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Stacey Abrams: The woman from the deep south who struggles to make history.




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Stacey Abrams intends to make history as the country's first black governor.

A battle for the governor's mansion in the state of Georgia, in the United States, shows a woman competing to become the first American black woman to run a state.

A group of people grouped outside the Hendershots café are waiting for a black SUV to drive 70 miles east of Atlanta.

The crowd unravels in a row of supporters surrounding the exposed brick building, while the afternoon peeks over the university town of Athens, Georgia, on an October day in the fall.

A mix of parents, teachers and older residents, emblazoned with campaign buttons and hand signs, interrupt groups of eager students standing in front of the modern live music venue.

"Remember to vote!" they say.

It is a scene reserved for national politicians or pop stars who make their way through the city, but the noises of talk and intermittent chants are for Stacey Abrams, a 44-year-old lawyer and former state legislator, who is in a dispute with the secretary of Georgia. of the state, Republican Brian Kemp.

The race is emblematic of two narratives that reverberate throughout the United States after the election of President Donald Trump.

Mr. Kemp, a self-styled "politically incorrect conservative," echoes Trump's brand of republicanism that focuses on tax cuts, the protection of gun rights and the "corraling of illegal criminals" in his truck. , as noted in one of his first political announcements.

The competing narrative is that of Mrs. Abrams, a progressive black candidate who has appealed to minority voters, a group she has focused much of her campaign on.

In fact, of the nearly 945,000 Georgia residents who have already cast an early vote, about 30% are black, a rate markedly higher than the mid-term figures for 2014.

Experts point out that North Carolina and South Carolina have not yet seen a similar increase among black voters, which could highlight how much power the base of Ms. Abrams can have.

And there are more Georgians registered to vote than ever: 6.9 million of the 10.4 million residents of the state.

Jaylen Black, a 21-year-old student at the University of Georgia, has volunteered for the Abrams campaign for one year and three months.

"His campaign is everything to me," he says, donning a navy blue Abrams t-shirt as he walks toward the next appearance of the candidate in a bar on the street.

"I worry about the policies, but I really always felt that there was not one of the parties that represented the problems that were relevant to my community, as African-American," continues Ms. Black.

"And when Stacey was running, she was not only a black woman but she felt as real as a candidate, and for the first time I felt like I was talking to someone who was at my level as if we were just people." . "

That authenticity seems to have resonated with the most ardent supporters of Mrs. Abrams, many of whom affectionately refer to her as Stacey.

"I think this also starts a legacy for black women, I will not necessarily vote because she is a black woman, but because she is a black woman who understands from a different perspective," says Yanill Sánchez, 25, an African woman. – American graduate student at the University of Georgia.

She says that debt relief from the university and expanded access to financial aid has affected young voters.

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"She is a pioneer in a movement for us," adds Andrea Glaze, a 25-year-old black graduate student who is outside of Hendershots after Ms. Abrams first appeared.

A short walk from the cafeteria, the woman that everyone has come to see again goes to the stage.

"They are lost?" she asks.

"No! They found us!" a student supporter shouts as the crowd erupts in cheers under the lights of the festoon.

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Stacey Abrams speaks to her supporters, along with City Councilwoman Boston Ayanna Presseley (R) and Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts

Born in poverty in rural Mississippi, Abrams came to Georgia during high school with her parents, who moved to attend the theology school at Emory University to become ministers.

She graduated magna cum laude from Spelman, a historically black women's college in Atlanta, before obtaining a law degree from Yale and a bachelor's degree in public policy from the University of Austin.

Kenja McCray, a history teacher based in Atlanta who also went to Spelman, remembers Mrs. Abrams at the university.

"I was very motivated, very serious, very focused and always running for something at SGA [Student Government Association], "she remembers.

Ms. McCray began volunteering at a telephone bank for Ms. Abrams to show her support as a Spelman partner, and to demonstrate to her two daughters, ages 18 and 20, how important it is to vote.

But the difficulty her daughters faced in trying to register shed light on how high the stakes were in the medium term this year, says McCray.

"I thought, how many other children, other people, are going through that?" And I realized we have a lot of work to do, "she says.

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Ms. McCray says helping her daughters register to vote helped her realize how high the stakes were on November 6

Critics of Ms. Abrams point out that she has attracted funds from outside donors, while she regularly appears in national headlines, appearing on the cover of Time magazine.

But his rise from poverty to power is a more familiar issue than some of his opponents may think, says LaDawn "LBJ" Jones, a lawyer in South Fulton.

"What his candidacy tells me is that he can talk to the common man," he says. "Follow a narrative that Kemp supporters would like to publish, which is to get up with their own bootstraps."

"Because of that background, because of that story and what she had to do to get there, I hope it's encouraging for other African Americans and people in general, that there are no limits or anything that will stop her from reaching her goals at least." "


A flashpoint in the rights of voters.

The race for the governor's mansion culminates a long saga between Mrs. Abrams and Mr. Kemp on a systemic problem at the heart of US elections: voting rights.

As secretary of state, Kemp's office oversaw the cancellation of 1.5 million voter registration applications between 2012-16, 750,000 more than in the previous period, according to a report from the Brennan Center at New York University, a group of experts in public policies.

A recent report by American Public Media found that more than half a million voters were eliminated last year, and of those 107,000 were eliminated due to the so-called "use or loss policy," which removes people from the polls if they do not. make. To vote in previous elections.

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According to the latest surveys, Kemp leads Abrams by 2%, within the margin of error

Earlier this month, the Associated Press discovered that Kemp's office had submitted more than 53,000 voter registration applications, of which nearly 70% were filed by African Americans, by the so-called exact state matching law. African-Americans make up only 32% of the state's population.

That policy, which requires applications to exactly match the information filed with the Georgia Department of Driver Services or Social Security Administrations, has delayed requests for infractions as small as a missing script in a name.

Mr. Kemp has denied any crime, arguing that it has facilitated the voting and that it was the failure to properly register residents in the New Georgia Project, a voter registration initiative that he investigated in 2014 and that was founded by the Mrs. Abrams.

The spokesman for his campaign said that Mr. Kemp is "fighting to protect the integrity of our elections and ensure that only legal citizens can vote," but critics argue that it undermines eligible voters.


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The tensions are high with only one week before the night of the election.

Mr. Kemp has attacked Ms. Abrams for being "too extreme" for Georgia, signaling her plan to expand the Medicaid health program for the poor in order to stem the shortage of a rural hospital.

She wants "higher taxes, a bigger government and a radical government with a single payer that takes care of medical care," he said during a recent debate.

Abrams was also forced to address an uncomfortable episode in which a New York Times report revealed that she burned the state flag of Georgia on the steps of the State Capitol in 1992 as a freshman college student.

The design included the symbol of the Confederate battle flag, a defiant gesture to segregation when it was adopted in 1956. He apologized for the "peaceful protest", noting that the flag has changed and that Mr. Kemp voted to eliminate the symbol 10 years later. .


Power of vote (black woman)

Peach State has not seen a Democratic governor since 2003, when Sonny Perdue became the first Republican elected since Reconstruction in the late 19th century.

But the state has seen an influx of Latinos and African-Americans, who tend to rely on Democrats in recent years.

Some attribute this change to a "large reverse migration" of African-Americans from the north to the south of the states, a reference to the six million black Americans who left the rural areas of the south during the first half of the 20th century.

Mrs. Abrams has focused on these voters: she has visited each of the 159 Georgia counties, including some previously ignored by Democratic candidates.

Ms. Jones, the attorney, admits that she supported Mrs. Abrams' opponent in the Democratic primary, Stacy Evans, a white woman.

"What we discovered in the end is that Stacey Abrams did everything possible," says Ms. Jones. "She knocked on the doors of people that a candidate had not knocked on their doors in years."

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The participation of black voters in this year's Democratic state primary has increased by 32% since 2014

While voting has been an important component of the Abrams campaign, black women in Georgia have been a constant electoral bloc in recent years.

Mrs. McCray feels that black women voters sometimes "fall apart" when it comes to political representation.

"One of the pitfalls of being a faithful voter is that it can be taken for granted and that is a narrative that worries the Democratic Party," she says.

"We are facing many more obstacles in terms of getting those leadership positions, so it's important to see someone win that represents us."


Change of guard

According to Kelly Dittmar of the Center for American Women in Politics, women of color, who currently have only eight (2.6%) of the elected executive offices in the state, represent 10% of all nominees and 30% of women nominated for elected offices at the state level. .

The state legislative candidates have won nominations in record numbers this year, he adds. It's a trend that analysts are seeing in a national scenario, too.

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That enthusiasm for change is felt in a corner of Georgia, considered the most diverse county in the state, if not the entire southeast of the United States.

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And this year interest has increased. According to information from the secretary of state's office, the participation of black voters in this year's Democratic primary elections increased by 32% in 2014.

Marlene Taylor-Crawford moved to Georgia almost 20 years ago, swapping in the dense, cobbled streets of New York City for the wide freeways that run through Atlanta's outskirts, leading to Gwinnett County.

"It was like entering a distortion of time," the single mother of three children, who is African-American, remembers the mostly white community after arriving in 1999. "I had to find my way to be close to people who shared my interests" .

The former agricultural community, home to approximately 920,000 residents and 16 municipalities, has been transformed into a predominantly non-white county.

The new composition, approximately 28% of African Americans, 21% of Latinos and 12% of Asians, has not always been reflected in the government, says Mrs. Taylor-Crawford, president of the United Ebony Society.

"If I attended a Gwinnett County commission meeting and did not know anything about Gwinnett County, I would think this community is 99% white," she says.

But the change is underway in both Gwinnett County and other parts of Georgia.

In fact, the county chose its first African-American judge, a woman, in September and two cities recently voted for Gwinnett's first black mayors.

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Ms. Taylor-Crawford is confident that voters are more engaged due to candidates like Ms. Abrams. She is seeing new faces at local government meetings, she says, and is receiving more calls about the events of the United Ebony Society.

"We are a strong voting bloc, we vote consistently and we encourage others to vote so that our voices are very strong," she says of the black voters in Gwinnett.

Like Gwinnett, the United States is expected to become a non-white majority by 2044, according to the US Census Bureau.

And what happens in Gwinnett County could be a harbinger of whether Georgia will see the country's first black governor.

"She represents strength, perseverance and faith, she is showing Georgia that we are still on the rise, that we can still achieve and what we are going to achieve," says Mrs. Abrams.


Will Georgia make the story?

Will the enthusiasm for Mrs. Abrams change Georgia from red (Democrat) to blue (Republican)?

President Trump, who supported Kemp as governor, easily won Georgia against Hillary Clinton.

But Ms. Jones believes that Mr. Trump has not "moved the needle" with the African-American community, despite the president's penchant for promoting an unprecedented black unemployment rate.

She says that Mr. Trump may have "lowered the bar" in civility, but that the black community has more energy to participate because of the names on the ballot.

"People are excited because they are angry at Trump, but are excited because for the first time a candidate has put the energy to come and ask him to vote and explain why his vote is important."

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Dawn Jones says that regardless of the outcome of the election, Stacey Abrams has opened the doors to African-American women in politics

Abrams has been a tax attorney, romance novelist and deputy city attorney before becoming the first woman to lead a committee in the Georgia state legislature as a minority leader of the House.

If he will re-record his name in the history books of Georgia depends on the voters, but his candidacy marks a change in the political winds for African-American women.

"I work with people who are running for elective office and, before Stacey Abrams, I had a full session on how to dress, what to wear and what should and should not do," recalls Ms. Jones.

"I've changed that, it does not mean straightening your hair to please the people whose door you're touching, or with a face full of makeup because you're a woman.

"Stacey being authentically herself has opened the door to many people, but particularly African-American women who identify with her and can say: 'I can run for office and I'm not banned because I have dreadlocks'."


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