An Abrams ‘strike team’ revs up crowd at Netroots progressive bash

Democrat Stacey Abrams speaks at Netroots Nation. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

It was a tale Stacey Abrams has rarely shared before, a story of the small band of Georgia lawmakers she helped form to stymie the Republican agenda under the Gold Dome – without sanction or support for her own party’s poohbahs.

She called that 2008 coalition the “strike team,” and her story Thursday at Netroots Nation was meant to rev up the progressive activists streaming to Atlanta for the four-day conference to be just as willing to ruffle Democratic feathers as Republican ones.

“We weren’t going to overthrow the legislative order. We didn’t have the means to topple the Speaker of the House. But we could make their work harder,” she said. “We could summon their victims to the Capitol. We could resist.”

Abrams would join the ranks of the party’s leadership two years later, winning a vote to lead the House Democratic caucus. But as she races for governor against a staunch Democratic rival – state Rep. Stacey Evans – she’s banking on mobilizing progressive voters in Georgia frustrated with the establishment.

Evans, meanwhile, also has designs on winning over progressives while rebuilding a tattered coalition of working-class and suburban voters who have steadily fled to the GOP. She contends that Abrams was too willing to compromise with Republicans rather than fight them, particularly with a GOP overhaul of the HOPE scholarship.  She’s speaking to the Netroots conference on Saturday.

At the conference’s opening session, Abrams described the strike team’s mission with candor: To “disrupt the operations of the Republicans and slow down their agenda.”

(Coalitions and caucuses ebb and flow in Georgia’s Legislature, stealthily forming and disappearing with the political tides. But we had never heard of this one before Abrams’ speech.)

They set out to cultivate back-bench legislators, prepare questions for them to ask, demands for them to make. And they didn’t clue in the party’s leadership on their efforts.

“Not because they might object but because we didn’t need or want their permission,” she said. “Because resistance demands independence and flexibility.”

She said her team lost more than it won, but “because we tried, because we resisted, we slowed the pace of stupid and blocked the advance of mean.”

After her speech, she said among the successes was spurring Democrats, many who rarely rose to speak, to ask a long list of questions ahead of a hectic legislative deadline in 2008 that delayed GOP priorities.

Abrams parlayed the Strike Team into a broader message about the Donald Trump presidency.

“We need the resistance to fight not only our opposition but sometimes our leadership,” she said. “That’s not treason. That’s not betrayal. That’s democracy.”

But the biggest applause line came near the end of her speech, when she talked about how the path to victory in Georgia combines white progressives and black Democrats locking arms to “speak to disaffected Republicans without losing our souls or our election.”

“We can win the highest office in Georgia without changing my hair, my gender, my race or my beliefs,” she said. “With you beside me, with progressives owning their power across this country, we can demand more of our leaders and bring our vision to life.”


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