If there are two things to which Athens is no stranger, they’re politics and food. On July 15, Athens residents saw the logical conclusion of the two: a campaign event with free BBQ, as 2018 gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams hosted a community forum at Pulaski Heights BBQ
Abrams, a Democrat, has served in the Georgia House of Representatives since 2007, assuming the role of House Minority Leader in 2011. Abrams filed for her candidacy on May 2, and will be the first ever black woman to hold a US governorship if elected.
The event began at 12:00 p.m., when attendees were welcomed into the building by members of the Abrams campaign. Staffers took contact information and then attendees were free to help themselves to a plate of BBQ, beans and coleslaw. In the hour before Abrams took center stage, constituents were able to mingle among themselves, but many also had the opportunity to talk to important local political figures.
Tommy Valentine, who is running for the ACC Unified Government’s 9thdistrict seat, was present accompanied by campaign staffers, as well as GA 10th district candidate Chalis Montgomery, perspective 10th district candidate Richard Winfield and many other politically active Athenians.
“I’m really excited about the opportunity we have in front of us as a state to change the direction that Georgia is going in,” said Karen Hilyard, a nine-year resident of Athens. “I’ve really been stunned at how governor Deal has ignored the wishes of his constituents. I want a governor who listens to all of the constituents of Georgia.”
Though the event bore a certain air of political prestige due to the density of prominent political figures, the event welcomed all who had an interest in having some BBQ and hearing Abrams’ platform. Over 100 people were in attendance of the event, including Milana Wilfork, an Athens resident of four years who described herself as uninvolved in general political activism but curious.
“I heard about Stacey Abrams through a friend of mine through church who went to college through her,” Wilfork said. “I’m not very familiar with who she is but I know she’s been traveling all around the state and more so curious about her platform and what direction she wants to take Georgia in.”
Around 1:15, the crowd was quieted to a hush before erupting to thunderous applause as Stacey Abrams ascended to the middle of the stairs to address the whole restaurant.
“I know you came for the barbecue but thank you,” Abrams said, eliciting a good laugh from the crowd. “Hi, my name is Stacey Abrams and I’m running for governor.
Abrams quickly jumped into her family history, talking about her parents’ childhood growing up under segregation and her life growing up with five siblings on the line between working class and working poor. Abrams said that her experience taught her many things, most importantly the importance of helping others, regardless of one’s circumstance.
“”I’m coming for Georgia, Abrams said. “”We have to build a thriving and diverse economy across the state of Georgia. We have to educate bold and ambitious children.”
Abrams went on to answer questions from the audience on topics ranging from Medicaid, to the HOPE Scholarship, to democratic engagement. While working as House Minority Leader, negotiating the future of HOPE was one of Abram’s first major tasks, working across the aisle with the larger Republican majority to negotiate a compromise.
“I am proud of the work we did to preserve the hope scholarship when it was on the verge of bankruptcy, and when the Republican initial plan was to actually increase the standards and make the entire scholarship not only tied to a GPA but tied to the ACT or SAT score,” Abrams said. “Georgia needs to create need based aid. We need to make sure college is affordable for everyone, including C students and those who take hard courses or face challenges.”
Abrams was adamant in her support for the return of need-based aid to the HOPE Scholarship in the future. Abrams also went on to decry the lack of Medicaid expansion in Georgia saying ““the fact that we have decided that more than 500,000 of our fellow citizens do not deserve access to healthcare is an abomination.”
Another central tenant of Abram’s message at the forum was the need for a livable wage, which she hopes will be accomplished through re-investing in Georgia’s small businesses, allowing workers to work one steady job instead of several out of necessity.
Finally, Abrams addressed the need for democratic unity in the coming months. Abrams said that she looks to represent supporters of many recent democratic campaigns, such as the Obama, Clinton and Sanders campaigns within her own in an attempt to reach out to the broadest base of democratic support.
“It is July of 2017, I’m running for governor now because it’s going to take that long for me to learn what I need to do, and to make sure people believe what I am going to say,” Abrams said.
Abrams went on to continue her tour of Georgia later that day, attending a similar event in Augusta at 3:30 p.m. The Georgia gubernatorial race is part of the 2018 midterm elections, taking place on November 6, 2018. Abrams is joined by Representative Stacey Evans on the Democratic side, while the Republican Party currently has four declared candidates in Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle, Secretary of State Brian Kemp, as well as state senators Hunter Hill and Michael Williams.
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