In the Georgia Senate runoff on January 5, Democrats Jon Ossoff and Reverend Raphael Warnock ousted Trump-supporting incumbents Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue by less than 80,000 votes. Führer calls an “unprecedented ground game” by trade unions.
“Demography is not fate. Demography is opportunity, ”she says. “It is necessary to speak to people on their doorstep to get them to vote.”
“For the past few weeks we’ve spoken to 15,000 people a day,” said Gwen Mills, secretary and treasurer of the 300,000-strong hotel and restaurant workers union. During the six-week runoff campaign, Mills said UNITE HERE! More than 1,000 members knocked on people’s doors in the Atlanta and Columbus areas a total of 1.5 million times.
Overall, the Service Employees International Union, with nearly two million members in the health and public sector, estimates that it and the other unions involved in the acquisition, such as the Georgia Federation of Teachers (GFT) and the Communications Workers of America, made more than 10 million Visits to voters.
“I went door-to-door six days a week,” says UNITE HERE! Member Theresa Cross, an Atlanta hotel worker who was laid off last March.
President-elect Joe Biden’s election campaign largely avoided door-to-door campaigns due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Georgian unions decided it was both necessary and possible for the Senate elections. “We spoke to people from afar,” says GFT President Verdaillia Turner. “We were always aware that COVID-19 was out there.”
“We wore masks on every single door,” says Cross. She and other recruiters carried hand sanitizer, towels, and fresh masks to give to people who opened a door without a door, and stepped from people’s porch when the doorbell rang to keep their distance.
“Most people were ready to speak to us,” she adds.
While Georgia has one of the lowest union density rates in the country – according to the Federal Labor Statistics Office, only 4.1 percent of employees were union members in 2019 – the massive efforts of the unions did not arise from nowhere. Turner said the GFT drew on its successful 2016 campaign to see voters oppose a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would have allowed the governor to take over or shut down schools he believed had failed. UNITE HERE !, says Mills, based on his experience in elections in Nevada, Arizona, and Florida and his ten years of organizing workers at Hartsfield International Airport in Atlanta.
Both unions have also carried out deep acvassing, a strategy that involves talking to voters about their personal experiences and problems before pitching for the candidates. Recruiters should first talk about how the pandemic affected them, Mills says, “cut through much of the noise” and pave the way to discuss how the current administration – including Senators Loeffler and Perdue – mistreated them .
Since more than three quarters of the members of UNITE HERE! Still unemployed after being laid off from the hotel and airport sectors, they had something in common with voters who felt affected by the pandemic and its economic aftermath.
“I’m going to say something reliable about not having a job, and they’re going to agree,” says Cross. The people who concerned her most spoke about her health, such as a woman in her neighborhood who had breast cancer.
“She told me her story first,” recalls Cross. “That impressed me because I am a breast cancer survivor. I understand.”
The GFT recruiters talked about “why we had to balance the Senate for reasons of democracy,” says Turner. When they came across voters who backed Republicans for being strictly against abortion, they told them, “Don’t hang your head on an issue” and talked about it, like the HEROES bill, the COVID-19 aid bill from the House of Representatives and were blocked by the Senate last year, would help them.
But when voters were clearly hostile or unmoved, “We didn’t waste energy, we just moved on,” she adds. “Christ did not save everyone. He just made the way. “
The main issue for voters was the intertwined crises of the pandemic and the economy – or, as Turner sums it up, the ability to make a living “but also to be alive”. The people Cross spoke to were concerned about running out of unemployment benefits, losing health care along with work, being displaced, and the new round of stimulus checks – which Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock advocated – from 600 to 2,000 Raise dollars.
Another problem was access to health care. At least nine rural hospitals in Georgia have closed since 2010, between former Governor Nathan Deal’s refusal to accept Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid and the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Mills, voters also said they did not have access to the internet. Some talked about their children doing their homework in the parking lots in the supermarket because they could use the WiFi there. and racism, as manifested in the tone of the attacks on Warnock and the restriction on early voting in the state.
For UNITE HERE !, however, the campaign was more about finding likely supporters than convincing voters, she says. The union focused on the Atlanta area, where about two-thirds of Local 23’s 3,000 members work in hotels and at the airport, and Columbus, where it represents about 1,000 workers at the Fort Benning Army base.
The GFT was looking for “voters with little inclination,” says Turner. It focused on locations with black and poor voters, including South Atlanta, DeKalb County (Atlanta’s east side and inner suburbs), and the cities of Savannah, Augusta, and Macon, but it was also advertised in Valdosta near the Florida-Georgia line. and Dalton in the northwest, who sent QAnon cult supporter Marjorie Taylor Greene to Congress last November.
About 65 percent of the voters unite here! advertised were black, and 85 percent were black people, says Mills. But that doesn’t mean their voices were a surefire thing. “Demography is not fate. Demography is opportunity, ”she says. “It is necessary to speak to people on their doorstep to get them to vote.”
Seasoned union organizers can add “when a yes is a yes and when not” and take the time to be more involved in the vote.
On election day, she says, an eighty-two-year-old woman told a campaigner that she couldn’t vote because she couldn’t vote. The union used money from its advertising budget to get her a taxi.
In the end, however, the results reflected the urban, rural, and racial divisions. Loeffler and Perdue promoted almost all of the rural counties, with the main exceptions in the largely black southwestern part of the state, and received more than 80 percent of the vote in the strongly white northwest. Warnock and Ossoff won around 70 percent in five counties in the Atlanta area, gaining a lead of more than 600,000 votes.
The two Democrats also won Columbus, Augusta, Macon and Savannah. They received 70 percent of the vote in southwest Dougherty County, where the civil rights movement suffered a heavy defeat in 1962 when it attempted to desegregate the county seat of Albany.
Politics is only part of “building an organization that fights for workers’ rights,” says Mills. Advertising involves the same social skills as organizing, and winning an uphill battle is exciting and encouraging.
“They will bring that experience back to the airport and use it to expand the union,” she says. “In two years the same group of people will be competing in other races.”