Business as Usual is not Enough: Visionary Methods will be Key to Democratic Wins in Georgia

Imagine the poetic justice of our first Black woman Vice President casting the deciding vote in the Senate. Winning the two Georgia Senate seats won’t be easy, in part because the Republican strategy is so corrupt: they suppress votes, shamelessly lie about fraud, and attempt to overturn legitimate results to rally their base.

Our strategy must be as visionary and principled as theirs is debased.

When I ask friends to join a Walk the Walk 2020 zoom call, I often hear: 1) I’ve given to the Georgia Senate campaigns 2) I’m phone banking or writing postcards to GA. I answer: Awesome- thank you so much for your work. I’m grateful for any and all participation, but I need the courage to add: still, come to the call! I’m convinced that Walk the Walk 2020’s approach is the most respectful, sustainable, and effective path forward. Where does that money end up when you donate to high profile political campaigns? And, who would you be more likely to listen to — a trusted community member or a stranger? Walk the Walk 2020 researches organizations and outcomes, so that the money and time you give will have the greatest impact. (In addition to supporting local grass-roots organizations, we aggregate volunteering opportunities.) We rely on supporters to bring friends and family in: everyone has powerful influence with the people they know. Every hour you spend talking to your contacts about this approach is as vital as volunteering: indeed it is volunteering! As implausible as it seems, honing the conversations you may already be having with friends and colleagues about Georgia, will be critical to winning the Georgia Senate races.

Walk the Walk 2020 is an all volunteer initiative funding grass-roots groups that counter voter suppression and build power: currently we are supporting the New Georgia Project (founded by Stacey Abrams), Mijente, Georgia Shift and the Asian American Advocacy Fund. As people pour money into the Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock Senate campaigns, these campaigns will reach financial saturation. As with all campaigns, that money will pay for TV time, mailers and paid canvassers. Maine offers an example of how out of state money to political campaigns can lead to out of touch methods that backfire with local residents. Walk the Walk 2020 has a deeper approach that strengthens these campaigns by respecting and supporting the long term well-being of voters, policies, and local communities.

Voter turnout in communities of color, particularly Black communities, was key to Joe Biden’s victory and to the considerable feat of flipping Georgia for the first time in 28 years. While the common methods of phone banking and text banking have positive effects, research shows that by far the most effective means of turnout is relational voter turnout: peers from one’s own community talking about local issues and participation. Each one of our partner organizations uses relational voter turnout: they do not blame, shame or pander to communities of color. We support local leaders so they can build long term power and justice within their communities. It’s the only way to finally realize the inclusive promise of US democracy.

Walk the Walk 2020 was started by friends Emily Baldwin and Seth Fleischer, people with day jobs, who woke up the morning after the 2016 election wishing that they had done more. After consulting with ‘Movement Voter Project’ and doing extensive research, they selected several of the most effective organizations led by people of color, with the digital infrastructure to reach voters during a pandemic. During the past four months, a dozen friends joined by 5,000 donors raised almost three million dollars and closed the funding gaps of twelve grass-roots organizations in eight swing states, including the states critical to the Biden/Harris win: Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Arizona, and Georgia. For many of these organizations, Walk the Walk 2020 was their largest source of individual donations ever. Our impact assessment shows that these groups were critical to Biden’s victory- by increasing turnout in Black communities by over ten percent in Arizona and by achieving an astonishing 74% turnout amongst Latino communities in Wisconsin.

Now, we have the ambitious goal of raising $400,000 in the next few weeks for four Georgia organizations. Donating is a first step, but at our zoom calls, we tell people what we are doing, why it’s critical right now and how they can have an impact. From organizers, we have learned that networks, relationships and gatherings work: people who come to the calls donate, then speak to their friends about Walk the Walk 2020, persuading them to show up and donate. It’s exactly how organizers and volunteers inspire people to vote. Every time I get tired of reaching out to people to come to these calls, I remember the organizers who don’t give up until every single voter is reached, and how critical that work is. At our last call, my sister Mishi Faruqee and I, daughters of Muslim Bangladeshi immigrants, could not quite put to words how it felt to be joined by Aisha Yaqoob Mahmood, the inspiring Director of the Asian American Advocacy Fund, with the common purpose of fully turning her state and the United States Senate blue. This election cycle, I have repeatedly witnessed the moment when someone who has known for awhile why they’re in this fight can now see how to transform that reserve into results. As an artist, educator and person, I’ve recently realized that everything I do leads me to the urgency of bringing the how and the why closer together.

Anoka Faruqee is an artist, educator, and a co-leader at Walk the Walk 2020.

To attend the next GA zoom call on Sun 12/6, register here.

Donate to Walk the Walk 2020.

Watch the Walk the Walk 2020 GA video, with artists Amy Sillman, Mary Weatherford, Tomashi Jackson, and Anoka Faruqee. Edited by Terry Chatkupt; co-produced with Brett Cody Rogers.

Anoka Faruqee is a an artist and educator in New Haven, CT.