The 9to5 Georgia team has been running full out for months, educating and turning people out for the 2020 November election… and then it continued! On January 5th Georgians made history once again and shattered records for runoff election turnout.
To hear what it was like to be on the ground for this historic effort, we spoke to LaToya Brannen, a 9to5 organizer in Savannah, Georgia who spearheaded local voting efforts.
What was it like getting people election-ready in Georgia?
For months I have been working in my hometown of Savannah talking and activating friends, family, and neighbors around the importance of voting. From dropping off literature on issues and how to register, to helping cure ballots – all during a historic, unprecedented pandemic – we’ve all been working so hard. We’ve been encouraging and motivating people to vote and be civically engaged while also hearing about things like job loss, the impacts of COVID, and missing childcare. People are dealing with some really hard times right now and it was important to connect the very real issues they are facing to why voting matters. It’s a way to put power and influence directly into the hands of everyday people.
What was one of the challenges in getting voter turnout?
There was so much misinformation and we had to dispel myths about voting and the ballot count process. All voting is local and with so much happening in the news and in people’s lives it was so important to emphasize that piece. I talked to a lot of folks who were not every-year voters or who had only participated in presidential elections about how things like medicaid expansion, who the district attorney is, and county officials were all impacted by your vote.
How did you adapt your outreach to meet social distancing guidelines?
We really had to change the way we were approaching voter outreach once COVID hit. We increased our social media presence and had a call and text program to contact folks. We sent over 214,000 texts and made over 1,000 phone calls this election season. We also really focused on working with Black and Latinx community papers and getting on the radio to help amplify the message to get out and vote.
It’s really important to understand that this was about more than just an election. This was about making sure our community was ok and how to make sure folks felt empowered to take action during a time when so much was up in the air. Community food and school supply giveaways were opportunities to both directly help folks with basic needs as well as include some info on voting and civic engagement.
What was it like doing this work in a tense election cycle with national attention on Georgia?
There was a lot of pressure with so many folks focusing on Georgia. I’m from here and this isn’t our first rodeo with community organizing or civic engagement. On January 5th we were still working hard – calling, texting, giving out voter protection kits, items for kids to entertain themselves while waiting, and generally just trying to keep people in line. There was a worry that people from outside the community, city, or state would try to parachute in and try to “save the day” without really taking the time to learn about the community. We worked really closely with other organizations in the state to coordinate efforts and I think all the hard work really paid off with the numbers of people turning out to vote. There are so many amazing organizations doing local work and building grassroots power that really the best thing folks can do to support is to follow the lead of local organizers. We know our community.