The Peach State is far from Northwest D.C. But GDS’ Student Action Committee helped get out the vote in Georgia’s two U.S. Senate runoff elections through a phone-banking blitz that resulted in 5,700 calls to historically disenfranchised voters. The volunteers—students from GDS and other high schools—provided voting information and encouraged Georgians to exercise their voting rights.
These phone-banking sessions were part of the Student Action Committee’s Voter Mobilization Initiative, which was started in April 2020 by senior Anoushka Chander, the founder of the committee; junior Maddie Feldman, who led most of the phone-banking sessions, and GDS staff members Andy Lipps, Leigh Tait and Lauren Dickert. Their motivation was simple, according to Feldman: working to ensure that “the right to vote was equal, fair, and safe for everyone.”
By Wednesday—the day after the Georgia runoff election and the same day a mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol—Democrats Jon Ossoff and the Reverend Raphael Warnock were projected to win their respective Senate races, defeating Republican incumbents David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler.
It’s been 20 years since the Peach State was represented by a Democrat in the Senate. The runoff was necessary because none of the candidates met Georgia’s majority-vote requirement in the November election.
As a result, there will be a 50-50 split between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris as the tie-breaker. This outcome was a victory for progressives across the country, as Democrats will now have control of the legislative and executive branches of government, potentially allowing them to pass more of their agenda despite Republican opposition.
With almost 4.5 million votes counted, Georgians set an all-time record in the number of votes cast in a runoff election. This new record is a testimony to the success of efforts by local and nationwide activists, including GDS students, to mobilize voters.
Ossoff, 33, will be the the first Jewish senator from Georgia, the youngest Democratic senator since Joe Biden in 1973 and the first millennial elected to the Senate. Warnock will be the first Black senator from Georgia.
For senior Arthur Delot-Vilain, a co-head of GDS’ Student Voices political discussion group, the Democrats’ victory came as a pleasant surprise.
“I knew that the [Democratic National Committee] and activists working with Stacey Abrams have been putting in a lot of work in terms of outreach efforts over the few months,” he said. “But I thought that the Democrats would lose one or both seats.
“One concern for this runoff election was that the turnout would be much lower than in November,” Delot-Vilain said, “because you don’t have this driver out to the polls that President Trump was. He inspired a lot of people to come to the polls to vote against him.”
Senior Corbin Buchwald, another Student Voices co-head, predicted that Ossoff and Warnock’s victories would encourage GDS students to “become more politically active in future elections, particularly 2022 and 2024, now that the Democrats are actually able to do something,” referring to their ability to pass legislation in Congress. “This will be the first time the Democrats will hold the Senate, the House, and the presidency since 2008 to 2010,” he noted, allowing for some “serious liberal policy to be implemented.”
Looking forward, Delot-Vilain was less optimistic about the prospect of legislation as progressive as the Green New Deal or Medicare for All being passed, saying, “50-50 Senate with a tiebreaker in Kamala Harris will not be the force that progressives want it to be.”
While the more left-leaning wing of the Democratic Party has hoped to push for progressive policy under the incoming Biden administration, Delot-Vilain continued, “the dynamics of a really tight Senate will hurt that sort of endeavor, especially when there are Democratic senators like Joe Manchin who are somewhat conservative.”
Meanwhile, the Student Action Committee continues to offer many avenues for student activism. Chander called the committee a “one-stop shop for student advocacy and engaging GDS students in civic experiences,” both on the federal and local levels.
Along with the Voter Mobilization Initiative, Chander mentioned the committee’s “Environmental Task Force, which does a lot of environmental justice work within GDS and the local community,” and a planned “Allyship Project” that will focus on anti-racism workshops. All the committee’s work shares a simple aim: “putting the power in the hands of students.”