In just 48 hours, 2021 gave us all a stark reminder of the pain and promise of this nation and its people.
By Ben Barge
On Jan. 5, my home state of Georgia made history. Georgians chose to send Rev. Raphael Warnock to Washington, making him Georgia’s first Black U.S. senator, the country’s 11th Black senator ever, and the second Black senator from a former Confederate state since Reconstruction. They also chose to elect Jon Ossoff, Georgia’s first Jewish U.S. senator and the body’s youngest sitting member.
Georgians did what many thought was impossible because grassroots organizers — especially Georgians of color, and most especially Black women — fought tirelessly. They responded to absurd levels of documented voter suppression in 2018 by helping register over 800,000 new voters. And when many of November’s white voters stayed home in January, voters of color showed up.
On Jan. 6, Georgians’ choice became even more important. Months after the U.S. Department of Homeland Security labeled white supremacist groups as “the most persistent and lethal threat” to the country, far-right terrorists stormed the U.S. Capitol in a blatant attempt to stop the legal certification of votes for the presidency. In the chaos, 5 people lost their lives.
The president, the majority of House Republicans and several Republican members of the Senate incited and emboldened the insurrectionists. Congress and their staff were forced to flee.
And in the wake of a poorly coordinated and at times sympathetic Capitol Police response, we saw once again how law enforcement so often props up white supremacy and far-right extremism.
Like Georgia, D.C. has long been my home. As I sat awake in my bed barely 2 miles from the attack, hearing sirens late into the night, I felt in my bones what so many Southerners know: This week wasn’t a surprise. This is America. A country of progress and backlash, Reconstruction and Redemption. It’s a history that rhymes, with many more chapters ahead.
Our NCRP team has family who have lived through armed civil conflict around the globe, and we know that we embrace American exceptionalism at our own peril. After all, America has suffered a far-right coup before.
White supremacists in Wilmington, N.C., responded to the 1898 election of a progressive inter-racial coalition by overthrowing the local government and massacring at least 60 people. That coup was successful. It became one of many brutal, anti-democratic acts of terror that laid the groundwork for Jim Crow to flourish long past the end of slavery and into the current day.
That’s why in moments like these — and there will be more in the days and years ahead — I look home for guidance. Whether our history books acknowledge it or not, the beautiful organizing for justice and liberation in Georgia and across the South has always been there, waiting for the rest of us to wake up, to listen and to join the call with our voices, our bodies and our dollars.
This is all the truer for liberal white men like me, who are tempted to distance ourselves from whiteness as if we’re one of the special ones, rather than recognizing our complicity in the violence.
The oppression so often pioneered and refined in the South, like the resistance to it, always shapes the nation. In NCRP’s joint As the South Grows initiative with Grantmakers for Southern Progress, we pointed out that Southern activists have long known how to overcome regressive policies and unjust rules of the game, despite receiving just 56 cents per person in foundation funding for every $1 invested elsewhere.
So, as we prepare for what comes next, this is a good time to honor the people who have worked for generations to make Georgians’ January choice possible and who will be hard at work long after 2021 ends. Stacey Abrams has a great list to follow.
Here at NCRP, we want to shout out our own nonprofit members based in Georgia fighting daily for a better future:
- Black Voters Matter Capacity Building Institute — Led by long-time NCRP friends LaTosha Brown and Cliff Albright, and headquartered in Atlanta, Black Voters Matter needs little introduction. Black Voters Matter increases the power of marginalized, predominantly Black communities through year-round relational organizing, voter registration, policy advocacy, organizational development, authentic messaging and a deep respect of local infrastructure. Black Voters Matter recognizes that Black women are the MVP’s of systemic change and invests accordingly.
- Blue Institute — For too long, the staff on electoral campaigns have failed to represent the demographics of our communities. The Blue Institute provides trainings, education and advocacy so youth of color across the South can lead and thrive in progressive politics. When campaign staff of color are compensated and trained at the levels they deserve, fights for public office are stronger, wiser and more effective.
- Georgia ACT — Georgia Advancing Communities Together works to ensure that all Georgia families have safe, decent housing in strong, vibrant neighborhoods. As a statewide coalition of nonprofit housing and community development organizations, Georgia ACT combines policy, coalition work and civic engagement to fight for fair, affordable housing for all.
- Georgia Appleseed — The Georgia Appleseed Center for Law & Justice is deeply dedicated to justice for all of Georgia’s children, especially children of color, children with disabilities and children experiencing poverty. They combine pro bono legal expertise and top-notch research with grassroots engagement, policy advocacy and nonpartisan civic engagement. This Swiss Army knife approach enables progress on everything from equitably funded schools and healthier homes to juvenile justice reform and access to the polls.
- Inner-City Muslim Action Network — IMAN Atlanta has its roots in Atlanta’s West End neighborhood, where they’ve organized for years around criminal justice reform, refugee rights, children’s rights, community arts, mental health and holistic wellness, and so much more. IMAN’s relational organizing and advocacy enables them to work alongside marginalized communities in Georgia to upend structural and systemic barriers at the root of injustice.
- Southeast Immigrant Rights Network — With roots in Georgia and North Carolina, SEIRN is an incredible network of grassroots, immigrant-led groups across the rural and urban Southeast. SEIRN promotes collaboration, connection, leadership development, political education and collective action throughout the network. They’re a trusted voice and a much-needed resource to build just and inclusive communities in Georgia and across the South.
- Welcoming America— Headquartered in Decatur, Welcoming America fosters inclusive, welcoming communities for immigrants and refugees in Georgia and across the country. They’re well known for their trainings and regional plans with city and county governments. They also have a savvy understanding of narrative and communication and work closely with other organizing partners in the pro-immigrant movement.
We also want to thank a few local and regional funding efforts that have been in it in Georgia for the long haul:
- Grantmakers for Southern Progress — Based in Atlanta under the leadership of Tamieka Mosley, GSP is a crucial resource for any Southern or national funder who wants to invest accountably and effectively in Southern-led social justice. NCRP has worked closely with GSP since our joint initiative As the South Grows, and they provide an incomparable wealth of connection and expertise.
- Latino Community Fund of Georgia — LCF Georgia is an all-star when it comes to funding, supporting, and advocating for Georgia’s Latino-led and -serving organizations across the state. They raise and move money, build capacity, amplify the collective voice of this powerful network and ensure that the narrative of Georgia’s Latino, Latina and Latinx communities is rich with beauty and complexity. They also co-host Georgia’s Delivering on the Dream Fund, a local funding collaborative for immigrant justice.
- Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation — For decades, the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation has invested in Southern social justice groups in Georgia and across the South, often providing stable, long-term funding before another funder would. Their shrewd investments are combined with a commitment to bring more foundations to the cause and work alongside marginalized communities to determine their strategies.
- Sapelo Foundation — With an abiding belief in a “just Georgia,” the Sapelo Foundation makes grants across the state to protect the environment, build civic power, and create healthy communities. The foundation is also embarking on a mission investing plan to align 100% of its capital with these values.
- Southern Partners Fund — Headquartered in Atlanta, SPF provides grants to social justice organizations in Georgia and across the rural South. Their model is all about building power by sharing power: Grant decisions are made with dynamic input from the grantees themselves. They organize year-round, think long-term and respond quickly to crisis.
- Southern Power Fund — Created in 2020 by 4 Southern pillar organizations, Project South, Alternate Roots, The Highlander Center and Southerners on New Ground, this fund is moving millions to Black, brown, Indigenous and queer leaders and organizers across the South with brilliant plans for change. The fund is also supported by Grantmakers for Southern Progress and Funders for LGBTQ Issues’ fantastic Out in the South initiative.
Last but not least, the rest of the South deserves love too. We owe a debt of gratitude to our amazing nonprofit members throughout the South:
- Alabama: Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice, Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama and the Selma Center for Nonviolence, Truth and Reconciliation.
- Florida: Faith in Florida, Florida Immigrant Coalition and Organize Florida.
- Louisiana: Louisiana Organization for Immigrants and Refugees, National Birth Equity Collaborative, National Guestworker Alliance and New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice.
- Mississippi: HOPE Enterprise Corporation.
- North Carolina: Rural Forward NC and Southern Coalition for Social Justice.
- Tennessee: Stand Up Nashville and Tennessee Justice Center.
- Virginia: Virginia Coalition for Immigrant Rights and Virginia Organizing.
This year will offer us many more choices. Will we honor what’s been sacrificed with words, but move slowly in our actions? Or will we choose that just, more beautiful future faster? For America’s sake, this displaced Southerner prays for the latter.
Ben Barge is NCRP’s field director. He, alongside Research Director Ryan Schlegel, Senior Associate for Movement Research Stephanie Peng, voting rights activist LaTosha Brown and staff of Grantmakers for Southern Progress and the Institute for Southern Studies were instrumental the creation of As the South Grows. The 5-part series exploring the fundraising challenges and other obstacles faced by those organizing in the South, can be found here.