Stacey Abrams is a New York Times best-selling author, serial entrepreneur, nonprofit CEO, and political leader. After serving for 11 years in the Georgia House of Representatives, including seven as minority leader, in 2018 Abrams became the Democratic nominee for governor of Georgia, when she won more votes than any other Democrat in the state’s history. Abrams was the first black woman to become the gubernatorial nominee for a major party in the United States. After witnessing the gross mismanagement of the 2018 election by the secretary of state’s office, Abrams launched Fair Fight to ensure every Georgian has a voice in our election system. Over the course of her career, Abrams has founded multiple organizations devoted to voting rights, training and hiring young people of color, and tackling social issues at both the state and national levels. She is a lifetime member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the 2012 recipient of the John F. Kennedy New Frontier Award, and a current member of the board of directors for the Center for American Progress. Abrams has also written eight romantic suspense novels under the pen name Selena Montgomery, in addition to a guidebook on making real change titled Lead from the Outside, formerly Minority Leader.Abrams received degrees from Spelman College, the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, and Yale Law School. She and her five siblings grew up in Gulfport, Mississippi, and were raised in Georgia.View the profile
N. K. Jemisin is the first author in the genre’s history to win three consecutive Best Novel Hugos, for her Broken Earth trilogy. Her most recent novel is the NYT-bestselling THE CITY WE BECAME. She is a 2020 MacArthur Fellow. She lives and writes in New York City.View the profile
About the talk
Stacey Abrams is the New York Times bestselling author of Our Time is Now and Lead from the Outside, an entrepreneur, and political leader. After serving for eleven years in the Georgia House of Representatives, seven as Minority Leader, in 2018, Abrams became the Democratic nominee for Governor of Georgia. Abrams was the first black woman to become the gubernatorial nominee for a major party in the United States. After witnessing the gross mismanagement of the 2018 election by the Secretary of State’s office, Abrams launched Fair Fight to ensure every Georgian has a voice in our election system. Over the course of her career, Abrams has founded multiple organizations devoted to voting rights, training and hiring young people of color, and tackling social issues at both the state and national levels. In 2019, she launched Fair Count to ensure accuracy in the 2020 Census and greater participation in civic engagement, and the Southern Economic Advancement Project, a public policy initiative to broaden economic power and build equity in the South.
She is a lifetime member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the 2012 recipient of the John F. Kennedy New Frontier Award, and a current member of the Board of Directors for the Center for American Progress. Abrams has also written eight romantic suspense novels under the pen name Salena Montgomery and will release her first legal thriller, While Justice Sleeps, in May 2021.
Honey, bear. Hello. You can reach the Pinnacle of cool. You have a Janelle Monae video made for you that is okay. You've officially like all kinds of testifying to have reached the Pinnacle of cool. You can get cooler. Like, there you are. That's amazing. So, how are you doing? How are you doing? I'm well, I have to start by actually doing something. I've been instructed by my siblings to do, so when I told him, I was coming to South by Southwest, they were very proud of me. When I told them I was going to
be in conversation with MK. Jemison, my cool points, went up because you were one of our book club selection. So my brother's such as, there's six of us, we have a book club and your broken Earth, Trilogy was one of our selections as was the city we became. So you just need to know that the street cred among the Abrams Clan is high for in Cajun. Oh okay. We'll all of my friends are like you have to say hi to her for me so that would take up the entire session. If I did that for every single one of my friends but everyone that I know is super excited that I got the chance to talk to
you. I'm super excited that I've gotten the chance to talk to you. I am super fangirling right now and I'm trying to like, you know, hold it down. Stay I might get my slip in my flip. Alright. Well, so I have some questions of my own and then we've got a few questions which is a mission group resource from the South by Southwest audience. And so let's get right into. I did not realize you were a romance author until relatively recently. I'm so I've got to catch up on reading all of your work. But one of the things that I thought was amazing,
was that the romance Community just immediately and unequivocally and proudly proclaimed that you were one of theirs. That was, that was how I found out, where they were like, oh, by the way, she writes romance to, I have nothing but admiration for the billion-dollar industry that is romance. So, how did romance writing? Help you Interpol antics? I wouldn't say it helped me enter politics but it has always informed how I do my job. All of them, I'm a writer because I love words, I think like you storytelling is innate
when I was a third year in law school, I wanted to write an Espionage novel, but this is back in 99 and women were not published, as Espionage writer, certainly got a black woman. My Heroine was a black chemical physicist, who is going to unravel this very complicated story. So I talked to some friends who are publishing said, here's his book, I want to publish, they're like yeah, you're not going to eat that published. And I did my first, my first real to myself is okay, they say no one way to figure another way to do it. So I made my spies fall in love,
kill the same number of people, but I got it published as a message and seeing you. Imported into my political career, it's that you may want to do something one way and you may have your eyes, hear your sights set on that. You may have a tire orchestration, but it may not work out the way you intend, but that doesn't relieve, you of the responsibility. And I had I needed to tell that story I wanted to write that book and so I just have to find a different way to do it. It may not be the traditional way, but I still got it
done, and you 7novels followed it. So, I did eight romantic suspense, novels. They all got published and I got to tell my stories. And you got to kill the same number of people. I did lots of Mayhem. That's amazing I'm super looking forward to these till just because I'm a writer and I'm going to throw you under the bus here. Can you give me a pitch for your latest book? Actually I will coming out in one come out May 11th the story of a law clerk who finds out that she holds the guardianship for an ailing
Supreme Court. Justice has fallen into a coma and she has to decide whether to let him live or die and unravel the political scheme that is trying to take his life and possibly hers. Okay, I'm in. I'm in you just sold it to me. That was not that hard. All right. Well, thank you. I'm looking forward to it. What's it called? But while Desta sleeps and it will be out on May 11th from Doubleday nice. Okay, I'm looking forward to it. All right, so next question, a few months ago, I posted a thread on Twitter about how politics is another form of Storytelling
and how I felt that Democrats needed to do, a better job of using storytelling to help ordinary Americans, kind of see that democracy and the social safety net, a good for them. What are your thoughts on the political power of Storytelling? I think you're absolutely right. One of the reasons I believe I've been successful is that rather than give people talking points. I try to tell the story of where we are and where we can go, but you often have to bring in, you start in the middle of the story media threats, that you can't leave behind how you got there. And so,
whether it's the work we do fight, to convince people to access their right to vote the work we did with my organization, Fair count to include them in the fences work. We do through the southern economic, Southern economic advancement project receipt, which really focuses on how we translate Progressive policy into Southern. It's all about telling a story, but you have to send her the voters Center, The Citizen Center, the person in that narrative, it's about someone else and they can't see themselves, either benefiting from, or being victimized by, then you give them a reason not to
get attention. And so, I've always tried to make my work about centring, the commute That need to be heard, especially those who are never part of the narrative unless they are seen as the villain or as the union pediment to other success. As if I Centre, not only those Community Centre those narratives, we create space for other people to tell better stories by going to the polls by being involved by being civically engaged. Right. All right. Well, I'm those lines. As you said, a key measure of your success has been in talking to audiences that have traditionally been
ignored by traditional politics and to, you know, we know at this point, for example, that the country's political leadership, generally kind of just doesn't think of certain communities, as being particularly important. How do we make it clear to the political leadership that the voters? They've ignored up until this point are the ones that they should actually be focusing on. Well I have a current example of that. It's not that it's not a positive story but it is relevant in
2020. 2021, we worked to engage the single highest number of communities of color as active builders in Georgia, in the state's history. And as a result, we helped deliver the state of Georgia to a Democratic candidate for president. For the first time in 2008 Years, be elected the first Jewish senator from Georgia, and the first black senator of Georgia. We did it by telling them a story about their power. If they wanted relief from covid, it's they wanted access to voting right? If they want Criminal Justice Reform, that is real. If they want policing reform, these are the things
they need to do. They need to show up to vote. They need to make a plan, bring their family, they listened. And now we have 253 built across the country, trying to undo their performance here in Georgia. More than 50 bills have been introduced to rollback access to voting, right? It's a part of the responsibility is to not just A chapter of the story but the come back and tell people what happens next. It is irresponsible from politicians and political leaders to Simply pretend they don't know or when they learn to try to Gaslight the communities into believing, it's their fault that
bad things happen. Our responsibility as Citizens to not only do the piece of getting them elected, then doing the part of holding them accountable. I like to describe it and protests in the streets, we protest in at The Ballot Box and then we have to protest in the halls of power because in between elections, when life happens, and that's the life that we have to live with. So we need to be always present in the faces and then the minds of those in charge, and those who support those in charge to ensure that we get the best that Society has to offer.
We shouldn't have to add jatate that constantly, but we do. Politics is about self-preservation and it's about creating the world. You want to see if we don't collect people to see us in that world. Then they, we should not be surprised if they try to draw us out of the narrative. That's why constant attention and agitation is so necessary, because there isn't the same where it's just about us, it's about everyone in, people have different needs, they have different once they have
different Notions of power, education is how we make certain that our needs get included in this. Larger narrative, rarely, will anyone get everything they want? But if we get more of what we need, when we stay present because we can't presume that those who do not have our experiences are going to have our needs at the top of their mind is so educational is actually. I think an activist way of saying I'm not going away and I'm not going to let. You forget me because you did one thing for me. And now you're done, I'm going to stay in your face because this is Mike Hunt. This is my state. This
is my city, my community and I deserve your constant attention. All right, amen. Okay so exactly right. You're exactly right. Next question, I have been doing a lot of thinking about genius in the last few months partly, because of the MacArthur thing, it seems to me that someone like you who is a lawyer, a CEO, an obvious polymath who has proven her Mastery of the Arts of both literature and politics. You easily qualify as a genius yourself, but there is a deep discomfort yet. Officially a genius, I can declare other people Geniuses if I want.
But it seems to me that there is a deep discomfort in the collective, unconscious of this country with the idea of Blackness as paired with genius genius. Do you believe that this Collective discomfort has affected you in any way? I think there is a constant reading. I I do kingly refer to my trajectory as sort of an asymptote of success. And it really, really close to crossing the line, but never quite getting over it. And even in this present moment, I've been, I
have been nothing less than blessed and benefited. And I've been able to do more of what I want. But it came about because of an act of perfidy, by someone in power, who decided people, who look like me weren't supposed to be as active, and proactive in their politics. And it was okay, to deny their voices, have no guarantee. And I cannot prove I would have won that election, but I know that the blockage of so many thousands of voices certainly had an impact on the outcome as was proven when we were able to remove some of those impediments in
21 and then in 2020. So, to your point I do believe that there have been opportunities that I've either been denied or haven't been able to reach, but I don't see that as An excuse for my behavior. I I've done things, I have to do it, got to get better faster stronger but yes, there is absolutely a discomfort her with the audacity of black. Why? The audacity of people of color thinking. We belong and spaces, you declaring we deserve to have access. What's look at last year, 2020, when the conversation about the BP,
it was no claim to becoming vice president United States. Never thought I would never thought I did, but what I was chastised for was refusing to dumber and pretend, I didn't have the capacity to do the job because I don't have the title and the position that the people were used to seeing that. Their only been two black women senators, in American history. There has never been a black woman. Governor, those are the two jobs that usually are the predicate for getting that next job. And so instead of my response being seen as a validation of what I've
accomplished and what I know my capacity is Instead face this sort of onslaught of, oh my God, she's ambitious and crying and Cheez-Its performative. They're all these insults as opposed to looking at the fundamental I would ask the question. White men don't get asked, are you qualified? I was going to ask the question, very few people have to contend with and why should you get it in for me that the inverse of the question is those of us who have benefited from intelligence access and delivery, we have an affirmative obligation to declare. Not only for ourselves
or those who look like us and her situated like us. Yes, we are capable. Yes it is possible. Yes, it should be conceivable because if we say no, if we declare that we are less than we give permission for that false narrative to continue, And the fact that people actually fix their mouth to say that in the middle of the Trump Administration is super rich. I have a fun question, who would you have play you in the movie of your life? I can say, I don't know, I will tell
you probably two of the most fun actors that I have seen. I've been able to interact with directly. I love Ashley Nicole black. She is hilarious, and I think her with a scism and her comfort with, who she is. Is an extraordinary thing. She will be older than I am, but I think you. Depending on what I eventually do. I become I think. Viola Davis is just one of those extraordinary actors that can play any role anytime. And what is so delightful about her? Is that her activism is more than performative. It is true, and deep and
Rich. And so, you know, if they wanted to like come together and do a few invitations of life, I would love to watch a movie where they pretended to be me for second, although I don't want anyone to think that I I think there should be a move with my life just yet. I'm I'm sure someone somewhere is planning it they better be, it really better be. Okay, so why your stuff again, as you give me a typical narrative Arc starts with a setup where there's then there's usually an inciting incident rising action in tension. A climax and then the
tension Falls is the story reaches resolution. So let's say there's a hypothetical piece of proposed legislation out there that sounds helpful. It's supposed to restore Faith in American democracy. By preventing large numbers of people from voting. How do we explain the real effects of this legislation to the voters as a story using a narrative Arc? Well, I, I do this with 5th graders, I have them have a conversation. So there has been a law proposed to Outlaw, peanut butter, and jelly sandwiches, at school,
and Tom, Tommy has brought a sandwich to school because it's his favorite sandwich and unfortunately, he has been caught and there's now a wall being proposed say that. If Tommy does it again, his parents go to jail and he gets kicked out of school. Who has the right to decide, whether you get to have peanut butter and jelly in your school. And so, we have to have a debate about whether peanut butter and jelly puts his friend Erica at risk for not the tea, have the permanent right. Have his favorite sandwich. Specially if he's hungry, we have to
follow the bill. We have to understand that they're going to be the cashew farmers. Who want to take down big peanut? Is there a peanut farmer to understand that the poverty of peanut farming that losing peanuts? Will mean, that the butters become more expensive. And we have a governor who has to decide if she will sign that bill or not. It is the right of Voters to decide whether peanuts will rise again or cashews will become the nut of the future. Okay, I'm hoping that you're going to actually write this now is a children's thriller
or something like that because I invested now in The Saga of big peanut and whether big peanut will take over the world, I will say, I'm done this with kids, I've done this with kids and they are all the way in. I mean, the 5th graders and so they, they are barely interested in my presence alone. My narrative for them, by the end of the exercise, you got these kids yelling with each other. I picked him out to be Lobby. They did, they get in, and they make up these stories of what happened to their cousin, because he had a nut allergy, it's amazing.
Or or an ongoing War about peanuts versus cashews. Hopefully they'll result it legislatively. So let's see. I have time for that question. The current media landscape seems to privilege the appearance, but not necessarily the substance of balance and civility, presentation, facts, without implications elevating disinformation to the same same status of Truth, all of that right now. There are a lot of new Democratic candidates energized by the 2020 election, we're seeking public office in the local state and national-level. What's your best motivational or
aspirational narrative for these new candidates running for office in this environment or cldr, how do we get candidates to not just make Pleasant diplomatic promises? But also give real talk on how they plan to accomplish it. We have to meet people where they are, not where we want them to be. And one of the reason New Media social media door-knocking, all of those prolific, all of those ways of communication exist, it's our responsibility to find the method that get to the greatest number of people. When I ran for governor, I did the bait by the television,
but we also were on Spotify. We're on Pandora, but I didn't DragonCon, I went to a gun show. I did one musicfest. I did the So. So Def concert Wheels commercials on country radio and part of this is for new. We convince ourselves that we can only be elected by this narrow sliver of the universe that we can conceive of my beliefs of number one. You have to take advantage of every medium for communication. The second is you can't tell yourself no don't decide for the voters. If they don't want you I may not convince everyone at a gun show.
Support me, but I might get a couple of them to look a little. Give me a little bit of side eye and a few warm. I go home and mention me to someone else. And that person decides to vote for me, but too often, we not only box ourselves out of the narrative. We tell other people, they're not allowed to listen to us. I want you to hear me and decide you don't want what I'm selling. I don't want to be the one to tell you. You can't even have it. And so, for new candidates, especially those who have Progressive values, part of our responsibility is to share what we know to invite others in
and to recognize that compromise is not evil. As long as you're, you can compromise your approach, you don't compromise your values. I don't do that but I will have conversations about the approaches. I'm going to take if my values remain strong and this notion that you have to get everything you want or it's not worth acting ignores Humanity. It doesn't work when you're free, it doesn't work when you're Thirty and it does When your politics because ultimately Society is about each of us, getting something that we need are giving up something that we want and that doesn't disappear when
you're running for office. What's important is that we know what we can't give up and those are the things we defend. But everything else has to be open to conversation if we want to get any progress. Okay. Amen. I think we have enough time for my favorite question of. Which is how's your time as a supernatural fan and you any insight into managing viewer or voter expectations, with regard to outcomes? And I love Supernatural. I also love the too soon. Departed Timeless, the actors, Jared and Misha, and God
I just blamed on. Oh my God. Oh my God, I love him. He's so incredible. Anyway, my point is my point is that, Our responsibility, the the the point of Supernatural has always been to say that things are never quite what we imagine and that we are going to fail and stumble in our Pursuits. But we are responsible for trying again and that we should never try alone but every time Dean or Sam when they Whatever Whenever they try to go buy them or Castiel. Whenever they tried to go alone, things
fail is an angle. That's a good time anyway that we are responsible for going together, but also that sometimes, you don't ask for permission, you just ask for forgiveness and ultimately that our responsibility is to tell the best story possible to get to the next frame to get to the next episode to get to the next rectory. All right. That is a perfect into minority question. So now let's move on to the questions that we Source from South by Southwest attendees. Okay? So the first one is coming from
Diana. What do you think the Next Generation should focus on When approaching current issues with our political environment? Thank you, Diane. We have to keep our eyes on the fundamentals. When people have a chance to actually participate in making choices, they tend to make better choices. But when you are told either through word or deed that your voice doesn't matter, you start to not only diminish, your participation, you start to diminish your belief in yourself. That's why I fight for voting rights. It's not about the the
accident boat. Okay? You had to cast a ballot. It's about the active choosing. It's about the power to decide what my future looks like. And I would say to every voter. And to anyone thinking about running for office, our responsibility is to ensure the foundation of participation because we can overwhelm them with our presents. We can overwhelm them with our demands, we can fix the world. If enough of us who want the world to be actually show up and demand that it be so. All right. Okay. So the next question then is from Francis.
How can I hear States? Take the example of what you and your team did in Georgia and apply it to their issues. I am a new resident of Austin, Texas. And I cannot believe the voter voter suppression tactics in the state. So what's your fight did in 2019 and 2020? We actually operated in 20 different states working on voter suppression including taxes. But we've got to remember that voter suppression is one part of the equation. The work that we were able to do in Georgia, started a decade ago and it was focusing on voter suppression but also put her engagement
because you can make it easier to vote. If you still have to do the work of convincing people, it's worth casting a vote because it's not the moment suppression ends of people decide to vote. One of the most pernicious parts of voter suppression. Is it convinces you, it's not worth trying and what is often dismissed as voter apathy is usually just to spare. So we have to focus on voter suppression, which is what's their Fight Continues to do with in Georgia and we have been working with and supporting organizations across the country on this issue. We also have to build political
infrastructure. It actually talks to people where they are and repeatedly as you're trying to undo, sometimes generational distrust. I'm in the third thing. Isn't even good people to run for office because if you keep electing the same charlatans, even though they may speak your language, you're going to keep not getting the solutions that you need it. So sometimes it means running yourself. Other time, that means running campaigns are good. People will win, but always, it means being engaged and holding every elected leader accountable. Whether they like you or not, I am super feeling you
on that Despair and distress. I have relatives who I've tried to have conversations with about and some of them are just so, you know, it doesn't make a difference, there's no point. And yeah, it makes a huge difference, so I'm going to try and use that myself. I think we have time for one more question and that when will be from Erica, how do you deal with the emotional drain? That comes with being so passionate about a cause and all the pushback that comes with diversity and inclusion movements. Specially when you were the only person in the room that looks like you grew
up in the South because it is true. I talk about being a daughter of the South both as a celebration but also as an explanation, I grew up in a place that has a flag that was flown by the people who went to war to keep my ancestors enslaved by the ancestors are talking about my great-great-great-grandparents. So not so far removed. My responsibility though is not to focus on their dismissal of my Humanity. My responsibility is to focus on the fight for my right to not to
party. Dissipate my right to be heard Janelle said in the song, I'm not optimistic or pessimistic. I'm determined, but determination requires that. You give yourself permission to sometimes. The shutdown is yourself, permission to lose yourself, permission to grieve, then, give yourself a responsibility, to get back up, but if you skip any of those steps, something else is going to happen. And that paralysis is usually what captures us and keeps us from getting good done. That sounds like the perfect point to end this conversation on. So
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