When I wrote my article yesterday about voter suppression in Alabama, I was resigned that Yellowhammer State would elect Roy Moore – a racist, misogynistic, pedophile – to the Senate seat formerly held by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. But as I read reports on Twitter about the high turnout, I grew encouraged, and found myself glued to MSNBC all throughout the evening, especially given Nate Cohn of The New York Times’s predictions that the race would go to Doug Jones after votes were counted in the big counties. When he finally won, my roommates and I let out a few well-deserved cheers.
If we’ve learned anything in 2017, it’s this: challenge every seat, no matter how big or small. When Jeff Sessions last ran for Senate in 2014, the Democrats didn’t even nominate an opponent, and he won with 97.3% of the vote. In that election, only about 818,000 people voted. Yesterday, 1,333,406 people cast ballots, making Jones the first Democratic Senator from Alabama since 1992. His 673,236 votes were less than 100,000 shy of Hillary Clinton’s total in the state last year, and he came close to matching her totals in several counties.
For an off-year election in one of the most stereotypically red states, this is tremendous. And it’s all due to one thing: African-American voters. Over the past few weeks, African-Americans got mobilized, and their efforts paid off: African-Americans make up 26% of Alabama’s population; they made up 29% of the total electorate yesterday. According to the Washington Post’s exit polls, black voters preferred Jones over Moore by a ratio of 96-4, and non-whites with a college degree backed Jones, 86-14. And most significant of all: 98% of black women voted for Doug Jones.
Too often, the rhetoric surrounding what Democrats should do next (which, let’s be real, has largely come from white guys) has been to re-focus on winning back the white working class. Doug Jones could have played by this strategy, but instead, he engaged the African-American community, meeting them face to face and telling them why this mattered. “I think that’s the reason we won,” said Jessica Norman, the black woman who ran Jones’s Get Out the Vote drive. Given the lopsidedness of the white vote (68% in favor of Moore), it’s much better that Jones did not listen to the conventional wisdom that’s circulated since 2016.
Alabama resident Blair Liggins said that Jones “did not take [the black vote] for granted,” and it shows in the unbelievable work done to mobilize their vote. Out-of-state visitors like Cory Booker, John Lewis, and Deval Patrick helped, but credit must go to new groups like DeJuana L. Thompson’s Woke Vote, which registers young African-Americans, and The Ordinary People Society, who re-registered thousands of ex-felons who had their rights restored this year. These activists knew that there were many hurdles to overcome in a state with horrific voter suppression, and many stories about it went viral yesterday (although not all of them are true.) This verified story about a woman who was able to vote only because she brought her birth certificate as an extra form of ID should remind everyone that Jones’s count might have been higher if not for these laws. But for those who got into the voting booth, it was a moment of triumph, like this young black woman who voted for the first time:
— Kira Lerner (@kira_lerner) December 12, 2017
Black voters, and black women especially, are the beating heart and soul of the Democratic Party, and don’t ever forget it. It’s hilarious to think that as recently as a few days ago, we had stories about them being “unenthusiastic” about voting for Jones. If they were, they didn’t show it last night, when they saved their state, and the country, from a radical hate-monger. It’s now up to white activists and candidates to recognize this and create a Democratic Party that benefits their labor and recognizes their accomplishments.
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