effort provided rides and reached out to voters through phone banks and canvassing, encouraging them to get out and vote. The work will have to continue through November if Stacey Abrams is to win that governorship.

Just a day before Abrams claimed her Democratic nomination, the civil rights lawyer Dovey Roundtree made her transition at the age of 104. Roundtree, like Abrams, was a Spelman College graduate. Abrams attended Yale Law School, while Roundtree matriculated at Howard on the GI Bill after serving in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WACS).

After graduation from Spelman, and before her military service, Dovey Roundtree worked as a research assistant for Mary McLeod Bethune, the founder and first president of the National Council of Negro Women. I first learned of Roundtree, indeed, in a conversation with Dr. Dorothy Irene Height, the longest-serving NCNW president. Always supportive of NCNW, Roundtree was even more supportive of her many clients, so much so that she once said she worked for “eggs and collard greens,” because when her poor, Black clients couldn’t pay legal fees, she and law partner Julius Robertson accepted whatever people could pay.

Dovey Roundtree had a big footprint. When she started practicing law in Washington in the 1950s, there were few Black women lawyers in practice, but she mentored many young lawyers, including Harvard law professor Charles Ogletree. She was one of the first women to be ordained an AME minister, and worked as a minister at Allen Chapel AME Church in southeast Washington. Mayor Marion Barry considered her a trusted adviser. And, according to The Washington Post, the American Bar Association honored her in 2000 for advancing female lawyers in the profession.

Stacey Abrams may or may not know about Dovey Roundtree, but she surely stands on her shoulders, and on the shoulders of Dorothy Height and Barbara Jordan and the many other women who paved a way for her. Six months ago people were saying that Abrams “couldn’t” win the primary, and before I met her, I had doubts myself. But one cannot help but be swayed by her earnestness, her passion and her insistence that every vote counts, and every voice must be heard.

It’s going to take more than earnestness and passion to win the Georgia governorship. It’s going to take votes, lots of them. Still, women like Dovey Roundtree persisted against all odds, women like Dorothy Height persisted against all odds. If Stacey Abrams walks in their footsteps and gets at least 100,000 new voters registered and to the polls (to counter the 70,000 Republican advantage in primary votes), we’ll be celebrating sweet victory, standing on the shoulders of the ancestors, in November.

Julianne Malveaux’s latest book, “Are We Better Off?: Race, Obama and Public Policy,” is available via www.amazon.com.

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