The Back Porch

Woman of the Year: A Tribute to Stacy Abrams

By: Sheila C. Johnson

This past year, as you likely know, Time magazine picked Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as its Persons of the Year.  I don’t say this from a political perspective whatsoever, but if not for the efforts of one remarkable, dynamic and utterly tireless worker, it’s entirely possible that both President Biden and Vice President Harris would have been afterthoughts for the magazine’s prestigious honor. 

What Stacy Abrams was able to achieve in November of 2020 and in the January 2021 Georgia Senate run-off was the culmination of a years-long effort. The result of her work was not just in her party winning back the Presidency, but having both a Black and a Jewish candidate elected to the U.S. Senate to represent the reddest of states – is nothing short of jaw-dropping. 

Let me explain. 

I run a company that employs people from across the political spectrum, and as such I’m ever cautious to never wear my politics on my sleeve, or impose my beliefs on anyone. What’s more, I’ve voted for candidates from across that same political spectrum, and supported candidates up and down the food chain, from the lowest local level to the highest office in the land.

My admiration for what Ms. Abrams was able to do comes from a place that is not the least bit political. It comes from a place deep within me, a place that has always felt that the world outside my door often uses an entirely different measuring stick when it comes to people who look and sound like Stacy Abrams and myself. 

I’m not talking about the fact that we’re African Americans.  Nor am I talking about the fact that we’re women.  I’m talking about the fact that we’re both those things.  I often feel that people like us – African American women – are constantly being forced to run a hidden race under rules that no one explained to us and with the proverbial piano tied to our backs. 

I find it deeply ironic, that Ms. Abrams did what she did, in an environment rife with talk of voter fraud and the daily drumbeat of specious claims of stolen elections. It’s entirely possible that during her own unsuccessful run for the Georgia Governor’s office in 2018, the attorney general in that state bent over backwards to try to suppress the number of potential votes by people of color.  After all, he was the one whom she was running against.

Protesters march during the Civil Rights Movement

It was almost like the fix was in from the get-go, and those on the political inside were doing whatever they could to keep a political outsider (and a woman, no less) right where, in their mind, she belonged.

Every judicial ruling leading up to that election went against Ms. Abrams.  Literally, every one of them.

Yet after the election – which she lost by just a whisker – she didn’t pout. She didn’t give anything more than a cursory beef over how the attorney general’s rulings played themselves out.  She simply accepted her defeat, rolled up her sleeves, and went back to work. 

Her get-out-the-vote initiative among Georgia voters of color was a grassroots campaign for the ages. There was no crowd too small, no rally too far away, and no weather too inclement.  If she had an opportunity to spread the word of democracy and to talk to her fellow Georgians about the need to vote in the next election, she took it. 

It was exactly the kind of grassroots effort, I suppose, that our founding fathers had in mind when they first dreamed up this remarkable little experiment of ours.  And the two biggest beneficiaries of her efforts turned out to be, ironically, men.

Photo from the Civil Rights Trail Gallery: Photo of the “Meredith March” in Jackson, Mississippi.
James Meredith attempted to walk from Memphis, Tennessee to Jackson encouraging African Americans to register to vote. June 1966

But that didn’t matter to Stacy Abrams.  What mattered was putting democracy into action and using it to change the direction of the country she loved. What mattered was inspiring her fellow Georgians to register and vote, regardless of who and what they planned to vote for.

What’s more, she did all this in 2020, the 100th anniversary of the year us as women first received the constitutional right to vote – which, itself, was the culmination of a hundred years’ worth of blood, sweat and tears by suffragettes the previous century. 

Your own politics aside, I ask: could there have been a more profound way to celebrate the centennial of such an historic achievement? That the person who’d have, arguably, the most profound impact on the outcome of the 2020 election would be, in fact, a woman?

I’m not going to quibble about the choice made by Time’s editors a few months back.  And their selection of President Biden and Vice President Harris was, indeed, worthy of our applause. 

It is my belief, that one day history will look back and remember what Stacy Abrams pulled off as a case study in American democracy. Her perseverance is a textbook example of how one person – one woman – can change the world one voter at a time.

As both an African American and – especially – as a woman, I remain in awe.