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Georgia's Black Churches Are Horrified by Republican Voter Suppression - and Ready to Fight
Written by <a href="index.php?option=com_comprofiler&task=userProfile&user=58946"><span class="small">Carlisa N. Johnson, Guardian UK</span></a>   
Saturday, 03 April 2021 12:51

Johnson writes: "One of the most striking voting restrictions in Georgia's new elections law is a ban on distributing food and drinks to voters waiting in lines to cast a ballot."

Rev. Timothy McDonald III at First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta. 'In the Black church, we deal with the whole Black experience.' (photo: John Bazemore/AP)
Rev. Timothy McDonald III at First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta. 'In the Black church, we deal with the whole Black experience.' (photo: John Bazemore/AP)

ALSO SEE: Trump Might Have 'Found' the Votes He Needed
to Win Georgia Under State's New Election Law

Georgia's Black Churches Are Horrified by Republican Voter Suppression - and Ready to Fight

By Carlisa N. Johnson, Guardian UK

03 April 21

Georgia’s Black faith leaders are urging economic boycotts and community action to fight back against tough new voting laws

ne of the most striking voting restrictions in Georgia’s new elections law is a ban on distributing food and drinks to voters waiting in lines to cast a ballot – even though these waits can, as in the most recent election, stretch for hours.

Georgia’s Black faith community, long crucial in mobilizing Black voters, is galled.

“Offering water to those who thirst is a basic tenet of Christianity, especially as an evangelical,” said Bishop Carl McRae, senior pastor of Exousia Lighthouse International Christian Ministries, just outside Atlanta.

At the heart of the new push to make voting harder in the state are unsubstantiated voter fraud claims by Donald Trump and other Republican officials. “Now we have a solution to a problem that never existed,” said McRae. Black churches such as his are taking a leading role in Georgia as they call for economic boycotts and community action.

“We have to turn our attention back to organizing,” said McRae. “We have to use our grassroots knowledge of our communities to help the world realize what is happening here in Georgia.”

Dubbed “Jim Crow 2.0”, the law passed last week seems intended to stem the voting power of minorities, who powered Joe Biden and two Democratic senators to victory in the state. The law implements several new restrictions, including stricter requirements on the ID needed to vote, which disproportionately impacts minority and low-income voters. And it grants state officials more power over local elections.

Preaching at his pulpit on Sunday, the pastor of the church once led by the Rev Ralph David Abernathy – a collaborator of Martin Luther King – based his criticism of the law in religious precedent.

“Those in positions of power want to silence the people and make sure those people don’t have a voice in their own futures,” said the Rev Ernest Glenn of West Hunter Baptist church in Atlanta. “The Pharisees told Jesus to silence his people. But Jesus came to liberate and empower. The Lord wants his people speaking out about liberty and justice.”

Sallee Arnold, who attended the service, said such political messages from the pulpit were essential. “The churches have to get vocal. They help deliver so much information to the Black community,” she said. “Look at Montgomery [bus boycott] – it was announced on a Sunday from the pulpits.”

Historically, the Black church offered a haven for Black people. Born as an institution in 1787 in Philadelphia when a Black parishioner refused to adhere to segregated worship, the Black church seeks to nurture the mind, body and spirit through education, spirituality, and community organizing.

For much of its history, the Black church’s biblical teachings have hinged on liberation tales. Stories like Moses leading his people out of slavery offer Black Christians a biblical foothold in their fight for equity. Though Black liberation movements have become decentralized in recent years, Black churches still stand as pillars in their communities.

“In the Black church, we deal with the whole Black experience,” said the Rev Timothy McDonald III, pastor of First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta. “The people who sit in these pews are impacted by what happens at the Georgia state legislature, so the role of the Black pastor is to get the information and bring it back to the people.”

Each election cycle, for instance, Black churches organize Souls to the Polls events throughout the state. Like nearly all of the Black church’s community organizing, it evokes the experiences of enslaved Black people, who used Sundays to exercise the limited personal freedom they had. Today events like Souls to the Polls are a way for Black faith communities to communally exercise their democratic power – though Sunday voting has long been attacked by state Republicans, worrying voters and organizers alike.

The state’s Black faith leaders are calling for an economic boycott of Georgia’s largest corporations, including Coca-Cola, Aflac, Delta, UPS and Home Depot. While some, like Delta, released statements following the bill signing and additional remarks later in the week following community criticism, many members of Georgia’s Black faith community say these statements do not do enough to condemn the current legislation.

“They must speak up when our rights, our lives and our very democracy as we know it is under attack,” Bishop Reginald Jackson of Sixth Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal church explained to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Attorney and local civil rights leader Gerald Griggs supports the calls for boycotts. “It disrespects the legacy of this state and the legacy of the civil rights legends who have spent the majority of their lives here fighting for our right to vote,” he said.

“This is a direct response to the disproportionate amount of African American turnout in the November and January election in Georgia, through using the terms voter fraud and voter integrity when there is absolutely no evidence.”

Black voters made up nearly half of Georgia’s total electorate growth from 2000 to 2019, according to the Pew Research Center, and are one-third of its total electorate population. These voters were mobilized by over a decade of grassroots voter engagement by figures like Stacey Abrams, LaTosha Brown and Helen Butler.

On Thursday, the day of the bill’s signing, voting organizers and churches collaborated on a “Souls to the Capitol” protest. Concerned citizens, organizers and church goers alike attended daily “Protect the Vote” protests through the end of Georgia’s legislative session. Now, they look ahead for more ways to mobilize.

“We have marching orders from John Lewis, ‘Get in good trouble,’” said Griggs. “We have organizing framework from Dr Martin Luther King. Here in Georgia, we are ready. It’s going to motivate us like we haven’t been since the 60s … Freedom Summer 2021 is coming back around.” your social media marketing partner