Alan Price: Good evening. That was a good, warm welcome. [laughter] I'm Alan Price, Director of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. And on behalf of all my Library and Foundation colleagues, I thank you for braving the cold weather and coming out this evening.
Our Forum series is incredible. Our speakers are incredible, all of them. And yet, I can tell from the room, there's a special buzz tonight. And so, thank you for letting that out and making it public.
I'd like to thank and acknowledge the generous support of our underwriters of the Kennedy Library Forums: lead sponsors Bank of America and the Lowell Institute; and our media sponsors, the Boston Globe, Xfinity, and WBUR.
I'd also like to welcome all of you who are watching tonight's program online.
Thank you in advance for – please, please, please – silence your cell phones.
And now I'll be delighted to introduce tonight's speakers.
Stacey Abrams is a New York Times bestselling author, entrepreneur, nonprofit CEO and political leader. After serving for 11 years in the Georgia House of Representatives, including seven as minority leader, in 2018, Abrams became the Democratic nominee for governor of Georgia, and the first black woman to become the gubernatorial nominee for a major party in the United States. [cheers/applause] Although she lost that election, she did win more votes than any other Democrat in the state's history. [cheers/applause] Subsequently, she launched Fair Fight to ensure every Georgian has a voice in our election system. Over the course of her career, Abrams has founded multiple organizations devoted to voting rights, training and hiring young people of color, and tackling social issues at both the state and national levels.
She has received many honors and awards during her career, but I'm particularly proud to say that she was a 2012 recipient of the John F. Kennedy New Frontier Award. [applause]
I'm also pleased to introduce our moderator for this evening. Jonathan Capehart is an opinion writer for the Washington Post [applause], focusing on the intersection of social and cultural issues and politics. A member of the Post's editorial board, he also hosts the Cape Up podcast. He is an MSNBC contributor who regularly serves as a substitute anchor. He was deputy editorial page editor of the New York Daily News from 2002 to 2004, and served on that paper's editorial board from 1993 to 2000. In 1999, his 16-month editorial campaign to save the famed Apollo Theatre in Harlem earned him and the board the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. [applause]
Capehart left the Daily News in July of 2000 to become the national affairs columnist at Bloomberg News, and took a leave from this position in February of 2001 to serve as a policy advisor to Michael Bloomberg in his first successful campaign for New York City mayor.
Please join me in welcoming our special guests. [applause]
Jonathan Capehart: Well, thank you very much. Thank you very much, Director Price. Stacey Abrams, nice to see you again. We've done this once before.
Stacey Abrams: We have.
Jonathan Capehart: When you came on my podcast. It's called Cape Up. And this is the closest I'm going to get to the Cape where they can hear my voice. I wanted Capecast, and it was taken. [laughter] So I'm just saying, putting it out there.
So, what's been going on?
Stacey Abrams: Eh, you know. [laughter] I've had some time on my hands. [laughter]
Jonathan Capehart: In all seriousness, when I got on the plane today, sat down, buckled my buckle and the news was coming over on my texts, saw it on Twitter that Senator Kamala Harris dropped out of the race for President. Your reaction.
Stacey Abrams: I think, number one, we owe her a debt of gratitude for mounting such a vigorous campaign. I think there is– there are a lot of lessons to be learned from not only the campaign, but the reaction to it. It's hard to run for office under the best of circumstances. And as my experience has shown, and I think Kamala's even more so, wanting someone to be the person doesn't just happen through wishes. It requires deep investment. And the suspension of disbelief that often has to accompany supporting women of color, particularly black women, is just a difficult hurdle.
In my primary in 2018, we faced some of the most difficult times raising money from people who knew us and believed in us, but who often refused to invest because they just didn't believe a black woman could become a governor of Georgia. In fact, friends – well, former friends [laughter]; some of them former, some of them were revived [laughter] – there were people who would tell me, "I think you're the most capable. You certainly have the most experience. But you're a black woman." And they would whisper it to me like it was a terminal illness. I'm like, "I know." [laughter]
And I think mine was a microcosm experience of, I think, part of what Kamala faced, which is that the strongest enthusiasm and the greatest sentiment is not a substitute for investment. And we have to reach a place where either the investment doesn't have to be driven by narratives that are outside of our control, or where we level the playing field so that candidates can run and win based on their capacity and not on the vicissitudes of a system that doesn't always recognize their value.
Jonathan Capehart: You know, one of the things that I was seeing being talked about, particularly by the so-called K-Hive, the very diehard supporters of Senator Harris, was that not only was the fundraising a problem, but it was also the coverage of her, her campaign, that there seemed to be a double standard. Did you see that? And do you share that experience in your own way, having run for governor?
Stacey Abrams: I think that the lens used and applied to non-normative campaigns is always harder because you're not only proving your capacity to do the job, you have to prove your right to be the race. And I think that was part of what she faced.
She has a complicated story, which anyone who's been effective in politics must have. The difference is that rather than being given the benefit of the doubt or, more importantly, having a fair set of questions asked about everyone who shared her past, the focus on what might be considered her foibles outshone any celebration of her successes. And that was something certainly I faced. And it happens in politics; of course, people are going to be more animated by your mistakes than they are by your successes. But you would like for them to acknowledge that one time you tied your shoe properly [laughter], as opposed to, "And did you see what she did with that other shoe?" And that's sort of the constancy of some of the coverage.
There is sexism in it. There is racial– I wouldn’t even call it racism; sometimes it's just racial blindness. And I mean that in the sense that people don't realize that's what's driving what they see as different. And when you're a black woman, that combination – and for her, black woman and South Asian woman – that combination can be almost impossible to surmount.
And I think there are legitimate critiques of every candidate and legitimate critiques of every campaign. But the balance with which the stories are told, for her, did not, I think, lift up the successes as much as they did a microscopic detail the concerns.
Jonathan Capehart: Speaking more about sexism, do you think the United States is prepared to, ready to elect a woman to be President of the United States?
Stacey Abrams: Yes, absolutely. [applause] I mean, we treat the primaries as a referendum on America. That's not the way this works. It is a gauntlet that is the co-creation of 50 states with their varying degrees of process, a party that is trying to serve its past and predict its future, and a financial system that has been completely shattered by the removal of norms due to Citizens United.
I think if we had the slate of candidates we have today, with a fair system of fundraising, we would be having a very different conversation. Or else there'd by 49 people running for President. [laughter] And that's after 132 had dropped out. [laughter] But it would be a very different conversation.
And I think it's disingenuous to look at solely one part of the problem. We have to recognize that systemic problems require systemic solutions, and you can't simply fix one piece of it to solve it. And the systemic challenge for women has been– first, it was the issue of confidence, although Iceland figured it out decades ago, as did England.
Jonathan Capehart: And India.
Stacey Abrams: And India. And we could do this all night. Liberia.
Jonathan Capehart: That's why I was asking the question. All of these other countries around the world have elected women, and yet the most powerful country on earth has not been able to.
Stacey Abrams: Because – and we may get to this – there are some other parts to the system. There are some other impediments to people being able to choose reflective leadership. And those impediments – namely, voter suppression – have a very– they are very effective. They not only convince you of what is impossible; they convince that what is improbable cannot be.
And so, what we find as a result is that they don't even have to do it anymore. You no longer need someone to say "this can't be possible." We have the conversations ourselves; we say, "Huh, I'm not sure we're ready for it." The friends of mine who– and I kid you not, I sat at a table, because when you start running for office, your first job is to start begging. [laughter] And you beg first to your friends and family. My family has no money so I started with friends. And when I would have these people who had helped fund my first campaign, who helped me become Democratic leader, who helped me stave off a super majority when Republicans gerrymandered our state, who had watched me help rebuild the state party to position us so that we could have credible candidates, their response to me was– when they said, "but you're a black woman," they pretended that they were speaking for this other group, but they were telling me their truth. And the problem is, they had been convinced, because it hadn't happened, that it couldn't be.
In America, we've become convinced because we haven't done it – although we did do it and just didn't count [laughter] – that it cannot be. [applause]
Jonathan Capehart: I was going to ask you, I mean, we did do it with the election twice of President Obama. Why was that not enough to keep the ball rolling on the American imagination for what can be?
Stacey Abrams: Well, we did do it in '16 as well.
Jonathan Capehart: Yes, yes, with the popular vote.
Stacey Abrams: But the reality is, we can't simply win the race; we have to win the system. The electoral college is a racist and classist system that was created not– [applause] and for all of the arguments that it's because we were afraid that North Dakota wouldn't have sufficient representation, we didn't know about North Dakota. What we did know is that the South had slaves. The electoral college was designed because the South had slaves and they wanted to count their bodies, but not their souls. And the North had immigrants, and they didn't want those people choosing the Executive. And so, the demonic compromise that was created is the electoral college. So the South got credit for a population, but didn't have to actually listen to any voices, and the North got to say that only the elite got to pick who the leaders were.
That's the electoral college. It has nothing to do with tyranny of the majority. But it still governs how we make decisions. And as long as that is our governing structure, we can't simply fix one campaign and one, I would say, transcendent candidate. We have to fix every campaign and every candidate, no matter how high they rise.
Jonathan Capehart: So on this issue of the electoral college, then, what's the solution?
Stacey Abrams: Get rid of it? [applause]
Jonathan Capehart: And replace it with just popular vote?
Stacey Abrams: Popular vote, yes.
Jonathan Capehart: Just popular vote.
Stacey Abrams: I have a broad vision of this. I believe in a popular vote, but that popular vote has to also be accompanied by expansion of voting rights that say that if you are a citizen of the United States, you have the right to vote, and we will not put impediments in place that are purely based on the fact that we don't want to hear from your kind. That's what we face today. [applause]
And so, eliminating the electoral college on its own won't solve the problem, as long as you have restrictive voter IDs, as long as you have polling places that get closed, unless we have automatic voter registration, same-day registration, until we stop having 50 different democracies that operate completely isolated from one another, and until we actually believe that we want to hear from the people who are to be served.
If we solve all of that, then I think we can elect women; we can elect anybody.
Jonathan Capehart: You make it sound so easy!
Stacey Abrams: It is. It's called HR 1. So HR 1, the first bill passed by Congress under Nancy Pelosi is a revision of how our democracy works. And it acknowledges that we're the only industrialized nation with a democracy that makes the people work so hard to use their rights. In other countries, you've got to fight to get off the rolls. In Australia, you've got to pay if you don't vote. We make it hard for people who voted for years to be involved. We tell felons "you're disenfranchised." And let's remember, that's the legacy of Reconstruction and the Black Code because when the 15th Amendment said blacks could vote, the Black Code said nuh uh.
And what they did was try to create new laws, such as vagrancy laws; meaning, if you were walking on the street and you could not explain where you were going, you could be arrested and basically conscripted because the 13th Amendment allowed you to be used as free labor if you were accused of a crime and convicted.
And so, all of these things that we sort of take for granted today were designed to keep people out of the body politic. If we solve our original sins of voter suppression and we create the process that allows people to vote because they are Americans, because they are entitled, because it is the fundamental freedom that makes every other freedom possible, then, yes, it's easy. We just have to want to do it.
Jonathan Capehart: In your race for governor, how many people were purged from the polls? Because I've got a number here, but I don't trust it.
Stacey Abrams: If it says 1.4 million, it's right.
Jonathan Capehart: No, it's actually lower than that. So 1.4 million people were–
Stacey Abrams: So, 1.4 million people were taken off the rolls. Some died, but we did not lose 1.4 million people in the state of Georgia over the ten years. But we know, for example, on a single day, the secretary of state purged more than 500,000 people and that purge was the single-largest purge in American history. It also coincidentally happened right before he threw his hat in the ring to become governor of Georgia. We know that 107,000 of those were people who simply had not voted in '14 or '16, but had voted in '08 and '12. And so, they lost their right to vote because they chose not to vote. And I like to remind people, the fact that I didn't go shooting on Saturday doesn't mean I've lost my Second Amendment rights. And the fact that I didn't go to church on Sunday doesn't mean I've lost my right to freedom of religion. The right to vote is the only right in America that you can lose simply for not using it. [applause]
Jonathan Capehart: Sorry, I’m just– Sorry, you rendered my speechless.
Stacey Abrams: I'm sorry. I think about this a lot.
Jonathan Capehart: Yes, a lot. And you have been thinking about this since before you ran for governor. One of the organizations, it's all about registering people to vote. And you were talking about how this is the only industrialized– or the only country that makes it harder for people to exercise their right to vote. How do you in your work not only rattle the cages of the system, but convince people whose votes have been suppressed to jump through all the hoops in order to exercise their right to vote?
Stacey Abrams: So, so there are multiple parts. The first is the atmospheric part of voter suppression, and I think the most pervasive. The challenge of voter suppression is it not only blocks you from voting, it convinces you it's not worth trying. And typically it doesn't just infect one person; it infects communities. So if someone had a hard time voting, sometimes the family decides it's not worth it. The community will decide it's not worth it. And if the community in totality is being affected, if your one polling place is shut down and there is no bus to take anyone there to the new location, an entire community can decide "why fight a system that clearly doesn't want me?"
Then you have the individualized; the second problem is the sort of user error way that voter suppression works. You start to think it's your fault. "I should have known that I needed to reregister once I moved two blocks over, and that the card I sent in that I thought was being processed didn't get processed. It's my fault that I didn't check the website every six weeks to make sure it got processed." Or, "I voted from the same place for 40 years; I should have known they were going to move me to a new polling place and not notify me."
I was almost– I wasn't purged, but when I went to vote for myself for governor, they told me I'd already voted. I'm like, I would have remembered that. [laughter] But because of how incompetent the secretary of state was and how poorly resourced and run the system was, they had me recorded as having gotten an absentee ballot, something I've never applied for in my life. And I had to have a very calm and quiet conversation with a couple of people while Fox, CNN, MSNBC, and ABC stood behind me, where I'm like, I think you want to fix this without me having to raise my voice. [laughter] And they were very kind; they wanted to do the right thing, but they didn't have the wherewithal until I was able to walk them through it. But imagine if you're a first-time voter.
And that goes to your point, which is, the system sometimes doesn't allow itself to be fixed. It's not simply that people don't want to run the gauntlet; it's sometimes the gauntlet is impossible to make it through. And so, I knew enough and had the viewing public with me so I could force a better outcome. But if you were in Troup County, Georgia, when you went to vote, if you were an African American who went to certain precincts, a deputy sheriff sat at the table and decided whether you got a real ballot or a provisional ballot. Provisional ballots have to be cured within three days. But if you are a shift worker who works two hours away, there's no way you were going to get time off of work, Wednesday, Thursday or Friday to come back and cure that ballot. And thus, your vote did not count.
Those– The challenge of voter suppression is that it's, can you register and stay on the rolls; so, purging. Can you cast your ballot? Does your precinct still exist? Did they send you the absentee ballot to which you're entitled? Does your ID work; can you get an ID? And then, does your ballot count, which is provisional ballots, absentee ballots being thrown out for insignificant reasons. Or just Florida. [laughter]
Jonathan Capehart: Or do you have even the right ID? You mentioned incompetence. Given who the current governor of Georgia is, is it incompetence in terms of running the electoral system in Georgia? Or is it willful incompetence?
Stacey Abrams: He was a unique combination of incompetence and malfeasance. This is the man who, as secretary of state, accidentally released six million voters' IDs, Social Security number, their birth dates. He gave the disks out. Now, he says it wasn't him, it was just people who worked for him. What I find interesting is that everything good he gets credit for; everything bad is someone else's fault. He– We were hacked, and he refused to accept help from the Department of Homeland Security. But he also didn't do the job, I think, required of him as the election superintendent.
So part of it was, he was not good at managing his staff. But the other part was, he was willful in his intention to diminish access.
The two quick stories I'll tell you. There's the Quitman 10. This is a group of black women in Brooks County, Georgia, who wanted to have representation on the school board. There hadn't been very many black school board members, even though the majority of the school system was African American. They had the temerity to actually read the law and use it to use absentee ballots to win the primary. And in Brooks County, everyone is a Democrat, so if you won the primary, you won the seats.
In response, he had those women arrested. Ten women and two additional folks, had them arrested. They were charged with 120 felonies. They lost their jobs. They were taken off of the school board. One woman attempted suicide. And not a single person was every convicted of a crime. But it took three years to go through that process. And who authorized it? Brian Kemp, the secretary of state.
Jonathan Capehart: I'm sorry, I'm really speechless. And no recourse, no accountability.
Stacey Abrams: No accountability. And that's the malfeasance. He used the power he was given as the superintendent of elections to terrorize communities. He authorized sheriffs to follow black men home in Hancock County because too many of them voted in 2014. And so, the incompetence is real, the malfeasance real, and then the power that he possessed is real because he didn't have to step down from his post in order to run for governor.
Jonathan Capehart: And there's no recourse for those folks at the federal level?
Stacey Abrams: No.
Jonathan Capehart: Is that because it's all run by the state?
Stacey Abrams: So 15th Amendment. I'm going to give you guys so much history. When the 15th Amendment was passed, it's, yay, black men can vote. Black women were still screwed. But black men could vote. Women couldn't vote at all, so black men were given the right to vote under the 15th Amendment.
But the fine print said that electoral power, the laws governing the administration of elections remained with the states, the very states that for more than 100 years had enslaved all of those black men.
So yes, you have this right, but it's a right you have no ability to make real because the right to manage the election and set the standards was left to the states. And if you remember the 10th Amendment, states' rights amendment, essentially there was no impetus for actually interfering. That's why the Voting Rights Act was so critical. Giving people in a certain state the right to vote without requiring the state to make that right real makes it, basically, invaluable– valueless.
Jonathan Capehart: Worthless.
Stacey Abrams: Thank you, those were the words I was looking for. I would have gotten there. Makes it worthless. And so, fast forward to 2013 when they gutted the Voting Rights Act with the Shelby decision, what they said is that states are no longer held to a federal standard. They can go back to doing what they want to do. Because we trust that racism is over now, so go ahead and do what you want to do.
In the aftermath of the evisceration of the Voting Rights Act, since 2013, one of the pieces of the Voting Rights Act said you could not shut down polling places or shift where people voted without federal authority. Because one of the tools for blocking people from voting was that you moved where they voted. When the stories about that– Oprah told it when she came down to– that sounds so obnoxious. [laughter] But Oprah came down because Obama was elected.
I wouldn't say everyone is evil, although a lot of them are. But what I will say is that human nature tends to try to hold on to its leverage and tries to hold on to its supremacy. And that is weakened when new voices are allowed to participate. It is weakened when communities that have been oppressed have the power to push back on their oppressors. And the right to vote is the most sacred tool that we have in our democratic republic for pushing back against that oppression.
Jonathan Capehart: And so, that holding on to power and the reaction to people pushing back against that oppression, that explains President Trump?
Stacey Abrams: I don't have that kind of time. [laughter] But, go ahead.
Jonathan Capehart: No, but because I mean–
Stacey Abrams: Do you mean, why they voted for him?
Jonathan Capehart: Why they voted for him, but also why Republicans who I'm old enough to remember used to reach across the aisle. I seem to remember a particular Senator from South Carolina who was every Democrat's favorite Republican because he would buck his party to do– put country over party. And yet, all of those folks, they're all on milk cartons at this point.
Stacey Abrams: So, I think that– Go ahead.
Jonathan Capehart: So can it all be boiled down to the party and power wanting to stay in power and showing fealty to the President who is in their party, and going along with things that are immoral, amoral, unconstitutional, all for the sake of power?
Stacey Abrams: You say all for the sake of power as though power is not much.
Jonathan Capehart: Oh, no, no!
Stacey Abrams: For those who are listening, here's the thing. For the sake of power is the driver of almost every decision we make. And what I would– the way I would describe what we see is that the Republican Party is largely homogenous and monolithic. They are largely a white Republican Party where the leadership is almost entirely male, where the Christian ethos is bastardized to define and justify their behavior. I'm a Christian; I don't recognize some of the pages of the Bible they use. But more importantly, they are facing an existential crisis because the demography of America no longer looks like the world that they have been in control of. And that changing demographic– those changing demographics shift how power is held, how it's used and how it can be gained. And you can either adapt to the change in how you gain power, or you can make certain no one ever takes it from you to begin with.
Democrats used to be this bad. Let's not forget. A lot of voter suppression was Democrats. I'm from the Deep South; it was always Democrats. And sometimes it was done under the guise of "we're doing what's best for you." And so, I don't say that Republicans inherently are evil, but what I will say is that they are structurally ill-equipped to adapt to the world they have. They had a moment basically between George W. Bush and today to change course. They knew it, they couldn't do it. And now they're left with holding on to power through manipulation, theft, and immorality. And that immorality– [applause] That immorality is the acceptance of things they know to be wrong. It's the whispered stories that you all write about where they say, "We know we shouldn't," or, "I don't personally agree." You personally agree if you use your position of power to sanction it through your silence. And that's the problem I have.
I work with some of these Republicans. A few of them I served in the House with. I do not– well–
Jonathan Capehart: Georgia House.
Stacey Abrams: The Georgia House; I worked in the Georgia House with a number of people who are now in the US House. And their behaviors are inconsistent with the people that I knew. Because I know they know better.
But the other reality is this: There is the macro power of a party and there is the micro power of a position. My analysis of Lindsey Graham, who is I’m assuming to which we should not refer [laughter], Lindsey Graham has no other definition to his life. He is the Senator from South Carolina. He lives in a time where fealty to Donald Trump is the only guarantee of his continued existence as the Senator from South Carolina. And when your sole definition of who you are is the position you hold, then you will do anything not to lose that sense of who you are. And so, I ascribe it less to him suddenly becoming evil and more to him becoming desperate. He has no other way to define who he is. This has been his life for 30 years.
And this is true of a number of people. And you can tell who recognizes this because those are the ones who are leaving. The ones who have retired are the ones who said, "It is not important enough to me to sell my soul to keep this job." And those are the ones heading for the door.
Jonathan Capehart: How should Democrats run against all of this, against that party and particularly that President, President Trump, who wants to keep their party going?
Stacey Abrams: You can't run against them. You have to run for America. Now– [applause] And here's what I mean: The only way you can do a mano a mano fight is to either adopt their ill behavior or to be worse than they are. Those should not be the ways we make these changes. Plus, our party's totally incompetent at that kind of thing. [laughter] We can't. Because we, by being the big tent party, we have invited everyone inside. And the cacophony of ideas means that we spend our primaries arguing over who's on the left, and who's lefter than left, and who's on the right of left, the center of left. But we all know that we want to leave behind this other thing we've got.
And that's fine, but what makes us better is that we have ideas about what we should do. We don't lose elections simply because the other side has better ideas. We lose elections because we don't tell our ideas to the people we need. [applause] That's our challenge. [applause]
In my campaign, we wrote about it, but you have to invest in the communities that you want to turn out. That investment has to be early, it has to be authentic. You have to tell people who you are and what you plan to be. They don't have to agree with you, but they have to know that you mean it. Because we voted for people we fundamentally disagreed with, but we voted because we trusted their core beliefs and their core values, and we were willing to try to argue with them on the other side about how they did what they do.
And the third is, we have to recognize that if we are a big tent party, we've got to expand the tent by going places other than five Midwestern states in order to win elections. That's why I think Georgia's a battleground state. [applause]
Jonathan Capehart: I want to add another– Do Democrats worry too much? It seems like every four years I'm reading a story about how donors and the political class and rank and file Democrats are all worried about the particular field at hand; like, who's going to be the one to swoop in?
Stacey Abrams: We don't worry too much. If we're going to bifurcate the kind– we allow ourselves to talk out loud, way too much, about what's inside our heads. [laughter] And that is uncomfortable. It is discomfiting. It can be the source of many of our public mistakes. But it also allows people to know that we mean it. The public consternation that we engage in every cycle is a sign that we're actually thinking about and talking to our people. When you have a party that doesn't think they need to have conversations about who they are, then that means they don't care who you are. And I'd rather be a part of a party that is willing to go through a public therapy session every four years than one who is told to just be quiet and suck it up.
And so, I'm a Democrat. [applause]
Jonathan Capehart: I want to jump off that. And, at the last debate in November, Kamala Harris was asked to where she was asked to explain why she criticized Mayor Pete about something with his campaign literature. And she used that as an opportunity to turn the mirror on the party and put the focus on black women and say, "You're always asking us to show up at the polls. You're always asking us, vote for us. You swoop in at the last minute, ask for our vote. And then, when it comes– when we ask for something, you're nowhere to be found. So now the question is, where you been, and what are you going to do to show that you understand the people?"
The big focus since the Virginia governor's race, the special election in Alabama, the midterm elections, the saviors of the Republic, since the election of Donald Trump, have been black women. [applause] And yet today, the only black woman in the race dropped out.
So are black women important to the Democratic Party? And can a Democratic nominee for President win – seriously, this is a real question, not a rhetorical one or an easy one – can they win if black women do not show up?
Stacey Abrams: No.
Jonathan Capehart: And why should they show up?
Stacey Abrams: Ok. Those are two diff– There is not a candidate who will become the President of the United States as a Democrat without black women. We are the most reliable voters in America. But it's also the reason we're not going anywhere. Because we know the consequences of the other side. When the issue is a question of whether choice is available, whether abortions are available, if you're a black woman, it is a matter of life or death, it is a matter of economic survival. If it's a conversation about economic access, you know that you are often responsibility for an entire family and you don't have the luxury of being angry and using that anger to exempt yourself from the conversation.
Black women are reliable because we are the victims of almost every perfidy exposed by our party, by our communities, by our nation. [applause] And so, those things that are wrong, we are the canaries who have lived in the coal mine, built nests there. We are the ones you will know first.
But because of that, we also understand at, I think, a preternatural level our obligation to engage anyway. And we know that we will not go to the other side because they do not value us, they do not see us, and they do not want us.
But then to your first question, it makes no sense that we are not also your frontline army, not just as your voters, but as your leaders, as your harbingers of what's possible. Because when that happens, we win.
Barack Obama became President not once, not twice– twice. [laughter]
Jonathan Capehart: A bit of wishful thinking there!
Stacey Abrams: I was going to try to make some news, but no. I'm joking, I'm joking. I forgot we're streaming.
Jonathan Capehart: Oh, no, I'm coming back to that. Go on, finish your thought.
Stacey Abrams: He became President twice because of outsized turnout led by black women. In fact, in the last election, black turnout exceeded white turnout for the first time in American history, in his last election. And so, we know that black women cannot only be the foot soldiers, we can be the commanders, we can be the general. And we should be the candidate. But the gauntlet, again, that you have to run to get to that position does not acknowledge the utility of us in front. It may give lip service to what we do in the back, but there has not been a pathway carved for us to get to the front.
I think Kamala tried. I think Cory's actually doing the job of trying to keep it moving. But we haven't, unfortunately, gotten there yet because – going back to my first point – the systemic impediments don't cease to exist simply because we want them to.
Jonathan Capehart: So why aren't you in the front?
Stacey Abrams: Why am I not running for President?
Jonathan Capehart: My Twitter feed, Facebook page, everyone is like, Stacey Abrams. This room is packed with people who would love to see you out in front. So why aren't you out in front? [cheers/applause] And then I have a follow-up.
Stacey Abrams: Okay, Twitter does not elect the President. [laughter] But it does make you feel much better about who you are. So here's the thing. When I thought about whether I wanted to run for President, I gave it very serious thought. I ran through scenarios. I figured out how to make it so. But I also had to think about, was I the best person. And when I looked at the field in June of 2019, the field was an incredible field. There are good people running who are smart and capable, and will be exceptional leaders.
And my question was, what was my best value-add? My best value-add was Fair Fight 2020, which is our political piece, which is making sure that voter suppression in 20 battleground states does not take root and block us from victory again. Because we have to remember, in 2016, we lost by 70,000 votes – 77,000 votes – across three states. Voter suppression was part of it. Foreign interference was part of it. We can argue about the campaign tactics. But if you fix one of those things, you've won the election of 2016. And so, for me, fixing voter suppression, being that I am a current expert in it [laughter], became my mission. And here's why:
If you paid attention to the Kentucky election, Fair Fight 2020 was on the ground in Kentucky. We embed ourselves. We basically hire teams for each political– for the Democratic Party in each of those states. And when we do so, we help train them to fight back against voter suppression.
Matt Bevin, the Republican governor, kicked the Democratic secretary of state off of the state elections board, staffed it with his own people, and in between April and August of 2019, purged 175,000 voters. The flag went up. We were able to work with the state party and we were able to get a federal judge to restore all 175,000 people. [applause]
It was a joint effort and we were proud to be a part of it, but my best value-add is making sure that in the 20 states that will determine the future of our democracy, that I have done the work I can do to make sure that no matter who the nominee for President is in July of 2020, that that presidential nominee can scale up these teams, can take them over, and can march to victory.
Now, what happens after that? I'm open to conversation. [laughter/applause]
Jonathan Capehart: I'm paying attention to your word choice. So that's after the election of the President.
Stacey Abrams: Of the nominee.
Audience: Oooh! [cheers/applause]
Jonathan Capehart: A majority of the people here think that your best value-add is as VP. [cheers/applause] So. Would you do it?
Stacey Abrams: Yes. [cheers/applause]
Jonathan Capehart: And why?
Stacey Abrams: Why?
Jonathan Capehart: Yeah, and why?
Stacey Abrams: Because Vice President is a cool job. [laughter] Because– okay. During the primary, during the early months, when the question was raised, would I run with someone as their second during a primary, I was thinking about running myself and my response is, you do not run for second place in a primary. But if you listen to the whole thing I said on The View, I said "in a primary." [laughter] When I decided to launch Fair Fight 2020, it was because I knew that what we needed to do needed to be done before we had a nominee, because once you have a nominee, we are already in the general election and it is too late to do this work. We have to do it now. We have to use the primaries as testing grounds for what voter suppression exists. And we have to solve for it.
Because voter suppression happens in primaries. We just don't pay attention because our guy wins. And so, we have to be using the systems themselves to test out.
Now, as a vice presidential nominee, I think I could be a very effective ally to the nominee in turning out voters, and actually turning out voters of every stripe. I increased voter participation in Georgia for Democrats to the highest level of any candidate as a Democratic in our history. [applause] Hold on, hold on. I tripled Latino turnout. Tripled Asia-Pacific Islander turnout. Increased use participation rates by 139%. Increased black participation by 40%. And what that means is in 2014, 1.1 million Democrats voted for governor. In 2018, 1.2 million black people voted for me. [cheers] And we increased, my campaign, I helped increase the white share of the Democratic vote for the first time in 30 years.
I can help win anybody. [cheers/applause]
Now. But after that, the reason the job would be cool is it's a job that allows you to be second to the leader of the free world and making our nation safe, strong and effective again. It helps restore our moral leadership. It allows you to engage in the conversations we need to have, including how we structurally reassess who we are and we fix the broken pieces to make our democracy whole. And you get to be in charge of NASA. [laughter]
Jonathan Capehart: Okay. There were reports–
Stacey Abrams: I'm just saying, it's kind of awesome.
Jonathan Capehart: There were reports that you and Vice President Biden months ago you sat down and you talked and maybe the VP thing was talked about. Was it talked about?
Stacey Abrams: Never. I met with all ten. I finally got to meet Andrew Yang during the debates. But I've met with almost every one of the top tier candidates. I've met with a lot of them. It just so happens when I had lunch with him, people paid attention. He didn't make an offer I couldn't refuse; I didn't accept an offer. We didn't have that conversation. But rumors were started.
But let me be very clear. This is an odd conversation to have. Most people don't have to, or don't get to talk about whether they want to be Vice President because you don't really talk about this. But because of that speculation, I've been thrust into this very weird position of either seeming ambitious and obnoxious, or coy and diffident. I am neither of those things. I'm a black woman who's in a conversation about possibly being second in command to the leader of the free world, and I will not diminish my ambition or the ambition of any other woman of color by saying that's not something I'd be willing to do. [cheers/applause]
Jonathan Capehart: I mean, I'm an opinion writer, so I could do this, but I could not help but like, you go, girl! [laughter]
We've got four minutes before we open it up to Q&A. There are mics here and here. Short questions and no speeches, and I'll get into why when we really start this up.
Another position that folks were hoping you would run for was Senate. First with the election in 2020– Perdue is up in 2020. Your birthday is December 9th; his birthday is December 10th. I mean, come on, it'd be great. But you said no.
Stacey Abrams: No.
Jonathan Capehart: And then we had the sort of surprise announcement that Senator Johnny Isakson, who's been in the Senate since 2005, he's leaving. I think because of health issues. Which, that's like a gimme. And folks were like, Stacey Abrams, Stacey Abrams. No interest at all?
Stacey Abrams: None. So, so here's why. I first want to say Johnny Isakson and I have very little in common on the political ideology, but he has been a good person who has served our state well. And I will tell you that during my tenure as leader, I turned to Senator Isakson on some of the core issues that we needed to solve. And his willingness to be a Senator for all Georgians is something I will always laud him for publicly. And, so, I wanted– today he made formal his resignation. I think he did a speech today. I've been traveling. But, he's a good man. And I owe him a debt of gratitude.
I know what a legislative body does. I served in the House of Representatives for 11 years. Which, to those who watch Congress and the US Senate, there's a diminution often attributed to state legislatures, but I would say it is a tough job to convince 100 people, 435 people, or 180 people who all think they should be in charge of everything to do anything. [laughter] I did it for four years before I became the leader of my contingent of folks. And this was at the nadir of Democrats in Georgia.
I was good at my job. I was effective at working across the aisle. I was good at building a caucus that became one of the most formidable minority caucuses in the nation. We got good things done. I don't ever want that job again. [laughter] I wanted to be in the legislature because I have always known I wanted to do executive work on the political space. But you would– I don't think you can be an effective executive if you don't understand the mechanics of the legislative branch. And so for me, it was a learning opportunity, and what I learned is that I can do it and I don't want to do it again. And I don't want to do it with 100 people, I don't want to do it with 435 people, I don't want to do it with 180 people.
I don't want the job. [laughter] But more importantly, if I have done my job as a candidate and, more importantly, as a political leader in the state of Georgia, I don't need to be the person to win that job. It is hubris to think that only the person who is most well known can be the person who wins. That's about cult of personality. My job is structural reform. And if I've helped fix the infrastructure of Georgia's politics, then any good candidate of good heart and good intention who will follow the playbook that we've laid can become the next Senator; in fact, the next two Senators from the great state of Georgia. And my commitment is to making sure that happens. [applause]
Jonathan Capehart: And, with that, we're going to open it up to Q&A. As I said before, there are microphones standing in the aisles. Again, please ask short questions. For the love of god, make them short! But also, please no speeches. There are a lot of people here, a lot of people with questions. And if you start launching into a speech, I don't mean to be rude, but I will cut you off and I'll be rude doing it. So you are forewarned. And so if we could raise the lights so I could actually see who's here, if possible– Oh, that's great, thank you very much. Stacey, you pick, which side are you going to go for?
Stacey Abrams: No!
Jonathan Capehart: Okay, fine, we'll start here.
Q: Thank you so much for being here and sharing your time and your talents with us. I want to invite you to use this platform to talk about what an issue that I think is the biggest threat to our democracy in 2020, and that is the weaponization of the census to systemically divest an already vulnerable community. So could you use your platform to say a few words about the importance of the census.
Stacey Abrams: Tell me your name.
Q: My name is Kate and I live here in Dorchester.
Stacey Abrams: Thank you very much. You're my new best friend. [laughter] So in the wake of the 2018 election, I thought about two things. One was, how do fix voter suppre–how do you expand the right to vote and tackle voter suppression, and I launched Fair Fight Action and Fair Fight PAC. But the second was, how do we make certain that the 2020 census does not erase communities from the narrative of what is America. And so, Fair Count was born. If you go to NPR, Hansi Lo Wang did a great story on Fair Count yesterday.
We are operating– we’re grounded in Georgia, and what we are doing is recognizing that this is the first census that will be done almost entirely online. Eighty percent of the census will be online. And yet, 20-40% of Americans do not have access to the Internet. Largely those are communities of color, immigrant communities, poor communities, rural communities.
And so, we are intentionally spending all of our time and all of our resources engaging those communities. We have put hotspots in Georgia into 28 communities where they have no access to the Internet. We'll have it in 150 communities by the launch of the census. We have already started canvassing and organizing for black men. And there are three numbers to know:
Number one, everyone needs to complete the census whether you are a citizen or not because it is not a count of citizenship, it is a count of population. Everyone counts.
Number two, failure to count those populations means they will lose out on access to nearly a trillion dollars that can help solve the very issues that have often led to the challenges in those communities.
And number three, the information cannot be used against them because it is embargoed for 72 years with a fine of $250,000 if it's violated. And that is why they've used the citizen question to try to terrify people out of filling it out. They should fill it out anyway. If you've owned a cell phone, paid a bill, if you've got electricity, they know where you are. Make sure they send you your money. That's why the census is so important.
The last thing I'll say about this is that we started out in Georgia, but we're now national because we recognize that across this country there are states that are doing their level best not to make certain they are counted, states like Georgia where you have the fastest growing demographics are people of color, all those hard-to-count communities. They would rather forfeit the dollars than do the work of making sure they're counted.
Now, Georgia does have a complete count committee. But what I want to see is the investment made. And because I'm a little skeptical and cynical, we've already started making investment, but I'm hopeful that we will do the right thing.
But the census is the way we decide not only the resource allocation, but who goes to Congress. If you care about gerrymandering, if you care about the composition of the Congress, you must care about the census because the census reapportionment is the only count we get. Even if it's wrong, we have to use it for the next decade. And we cannot get a do-over so we've got to get it right the first time. [applause]
Jonathan Capehart: Question here.
Stacey Abrams: Go to FairCount.org for more information!
Q: Hi, Stacey, thank you. I'm glad I go second. My name is Cassie, and I know we have an issue with voter suppression and I also think we have an issue with disinformation. And my question to you is, as somebody who has been quite political since I was probably in 6th grade, I've never had very heated debates with the other side of the aisle when facts were actually presented. So my question to you is, with all of the disinformation that's going on, I feel like it's harder these days to kind of present your point. And I feel like people are automatically thinking that you are providing them misinformation. How do you see us getting over that hurdle in 2020? A/k/a, how do you get rid of Fox News? [laughter]
Jonathan Capehart: Right, that's a long way around to say how do you get rid of Fox News. How do you combat disinformation?
Stacey Abrams: So, you– the best way to combat disinformation is good information. And one of the challenges we have on the progressive side of the aisle is that we talk to those who are listening. We don't do the work of talking to those who need to hear. I would spend most of my time, instead of trying to convert Fox viewers, I would try to convince those who don't listen to anybody to listen to us. Conversion is hard. My parents are Methodist ministers. They will only know if they were successful when they get to the Pearly Gates. [laughter]
Changing people's ideology is like changing their soul. Raise your hand the last time you actually won an argument, not when you outlasted, but when you won? It doesn't happen. But what does happen is that when people are contacted, when we engage them and give them good information, it works.
Disinformation is so effective in our society because often the people with good information don't share it with the people who need it the most. That's why I believe an effective candidate, no matter what the offices, but certainly for President, has to go everywhere. We have to go into all communities. We have to talk to those communities that we write off because they don't vote. They often don't vote because they've never gotten good information.
But if we do the work of combating both bad information and misinformation with good information, we give people an alternative to listen to and a reason to be convinced that it's worth investing.
Jonathan Capehart: Question here.
Q: Hi, I'm Karen, and my question to you is focused on young people. I work at a high school here in Boston and because of the snow day they're not here. But besides that, we have a lot of 18-year-old young people who are not registered to vote and their response to "why don't you vote" is, "Our voices are not being heard." What do you say to the young people? How do you get them rallied?
Stacey Abrams: Sure. I think, number one, we have to actually connect the dots. When I'm talking to young people who are concerned about being pulled over, who are worried, I'm like, do you know who decides that? The judge and the DA. If you want to make certain your friends don't go to jail and you get ten days versus ten years, you need to vote for who the judge is and you need to vote for who the DA is.
And then I point to the numbers that says that last time someone voted, 10% or 30% of the population showed up. If you get your friends to show up, you can actually change what that means.
But often we jump to the conclusion of what an election is, and we don't do the work of educating them about what the job does. And so, I spend more time having conversations about who makes these decisions. The reason we vote for President at the highest rate is because billions of dollars are spent to tell us what the President does. Very little money is spent explaining what a school board is, or what a city councilmember does, or what a prosecutor is. And so, we have to take the responsibility not simply to say you should vote, but understand what you're voting for.
My favorite one is when I'm talking to kids about it, I'm like, "Do you want to be able to drive when you're 13?" It's never going to happen, but when they're asked, "Oh, my gosh, yes," I'm like, "That's what a state legislator decides. If you want to be able to drive, you need to make certain your parents vote for me." [laughter]
But it's making sure we connect the dots so they understand.
Jonathan Capehart: Question here.
Q: Hi, my name is Gabriel. This is actually a good follow-up to that question. What do you think about lowering the voting age to 16?
Stacey Abrams: I actually believe that the voting age should be lowered to 16, absolutely, for school board elections. I think we should test it out in local elections. And I'm open to the conversation about doing it for federal elections. I want to see how it works. We know that when we lowered the voting age from 21 to 18, there was an initial burst of participation and then it leveled off. And I think there are legitimate conversations to be had about the level of government. But I think the government closest to the people should be responsive.
I think absolutely students should be allowed to vote for school board. You are the customers and you deserve the response. I think local elections, I'm pretty open to that. And I'm willing to continue to have the conversation about more.
Jonathan Capehart: Question here.
Q: Hello, state representative here.
Stacey Abrams: Hi. Do not steal that 13-year-old thing. [laughter]
Q: The bill that I sponsored was to say the secretary of the Commonwealth can't run for a statewide office; they'd have to resign in order to do that. I thought you'd like that.
Stacey Abrams: I do.
Q: In a state like Massachusetts, we do paper ballots and we have automatic voter registration that'll happen outside of–
Stacey Abrams: Yeah, yeah, yeah, y’all are great. [laughter]
Q: What should I be doing to protect against potential future problems?
Stacey Abrams: So, put it in the Constitution. We have to remember that often the best laws for voting rights are only laws. And the minute someone comes in who doesn't want that law to apply, they change it. And so, by putting it in the Constitution, you require the people to agree to give away their power, and that makes it harder. I think Massachusetts, Oregon, Washington State – California's getting there – have some of the best electoral laws in the nation. Those laws should be permanent, and they should be in our Constitution.
And it should not matter who is in power. Power belongs to the people, and that happens when the power can only be changed by the people. [applause]
Q: First, I just want to say I'm already planning the food for the party I'm going to throw the night you debate Mike Pence. [laughter] Packed house.
Stacey Abrams: Somebody's got to pick me, so let's– but thank you.
Q: Naturalized citizen, daughter of two very proud naturalized citizens. It's so important to people like me, your citizenship. A few months ago, very my proud little mother called and said to me after watching too much news, asked me, "Is America dead?" And it really got to my core because I feel the darkness she feels. But then I see someone like you and I'm just begging you to explain to me, in the sea of what we're going through, where is your hope coming from? Where is the drive? Because I need to know what it's from.
STACEY ABRAMS: I'm a black woman who was raised in Mississippi. Moved to Georgia. Then lived in Texas. Came to Connecticut; it was too cold so I went back south. [laughter] My mother dropped out of 4th grade because they couldn't afford the segregated school bus. My dad was a dyslexic kid who was told he was just stupid because they didn't know what dyslexia was and they didn't have the resources.
In a single generation, they produced a federal judge, two PhDs, a social worker– [applause] hold on, there's a lot of us [laughter] –my brother Walter, who I could talk about later, and they have a daughter who became the first black woman to be the nominee for a major party in the history of America.
My faith is that I don't have to get everything I want to know there's more available. And we may not have the nation we want, but we get the nation we earn. And our responsibility is not to get bogged down in just how wrong and evil some of our leaders are, but to remember the good of our people and the good of what our ideals are. And that's what I work at. [applause]
Jonathan Capehart: And you– And you wonder why people want you to run for President. Question here.
Q: You're wonderful and thank you for coming to our cold city.
Stacey Abrams: Thank you for turning off the snow. [laughter]
Q: Going off of the previous questions, how do you galvanize all ages to work against voter suppression?
Stacey Abrams: You do it by explaining what it is. Again, voter suppression looks like user error. People convince themselves, "I should have known, I should have done." But what's even worse is that it's not as blatant as Jim Crow. It is so much more complicated. We have 50 different democracies with 3000 different administrative units if you think about counties and parishes. It overwhelms our senses. And so, it's just easier not to talk about it.
Plus, the fear is if you talk about suppression, people will be suppressed and therefore you're doing their work for them. That's too late. That train has left the station. Suppression is now denying our voices. It is stealing our country. And it's also not– it’s being promoted by Republicans, but when you break the machinery of democracy, it breaks for everybody.
And so, my responsibility, and I think our responsibility is to talk about it – when you're on Twitter, when you're on Facebook. Push back against the myth of voter fraud. Voter fraud does not exist. Thirty-one examples out of one billion votes cast since 20-I think-13. Don't Politico Fact me on this; I'm trying to remember the article.
But we do know that voter suppression happens in every election, every time. And so, we have to call out what is. And the best way to talk about it is if a single person is denied the right to vote, our democracy isn't working.
We can fix that when we do the work to elect people who talk about it and who are committed to making it better. And if they aren't, then why are they running for office. If you're not running for office to make our democracy stronger, you don't deserve the job. [applause]
Q: Thank you.
Jonathan Capehart: Question here.
Q: I'm someone who works at the polls in Brookline, and our town clerk's rule is, find a way to get them to vote if you can.
Stacey Abrams: Yes.
Q: My question is actually one you can't answer. Would anyone here in the room who would not support you for Vice President please stand up? [laughter]
Jonathan Capehart: That is clever.
Stacey Abrams: Nicely done.
Jonathan Capehart: Very clever. Question?
Stacey Abrams: I thought he was about to stand up. [laughter]
Q: This one actually comes from one of our live stream viewers, Michelle. She's asking: Where do you see women in politics in the next 10 to 20 years?
Stacey Abrams: I think we will continue to take more and more power. The reality is that we had, until the 19th Amendment, we couldn't vote, we couldn't participate. Until 1965, black women couldn't participate and vote. It was 1924– actually it was later; it was actually the mid-'60s when Latina and Asia-Pacific Islander and Native American women were actually able to participate. But what we saw in 2017 in Virginia, what we saw in 2018 in Congress, what we see in every election is an increase in women, especially women of color, seizing power and then opening and expanding access to that power to others.
We win, women win, women continue to expand their agency when we not only get inside, but we prop the door open, or better yet take it off the hinges. And I believe the urgency of the decisions being made by the conservative right to steal our autonomy, to strip us of our voices, to tell us that we are not valued, that that is going to continue to galvanize our leadership.
And so, in the next 20 years we're going to be President, we're going to fix the Supreme Court [applause] and we will no longer be able to mention Nancy Pelosi as the only woman who's ever served as Speaker of the House. [applause]
Jonathan Capehart: Wait, hold on one second before I– what do you mean, fix the Supreme Court?
Stacey Abrams: You pay way too close attention. No, I have not– So I have not signed on to any particular question of how we– whether we expand the Court, but I do think that in 20 years we're going to have people who come off the Court through natural attrition [laughter] and if we have done our jobs with Congress and with the presidency, we can make certain that we're appointing more and more women so that we can no longer name all the women who've ever served on the Supreme Court. [applause]
Jonathan Capehart: Question there.
Q: Thank you, again.
Stacey Abrams: But nice try.
Jonathan Capehart: I mean…
Q: I'm really bad at speaking into microphones, but thank you again for coming tonight. I'm curious, I think everyone now knows Georgia, and about the voter suppression there, and North Dakota is well known. What are some instances of voter suppression in a state that might not be as much of a national story?
Stacey Abrams: Arizona since 2005 has shut down 85% of their polling places, which largely affects Native Americans who live on reservations. Instead of being able to go five miles outside of the reservation to go and vote, they have to go 50 miles.
In Wisconsin, they have one of the most restrictive voter IDs that requires an original birth certificate. And so, if you're a black woman who was born– you know, wasn't allowed to be born in a hospital, you may have to jump through multiple hoops to get a certificate that they will validate as one that allows you to get a license that lets you vote.
New Hampshire has passed– you guys may know about this. They've changed the residency rules for students. So if you are driving from Massachusetts to go to school in New Hampshire and your dad or mother gave you a car, you either have to get ownership of that car and register it in that state, or you may not be allowed to vote.
Those are just a handful of the examples I can give you. But if you go to BrennanCenter.org, they have an amazing array of information about voter suppression and how bad it is. And the fact– Georgia's a singular example, but we are not alone.
Jonathan Capehart: Question here.
Q: Hi, I'm Ray. I want to thank both of you for being here tonight. Ms. Abrams, thanks for your work on Fair Fight. I'm curious, I see one of the benefits of our current presidential administration as being a real test of our checks and balances system. I wonder if you might comment on that and whether you might propose any changes to our system of checks and balances.
Stacey Abrams: We have found that the illusion of our checks and balances only work if there's actual authority to make it so. We saw the shift when Nancy Pelosi became Speaker of the House, not simply because she was a Democrat, but because she was willing to challenge the power in the White House. We see the abdication of power in the Senate because the Senate is not willing– although they have shown momentary glimpses of intention, what they just did on Hong Kong, what they did in Turkey, although they backed away from that pretty quickly – the reality is, we need to go beyond the sort of very naifish believe that because we are America we will always do the right thing. And we need to write it down and we need to be clear about what our laws mean. Because we have faced in this presidency not only a flouting of the law, but an ignorance of the law that is used as a defense to why he doesn't have to comply with those laws.
Jonathan Capehart: Question here.
Q: Good evening. My name is Joan. I'm a trained federal voting rights observer. And the young woman who just spoke, if you want some anecdotal conversation, I'm more than happy to tell you about my days out at the polling places.
Stacey Abrams: Thank you.
Q: I also am a member of the Massachusetts Democratic State Committee and welcome you to Massachusetts.
Jonathan Capehart: And your question, ma'am?
Q: Okay. Who is going to be the profile in courage from the Republican Party? You are both on the inside. Okay? I'm just addicted to MSNBC. [laughter] But do you see anyone potentially who could stand up and be that profile of courage that the country needs right now?
Stacey Abrams: I do not see it happening unless there is– there has to be a predicate event where the grip that Trump has on the zeitgeist of being a Republican where that weakens. Until that weakens, their existential fear will always govern. And when existential fear is your guiding principle, you will never take an action that exposes you to harm.
And so, I don't know who it could be. I have not s– Iknow who it should be, and I'm not going to name their names–
Q: No, you don't have to.
Stacey Abrams: –but–
Jonathan Capehart: It'd be great if you did. [laughter]
Stacey Abrams: I know. But the problem is, there has to be something that makes silence more harmful than speaking up. And that hasn't happened yet in their mind.
Q: Excellent, thank you very much.
Jonathan Capehart: Question here?
Q: Hi, my name is Mary Cerulli. And my question is, are we talking about the climate crisis enough? And can you specifically talk about environmental justice as it pertains to that.
Jonathan Capehart: Thank you.
Stacey Abrams: I think we are talking about it more. The challenge is we're talking about to each other and not to the people who have the power to fix it. And so, that is one of the reasons we can't simply think about solving a single election. We have to think about fixing the systems. We will not get climate action until we change who makes the choices and the decisions. No, we don't talk often enough about environmental justice because that then means understanding that climate action is not simply the critical issue of making sure we all get to live, but it's also making certain that children in black and brown communities don't die from asthma attacks because they live in chemical clouds every day. It's about ensuring the conversation about clean water isn't a simply a conversation about our rivers, but a conversation about our drinking water.
And so, environmental justice has to be a component of, and it has to be a key component. Because the other reason that we don't get the same conversations everywhere that we need on climate action is that we're only talking to a certain sliver of community.
I just joined with John Kerry's new organization that's trying to expand the conversation. [applause] And one of the reasons for me– I know you guys like him here. [laughter] He's quite awesome. But one of the reasons for my signing is not for a specific policy, but because I believe that we do not talk about environmental justice enough. And until we expand that conversation, we will not build the coalition we need to force change at every level of government in every state in the nation.
Jonathan Capehart: Okay, we've got these three questions, and about five minutes and I want to get them. Your questions, really quickly.
Q: Hi, Stacey. My name's Isaiah. I just want to say thank you for being the greatest. My question is, I'm curious to know what your thoughts are on reparations and what they look like to you.
Stacey Abrams: On reparations. I believe that we need reparations. I think that what we haven't done – I think Ta-Nehisi Coates actually said it very well – part of our challenge is we've never even had the conversation. I don't know what the answer is. But I know that when we finally have a national conversation where we grapple with what it means to provide reparations and to recognize that it should be reparations for African Americans and reparations for Native Americans, because those are the only two communities that have ever been, by law, removed from access to property, freedom, liberty and ownership, that those are– but they're separate conversations. But I do believe that we need to have a national conversation about reparations and that we should come up with an answer.
Q: Hi, my name is Caroline. Thank you for being here. The fact that every time that I come to this place, there's a lot of seniors. I come in very frequently to see all these Forums, and I would like to ask you question. You are part of whoever is going to be the President and they decide that you are going to be the Vice President, what are you going to do as Vice President in order to change the particular situation for all of our country. Thank you.
Stacey Abrams: That's a lot of things I have to get done.
Jonathan Capehart: Rewind the tape from the last 90 minutes!
Stacey Abrams: No, no, no, so here's what I would do. I believe that we have to have a national– we know what the laws are. So reparations, one of the challenges has been that we haven't even bothered to engage the conversation, and we have to understand not only what should be done, but how we disburse it, what it looks like, what the contours are.
We know what voter suppression looks like. We've had it for 240 years. We know what the solutions are. We've seen it come about in states like Massachusetts, in states like California and Oregon and Washington State. I would simply make federal law those rules, but I would put into the Constitution of America the right to vote, because there is no constitutional protection for the right to vote. There's a constitutional protection for your access to it, but there's nothing to say it has to be made real by the states. And that's what I would do as Vice President. I would make that a mission to ensure that that happens. [applause]
Jonathan Capehart: Real quick, yeah?
Q: It wasn't until I learned about my history at Spellman College that I truly understood the importance of voting. My parents spoke about it all the time, but I always ignored them. After learning about the African diaspora, women's suffrage movement and the truth about black history in the US did I understand the importance of voting. I feel that these histories must be taught in public schools, especially in high schools in neighborhoods whose demographics experience the most voter suppression for them to understand why voting is important. What are your thoughts?
Stacey Abrams: You're right. [laughter/applause] No, I mean, not to be glib, but you are, you're correct. And that means that we have to be intentional about changing the structure of our educational system so we not only teach civics, but we teach civics and actual history; and the full good and bad history of who we are. [applause]
Jonathan Capehart: Okay. I'm going to use moderator's prerogative because we literally have three minutes. I'm going to ask the last two questions. One, how many of you know that she has a pseudonym?
Stacey Abrams: I write romantic suspense novels as Selena Montgomery. [laughter]
Jonathan Capehart: Aha, see? Bet you thought you knew everything about Stacey Abrams. And you have a little bit of good news.
Stacey Abrams: I do. So apparently, now that people know who I am, CBS decided to give me a development deal to turn my fourth novel into a television series. [applause] Hold on, it's a development deal, which does not guarantee that anybody will ever see it. But I'm a step closer to TV. [laughter] [applause]
Jonathan Capehart: I do want to apologize to the two gentlemen who were standing. I didn't see you when I said the last three over there. But I do want to end on a serious note and ask you this: Given what we've seen since the campaign of President Trump and certainly the administration of President Trump–
Stacey Abrams: Let me say this. Once you know the system is rigged, you have to do two things. You've got to work to unrig it, but you've got to overwhelm it at the same time. We almost overwhelmed the system even though it was rigged; we just fell short. But that doesn't mean we didn't win. And I learned a long time ago, winning doesn't mean getting the thing you want at the moment. It's about being willing to keep fighting for it until you get the thing you need the most. And that's what we're going to do. And that's why we're not going to [applause]
Jonathan Capehart: Stacey Abrams.