Making history with the color blue

Off the Beat

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Alisa Steel/Staff

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On Jan. 16, 2015, during the Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend-themed Friday night service of my bat mitzvah, I stood in front of a microphone leading blessings to welcome Shabbat among a spirited crowd — one that defied all the segregation laws and precedents that prevailed in the South just 50 years prior.

King’s Ebenezer Baptist Church congregation and The Temple congregation gathered together to embrace the dream that King once worked toward. The church’s choir and my synagogue’s musicians joined hands in creating an experience that meshed classic Jewish prayers with Civil Rights Movement anthems, instilling hope in listeners’ hearts and conviction in their thoughts. 

This was only the prelude, however, to the echoing sermon given by the Rev. Raphael Warnock. In his words and in his passion, Warnock made Georgia feel like the Promised Land. I remember being eye to eye with him on the bima, but I did not put his name to his face until very recently.

Six years later, Warnock addressed the Black and Jewish communities once again during the Friday night service preceding Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend. But this year, he did it with not only his congregation listening but his constituents, too. Warnock and Jon Ossoff had just won their Senate races in Georgia, making history for their remarkable strides in flipping Georgia blue and advocating justice and unity in a state that previously lacked a leader who uplifted marginalized voices. I feel their impact already.

Some people ask me how my citizenship in Georgia influences how I feel about them. I have one answer to that.

Before this year, when people asked me where I am from, I responded with “I am from Atlanta, not Georgia.” I did this so people did not get the wrong idea about my politics. I did not want them to think that I was the kid walking into school wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat or supporting gun ownership after mass shootings. These are the stereotypes about Georgia I thought Californians presumed, and I did not want to be associated with the behavior of the ruthless Trumpers I was surrounded by in high school.

“The city is very different from the state,” I told myself. This explanation, which specified and pointed to my urbanism and liberalism, was my guiding principle when I talked about home.

Now, however, I no longer feel the urgency or need to clarify.

Watching my home state of Georgia turn blue after years of honing the Southern, conservative stereotype was vindication for the voices that were suppressed, lessened and ridiculed. This flip unlocked the identities of many Georgians who felt the need to hide away based on their sexual preferences, skin colors or ethnicities. This historic movement proved that a voice for change does not go unnoticed. With the votes from Fulton County, my county, heavily influencing the winner of the presidential and Senate races, I saw how much each individual vote mattered. The color blue filling in Georgia’s territory on the election maps indicated a revolution for equality, justice and community.

I am honored that my vote held a role in this heroic and historic moment.

Georgia accomplished what I thought was the impossible. I never thought the division of race in my state would be fought or overcome by such a surge of voting.

Not only was I a delighted Georgian through this politically strenuous time, but I was also a delighted sister. My brother worked as a field organizer for President Joe Biden’s campaign during the primary elections and was hired by the Democratic Party of Georgia as a campaigner for the regular election. When I think of the people who directly influenced Georgia’s flip, I give him some gratitude.

On Jan. 5, the morning of the special election, my brother and I knocked on local doors to speak to potential voters in one last effort to get the vote out. During our conversations from door to door, my brother reminded me that it was Warnock who had given the sermon at the Friday night service of my bat mitzvah back in 2015. At that moment, I put his name to his face in my memory and began to see a beacon of hope for Georgia.

On the night of Jan. 5, I felt proud for the first time in my life to be a Georgian. The Senate race reinforced what the presidential one already proved: My home state prioritized what is right over what is easy. The voices silenced in prior elections reigned in the 2021 Senate race — thank you, Stacey Abrams. And the racist humor and suppression that surrounded me in high school were denounced. Georgia officially changed. 

Listening to Warnock days ago in that annual Friday night service, I was reminded that Georgia voted for candidates who carry the power to continue the dreams that Martin Luther King Jr. imagined for Georgia. Despite the virtual setting of the service, it was the unity and the celebrated differences that made me see how historic the flip is.

On that day, I finally saw Georgia through the perspective of Warnock: a Promised Land.

“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members separate from the semester’s regular opinion columnists. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.