Greeted by whoops and a standing ovation, politician Stacey Abrams jogged across the stage, striking poses while audience members snapped pictures.
In a Thursday speech and Q&A, Abrams discussed victory, activism and representation to a sold-out Cahn Auditorium.
Abrams, the first black female gubernatorial candidate for a major party, said that even though she lost her race in 2018, she won. She visited every county in Georgia during her 2018 campaign and “built a juggernaut,” tripling Latino and Asian Pacific Islander voter turnout and increasing youth participation rates by 139%.
“We believed that there were people out there who had never been engaged, who hadn't been spoken to, who didn't hear their stories reflected in those people who wanted to be their leaders. And so we invested in those communities,” Abrams said.
While studying at Spelman College, Abrams urged her classmates to flood local news stations with phone calls, demanding political action during a wave of local riots. She ended up in front of Maynard Jackson, the mayor of Atlanta.
“I stood up in my jeans and my nicest t-shirt, and confronted [him] and told him he was doing a crappy job leading the city,” Abrams said.
In response to a student question about activism in college, Abrams said students should protest and give a voice to the voiceless. However, anger without direction is not sufficient; students should demand specific courses of action and build on the advocacy of the past, Abrams said.
“Make all new mistakes,” Abrams said. “Do not make the same mistakes.”
According to Abrams, voter representation is essential to advance democracy. She now operates Fair Fight 2020, a voting rights advocacy group, as well as Fair Count, which promotes full census coverage for 2020.
“We know that if you’re not counted, you don’t count,” Abrams said. “As Americans, we have the right to determine our leaders, we have the right to voice our opinions… [and] we have the right to be wrong. But that right is not real if we don't have free and fair elections.”
Questions about 2020 figured prominently in the Q&A. Abrams said she would consider an offer for the vice-presidential nomination. She advised students to vote according to their “conscience,” rather than their “ego.”
“You don’t have to vote for a so-called centrist,” Abrams said. “We should vote for people because we trust them to lead us.”
To get to know the person behind the politician, one student asked Abrams’s favorite Lizzo song. The answer: “Juice.”
College Democrats president Romie Drori said the event was a success and that audience members seemed to leave inspired. She said she hopes students will act on Abrams’s words, voting in the 2019 elections and working to improve representation in their own communities.
“I thought that [Abrams] was extremely candid, in a way that I almost wasn’t anticipating, but I’m very thankful for,” Drori said.
Communication senior Hannah Yi said she felt “empowered” in the wake of Abrams’s speech.
“It was really cool to see such a powerful, strong woman, especially a person of color, speaking her truth and driving these important issues home,” Yi said.