The speech Stacey Evans tried to deliver to a progressive conference before she was shouted off the stage by supporters of her Democratic primary opponent was a defense of her strategy to grow the party by appealing to moderate whites who have fled to the GOP.
Invoking legendary Atlanta Constitution editor Ralph McGill, a white southerner who stood up to a generation of demagogues and segregationists, Evans was to say in her speech that he recognized a lesson that she hoped to put into practice today: “We must have conviction in our message, but we must also wield that conviction to build the broadest coalition possible.”
Evans, a Smyrna state legislator who is white, was drowned out by demonstrators supporting Stacey Abrams, an Atlanta lawmaker who is black. A phalanx of sign-wielding protesters formed a line in front of her as soon as she took the podium, while others chanted “support black women” and “trust black women.” What followed was several minutes of pleading – “let’s talk through it,” Evans implored repeatedly – and an attempt to plow through the speech.
After the event, several of the protesters declined to comment. Some demonstrators said on social media they rallied against her because she backed a failed GOP effort to give the state new powers over struggling schools; one African-American activist said in an interview she couldn’t point to any specific policy decisions but that she wanted a “a candidate that truly speaks to my community.”
Abrams’ campaign said it didn’t play any role in staging the protest and defied calls by some Georgia Democrats to rebuke the demonstration. In a statement, Abrams said she would not “condemn peaceful protest” and called the racially-tinged chants an effort to bring marginalized voices to the forefront and not an attack on Evans’ race.
Here’s the full text of the speech she would have delivered:
Good morning. I’m Stacey Evans and I’m running for Governor of Georgia.
Let me start by thanking everyone here. You all are part of a movement that is greater than any one of us.
You have chosen to spend your time, energy, and money to fight this fight because you know what is at stake. Our democratic ideals are at stake. The hearts and minds of our country are at stake. Everything we have fought for is at stake.
Now, the symbolism of the nation’s leading progressives gathering in the South is not lost on me. You are in the heart of where progressive policies are needed the most.
While the South has her problems – and she does, believe me. I can think of another resistance movement that started right here.
At this very moment, we are less than a mile’s walk from Auburn Avenue – a street lined with churches that created the template for progressive resistance.
Big Bethel AME, Wheat Street Baptist, and of course, Ebenezer Baptist stand as lasting testaments to a corridor that was the beating heart of the civil rights movement.
And they are still active congregations today, at the forefront of the struggle and standing side by side with new leaders and young revolutionaries, coming from all faith traditions.
Those coalitions have spilled out into the streets and are organizing here today.
Today, together, we are building the resistance to change history yet again.
So, you see, we sit here today, in the shadows not just of a past marred with segregation and bigotry, but in the shadows of steeples where young women and men gathered to craft a coalition – a resistance that would change history.
Georgia is my home. It has been since the day I was born.
But I grew up far from the progressive hub of Atlanta. I was born two hours north, just this side of the Tennessee line, in a forgotten town called Ringgold.
My mother had me when she just 17 – in a hospital that today is in constant fear of being closed because of our state’s short-sighted and cruel decision not to expand Medicaid.
My mom never finished high school and my birth father was not around.
Before the age of 18, I lived in roughly 16 different homes – most of them trailers.
I remember what it was like to come home to find that the lights had been shut off. And to see my mom struggle to put food on the table.
And I remember calling the police when one of my stepfathers dragged my mom through the yard, beating her.
I remember when the police told me they knew the man, that he wouldn’t hurt a fly, and then didn’t come to help.
I remember feeling hopeless. Powerless.
And disgusted that the people who were supposed to protect us, refused to do so.
It is then that I first realized how much it matters who is in power.
Fortunately, not too long after what was low point of my feelings of hopelessness, one of my favorite teachers told me that the Governor was coming to our high school to tell us about a new program in Georgia called HOPE. HOPE – that magical word – a concept, and for me, also, a scholarship.
When the governor came, he explained that the HOPE Scholarship was simple: make a B, and go to a public college of your choice, tuition-free. So, that’s what I did.
That scholarship gave me hope in the broader sense of the word.
It got me to college – the first in my family to go there.
Everything that is amazing in my life started with that scholarship: College; Law school, which is where I met my husband, which led to my daughter Ashley; A career as an attorney; And a chance to serve this state in the legislature.
For seven years I’ve been able to fight at our state Capitol for Georgians who, like I did, need a little help to help themselves.
The HOPE scholarship, the crowning achievement of another north Georgia Democrat, has changed not just my life, but the lives of millions of Georgians with stories like mine.
This happened in the 1990s y’all. The program offered tuition-free college long before such a policy was mainstream and decades before it became the rallying cry of progressives that it has become today.
I know you may find it easy to write the South off as backwards. And I will not stand before you today and shirk our deep problems.
But let me tell you, Georgia is also a place where great things can be achieved.
A place where progressive policies have won out and changed lives, that is, until Republicans came to town.
And right now, Georgia is a place where we have a great opportunity to reach out to all corners of the state with our message to bring back HOPE and win again.
We have a long way to go in our fights for equality. The acts of violence and terror in Charlottesville remind of that even today.
The middle class continues to get squeezed as the richest get richer.
And we fail to look after the least fortunate among us with affordable healthcare and education.
Great inequities such as these can bear hopelessness. I know because I’ve lived it.
What I see in Georgians, and what I see here in this room, is an incredible amount of hope.
I see determination. The determination not to compromise on our core values: creating access to hope and opportunity must be absolutes for us.
I see courage. The courage to fight for our values.
And that’s why I believe that it is hope that will guide the resistance forward.
A couple of months ago, I announced my campaign for governor – to bring hope and opportunity to all of Georgia’s families.
– Hope that technical college will be tuition free. Period.
– Hope that hard work will get you to a good job that pays a fair, livable wage.
– Hope that we’ll all be able to access quality healthcare when we need it.
– HOPE that no matter where you live, you’ll feel good when you drop your children off at the school steps.
– HOPE that all our children will have access to quality pre-K at age 2.
– HOPE that we are all equal and that our government will not allow us to be treated otherwise – not on the streets, not in courtrooms, not in the workplace, not anyplace.
This message will win because at the end of the day, most of us inside this hotel, most of us outside this hotel, whether Democrat or Republican, progressive or conservative, go to bed worrying about basically the same things.
– Will I be able to find a good job to support my family?
– Can I afford my student debt payment?
– Or my rent or my mortgage?
– If my child or an aging parent, or if I get sick, can we get the medical care we need?
– Is my child’s school worthy of her promise?
– Is my family safe and secure?
What gives me great hope is that we in this room get that these issues are front of mind and connect us all. It’s the basis of who we are.
As progressives, we are the ones with the economic solutions to give everyone the ability to lift themselves up and earn a fair living.
We are the ones determined to provide quality healthcare and education to all.
We are the ones fighting to ensure that each and every single American is afforded the protections, freedom and opportunity that our country was founded on.
As we build this resistance to President Trump, we cannot lose sight of these ideals – they are what bind us and what will bring hope to this country.
I want to leave you today, where I started, both in these remarks – and well, nearly in life.
About 30 minutes north from my hometown, just on the other side of the Tennessee Line, is a small town called Soddy-Daisy.
The town’s most famous son was Ralph McGill, a former editor of the paper that is today the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
McGill became an early, perhaps unlikely, ally of the passive resisters, the civil rights icons.
He loved his South, but he knew that speaking truth to power as one voice was the only way to disabuse Southerners of their hateful ways.
He knew that for the civil rights movement to succeed, southerners – and Americans – of all stripes, needed to know about it up close.
So, he wrote about it to a broad audience – not just to those who knew the time for civil rights had come, but those that didn’t yet know it.
He saw then what I hope we all see today – that we must have conviction in our message, but we must also wield that conviction to build the broadest coalition possible.
And spread our message far and wide.
Not just to those who already believe.
No movement in history has changed the world by waiting out the non-believers.
Movements change the world by changing hearts and minds.
By telling our stories. And sharing our truths. By fighting for the win.
Together, we must continue the journey we have been on since America began. The same journey that saw desegregation and women’s suffrage and marriage equality.
The same journey that passed through the streets of Atlanta and the churches of Auburn Avenue.
NOT so we can make America great again. But so that we can continue our efforts to make America as great as it can be.
Let’s not be afraid to take our message far and wide.
Let’s win again y’all!