Hope Springs from Field PAC started canvassing in the Black Belt of Georgia on June 12th, 2021, with a special emphasis on helping voters without the newly required photo IDs to obtain them. When investigating the kinds of IDs that a voter could use, our intrepid organizers from Albany State University saw this, “An ID card can be issued at any county registrar’s office.” For voters without a photo ID, this seemed like an obvious place to go get one. Driver Services offices were notoriously crowded (at least in the Black Belt), everyone knows stories of rude or even offensive employees, and no one thought it a good idea to put voters who didn’t already have the necessary identification through that. In fact, these kids believed that the biggest reason people in the African-American community wouldn’t have the proper ID was the embarrassment factor. Paperwork is also an issue, we’ve learned as we started finding voters who need to obtain ID. Interestingly, a recent episode of Unprisoned speaks to that struggle.
The Georgia Voter ID card became a special emphasis over the last election cycle and we married our canvassing with our work with Black Churches in the state around it. Hope Springs from Field worked with the Elections Committees and other folks in 863 Black Congregations in Georgia, primarily in two main roles: first, matching their membership lists with the voter file and, secondly, working with them to schedule special days at their local Registrar’s office to get voters who did not have photo ID cards in 21 counties in southern Georgia.
In that cause, we did 56 Voter ID days from June 12th, 2021 to October 2022 and helped 18,478 voters get the photo ID cards they needed to vote. For the most part, we knew who these voters were, especially those who were mobilized through the Black Churches. But even though 18,478 voters got their photo IDs according to the Registrar’s offices in 21 counties, we came away with a list of 13,168 names that we could match to voter history after the November 2022 election. These were the names the church organizer or Hope organizer had collected but we had included providing information for became known as “Albany Days” to voters as we canvassed and assume that a large number of the difference were either people who came because of our canvassing efforts or simply did not wish to provide their name.
The offer of a free photo ID that would qualify voters to vote (in person or to request an absentee ballot) was used prominently to defend the legislation in court by Republicans. We anticipated resistance to our efforts to qualify mostly African-American Georgians to vote but, despite the fact that Registrar’s offices were not all adequately supplied, they made dramatic improvements as we continued these Voter ID (or Albany) Days (in areas where Albany State organizers lead the efforts, they were typically called Albany Days). Our numbers of participants increased as well so it says something that no voter who qualified was denied a photo ID the last 8 Albany Days.
The prospect of intimidation was a big fear when we asked people why they didn’t have the (now) required photo identification. But every Registrar’s Office we went to had Black employees and every office was eager to help voters get what was needed. It was simply a question of stock and (possibly) confidence that we could bring in the numbers of voters we advised them we would be bringing. And we found that by warning both the local Registrar’s Office and the Secretary of State’s Office of these scheduled Albany Days in advance that the Registrar’s Office were better prepared as we went along. The Secretary of State’s office just seemed to need proof that they Registrar’s Offices would need the photo card stock — our first attempt saw a lot more voters turned away than received their photo IDs on the first attempt in 2021.
Not that there weren’t hick-ups. One day, a (white) voter who was at the Registrar’s Office when the bus first arrived wondered loudly why there were so many African-Americans there (in a less respectful term) but left when an organizer pulled out an Incident Report form and asked the man his name. On another day, we were greeted by 4 Republicans who claimed they were there to observe the proceedings. You guessed it, more Incident Reports were filled out with lots of witnesses (too many to mention) and the group left after an hour of observing without causing much more trouble. One of them asked us what we would be doing with the paper (Incident Report) we had filled out and we explained to him the purpose (an Incident database that would guide our Election Protection efforts). At another office, we were forewarned that they had been called about the next time we scheduled an “Albany Day” but they said they declined to give out the information.
Hope Springs from Field PAC is knocking on doors in a grassroots-led effort to increase awareness of the fact that Democrats care about our voters and are working to protect their rights. We are thinking about how to mitigate Voter Suppression efforts, get around them and make sure we have "super compliance," both informing and helping our voters meet the requirements and get out and vote. We are taking those efforts to the doors of the communities most effected (the intended targets or victims) of these new voter suppression laws.
Obviously, we rely on grassroots support, so if you support field/grassroots organizing and our efforts to protect our voters, we would certainly appreciate your support:
Hope Springs from Field PAC was started by former Obama Field Organizers because field was the cornerstone of our success. The approach we adopted was focused on listening, on connecting voters and their story to the candidate and our cause. Repeated face to face interactions are critical. And we are among those who believe that Democrats didn’t do as well in the 2020 Congressional races as expected because we didn’t knock on doors. We are returning to the old school basics: repeated contacts, repeated efforts to remind them of protocols, meeting them were they are. Mentoring those who need it (like first time and newly registered voters). Reminding, reminding, reminding, and then chasing down those voters whose ballots need to be cured.
About a third of the people who have participated in these Voter ID efforts were found at their door. Most were found by the repeated efforts at Black Churches who we have helped (mostly by matching their membership lists with the Voter file so they would know who among them were unregistered). And every county was different; some where primarily organized by Hope Springs from Field PAC volunteers while others were predominantly organized by clergy. In two counties, our participation after the initial recruitment and organization was limited to bringing out Incident Report forms and answering questions about our Voter Protection Project in the fall. It didn’t matter to use who got the credit so long as the work was getting done.
But everywhere we canvassed, we informed voters of the new voter laws and requirements, making sure they were aware of the promise that these photo ID cards would be available at the registrar’s office. We continued to find dozens of voters who admit they didn’t have the needed ID. Members of the Divine Nine sororities in the county were also central to this effort to build up support to help make it easy for those without the required ID to feel comfortable in getting them. “We’re asking for them. They don’t need to ask for themselves. They just need to get in line.”
As our lists grew, we made sure that the employees from the Registrar’s office were kept abreast of developments. In the end, this guaranteed that enough card stock was available to make the photo IDs. And they accepted that our purpose was not to pressure them, but to pressure the Secretary of State’s office and the legislative promise that these free Voter cards would be available, as was promised. None of these counties’ Registrars offices had the resources to provide the free photo ID without the help of the state (which had mandated them).
I want to reiterate that this action is a result of the thinking about the consequences of the new Georgia elections law by students at the Historically Black College and University Albany State University. They thought of this test and put the troops on the ground in these counties. Our canvassing in Georgia is an outgrowth of these volunteers, who seem extraordinarily committed to keeping Rev Warnock in the U.S. Senate. And these (mostly female) African-American women were just amazing at getting people to knock on doors in their Black Belt counties. But they keep asking, can we do more? Those who will be returning to Albany State in the fall are expecting to do more!
Of the 13,168 recognized voters who got their Voter IDs through this coordinated effort, 7,582 cast a legal ballot last November and 5,949 cast a ballot that counted in the December Runoff. This represents a 57.58% turnout of these voters who otherwise would not have been able to vote in November (Georgia averaged 56.9% turnout in the general election) and 45.18% in the Runoff (Georgia averaged 50.5% turnout in December). So slightly better than average in November and slightly worse in December.
Let’s be honest. A small, grassroots political action committee focused exclusively on voter contact effects the margins. But in Pennsylvania, Arizona, Nevada and Georgia, those margins mattered. Field matters. Deep (iow, Early) Organizing matters. And, not to put too fine a point on it, Black and Brown voters Matter. Voter contact works. But organized and continual Voter Protection efforts work as well.
We continue because we see how our voter contact drives support and turnout. But there is still work to be done. 2023 means we start over, and we will soon be back to Georgia. But, now that the gubernatorial election is over, we will be focusing more outside Atlanta.
We built a culture for success in southern Georgia and we will see if it works away from the Black Belt. Last spring, when our Georgian Super Volunteers went up to North Carolina (Hope Springs volunteers and organizers traded GOTV support for their primaries), one of them put together a playlist to listen to on their trip. One song became a benediction for canvassers in Georgia. “Until Justice is Real” started to have real meaning for those Georgians. In one of my visits to southern Georgia this year, i witnessed how a spark became a fire.
At the end of training, canvass volunteers would gather in a circle and hold hands in the parking lot. And, seemingly spontaneously, one volunteer would say, “What is democracy?”
A second voice followed, “What is the deal?”
Another one would follow, “What would it look like?”
And another, “How would it feel?” And another voice, “Putting your shoulder to the wheel.”
Then, what seemed like a long pause to me, a sixth voice said, “And staying with it until justice.” And the final voice concluded, “Until justice is real.”
I admit that i found this spoken version more moving than the song itself, but it said something about why these primarily African-American volunteers (and overwhelmingly HBCU-educated organizers) continue to canvass week end and week out. They aren’t getting paid (no one is, so far), they only want the lit, the tools (like VAN) and the guidance to talk to other Georgians about the task at hand.
What i didn’t know at the time was that this chorus had a specific meaning. The person who started it off had been the volunteer who had the highest number of doors knocked the weekend before. The person who ended it was the volunteer who had talked to the most voters. The top 3 door knockers and top 4 conversants were the 7 voices. This “benediction circle” was something some of Albany organizers liked to nurture their community of activists.
But this is what grassroots action does. This is what grassroots activism looks like. Tilt the playing field. Prepare the (electoral) battlefield. “Until justice is real.”
We can all do more. Of course, the easiest thing that any of us can do is to contribute. We realize not everyone can, just as not everyone has the patience, knowledge and skillset to walk people through the process of obtaining a photo id. But if you support our grassroots efforts to protect the vote, especially in minority communities, I hope you will.
If you are able to support our efforts to protect Democratic voters, especially in minority communities, expand the electorate, and believe in grassroots efforts to increase voter participation and election protection, please donate:
Thank you for your support! This work depends on you!