As a result of the tireless work of hundreds of organizers, Democrats Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock have both won their runoff elections in Georgia, defeating Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, and are headed to the U.S. Senate.
The stakes could not have been higher. Ossoff and Warnock’s wins mean the U.S. Senate will effectively be majority Democratic thanks to Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote. This could affect a great deal of legislation, including policy related to the Affordable Care Act; reproductive rights; and President-Elect Joe Biden’s proposed $775 billion plan for caregivers, which would introduce universal pre-K, boost pay for care workers, and expand jobs in the field. It could also affect further COVID relief bills, and help workers get crucial aid that’s been lacking under the Republican-controlled Senate.
In his victory speech, Warnock honored his mother's journey from the Jim Crow South. "The other day, because this is America, the 82-year-old hands that used to pick somebody else's cotton went to the polls and picked her youngest son to be a United States Senator," Warnock said about his mother, Verlene, who raised 12 children while living in public housing.
Ossoff claimed victory last night, saying, "It is with humility that I thank the people of Georgia for electing me to serve you in the United States Senate. Thank you for the confidence and trust that you have placed in me. ... At this moment of crisis, as COVID-19 continues to ravage our state and our country...let's unite now to beat this virus and rush economic relief."
The race was predictably tight; with many glued to The New York Times’ “Needle” and Steve Kornacki’s analysis on MSNBC all night. Both candidates won by slim margins. It was also ugly at times, with both Loeffler and Perdue calling their opponents “radicals” and “socialists” to scare their supporters, and backing the doomed Republican effort to challenge Joe Biden’s win in Congress. The presidential race played a significant background role during the runoffs, with Trump trying to sow disinformation about both races: In his latest attempt to subvert the results, Trump reportedly called Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger demanding that he “find” the 11,780 votes needed for him to defeat Biden. Democrats, meanwhile, accused the GOP candidates of profiting off the pandemic and helping Trump undermine democracy.
In the end, it was the work of organizations such as Black Voters Matter and its co-founders LaTosha Brown and Cliff Albright that made a difference; Black Voters Matter, the New Georgia Project, and many others turned out a crucial, enthusiastic number of Black voters, who account for 33% of the state’s electorate. The group focused on more than asking for people’s vote, handing out groceries to families around the state and offering free COVID testing during its voter-outreach efforts. Many other organizations large and small helped get out the vote to crucial demographics such as Black women, young people, and immigrant populations.
"With Jon Ossoff’s victory, there is no looking back for Georgia," Nsé Ufot, CEO of the New Georgia Project, said in a statement provided to Refinery29. "Our power will be long-lasting. Years’ worth of organizing in communities has led to this moment, and we will continue to turn out, march, and speak out until we’re on a path to justice, meaningful relief from COVID, healthcare for all, economic equality, and racial justice. We must now rebuild our democracy from the ground up. Today’s insurrection at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., is yet another sign we need deep reforms to our political system. That’s why as they join a new Senate majority, Senators-elect Rev. Warnock and Jon Ossoff have to make voting rights and democracy a top priority."
Warnock is the senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Martin Luther King Jr.’s former congregation. Born and raised in Georgia, he will become the state’s first Black Senator and during his campaign, he talked candidly about race and racism, addressing the ways in which COVID-19 has affected the Black community. During the race, more than 100 religious leaders condemned Loeffler’s criticism of Warnock’s sermons as “radically liberal,” calling it an attack on the Black religious community in Georgia.
Ossoff, who is 33, will be the youngest U.S. Senator currently serving; the average age of a Senator hovers in the 60s. He started his career as an intern for the late Georgia Rep. John Lewis, and now manages an investigative TV-production company.