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Voting Advocate On Democratic Gains In Georgia

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Following a round-the-clock ballot counting, Joe Biden holds a slim lead in Pennsylvania, where 20 Electoral College votes could clinch his presidential victory. The state of Georgia, with 16 electoral votes, is also too close to call. But the expected recounts could find that this once ruby-red state has flipped in Biden's favor. Change did not come overnight.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHN LEWIS: We must go out and vote like we never, ever voted before.

(CHEERING)

CORNISH: The voice of late Democratic Congressman John Lewis of Georgia. He was at the vanguard of the fight for civil rights and voting rights, and many others have followed him in working to get out the vote. Joining us is Jennifer Epps-Addison, president of the Center for Popular Democracy, which leads a nationwide network of voting advocacy groups.

Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

JENNIFER EPPS-ADDISON: Thank you so much for having me.

CORNISH: Now, people have talked a lot about the idea of reverse migration, maybe more Black voters moving to places in the South. They've talked about just kind of Northerners in general, so to speak, moving to the South and affecting the politics there. From your position, what's made the difference in just the last two years?

EPPS-ADDISON: Well, let's be clear. Black and Indigenous and Latinx and Asian Pacific Islander voters defeated one of the greatest threats to our democracy and civil rights in modern history. And they didn't do it overnight, and they didn't do it just because they, you know, woke up and decided to vote. They did it because of organizations and community organizing groups, like The New Georgia Project in Georgia, like Black Leaders Organizing Communities (ph) in Wisconsin, like Detroit Action in Michigan. You know, the youngest and the Blackest cities in America, ultimately, when this is all said and done, will have delivered the presidency to Joe Biden.

CORNISH: Now, people...

EPPS-ADDISON: And I just think that's an incredible feat.

CORNISH: I want to jump in because people have also looked to the race Stacey Abrams ran in her bid for governor two years ago. After, of course, there was that purge of voter rolls by her Republican rival, Brian Kemp. Governor Kemp, at the time, he was the state's top elections officials. Did developments like that resonate on the ground when you went to kind of organize?

EPPS-ADDISON: Absolutely. You know, these voters faced years of voter suppression through racist voter ID laws. They faced intimidation at the polls, as President Trump told white supremacists like the Proud Boys to stand by. And we watched what that meant as they showed up to polling locations with semiautomatic weapons. And yet these voters were prepared. They had been trained. They had talked to their family and friends. They had worked their neighborhoods, you know, throughout to make sure that not only could we have record turnout and record participation, but at the end of the day, we were prepared to guard those votes and protect our democracy. And that's what you're seeing play out today.

CORNISH: How do you sustain momentum? You know, people are looking at Georgia. They're even looking at Arizona. Do you think you've put these states in play for the long run?

EPPS-ADDISON: I think what we want people to understand is the long run is not winning elections, right? We win elections as a demonstration of our power, but the long run is transforming this country so everyone has the freedom to thrive. So what you're going to see in places like Georgia and Arizona, Wisconsin and Michigan, is not just a continued increase in voter participation, but you're going to see a demand for policies that actually reflect the values of people. We're going to deal with health care. We're going to talk about the fact that millions of people are facing eviction. And I think, most importantly, we're going to really fight for a COVID relief bill that's going to benefit all of our people. That's what this election was about.

CORNISH: But you're clearly not aiming for this to be a one-off kind of thing. You think that this has legs going forward.

EPPS-ADDISON: I think that these community organizations have been on the ground 365 days, and they're going to continue to be on the ground to fight for our people. You're just witnessing the outcome of their incredible work.

CORNISH: That's Jennifer Epps-Addison, president of the Center for Popular Democracy.

Thank you for your time.

EPPS-ADDISON: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.