Don’t Forget Georgia

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S1: Hey, what next listener, I know a lot has happened over the last few days, we’ve gone from Congress working to certify Joe Biden’s election to a week later approving an article of impeachment against the president again. And in between these two formal bureaucratic bookends, we’ve been inundated with video showing just how determined some people are to violently disrupt American democracy. It’s a lot. So I want to rewind the clock to the early morning hours on January 6th when we weren’t talking about a siege on the Capitol. We were talking about a historic double runoff in Georgia because it’s worth remembering American democracy is still kicking, even if it’s battered and bruised.

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S2: When I woke up, the first thing that I said to my daughter was Castor won the election and she immediately cast that.

S1: Tiffany Roberts is an attorney in Atlanta.

S3: She also goes to Ebenezer Baptist Church. That’s where Senator elect Raphael Warnock is. Pastor, my producer, Davis, spoke to her Wednesday morning before the riot in Washington. She told him she hadn’t stayed up to watch the returns because she didn’t want to put her daughter through an emotional roller coaster.

S2: She had been so impacted by the negative campaign that she doesn’t really understand. She thinks so. It’s not as though she understands the type of campaigning, you know what I mean? She gives it, but she doesn’t understand it. But she gets so angry about the things that she was doing a television ad about her pastor. But seeing it today, she was so happy. And we made what we call victory pancakes that were like spiced pancakes with like, you know, like cinnamon and all those things. And I made them in the shape of a girl with Afro ties. And I called them Black Girl my for my daughter. And she was just so happy that she had them. She was just so giddy. They smelled like they were cooking coconut oil, you know, all of the things. Is she for once a month before going to school?

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S3: Today on the show, it is more important than ever to see both of the things that are happening in American politics right now while right wing extremists are threatening elected officials with violence. A little girl in Georgia is eating victory pancakes, but you’re not going to see her on an endless loop on CNN. So we’re going to talk about what took place last week with a few people who made victory in Georgia possible. I’m Mary Harris. You’re listening to what next? Stick with us.

S1: Around the time Tiffany was cooking up those victory pancakes for her daughter, I got on the phone with Cliff Albright. Cliff is an organizer with Black Voters Matter. And like Tiffany, he woke up Wednesday feeling great. He’d been getting congratulated all morning. You tweeted about this young woman you heard from this morning who reached out to thank you. I wonder if you can tell that story.

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S4: Yeah. So we got a contact onto our website from a young woman who said that she was 18, voted for the first time. And the only reason she voted was because we came to our community with our bus, because the black kids, both in America and and we came and we’ve done this a lot of places and a lot of the challenges that we’ve been seeing throughout Georgia. I mean, I think we went to we actually had three buses that were running in the state throughout the runoff election and we went to probably about 30, if not thirty five of the counties where we have partnerships. So we go to places that don’t usually get to see a bus. And in her case, she lives in a in a sounds like public housing community. And she said, you came to our neighborhood and nobody else comes. And the point that she raised and it was so perfect because it’s literally what we tell people all the time. She said, you made me believe in my own power. So regardless of how this election goes and who wins this, thank you for letting me and my community know that we matter.

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S5: And that’s how we measure success, like winning an election. That’s one of the traditional metrics. Right. And voter turnout go up. That’s that’s a traditional metric. Right. But probably the most important metric for us is what she shared, that if we and we say that we can make our communities feel that they matter and if they have power, we can fundamentally change the way that our community views our relationship, the power, our ability to control things and control our our destinies and make change in our neighborhood. If we can do that and have that mindset shift, then the election results will take care of themselves. So when she sent that that email, when I read that, it literally brought me to tears. It literally brought me to tears.

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S1: What did you see over the last two months when you rolled up to a neighborhood that maybe hadn’t seen voter outreach before?

S5: Oh, well, you know, I mean, we we see we see people smiling. We see people that are sometimes brought to tears. We see people that are literally left speechless. You know, we have people we sometimes will rolled into a parking lot and somebody will just be getting out of their car to go shopping and see the bus. And they’ll just be looking like, what what what is are you does that say black voters matter? Does that say does that say we got power on the right? Oh, sometimes I’ll sometimes I’ll approach somebody who’s just standing in there looking and I’m not even quite sure sometimes like what are they? Are they mad at us for being here? And they feel like we’re disturbing their daily trip or something. And I’ll say my mind is, you know, so we get those kinds of reactions that we get reactions from from folks who are expecting us to roll through but haven’t seen this before. And, you know, we get people that are dancing will come we come off the bus and we got people dancing. What’s your song? Oh, the theme song is James Brown. I’m black.

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S6: And I’m proud that anybody who seen us will tell you we don’t come out that bus without our radio speaker, without that song playing. That is our theme song. Back then, there’s a movie I’m going to get you stuck where they say every every every hero needs a theme song. That’s our theme song. And so that’s what we play. We come off no longer out there. We got a whole Black Voters Matter playlist that includes everything from Beyonce. Now we have sometimes we have a battle over which version of Before I Let You Go is the real version. Is that the Beyonce version or is the original Frankie Beverly Emmetsburg? And so sometimes that creates a fight and some of our some of our events with both of those songs are on the playlist. We got some Kendrick Lamar. We could be all right. We got some more Beyonce a freedom. We got some John Legend and Common with Glory. So we’ve got a whole playlist that we play. But you better believe that the first song we play when we come off that bus is brown. I’m black and I’m proud right now.

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S7: Right now.

S1: Have you ever met someone who’s like. And you’ve had to convince them they’re like, this isn’t going to matter, like I see how it goes in the state and like they they may have voted at some point, but they may not feel like. They will all the time, all the time.

S5: What do you say to them? The first thing I say, I quite obviously the first thing is I say, you know what I feel, you know, I hear you like I do this work every day. And there are days where where I feel like this doesn’t matter or my vote doesn’t matter or this is a rigged process. Like I go through that myself and I do this work. In fact, I have one of those days, the day before, in spite of all the excitement that we were having throughout the day and all the polling places in the communities we went to, you may be familiar with that. Just yesterday, they announced in Colosio that the officer that shot Blake is not going to be facing charges. And so yesterday was one of those days where at least for a moment, a minute, five minutes, where I had to continue to ask myself, as Dr. King once asked himself, sometimes I asked myself, am I integrating my people into a burning house? Like, is this really the answer that we’re trying to get people into this voting process? And still on a regular basis, we’re being reminded that our lives don’t matter. It’s not the first thing I do is let them know that I hear you and I feel you and I’ve experienced that and you’re not crazy. But guess what? Let’s shift the conversation away from the voting thing. Let’s talk about what it is that you want for you and your family. What is it that you want to see in your community? And when we have that conversation, when we center it on, you know, I want I wanted to go to school, but I didn’t have tuition or my my my my grandma is really sick. And I want to be able to I want her to have some health care. I want to I want it to be easier for me to take care of them. Right. When we concentrate on what it is that they’re dreaming of for their community and for themselves. And we rooted there and we let them know that we’re not just talking to them because they’re are vote something to be rounded up, that we’re talking to them because we fundamentally care about them, because they matter. Right. And then when we can take the conversation, after we know what it is that they care about, we can say, well, guess what? You got the power to help make that happen. And that power might be in voting or it might be in in just organizing a group of folks to move towards that objective that you say. But when we can let them know that fundamentally what we care about is their lives and not just their votes. Right. That what we care about is our community, then it’s a different kind of a conversation.

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S1: This saw something you wrote a few months back where you were talking about the Black Lives Matter movement in the summer and, you know, do we need a march on Washington? Yeah, and you made this really interesting point, which is like, no, like, that’s that’s for show. Yeah. What we need is this high touch work in people’s communities with people that they respect and trust because. The showy stuff may not be doing what we want it to do, it might feel good, but like what is the path forward here? And I thought it was really interesting.

S4: Sometimes I feel guilty because some of this approach like this really isn’t rocket science Friday. Like like the notion that the way that you get people involved is by dealing with something that is very close to them. It’s something that they see on a daily basis. It’s something that’s easily understandable. It’s not the the trillion dollar government federal budget. Right. But it’s the you know, maybe it’s the police budget in city or maybe it’s the the roads and infrastructure budget that will determine whether or not they get these potholes on their street or or is the stop sign at the end of the street or the light that they need because somebody was in a car accident.

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S5: You know, this notion and we believe in it. And you’re right, it’s a big part of our work. We actually believe that the more disengaged voter is, the more important that they’re on ramp be something very local.

S1: Hmm. To see and touch the change.

S4: Yes, exactly. They can see it. They can touch it. It’s it to a certain extent, I almost hesitate to say. But to a certain extent, it’s kind of an immediate gratification type thing. Right. Is it is that I can vote on this on this issue and I can see a local a local official do something about it or fail to do something about it in real time. Real close up and personal. Right. I’m I’m a walk out my door every day.

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S5: And this local issue is like this right there in my face. That’s the thing for some people that that gets them involved.

S1: How are you going to celebrate tonight?

S4: First trying to get a little sleep? Oh, think it really just trying to spend some time with my family. You know, they’ve been incredibly giving of my time. And part of what I my my relaxation of personal time is just being able to spend more time with them and maybe go somewhere if we can find someplace safe to go and covid. But but it’s it’s right back at it. We got an email today. I got an email today from some folks I reached out to last year around the time that I Tatiana’s Jefferson was murdered in Texas and they didn’t respond and probably because they had a lot going on, understandably. But I just got an email this morning from a group saying, hey, we you know, we’re still dealing with these issues and we got a mayor’s race and we love to partner and get some support. And by the way, the mayor’s race is in March. So you’re going to be hitting the road soon? Yeah. I mean, it’s what we always say. It’s black voters matter three. Sixty five. There’s no such thing as an off year. We’ve we’ve gotten other inquiries and requests for support around local elections. There’s a South Carolina election in February. So twenty, twenty one is going to be busy, in part because of the summer of protest and this issue of police violence, although there’s federal issues. Right. And there’s there’s Supreme Court issues and all of that. But most of those issues are really local issues. It’s it’s the city council. And what’s the city council to approve in a city’s budget? Who’s the police chief? Who’s the mayor appointing the police chief? Who’s the D.A. and who’s the sheriff? And so a lot of those local issues are going to be on the ballot in twenty, twenty one.

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S5: That type of issue is going to be happening in city after city and county after county all throughout twenty, twenty one. And we’re going to be ready for it.

S1: Cliff, all right, I’m so grateful for you joining me on this incredibly busy day. Thank you for having me. Cliff Albright is the co-founder of Black Voters Matter. When we come back, another factor that seems to have tipped the scales in Georgia was the activism of the WNBA. I’ll talk to a player who left the court to commit herself to social justice.

S8: What’s up, Mary? Hey, Renee, how are you? I’m good.

S1: This is Renee Montgomery. I spoke to her after the capital attack, but she was still feeling pretty victorious after what happened in Georgia.

S8: I know a lot is getting lost in the news because of the domestic terrorist attack that happened on January six. But what shouldn’t get lost is that a Jewish man from Georgia was elected senator, a black man from Georgia was elected senator. This is coming off of Joe Biden being elected president and come out here as being elected vice president. We should all be excited. I mean, I don’t maybe not at all, but I’m excited. That’s a win. That’s a three no sweep. I’m an athlete. So, you know, I think like that. That’s a thrill sleep. That’s a gentlewoman’s sweep right there. Yeah. We should all be excited because this was not easy, you know, like this was a lot of time taken out towards this cause and it was a labor of love. And so, yeah, I’m definitely excited.

S1: Renee is a professional basketball player, most recently for The Atlanta Dream, a team that is partially owned by Kelly Leffler, the former senator from Georgia. This year, players like Renee openly campaigned on behalf of levelers opponent Raphael Warnock, who, of course, won. You know, I talked to an NBA player this year, Larry Nance Junior, and I asked him at the very beginning, do you see yourself as political? And he said, no, but I I wonder if you always have seen yourself as political.

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S8: No, definitely not. I think most athletes would not be considered political, just in a sense of politics. And sports used to be almost taboo stigma because a lot of players knew that their their owners of their team might be a certain. They could be Republican, put it simple, like they could be they could feel the same way as something you’re about to speak out against or sponsorship could feel the same way. And so you always didn’t want to upset the owners or upset the sponsors that may be affiliated with the tea. But as you can see, I think that’s out the window now. My clicking moment was George Floyd, Rihanna, Taylor, Amort, Aubry. That was my moment.

S1: I mean, you talked about how over the summer you were watching protests in Atlanta and they were coming closer and closer to where you live. And you were really honest. You said as the protests got closer, I kind of got a little bit scared. Can you talk about that a little bit?

S8: Yeah. You know, like, I’ve never seen anything like what happened. I don’t think anyone has in a sense of my peers that. So I guess I shouldn’t say that because the first people you call when you’re scared is your parents. So I call my snuck in my daddy and I’m like, hey, like what? Like, what should I do? Should I evacuate? Like, I literally didn’t know, like how to proceed. Because if people will recall, there was a lot of a lot of turmoil in Atlanta, even with, like people going into the buildings and then the National Guard, all of that was happening. So I’m like, should I just evacuate and just leave the premises until things chill out? And my and my parents were just so calm and I was like, no, you’re good. Like you’re fine. Like you wanted to go out there and walk into the street your fun like. And she was just telling me that when people don’t feel that their voices heard, they have to make it felt. And that that pretty much started my education process like I wanted to dive into it. Things that you don’t see on Twitter, things that you don’t see in the interviews. It’s how much I was reading, how much I was studying, how many Netflix is. I can watch educating myself. I drove in just so that when I am speaking on things, I’m speaking from a place of understanding the past because this is nothing’s new.

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S1: Was there a little bit when you talked to your mom of not just you can go outside, but maybe you should you know, she didn’t say that that night, maybe because there was a lot going on just all around.

S8: But it inspired me because that’s I end up throwing a Juneteenth pop a block party down in Centennial Park. For that very reason. I wanted to show love to the people that were peacefully protesting. I brought drinks, I brought food. I brought a whole cookout. Like, I’m like, if y’all are going to be out here marching peacefully, protesting all day, I’m about to feel like that was just my thought process. And even like at that point, I didn’t think nothing of it. But then when I saw the news and I started being called a mob leader and different things of that nature, I’m like, wow, that’s kind of crazy. A mob leader. Yeah. Like, you know, they started saying this was mob mentality, peaceful protests. This like all over the news. They were calling peaceful protests, mobs, mob mentality. I don’t know if you guys saw it. It was all over. But that was the language that was being used for peaceful protesters in the spring. In the summer, peaceful protesters were getting terms used like mob mob mentality. And because after an event, apparently I’m leading the bunch.

S1: It was around this time that Renee made an even bigger decision to take a break from the WNBA and dedicate herself to political action.

S8: I called my coach, talked to her directly, you know, and she she supported me one hundred percent, actually. And I was surprised I’m not going to lie. I was like, oh, for real? She said, like, you know, as a coach, obviously, I wish you would be out there with us this season. But just as a as a human living in America and as a person living in America, you know, I get it. And so for me, that was very empowering because I never want to let people down. And so I told my teammates and let them know. And I told them, like, y’all handle things in the bubble. I got all outside.

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S1: Well, Renee used her time away from the team to expand her foundation. She wanted to increase community involvement in local politics. She raised money for bcuz but pretty quickly, her teammates were looping her into their political action. It all started when Kelly Lefler wrote a public letter to the NBA’s commissioner. She said the Black Lives Matter movement did not align with the league or her team. Then she went on Fox News to defend herself.

S9: And I had to draw the line. I had to speak out for those that disagree with this movement because our country’s too important. And I suggested that we unite behind the American flag because that Renee knew she had to respond.

S1: So she called out her boss on Twitter. Did you ever have that moment? Like, I know that I’ve sent notes to my boss where you, like, regret it a little bit afterwards. You know, like I said, that was my tone. Weird, especially when you’re saying something online. Did you have that with that tweet?

S8: No, I wasn’t. I wasn’t too concerned about that. And also just talking to my mom, I think she was just telling me, you can’t you can’t worry about stuff if you’re doing the right thing. Sometimes the right thing is uncomfortable. And it was uncomfortable, but I felt like I was on I was doing the right thing. Yeah.

S1: Yeah. I’m looking back at what you said now, and you choose your words really carefully. You say, Dear Senator Lefler, I’m pretty sad to see that my team ownership is not supportive of the movement, meaning the Black Lives Matter movement and all that it stands for. And then you say, I would love to have a conversation with you if you’re down. And it is remarkably open.

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S8: Yeah, I wanted to show that, like, I’m not going to come in and be yelling or acting crazy. I wasn’t going to do that. I’m like, if you want to have a conversation, let’s have a conversation, because I think that you’re way off base here. And like I said, now it’s things that played out. And I saw the race that she was running and we all saw it photos with Klansmen and different things of that nature. Then you start to understand, OK, there’s nothing to really talk about here.

S1: Yeah. I mean, did you consider, like, reaching out non publicly and just saying, like, hey, like we know each other? I don’t know. Maybe you’ve been to her house.

S8: I have been to her house and I did I just didn’t tell everybody, you know, like contrary to popular belief, everything doesn’t go on social media. But, yeah, I did reach out non social media. I sent a text. What happened when you did that? I got left. I got left on right. I guess I sent the text and I didn’t get a response. So nothing have the same thing that happened.

S1: All my tweet, nothing happened from their players, from the dream started looking into Lefler Senate race, looking to see whether some of the other candidates represented their values better. They landed on Warnock. Then they started wearing T-shirts to games that read Vote Warnock.

S8: This wasn’t just something that’s like, hey, we’re we’re mad and we’re going to pick him because that’s who’s running against the. Happen like that at all. He was vetted. That’s what people people don’t realize. They think all men, the players just printed out some shirts and it said, vote Warnock. And they were basically trying to get back at the other senator. No, no, no, no, no. That’s not how that’s not how educated people move. And the WNBA is comprised of educated women, most of us graduating from a four year university educated women. No one’s going to do that if you don’t know the person. So Senator Warner was vetted. He was vetted. There was a vetting process before the shirts were printed up. That’s not that’s that’s calculated. This is this is tactical. This is plotting. This is planning. This is organizing. And I’m here for all of that.

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S1: There was this analysis published in The Washington Post back in November, and it really credited the WNBA and all the work that the Dream and others did for shifting the conversation around the Georgia Senate race. Basically, it said that when you and your teammates started speaking up, there was a surge in grassroots interest in Raphael Warnock. I’m wondering if you saw that, given that you were doing sort of social justice work in this moment, were you talking to people and sort of seeing that energy bill, you know, is interesting because.

S8: I didn’t know that until I would say I was two days ago when I found that out in a sense of when people started to crunch the numbers, it’s hard to see something when you’re like in it, when you’re in the middle of it and you’re in it and all your head is down, you’re just working for me. Like you have to give it up to the VA. And it wasn’t just the Atlanta dream that wore the shirts. It was the Phoenix Mercury was the Seattle storm. It was it was this was a group effort. And so to be a part of that group and the just like again, I said it before, but to be on the right side of history, you know, you never while it was happening, some people didn’t know what the right side was. You could tell. And now just looking back at how everything is played out, especially on January six, you can understand like, wow, we really were a part of history.

S1: Renee Montgomery, thank you so much for joining me.

S8: Thank you for having me.

S10: Renee Montgomery is a professional basketball player, most recently with the Atlanta Dream. In the last few weeks, she said she’s open to buying the team if Kelley Lefler is selling. And that’s the show What Next is produced by David Land, Elena Schwartz, Mary Wilson and Daniel Hewitt, Frannie Kelley is giving us a hand to Allison Benedikt and Alicia Montgomery. Make it all go more smoothly. And I’m Mary Harris. Tomorrow. Lizzie O’Leary will be here with what next? TBD. Our Friday show and I will be back next week.