All eyes are on Georgia. Again.

ATLANTA – When Joe Biden started his presidential campaign, he called it “Fight for the soul of the nation. Locals argue that a battle is being waged in Georgia as the rest of the country sees it.

The Democrats now control all of Washington after Biden won Georgia and moved both Senate seats here in January. But Republicans still have all the levers of state government in their hands here, campaigning for a sweeping new electoral law that could tip the political pendulum back in their column in 2022, when nine statewide executive offices and a high-profile Senate race take place on the ballot.

SB 202The bill, signed by GOP Governor Brian Kemp in late March, is either the epitome of voter suppression or the embodiment of electoral integrity – depending on who you ask. Biden condemned the bill as “Jim Crow in the 21st Century,” though the end product didn’t restrict voting as severely as some of them the headline-grabbing early legislative proposals.

The clash around SB 202 puts Georgia back in the national spotlight after a turbulent year: Ahmaud Arbery, a black man, was killed by white guards. Rayshard Brooks, another black man, was shot dead by the police. Former President Donald Trump pressured local election officials to pick up his loss here. Then there was the March massacre of Asian Americans and, less than two weeks ago, the arrest of a black state legislature who protested the new law under the gold dome of the Georgian capital.

The struggle for the future of the elections in Georgia – and, as some say, the soul of the nation – plays out on multiple fronts and materializes not only as a political struggle, but also as a legal battle, a legislative battle, and a moral battle. And now, as companies from Coke to Delta condemn the law, and Republicans threaten retaliation by zapping their tax breaksIt has also become a corporate battle.

The sports world became involved on Friday when Major League Baseball pulled its all-star game and draft out of the state. But not everyone, including Democratic Senator Jon Ossoff, agrees that boycotts are the answer.

What is happening here is being duplicated across the country – Georgia is one of the 47 states where the legislature, according to a from the Brennan Center for Justice – and elected officials and voters across the country are paying attention to it.

“We are again the test of what is happening and where this is going,” said Khadijah Abdur-Rahman, a Democratic commissioner for Fulton County.

“Crazy, angry as hell”

Abdur-Rahman represents the largest district in the county. Their voters range from the working class to single parents and people in need of affordable housing support to upper-middle-class black families. It’s a heavily Democratic district, but Republicans make up about 15 percent of it, including a dash of black Republicans who the Commissioner believes think the law is unnecessary.

One Sunday afternoon, Abdur-Rahman was sitting in her office in downtown Atlanta speaking to a reporter. A pair of purple boxing gloves hung on the cloakroom, a reminder to Abdur-Rahman of never having to stop fighting for their constituents.

The day before, she implemented this principle and gathered outside City Hall, where the top row of steps was barricaded by Atlanta police.

Dozens of people were in attendance, wearing face masks and signs reading “Jim Crow 2.0” and “Stop Voter Suppression,” a mix of white, black and brown protesters. There were young adults and those with silver hair, including an elderly white woman in a wheelchair holding a long placard with the number of republican states on it Senators (34) and representatives (100) who “voted for white supremacy and fascism”.

A DJ started a business while a seemingly endless list of speakers let go for over two hours.

It was a rally, yes, but it also felt like a combination of church, protest and concert. The protesters sang, “You are about to lose your job,” a clear message to Kemp, who is eligible for re-election next year.

Abdur-Rahman took the stage in the first minutes of the rally.

“I can go to the ATM after hours and use my card, but I have to vote between banking hours?” she screamed into the microphone. “It doesn’t make sense. So I tell you,” I’m crazy, I’m fucking mad and we’re getting together! “

“It’s all about making Republicans look bad”

At a barbeque in northeast Atlanta, two elderly white men sat at a table talking about Covid-19, China, and the Democrats’ sweeping electoral reform law. People would vote illegally 20 times if the requirements for the voter card were not met, said one of the men, as his companion nodded in agreement.

But when a reporter approached, their conversation ended abruptly and they left the restaurant.

Across the country, Republican views on the vote have changed dramatically. A Pew Research Center survey 2018 Forty-eight percent of Republicans said everything should be done to facilitate the voting. But a new poll from the Pew Research Center The study published last week found that only 28 percent of Republicans thought so. And more than 6 in 10 Republicans also said changing the electoral rules to make it easier to register and vote would compromise the security of the elections.

Republicans here say the integrity of the elections is a primary concern of their constituents in Georgia.

“My constituents wanted it. They did. I hope it helps. Thank you, ”Republican Mike Cheokas stuttered before hanging up the phone.

Others argue that Democrats are stirring the pot to rally their own voters and score political points.

“Nobody stops black people [from voting]. Nobody stops black churches [from doing Souls to the Polls events]”Kathleen Thorman, chairwoman of the Gordon County Republican Party, told POLITICO.

“Everyone wants everyone who is a registered voter to vote, that’s a legal voter,” she said. “This attack has no value. It is ridiculous. It’s all about making Republicans look bad. “

We didn’t get everything we wanted. “

Democrats who weren’t in the trenches here wrote off Georgia a long time ago. They didn’t see the state as somewhere within striking distance of them. But after the Democrats swept the presidential election and two runoff elections in the Senate, the state has become the center of the political universe in the United States.

“This is who Georgia is and we will keep moving forward and taking the rest of the country with us,” said Rep. Nikema Williams (D-Ga.), Who represents the late John Lewis’s district in Congress and became the first black woman to elected to lead the Democratic Party in 2019.

But now is the Georgia Democrats’ biggest crusade against SB 202, which, among other things, shortens the time frame in which voters can request postal votes, require an ID number or photocopy of ID to request and return ballots, which shortens the runoff period ( who later shortened the early voting window) – and forbids everyone except the election workers to distribute water to the voters waiting in line. The bill, dubbed the “Electoral Integrity Act of 2021,” would also give Republican-controlled lawmakers more authority over the State Election Board.

Kemp quickly signed the bill behind closed doors on March 25, flanked by six white men posing next to one Portrait of a slave plantation. This picture did not go unnoticed.

“It is certainly a symbol of what he has done in trying to bring us back to that time on the plantation by signing this legislation,” Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) Said in an interview. “This is representative of the old south. The new south was represented on November 3rd and January 5th when we elected President Biden in Georgia and two senators from the United States. … The New South will not be defeated.”

Tensions were further inflamed when Democratic MP Park Cannon, a black woman, was arrested by white police officers after knocking on Kemp’s door while signing.

The entire episode continues to fuel black women across the state who have been key organizers for years. In interviews here, black women argue that Republicans supported SB 202 because the younger, increasingly diverse demographic makeup of the state threatens their takeover. But instead of changing Republican Party’s policies to attract a diverse coalition of voters, Republicans simply changed the rules under the guise of electoral integrity.

At the rally in front of City Hall, Karli Swift, a black woman with pigtails, glasses and a gray shirt adorned with Stacey Abrams’ face, held up a poster with a message in big, bold, black letters: “F * ck around & find out – GA Black women “, it said in capital letters. A photo of her poster later went viral.

A few days later, Swift, a corporate attorney who had worked on democratic campaigns in the past, was speaking at a table in a members-only club.

“I was crazy, tired,” recalled Swift. “It’s a feeling that I think many Georgians have. Not even just Georgians.”

The Republicans in Georgia, she said, “passed a law that is terrible. Ultimately, it won’t help them get more voters, and then they lit a fire among Democrats in Georgia. It’s like a lottery ticket -Situation. I don’t know what you were thinking. “

You are unable to go to the vote. “

For their part, Republicans insist that the previous system was ripe for fraud and complain that the new law does not go far enough. (Election officials have said there is no evidence that fraud occurred in the President’s race or in the Senate runoff elections.)

“We didn’t get everything we wanted, but it’s a really good start,” Jason Thompson, a Republican national committee man from Georgia, said in an interview. “Trust in our electoral system in Georgia was really at an all-time low.”

Kerry Luedke, leader of the Cherokee County Republican Party, wrote in an email that her party intends to send thank you letters to lawmakers who supported the bill, as well as a rally and social media campaign to “get the facts” of legislation. “

“If I were someone who lives in the black community, I would be so offended that people basically tell me that I am unable to go to the vote and that I am unable to get an ID to get to the vote. ” I’d be so offended, ”said Thorman, Gordon County’s GOP chairman.

“[Democrats are] say, “You are not smart enough, you are not sharp enough, you are unable to get to the vote,” added Thorman.

Electoral laws have enlivened voters on both sides of the aisle, albeit for very different reasons. Democrats praise Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s Republican foreign minister, for standing up to Trump’s attempts to overcome his election loss – but say he has since given in to members of his party. On the other hand, he has fallen deeply out of favor with conservatives.

“There’s no way the hell I’ll ever vote for him again,” said Pamela Reardon, Metro Atlanta co-founder and vice president of Republicans. About the Republican Geoff Duncan, she added: “I want to say,” Duncan’s done. “He’s the lieutenant governor. He’s done.”

Democracy is good for business’

It is unclear what legal action, if any, the Biden government will take. Biden has said that protecting voting rights was something the Justice Department was looking into.

When the White House pressed for more information, it referred questions to the DOJ. “We know the law, but [have] No further comment, ”a DOJ spokesman told POLITICO.

Meanwhile, Democrats and constituencies have filed at least three separate lawsuits in federal court, and Congressional Democrats vow to continue pushing for law to be passed to expand access to voting and tackle hate crimes. However, it is not clear how the legal battle will play out in court. And Congress is unlikely to pass a comprehensive voting bill without Senate Democrats first getting the filibuster to pass bills by simple majority.

Voting advocates say they will educate voters about the new law and help them get valid ID in case they are forced to abide by the new Republican rules in the medium term – if Kemp, Duncan, Raffensperger and the Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock doing all of this will be on the ballot. At the same time, activists are pressuring state-headquartered companies to stand up against SB 202.

Cliff Albright, co-founder of Black Voters Matter, had a strong message for business: “Democracy is good for business. Voter suppression is not. “

Republicans are threatening to pull tax credits from companies that oppose the new law. But some large corporations are doing just that. In a memo to employees last week, Delta CEO Ed Bastian wrote, “The final bill is unacceptable and not in line with Delta’s values.” Alfredo River, president of Coca-Cola’s North America Operating Unit, in a statement issued by the company, pledged to “continue to work to promote voting and access in Georgia and across the country” and recognized the company’s “responsibility to protect” and “promote” the right to vote.

Some activists are pushing for a boycott of the state that has been transformed by the entertainment industry in recent years. But others, from Ossoff to Film mogul Tyler Perryinsist that a boycott will only harm Georgians. On Wednesday, Abrams, the former State House minority leader and 2018 gubernatorial candidate who is almost certainly aiming for a rematch with Kemp next year, posted a videoand asking outsiders not to boycott the state.

“Black, Latino, AAPI and Native American voters, whose votes are most suppressed under SB 202, are also most likely to be hit by potential boycotts in Georgia,” she said on the video. “Please don’t boycott us for our friends across the country.”

And on Friday after the news came that the baseball commissioner got the All-Star game out of Georgia, Abrams tweeted, “Disappointed @MLB will postpone the All-Star game but takes pride in their stance on voting rights. “

“We are incredibly exhausted”

State Senator Sheikh Rahman, a Democrat and immigrant from Bangladesh, represents the most diverse district in the Senate. His tenure represented many innovations, including the first Asian-American Senator, the first Senator for Immigrants, and the first Muslim legislature in the state.

Rahman said Republicans are afraid of people like him. SB 202, he predicted, would “backfire” because Asiatic-American and Pacific Islander voters “will not stay on the sidelines”.

On the last weekend of March, on a cool, gloomy day, local and federal lawmakers – Representatives Judy Chu (D-Calif.), Grace Meng (DN.Y.), Mark Takano (D-Calif.), Al Green (D- Texas) and Andy Kim (DN.J.) of the Asia Pacific Caucus of Congress, as well as local representatives Carolyn Bourdeaux (D-Ga.) And Williams – took a bus trip that mirrored the alleged shooter’s 27-mile trail . A white man attacked three Asian American spas. The suspect killed eight people, including six Asian women. Local law enforcement agencies did not label the rampage as a hate crime.

Elected officials laid fresh flowers in front of the Gold Spa and Aromatherapy Spa, which face each other in Atlanta. The entrance to the Gold Spa was overwhelmed with withered flowers. Damp signs read “Hate is a virus” and “Stop Asian hatred”.

“For those of us who live in Georgia, we were in the spotlight last year and we are incredibly exhausted,” Democrat Bee Nguyen told POLITICO.

“But all the things that happen – the voter suppression law, this shooting and the way they tried to censor the perpetrator and dehumanize the victims, the arrest of Rep. Park Cannon,” said Nguyen, “we will remember.” these things.”

“We will use our strength to bring about change,” she continued. “And that change includes going to the ballot box.”

A similar message penetrated Warnock’s virtual sermon last Sunday. The new senator, who still holds his position as senior pastor of the famous Ebenezer Baptist Church, stood in the empty sanctuary preaching about a “governor” in the Bible who was faced with a decision but did not listen to a woman make the choice .

He never mentioned Kemp’s name, but as he spoke, a photo of the governor signing SB 202 and a video of Cannon’s arrest flashed across the screen.

Warnock told parishioners that he spoke about politics on a Sunday morning “because your voice is your voice” and “Democracy is the political implementation of a spiritual idea that we are all children of the living God.”

Voter suppression “is not just a political problem,” said Warnock. “This is a spiritual problem. This is a moral question.”

Zach Montellaro reported from Washington. Josh Gerstein and Sam Mintz contributed to this report.

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