Black church leaders in Georgia intensify their suffrage push

Good evening. Tonight we have some news from Georgia courtesy of our colleague Nick Corasaniti reporting on a black religious leaders suffrage project.

In the months leading up to the 2020 election, Bishop Reginald Jackson conducted a comprehensive electoral campaign for the 534 African Methodist Episcopal Churches he oversees in Georgia, conducting registration campaigns, voter education programs and coordinated Sunday voting efforts.

That work seemed to pay off: strong black turnout contributed to the victories of Joe Biden, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in Georgia.

But now, after Georgia Republicans last year passed a sweeping bill containing a host of voting restrictions, Jackson and other black faith leaders across the state fear they must do more to help black Georgians exercise their right to vote.

This week, more than a dozen of these faith leaders are starting Faith Works, an initial $2.6 million project aimed at organizing voting in more than 1,000 Georgia churches.

The venture is a first for black churches in Georgia, leaders say, with a formal fundraising and operations center that will bridge different regions and denominations. Informally, the leaders call themselves “the Faith Avengers”.

The initiative, which will be housed within a 501(c)(4) nonprofit founded by church leaders called Transforming Georgia, will offer small grants to help churches adjust voting processes and promote it on social media to launch campaign, coordinate voting messages from faith leaders, and build partnerships with other voting rights organizations, which are numerous throughout Georgia and have a large national constituency.

“Faith leaders across the state were working to madness to ensure we get out of the vote in 2020,” Jackson said. “We must work doubly hard to break down the barriers that are now being erected for the 2022 election.”

In May’s Georgia primary, turnout surpassed previous milestones and sparked a fresh debate over the implications of the largely untested electoral law. Among other provisions, the law introduced tough new identification requirements for absentee ballots, limited mailboxes and expanded the legislature’s power over elections.

But Jackson and other civil rights activists remain concerned that the primary wasn’t necessarily an accurate test of the law and that the legislation’s provisions could still make voting difficult in their communities.

Her new electoral push builds on a long history of civic activism in black churches, particularly in the fight to protect the right to vote and ensure members exercise that right.

Voting after Sunday services, often known as “souls to the polls,” is a decades-old tradition in black communities across the country, and church leaders in Florida and Virginia began organizing such efforts more formally in 1998.

Rev. Timothy McDonald, a Baptist minister in Atlanta who was one of the original national organizers of Souls to the Polls, said he viewed Georgia’s new election law as a call to arms.

“We’ve been doing this for over 40, almost 50 years, going back to when I was full-time assistant pastor of Dr. King’s church, Ebenezer,” he said, referring to the historic Atlanta church once led by Martin Luther King Jr., where Warnock is now the pastor. “We fought the same battles.”

Much of Faith Works’ initial focus will be on the grant program for churches that could pay for things like fines for Souls to the Elections effort, call logs and phones for phone banking or mailings to members.

Church leaders will also host voter education programs in conjunction with a social media advertising campaign to ensure voters are aware of their rights under state law and how to manage any confusion or challenges arising from the new legislation.

Faith Works leaders have also hosted town hall meetings with key national proxies, attended by hundreds of pastors from across Georgia. On Thursday, more than 350 attended a call to discuss voting rights with Kristen Clarke, the assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s civil rights division. Leaders have also met with South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn, the third-ranking House Democrat, and Cedric Richmond, a former senior Biden aide.

The goal, leaders say, is to leverage the trust and influence of the Black Church in key communities, particularly in rural areas where first-time and infrequent voters can pose a challenge to national groups.

“To be clear, people will trust their pastors,” said Rev. Lee May, a pastor from outside of Atlanta. “They trust their churches and we really want to use that and help get people to vote.”

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Recognition…Ulster County Electoral Board


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