Stacey Abrams: "Our excitement should never center around a single person"

i-D speaks to the lawyer and politician about her new book, 'Our Time Is Now: Power, Purpose, and the Fight for a Fair America', and what's at stake in the coming election.

by Mary Retta
21 September 2020, 12:10pm

Stacey wears all clothing model’s own.

Stacey’s story originally appeared in up + rising, a celebration of extraordinary Black voices, and is the first chapter of i-D's 40th anniversary issue (1980-2020).

i-D chronicled over 100 activists and artists, musicians and writers, photographers and creatives, in Atlanta, Baltimore, Minneapolis, LA, London, New York, Paris and Toronto.

If Stacey Abrams could have one wish, it would be that every eligible voter in America would turn up to the polls in November. The lawyer and Democratic politician, who served in the Georgia House of Representatives from 2007 to 2017, has been a voting right’s activist for years. Her latest book, Our Time Is Now: Power, Purpose, and the Fight for a Fair America, chronicles the history of voter suppression in America, arguing that it has caused a lack of racial progress in the country.

Abram’s drive to get eligible Americans to the polls has been met with unique challenges ahead of the 2020 presidential election. Though President Trump’s approval rating is only at 41 percent as of August 2020, a five percent decrease since the beginning of the year according to data from FiveThirtyEight, his opposition also has some mixed reviews. Many leftists and young people in particular are weary of Joe Biden’s politics and leadership capabilities, citing his sexual assault allegations, pro-police rhetoric, and his role as Vice President under Barrack Obama who was known for mass deportations and bombings in the Middle East among other offenses. Abrams, who is a staunch supporter of Joe Biden and was a potential pick for his VP, believes that our desire to vote should not necessarily center around a specific figurehead.

“Our excitement should never center around a single person,” Abrams says. “I understand the passion for having this notion of an avatar who is everything we need, but what I’m looking for is a real person who has demonstrated his willingness to do what must be done..”

Public opinion on Joe Biden has been divided in part due to his opinions on policing and police budgets. As the Black Lives Matter movement grows across the country, a growing number of the American population is supporting the movement to defund the police, or divest money away from the police force into public goods such as education and housing. Many leftists are also pushing for police abolition, a movement which advocates for getting rid of the police and creating radical new forms of community-based public safety, which has occurred most recently in Minneapolis and in several public school districts across the country. Meanwhile both Presidential candidates do not support the movement to defund the police, with Joe Biden promising to give an extra $300 million dollars in funding to the national police force if he were elected in November. Stacey Abrams admits that her and her presidential pick are not on the same page on this issue.

“When we’re talking about the police, we need to be discussing reformation and transformation,” she said. “Reformation is making certain we adopt policies and practices that diminish if not fully eliminate use of excessive force and the extra-judicial killings that we’ve seen, and that removes the funding and militarisation in our law enforcement so that we know our best practices for actually ensuring that the public safety is ensured when law enforcement is employed. Transformation is about the redistributive allocation of dollars so that we’re not simply investing in public safety, we’re also creating safety for the public through education, through healthcare, through food security, through affordable housing. We know these corner stones tend to be very strong predictors of the likelihood of stability, access, and opportunity in a community, and so we have to transform how we think about our allocation of funding.”

Though Abrams does not support the abolition of police, she admits she is excited about the progress that several school districts have made to remove police from campus, and is interested to see how Minneapolis fairs under a new community safety program. “I absolutely believe that there’s no place for police officers in public schools,” Abrams said. “The moment we create the space to tell children that they are under suspicion simply for being, we predicate this notion of not being worth enough, or not being trusted. We know there is a direct link between that kind of surveillance and the school to prison pipeline, particularly for Black and brown boys and girls.”

“And I appreciate what Minneapolis is doing,” she continued. “I look forward to understanding and watching as their approach takes root, because one of the ways we judge the utility of an idea is to test it out.”

Aside from her career in politics, Abrams has a long history of activism, specifically relating to racial justice and voting access. In 1992, she was present at an anti-racist rally in Georgia where she burned the state flag in protest. In 2018, she established Fair Fight Action, an organization dedicated to addressing voter suppression, especially in the states of Georgia and Texas. Abrams has said she plans on continuing to advocate for these issues as the Black Lives Matter movement progresses.

“I’m very focused on tackling voter suppression, because all of this is a moot issue of people cannot be heard and their needs cannot be met,” she said. “I’m also focused on the 2020 Census, because in the United States this is how we not only allocate $1.5 trillion dollars every single year, but it’s also how we allocate political power for a decade. The Trump administration is trying to weaponize this system to leave millions of people of color out of the count, and if they’re not counted, they not only lose their financial resources and political power. And lastly, I’m looking at the rise of authoritarianism, because we are watching an authoritarian in training in Donald Trump, and we have to recognise that the United States is not immune to the fall of democracy.”

Abrams is straddling two worlds: one within activism, and another as a person with political power in the government that many are rallying against. Despite this, Abrams feels at home in both arenas. “I am absolutely operating with Black Lives Matter, as I was twenty years ago when the language didn’t exist, but the challenges existed,” she said. “Black Lives Matter is a call that has helped to focus the minds of many, but I’ve been here for a while and I don’t plan to go anywhere.”


Photography Kristin Powell

Casting Samuel Ellis Scheinman for DMCASTING.
Casting assistance Alexandra Antonova.
Stacey wears all clothing model’s own.