Stacey Abrams speaks at a press conference.

Stacey Abrams: Bossed & Bought

In 2020, Stacey Abrams, Jon Ossof, and Raphael Warnock led a coordinated campaign to usurp and ultimately neuter massive amounts of radical potential from Atlanta’s grassroots community. Abrams, who’d just unsuccessfully taken on Brian Kemp for Georgia Governor in 2018, became the face of an effort to boost “minority” voter turnout for the 2020 elections, particularly targeting Black voters in the state. The issue of voting rights became synonymous with her name, and in fact with “saving democracy” as the Democrats framed it; Abrams surprise-opened the highly watched Verzuz battle between ATL rappers Gucci Mane and Jeezy to remind the majority Black viewers that this was ‘the most important election of their lives.’ The Democratic super PAC prioritized Georgia for the final quarter of 2020, pumping millions of dollars into local Democrat and Democrat-aligned organizations, and going so far as to send former imperialist president Barack Obama to campaign at a number of events across the state.

A number of capitalist interests converged around the same time (just weeks later), when the respective Senate campaigns of Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff began, and the party could use the grandiose attention and resources garnered by Abrams to further exploit the working class. Like in 2018 when Abrams challenged Republican Brian Kemp, and then again in 2020 during the presidential election, and then again in the months following, workers were told that each election would be more life-and-death than the last. Moreover, the message from capitalist Democrat party was clear: donate to us, give us your time, money, attention, and everything else that you can; ‘this’ is important, ‘we must support our progressive southern candidates’, and so forth.

At the same time, uprisings were more and more commonplace in the streets. Mass protests swept leading up to the presidential election and sustained afterwards, in a climate marked by environmental disaster and revolt against anti-Black state violence. Material conditions had begun a deep dive into the abyss, with mass sickness, hunger, state violence, joblessness, and homelessness sweeping the Blackest parts of the country. The streets were red hot and sloshing with movement, as I’m sure many will remember.

Those three Democratic candidates and each of their overlapping teams — Abrams, Warnock, and Ossoff — tactically, strategically took advantage of this abysmal state of material conditions in order to prey on metro-Atlanta’s grassroots community. With millions of dollars coming from donors across the country, some altruistically convinced they were sending their hard earned dollars somewhere good and others just wanting the tax write off, the Democrats swiftly created hundreds of job positions for individuals in the city and around the state; everything from canvassing and social media, to cold calling and ‘field advocacy.’ Again, all with capitalist Democrat money, they called many of these positions “organizer” positions, effectively convincing so many youth and unseasoned radicals that what they were doing was “the work.” A significant chuck of a whole generation of youth followed the dangling carrot of a paycheck into believing that working on behalf of a capitalist, imperialist, fundamentally racist party equals “community organizing.”

All of these positions were temporary, running from early fall 2020 through the end of the 2020–21 Senate special election in Georgia (January); most of the positions offered (temporary) healthcare and better pay than many places. I know of folks with major health issues and no healthcare, who took a temporary position for the sake of getting medical relief, even if only for a few months. Others really believed in the promise that they were dipping their toes into a legacy of community organizing, ultimately paying the price of being brainwashed by capitalist electoral nonsense in many cases.

This organized strategy had a catastrophic impact on Atlanta’s grassroots community, funded by private capital and Democratic donor dollars, weakening a large portion of would-be activists and organizers at a critical moment. At a time when people were primed for mass revolt, which time would eventually tell as the year progressed, a class of capitalist Democratic politicians used social justice language, a bastardized retelling of Atlanta activism history, and Black entertainer-elites like Killer Mike and T.I. to eclipse whatever radical energy they could. Weaponized against revolutionary sentiments and forces were not just the Atlanta police, National Guard, and capitalist media; we faced an ideological and political assault from the electoral sphere simultaneously. This assault, coded in the language of “voting rights” and “vote or die” rhetoric, would consume copious amounts of time, energy, and effort into the nonreciprocal coffers of capitalist electoral politics. All of this, by the way, in the name of capitalist politicians with useless political platforms not even worthy of our time.

Organizers I’d known to spend years discussing white supremacy and capitalism suddenly shifted to “pragmatically” feeling an electoral duty; others peaced out completely, overridden by the anxiety and grief of watching such a large pool of people be co-opted and defanged before even having a chance to join the fight; some maintained real grassroots organizing — political education, community gardens and co-ops, mutual aid projects, community care work, and many other avenues — but unfortunately us in this group are in the minority; some still don’t understand the weight of their own position within all of this, and operate with kids gloves on, pretending the poetics of it all will allow them to elide a material analysis.

It is only with the blessings of historical analysis, experience, and retrospect that we are able to properly identify and eventually make clear the events which have taken place in the recent years. Moreover, it’s only with the clarity of political education and experience, and the heartbreak which accompanies them, that one is able to say no to certain options; that one is able to act properly within their political principles, having observed before acting.

And this week, as Stacey Abrams was rightfully dragged to hell and back online for sharing her plan to “raise pay for police officers”, all I could think about was how she helped orchestrate a mass campaign to boss and buy Atlanta’s grassroots community. And today, as the U.S. Supreme Court officially strikes down bodily autonomy for birthing people in the country, I tasted a new level of despise for the everyone who said that we had to ‘vote blue no matter who.’ Clearly ‘blue’ is the ocean and we are drowning; and on the other side is red, and we are burning.

But facing forward, straight ahead, beyond the distractions of the imperialist state, lies another option: one that is green, that is Black and African, that is Red and hammered and sickled, and is our last hope for survival. In other words, join an anti-imperialist, Pan-Africanist, mutual aid, political education project, prisoner support network, and/or community care work and get started. Know that we are operating in times which demand our capacities be as transparently communicated as our words. Choose how your community may (or may not) remember you, fear no body but The Most High subhanallah wat’alah, and brace yourselves with vigilance and community.

We face neither East nor West: we face forward.

Kwame Nkrumah

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Musa is a cultural worker, community organizer, and independent researcher. They are a member of the Walter Rodney Foundation, and host of the Groundings podcast.