Many profiles of Georgia Representative-elect Nikema Williams remind readers of the gargantuan shoes she has to fill as she takes on the late John Lewis’ seat in Congress. But rarely do they also discuss Williams’ own history of "good trouble," one that led directly to her resounding victory this year.
In November 2018, Williams was arrested for helping to protect protestors from police brutality at the Georgia State Capitol as they demanded every vote be counted in the gubernatorial election between Stacey Abrams and Brian Kemp. Williams has also fought for the right to free and fair elections in her home state of Georgia and beyond.
Before her election to Congress, Williams served in the Georgia State Senate, where she made voting rights a core policy priority. She was also the first Black woman, the second Black person, and the third woman ever to chair Georgia’s Democratic Party. She began her career with the Young Democrats of Georgia and would go on to serve as the Vice President of Public Policy at Planned Parenthood Southeast, as well as the Legislative Coordinator and Regional Public Policy Manager for Planned Parenthood of Georgia.
While much of the 2020 election news out of Georgia centered on the state’s flip to blue — the first time it’s gone Democrat in a presidential election since 1992 — Georgia’s Fifth District, which Williams won handily (83.9% of votes to her opponent’s 16.1%) and which includes most of Atlanta, has already historically voted blue. Even so, her record in the State Senate and wide swath of supporters — from a diverse coalition of voters, to progressive PACs like Moms In Office, to Sen. Bernie Sanders — would’ve likely helped her assume the seat in other districts as well.
That’s exactly why it’s candidates like Williams, longtime advocates for radical change, that represent the dawn of a new era of leaders.
Despite a hectic schedule, Williams joined Refinery29 to discuss post-election reflections, policy, and putting her own foot forward — without forgetting to look back, of course.
You’ve been one of the loudest voices in this country's continued fight for free and fair elections. How do you plan to ensure that Georgia, one of the most critical states in every election cycle, empowers those people who've previously found participating in electoral politics inaccessible?
“Voter disenfranchisement is rampant in Georgia and throughout the country. Republicans are working non-stop to prevent people from voting because they know how powerful a vote is . They can only get away with it if people don’t stand up and demand their votes are counted. On day one in Congress, I will demand the Senate pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act because we’ve seen the dire consequences after the Shelby County v. Holder decision. I will centralize the most marginalized in my decision-making in Congress the same way Congressman Lewis did. I will fight for numerous reforms to our voting process, including same-day voter registration, restoring voting rights to convicted felons, ranked-choice voting, and standardizing our vote-by-mail process.”
Many have said that you have some pretty significant shoes to fill in taking on Rep. John Lewis' seat. What from his legacy do you intend to continue? More importantly, what might you do differently in creating your own legacy?
“No one can ever fill the Honorable John Lewis’ shoes. I’m going to Congress to be Nikema Williams, that’s all that I can be, and to live up to the legacy he left behind. There’s more work to do, there’s different work to do, but Congressman Lewis showed us the way. I am looking to take those lessons he taught me and make sure that I am doing everything I can to make sure I am moving our state and country forward.”
As a mom to a young child, you join a very small group of representatives in the same position. How do you think your personal experience will inform the policies you'll fight for in Congress?
“As a mom with a five-year-old son and a full-time job, I have seen firsthand the disastrous effects of Trump’s incompetence handling the COVID-19 pandemic. My son’s first day of kindergarten was not spent getting on a bus to meet new friends, but sitting at home in front of a computer. That’s why I will trust scientists when we create a new national COVID-19 response and relief programs. I know the shortcomings of our healthcare system; I once chose to not receive medical care after a dangerous car accident because the visit to the emergency room would have been too expensive. I struggled to pay for my mom’s treatment as she battled Stage IV cancer in the final years of her life. Healthcare is a human right, and I support Medicare for All. Every single American, regardless of income, must be able to receive the care they deserve. Medical care shouldn’t make you bankrupt.
“Families in our country are overworked, underpaid, and still forced to choose between paying their bills and paying for the care of a loved one. Affordable, quality childcare is just the beginning of addressing these issues. I will fight to invest in strong federal infrastructure ensuring that quality childcare, paid family and medical leave, and long-term care are a reality for those who need it.”
It seems the focus of many voters in the 2020 election was defeating Donald Trump, but what other crucial things are at stake in the U.S.?
“This was the most consequential election of our lifetime. Trump Republicans were trying to take away Americans’ healthcare with no plan of their own. All across the country, people are seeing the horrors of police brutality. Black people in this country have been the victims of police violence for generations. Voters realize like never before that Black lives matter, and they have the opportunity to reform police power. More than 8,600 Georgians and 243,000 Americans have died of COVID-19. We elected leaders who will trust science and lead us out of the pandemic.”
During your race, you were endorsed by President-elect Joe Biden. What did that mean for you and your campaign and now, for your time in Congress under a Biden administration?
“I am proud to have been endorsed by Vice President Biden. Americans have a ticket with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris dedicated to undoing the unchecked damage of four disastrous years of Trump Republican extremism. Vice President Biden’s endorsement shows I have the support locally and nationally to be the best congresswoman possible for the Fifth Congressional District. I have been a supporter of Vice President Biden for years, and I am excited for eight years of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.”
What do you hope the American people continue to do post-election to remain active participants in this shifting political landscape?
“John Lewis taught us the importance of causing 'good trouble.' Americans, win or lose, should continue causing good trouble. Showing up to every election to vote, the most powerful non-violent weapon we have, must be the first thing people do. Continue to stand up for your rights because there is still a lot of work left to do to make sure every American, no matter their zip code, no matter their race, no matter who they love, can share in the promise of America for all.”