Episode 05: The B-Sides

You’ve heard their hits; now explore the b-sides: As we race into 2021 and count down the days until Georgia’s Senate runoff elections, hosts Marcus Patrick Ellsworth and Holly Anderson revisit vital moments with guests from our earlier episodes, tangents and exchanges we weren’t able to fit into our first four shows but can’t stand to leave behind. You’ll also hear segments from an upcoming featured interview, a conversation we couldn’t wait until next week to share. (Think of it as a clip show, but with all new material!) 

From our team to you and yours, wishes for a peaceful and productive New Year. And remember, the work’s not done. 

Episode guests and references:

Ground Game: Georgia is hosted by Holly Anderson and Marcus Patrick Ellsworth. Follow us at @groundgamepod on Twitter and Instagram, and visit us on the web at www.groundgamepod.com. 

Ground Game: Georgia is a production of unir. 

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EPISODE 5: THE B-SIDES – TRANSCRIPT

(Theme Music)

TIA MITCHELL: This election has become so much more than just about the four candidates and who do Georgians want to represent them in Washington. 

DANIEL BLACKMAN: Our environment matters, and it’s on the ballot on January 5th.

REVEREND WARNOCK: And when you go to the polls on January 5th, you will perform moral surgery on a nation in need of heart repair. 

JON OSSOFF: Georgia has the power to set the tone for the next several decades in this country to demand health and jobs and justice for the people. 

MARCUS ELLSWORTH, HOST: Welcome to Ground Game: Georgia.

HOLLY ANDERSON, HOST: From Atlanta, Georgia, I’m Holly Anderson.

MARCUS: And just across the border in Chattanooga, Tennessee, I’m Marcus Ellsworth. We’ve come to the end of the year and our last installment before the Georgia runoff elections.

HOLLY: A friendly reminder that if you’re in Georgia and didn’t vote early, January 5th – Election Day, is your last day to vote. We’ll be back on January 6, to follow up on the election results and take a look at what’s on the horizon for organizers in Georgia.

MARCUS: Today’s episode is a little different. We’ve collected our favorite pieces of our interviews that didn’t fit into past episodes due to time or thematic constraints.

HOLLY: From meaningful insights into how they view their work, to just solid advice that we can all learn from, we wanted to share with our listeners a few of the gems that were so graciously given to us.

MARCUS: You’ve heard the hits. Now here are the B-Sides.

HOLLY: First up, a little inspiration. Raven Bradfield shared an experience she had in the last days of the November campaign when she was working as a Regional Organizing Director for the Georgia Democratic Party. It had been a grueling few months, and she was exhausted and overwhelmed.

RAVEN BRADFIELD: Yeah, so this actually happened to me 16 days before the election. I was so tired. I said, “I can’t, I’m giving up,” and Ayanna Presley, was invited to one of our calls that day and she is the person that inspires me, she’s not the only person, but she makes me feel courageous because she says things that I thought that we would never be able to say, cuz I recognize that Black people lived in America as second-class citizens from a very young age. And I told my mother, I told both of my parents that this is the work that I would die for and so when she is representing me and saying things that are specific to my community, it really inspires me. It makes me feel like I can be brave in that way, and actually say out loud what I want to do and what I’m fighting for. And it’s her, Cori Bush, Jamaal Bowman, of course, Stacey Abrams, and I think about Shirley Chisholm all the time. She’s just so far ahead of her time, just running as an unapologetically Black candidate. At that time, it seems so brave but I’ve come to realize that when I’m in these mostly white spaces, that is, I’m not sure each of them. But it’s the same thing, that it’s just me showing up as a Black woman, you know, basically, for the first time to these, these white people and saying out loud what it is that I’m really here for, what it is that I want, and I wouldn’t have been able to do that without other people I named and so many others.

MARCUS: We’re working on a future episode to cover the impact of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community on the November election. But due to scheduling conflicts, we could not get it out the door in December. In the meantime, we would be remiss if we didn’t share with you this clip of Tom Bonier, CEO of data analytics firm TargetSmart, explaining the unprecedented and largely unheralded impact that the AAPI community had in Georgia in 2020.

TOM BONIER: Immigrant communities tend to have the lowest turnout and AAPI voters, that’s certainly been the case, AAPI voters nationally have had lowest turnout of any race or ethnic group in federal and state level elections historically. And then something happened, and this election in Georgia was very much the epicenter of this, where we saw just entirely reverse where no group search by more in turnout than AAPI voters.

HOLLY: One of the most interesting facts that Tom shared with us is that more AAPI voters voted early in 2020, then voted in all of 2016.

TOM: A big part of that certainly was just growth in the community but when you’re talking about growth, I think the most recent numbers I’d seen showed about something like 17% growth among AAPI individuals between 2010 and 2017. So you know, high growth, but still in no way explaining a doubling in turnout, as we saw in a lot of these suburban Atlanta county, so that, that was what caught my attention and told me, “well, there’s something happening here, generally in this election,” because turnout surge so much nationally, and in Georgia, that there were a lot of people coming out who hadn’t participated before. In Georgia, 31% of the people who voted in this election didn’t vote in 2016. So a lot of people who had stayed home, 9% of the people who voted, had never voted before, that’s overall, but among AAPI voters, that number went up to 26%. So over more than one fourth of AAPI voters who voted in this election were voting for the first time in their life in an American election, which is amazing. 55% of the AAPI voters who voted in Georgia, and last month’s election, didn’t vote in 2016. That number overall, to say that 31% of Georgians who voted in this election didn’t vote in 2016, you look at that and say, “wow, that’s a lot,” right, that by itself, but then 55% [of] AAPI voters, again, that that’s the sort of thing that you generally don’t see. I’ve been analyzing election data for longer than I’d like to admit. I’ve not seen anything even approaching what we saw and what we experienced with, with the AAPI vote and I, and I’ve had the pleasure since then, in terms of sharing this and talking with some AAPI groups, a lot of them in Georgia and hearing about the organizing. You know it’s clear this wasn’t something that happened by accident, it did happen very much under the radar, but it did not happen by accident, it happened by early investment, it happened by representation, it happened by organizing into communities by using culturally appropriate communication, you know, very sophisticated efforts. And I think a lot that, that organizers in general will be able to learn from these organizers and what they’re able to do in Georgia. It’s inspiring, I think, especially so in the context of this election, when we’ve seen Asian Americans being subject to racist physical violence, racist outbursts from a president who, you know, using racist terms to describe the virus. And then on the other end of that equation, you see representation, you see a vice presidential candidate who has roots in both African American and AAPI communities and seen that representatives, you see in all these things come together. It was inspiring, right, that we’ve had, we’ve had four years of a lot of things to feel a bit downtrodden about so to be able to see this sort of inspiring result in AAPI turnout was a nice sort of full circle moment in a lot of ways.

HOLLY: When we spoke with Robert-John from SONG Power for our first episode, he offered his perspective on the particular framing of abolition work as an organizer, as well as the meaning behind SONG’s motto, “liberation in our lifetime”. The distinction of being an abolitionist versus being an activist is an important one for many organizers. Activists are usually pushing for the reform of a system that they see as broken or harmful. Abolitionists pursue a vision of full reconstruction, where new systems are built to entirely replace the existing oppressive structures and institutions in our society.

ROBERT-JOHN HINOJOSA: Folks ask, “how do you make a living as an activist”, and I said, “well, A: I’m not an activist, I’m an abolitionist,” and that’s very different and abolition already understand that the systems that we’re working in are racist and patriarchal. And we’re trying to fix something that the forefathers didn’t understand and broke or I’m starting this, I already recognize that I’m saying, “let’s rebuild this system” and we can rebuild this system in these ways. But that’s the scary part, because that’s challenging the status quo, that challenges white power structures. So in that space, I try to explain to folks that we’re coming from a different perspective, you’re activating to be part of ,like, your quality movement. Quality is cool, but I want liberation, in liberation, all of us are free. My whole self is free, and liberation, I don’t have to pick and choose what parts of me get to be lifted, all of it, right. And then liberation has more fluidity than your equality and equality is cool, but it’s usually meant to be a very corporate way of how we have our rights, like it’s a corporate way, like Prides are dope and then you see Absolut Vodka and Poppers being advertised everywhere in loops, like those are important things, but is that what’s driving the price, like what’s driving the price? Because that’s not Pride anymore. That’s just a commercial.

MARCUS: Pride itself was born from a riot that sparked further protests, that inspired lobbying, and more uprisings in order to bulldoze a path for the relative improvements to the quality of life for queer folks that we know today. But the movement is far from over. Robert John’s question about what is driving Pride is one many of us queer activists have. I know I do. It’s an answer I’ve pursued through my own career. I served as the president of Chattanooga’s Pride, was a Hamilton County Chair for Tennessee Equality Project and have advocated for LGBTQ equity in Chattanooga for almost two decades. We know the work must continue but our movements must feed our minds, hearts bodies, and the wildest dreams of those who came before us.

ROBERT-JOHN: The work we do, movement work, is hungry work. It is spiritual work. It is work that is necessary because there’s been people who did it before me. There’s people who are meeting up in juke joints and in bars, uh, barns that were meeting up in people’s houses using code. There were people that were throwing down and organizing, and they could sacrifice body and limb. Those are the folks I think about. Those are the folks, those queer folks who had to find very secretive and dangerous ways to connect, love and be magical. That is the work we coming to do. That is why we’re here because we, we, those are part of, those [are] our ancestors, those are part of the people who were with us. You know, back in the day, I’ve lost so many folks in this movement, I’ve lost so many folks to violence, I’ve lost so many folks to disease, I lost so many folks to despair. And we shouldn’t have to lose any more of these folks, none of our people should die. No one should have to die because of isolation, or because of fear, or because of a policy that tells you who you should be. This is why I’m here. This is why we’re doing this work. It’s not only personal, the political is personal, feminist axiom, but it’s real. It’s real. And it’s our lives, right? Like, I can’t turn a blind eye to the injustices that happen. It can’t be that way.

HOLLY: The work of organizations like SONG is inherently intersectional. That means they look at LGBTQ rights, racial justice, reproductive rights, workers rights, and other social issues as inseparable parts of a single goal of justice and equity for everyone. While intersectional organizers may have to focus on particular issues as needed, they’re on a constant journey of education and engagement that includes the interests of all marginalized peoples, not only for the groups they belong to or the communities that make up the primary focus of their organization.

ROBERT-JOHN: Just this is never going to be just us. If I’m here, like what am I doing around reproductive rights as a queer Brown man, like, what am I doing around like agricultural work? What am I doing around gentrification when I didn’t grow up in those areas? What am I doing about poverty, when I haven’t experienced those things, like, if we’re not having those conversations, then we are utilizing our privilege to be exploitative, right? So we’re not using what we have to try to uplift the rest of us. So that’s where that integration and my ideology of around what movement, where it can look like, started. And from there, I just got connected with the founders of SONG. It was six women, three Black women, three white women, lesbian dykes, who were parts of all type of freedom works, who came together and recognized that their queerness didn’t separate them from the movement work. And that’s also what separates us from the right. In the right, you have to be segmented in order to fit. They need conformity for order, their movement, and their ideas to go forward. This idea of just one means that I have to leave all my other pieces separated and in our work, in abolition of work, we want your whole self, we want a holistic movement. I want all your edges and your broken pieces, because that’s who you are. And together, we can try to figure it out. I don’t need you to conform because that’s boring. And I like it a little kinky so let’s, let’s have those edges. Let’s have that broadness, right. So let’s not play those games.

MARCUS: Robert-John told us that sometimes he gets asked what it would look like to have the cultural shift that abolitionists seek. His answer is basically…look around. We’re living through it.

ROBERT-JOHN: People ask me constantly about, you know, about this cultural shift, or liberation in the last time and I’m like, “bro, it’s happening now. You are in a cultural shift.” There was uprisings in the street. The American uprisings happened this summer. And it happened, because people saw the inequities, the injustice of what is happening. So we’re the stewards now to decide how we’re going to carry it. Are we going to let it wither on the vine? Are we going to let it be a raisin in the sun? All right, all right, some quotes, or are we going to push forward? Are we going to lift it and be our ancestors’ wildest dreams? So we have possibilities, and that’s what I want and, you know, liberation in our lifetime is real, and it’s possible and that’s what we’re here to charge to do.

HOLLY: In our conversation with Ian Bridgeforth, he shared an important aspect of the long-term vision for Georgia Shift. He’ll know that the organization he founded has been a success when they’ve worked themselves out of the need to exist at all.

IAN BRIDGEFORTH: So we exist, I think, particularly to provide a independent political home for young people who otherwise wouldn’t be engaged or brought into this process. You know, elections are cool and fun, and that kind of thing. And we, of course, are doing work in a lot of these elections but I think the most thing that gets me more excited is around the accountability and like the leadership development piece around it is, how do we really actually invest in people so that way us even as an institution, like at some point, doesn’t need to exist. And so it’s like, when I started this, I never wanted to be one of those like non-profits that’s like 100, 150 years old. And that’s not saying any shade to them or anything like that but it’s like, I feel like how do we build an infrastructure to where we can essentially, like, we’re giving the power and the resources to them and making sure that they can continue to build on that without assistance from us or without any, like, how do we make sure that, you know, whatever issue that they care about, they have the tools and resources to organize around it and we essentially fade to the background and allow them to fight for issues of you know, public utilities, or whatever else that they’re fighting for. And that’s, to me, why we exist. I think that accountability, and, you know, the social unrest that was happening this summer, and for years beforehand, like, that’s, I think, in a lot of ways, the accountability that needs to happen on a year-round basis.

MARCUS: While speaking with Mina Turabi, the state director of March For Our Lives – Georgia, we touched on the issue of burnout, a very real concern in almost any line of work. But the burnout of organizing can come with the added guilt of feeling like you can’t take a break. Mina pointed out exactly why [trying] to work through a burnout is so terrible, and how folks can help keep themselves and each other from pushing too hard.

MINA TURABI: A burned out activist is not an activist at all. A mentally tired activist is not going to do anything because the problems that we’re working for, you know, we’re working for such vile things to be fixed, we’re working for people getting shot, we’re working against Corona patients going and getting a $3 million bill in the mail, we’re working against such problems. And mentally overall, you have to be okay, you have to be somewhat willing to take on other people’s problems and you can’t do that if you’re tired and…self love, self worth, self, self help is the top three. Because without this, you can’t do anything and it’s going to get to a point, no matter how much of a go-getter you are, no matter how much you’re like, “I’m going to do this,” it’s going to catch up to you. I remember, I’m a full time student, I also have a job and I’m working with March [MFOL] and RISE and all these organizations, and I hadn’t slept for five days, literally no sleep. I was running on Monsters and I was just like, I sat down and I was like, “okay, the next thing I have to do is like I have to write the script, I have to get everything ready. The program’s about to start.” And I fall asleep and I didn’t wake up for like 19 hours, I literally fell asleep sitting on a chair and I woke up and I feel this guilt but a part of me is like I needed that. You know, like, there’s a part of me that if I’m burned out, how am I going to help anybody else? You have to help yourself first.

MARCUS:  When you, when you’re doing this work, you’re part of a community. So what do you do when you see somebody else approaching that burnout?

MINA:  Yeah, so I think that has been the biggest challenge for me because I’m that person that’s like, I know myself, I don’t like when people are telling me that, you know, you’re, you’re tired, go to sleep. I’m not like, I don’t like that, I get really, really angry when people tell me that. So you have to find a way. It can be through just talking to people, you know, checking up on my organizers has been a big part of the runoffs and the general election, my check ins that I have are never like, “did you get this, this, and this done?” It’s about “hey, are you okay? Is your relationship going okay, did you eat today?” And the biggest thing I think I always lead off on all my calls, is do we tend to judge ourselves based on other people? You know, you go on social media, and you’re, like, this person did this, this and this today, and all I did was wake up. Well, you waking up is a little victory. You eating is a victory, you sleeping is a victory. Their victories are not you, you’re not them. It’s a totally different thing. So just checking up, you know, having these conversations, I think, is the main focus.

HOLLY: We asked Tamieka Atkins, Executive Director of ProGeorgia, the same question about burnout, and she shared with us how she stays present and grounded in the lesson she’s learned from her own mentors. 

TAMIEKA ATKINS: You know, I think this is another Audrey Lorde quote about like, caring for ourselves as resistance. I fully believe that. I’ve had the privilege to be mentored and learn from women like Denise Perry, who founded Black Organizing for Leadership and Dignity [BOLD], which had a huge impact on me and my leadership, knows the complete sentence, focus on our outcomes and our strategy. It’s okay to pivot, make mistakes, right? Just not the same ones, but make mistakes. Perfection is the enemy of the good. We do not do this work as individuals, we do this work as community, and frankly, as family. So the minute you start thinking it’s all on you, then that is ego and actually works against what we are trying to accomplish for us and our people.

MARCUS: Malika Redmond, the founder and Executive Director of Women Engaged, will be featured in our very next episode. But there’s an urgency to her message that we thought was very timely and some thoughts she delivered that we all agreed needed to be shared now, before Election Day.

MALIKA REDMOND: For folks who are newly awake to the realities of racial injustice, racial violence against Black people, Black bodies, immigrant bodies, people who are a part of religious minority groups, other kinds, you know, that it’s not okay to then think that, “oh, well, we changed some things, and I’m gonna go,” and that is not okay. It is important for particularly white people who, again, who have gotten this, like, school who have felt for whatever reason, like this cold bucket of water splashed on your face, for the first time, that the work is yours to make sure that your community continues to learn and, and participate in ways that are part of responsible civic engagement in a community. That’s not the job of people of color, and Black people and Black women to do that work at all. It never has been our job, we just, we do what we do to save our own lives and our own families. So some of the criticism I have about, you know, “the Black women are saving all of us.” Yeah, but that is a byproduct of the fact that we see our daughters in mind when we go to the polls, and we are scared to death and we are saying, “we have got to save our children,” we see our sons, and we say, “we’ve got to take care of our children, we will organize for our own self.” (laughs) But what we, but what is important is that everybody else, not sort of, you know, sit on the fact that we will do that, and then relax. In fact, you need to continue to learn what you need to learn about yourself, your own history and the history of this country from a factual place, not from a “what I want to feel” place, but from a factual place and use that as a guide to do the kind of work necessary to make all of our communities better.

HOLLY: And if you need help getting to that finish line, Women Engaged is here for you. If you’re listening to this, and you haven’t been able to vote yet, and you need anything to help you do that, they’ve got you.

MALIKA: For my in-state people, voting is happening now. If you are needing anything, childcare support, ride to the polls, I stamp anything to help you with your voting plan, go to womenengaged.vote, there are buttons on there that says, “Do I need childcare to the polls? Do I need rides to the polls,” click what you need. Let us help support you get to the polls or to know your early voting location or help you figure out getting your absentee ballot if it hasn’t come in the mail yet. They should be arriving most,you know, people are getting them. So if you’re concerned, like, “it hasn’t come yet, I don’t want to, you know, I don’t know what’s happening,” don’t be scared, call us. Go to womenengaged.vote, let us know, we will be in touch with you and we will support you walking through those steps.

MARCUS: Finally, a reminder and one that’s never been more timely. The work’s not done. That doesn’t change on Tuesday.

MALIKA: Have those conversations that, before you thought was okay to, I don’t talk about this at home and we don’t do this. It is time. It is time. It is time. You need to muster up the courage. And if you have family that’s in Georgia and you know you’re going to be on some kind of Zoom or whatever kind of virtual family gathering, yes, remind them, engage them, and engage yourself in the conversations of what this vision, this bold vision is hope that we all want to see and what folks want moving into the new year, what do you want moving into the new year. And so that’s what I would say for our, for our folks listening out there. And thank you for listening out there.

HOLLY: You’re gonna hear a lot more from Malika in our next episode. She was incredibly generous with her time and we covered a lot of ground so tune in to hear more about her work with Women Engaged.

MARCUS: And you can follow us on Twitter and Instagram at groundgamepod as well as check out our website at groundgamepod.com.

HOLLY: The website has subscription links, show notes, transcripts of the episodes.Pretty much anything you need, we got you there. 

MARCUS: And in the meantime, take care of yourselves and be good to each other.

BRYAN GUTIÈRREZ-SHELTON: Our show is produced, written, and hosted by Holly Anderson and Marcus Ellsworth with help from the Ground Game: Georgia volunteer cavalcade, including Ashley Hobbs, Ben Tiernan, and me, Bryan Gutièrrez Shelton. Editing by Douglas Reyes-Ceron and Arlill Rodriguez. Our theme is by the magnificent Jonathan Sanford. The additional music [is] by Blue Dot Sessions. Design by Jasmine Johnson. Nicole Mackie runs our social. Ground Game: Georgia is a production of unir.

HOLLY: Tell your friends.

MARCUS: And your enemies.

HOLLY: Hydrate.

MARCUS: Sleep…hmm, crochet.