Copyright © 2022 by Steve Phillips. This excerpt is adapted from How We Win the Civil War: Securing a Multiracial Democracy and Ending White Supremacy for Good, published by The New Press. Available in simultaneous hardcover and trade paperback. Reprinted here with permission.


The hallmark of Stacey Abrams’s life—and the key to her success— has been careful planning. Her meticulous preparation is now legendary, and she described it in her book Lead from the Outside:

When I was eighteen, I spent an evening in our college computer lab, the fluorescent lights crackling overhead reflecting off the near-green screen. While the few other students there on a weeknight likely toiled over papers, I’d been driven from my dorm room by what felt like an urgent project. In the lab that night, I created a spreadsheet. The Lotus 1-2-3 document laid out my life plans for the next forty years. Seriously. The sheet contained four columns: year, age, job, and tasks. . . . For the next decade, I followed the plans on my spreadsheet.

I crossed paths with the content of the spreadsheet when, at a dinner in Atlanta in May of 2012, Stacey told me, quite matter-of-factly, that she planned to run for governor in 2018—six years down the road. Although Stacey’s forty-year plan is perhaps an order of magnitude beyond the capacity of most mere mortals, careful, multiyear planning is critical to every fight in this Civil War.

The lynchpin of Stacey’s plan was increasing the number of people of color who voted in Georgia elections.

There have always been a lot of Black people in Georgia. That’s what happens when the land is fertile for growing cotton, selling cotton is extraordinarily profitable, and, in preindustrial America, the best and cheapest way to get the fibers from the field to the factory was to make unpaid Black people spend hours in the fields, bent over pulling cotton from the plants in the ground. At the end of the Civil War in 1865, Georgia’s Black population accounted for 44 percent of all the state’s residents. Despite making up nearly half of the state’s people, African Americans were 0 percent of the state’s voters. You can see how the civic engagement of African Americans would threaten the state’s status quo. Hence the fight that has unfolded over the past 157 years, up to and including Georgia’s latest round of voter suppression legislation passed by Republicans in 2021, after the state’s massive voter turnout defeated Trump and then elected Democrats Warnock and Ossoff to the U.S. Senate.

The size of the state’s Black population was augmented by a significant twenty-first-century “reverse migration” as African Americans returned to the South, the land they’d left a century previously during the early twentieth-century Great Migration. One hundred years later, after America elected a Black president and African American professionals such as filmmaker Tyler Perry and actor Donald Glover showed it was possible to succeed while based in Southern cities like Atlanta, Black folks started coming home. This reverse migration is fundamentally transforming politics in Georgia and, by extension, it is fundamentally transforming politics in the entire country. From 2010 to 2018, seven of the ten counties with the fastest-growing Black populations in the United States were near Atlanta. From 2010 to 2016, the Atlanta area alone gained 251,000 Black people.

From the standpoint of winning elections and building power, the task of increasing the number of Black folks voting sounds simple, and the math, on paper, is inescapable. From 2006 to 2012, Democrats in Georgia regularly lost statewide elections by an average of 230,000 votes, but nearly 1 million African Americans who were eligible to participate each cycle weren’t voting.

Politically, the destination was clear but the path was not. Everyone on the progressive side wanted to win elections in Georgia and turn the state blue. But beyond performing biennial linguistic gymnastics to try to find the elusive formulation that would convince more white vot- ers to back Democrats, there really wasn’t much of a plan. Politicians and their consultants recycled the same tried and untrue tactics year after year, with predictable—and pathetic—results.

It’s not that nobody knew what to do. As early as the 1980s, Jesse Jackson had described the political potential of registering and mobilizing those ignored and overlooked potential voters; employing a David versus Goliath framework, he called them metaphorical “rocks just laying around.” Jesse picked up those rocks and executed that strategy in his Rainbow Coalition presidential runs, winning the Georgia Democratic primary in 1988. The strategic problem over the ensu- ing thirty years was that the people who traditionally run and fund campaigns—the people former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young once called “smart-ass white boys”—were the ones who didn’t know what to do. Stacey Abrams is not a smart-ass white boy, and she had a detailed, data-driven plan.

The carefulness of Stacey’s plan was evident in the level of detail in her document. As the leader of the Democrats in the State House, she had meticulously recorded her work relating to all the aspects of governing and power building in her first two years as minority leader (2010–12), showing the increase in the number of bills drafted in 2012 (20, up from just one prior to her tenure), press releases issued (134, up from 10), and town halls held (44, twice as many as the prior session’s 20). She had pinpointed the exact number of votes in statewide elec- tions, and the Democratic margin of defeat (the margin was 258,851 in 2010; down from 418,675 in 2006). And she had carefully analyzed the pool of potential voters—the rocks just laying around—identifying 1,041,000 unregistered people of color.

Her plan was rooted in reality and tailored to the specific challenges involved in a long-term effort to transform the state. At that time, in 2012, the gerrymandered maps adopted by the Republican-controlled legislature projected that Democrats would win just 56 of the 180 seats in the State House, giving Republicans the two-thirds majority necessary to pass constitutional amendments just as their Confederate predecessors had done when they reentered the Union and destroyed Reconstruction after the Civil War. Stacey faced the facts of the Democrats’ difficult position and crafted a surgical and focused plan that targeted ten districts, with the objective of picking up at least five seats, to get to sixty-one and thwart the two-thirds goal of the Republicans. For each of the ten targeted seats, she’d identified the exact percentage of votes Democrats had historically received in that district, as well as the specific percentage of the electorate composed of Black and Latino potential voters.

Her analysis of the Georgia electorate and electoral trends led her to assert on Slide 14 of her 26-page PowerPoint deck that “Bottom Line: Georgia Is Blue.” Remember, this was in 2012 and such a proc- lamation was a radical and, to many, ridiculous assertion. Slide 14 fur- ther spelled out that “in presidential contests, the Democratic growth from 2004 to 2008 (477,968) was 3.5 times larger than Republican growth (134,503).” Rather than make pie-in-the-sky pronouncements that might entice fickle donors, Stacey presented a sober plan offering steady and methodical gains—toward a total of sixty-one seats in 2012, seventy in 2014, seventy-seven in 2016. Sure enough, the number of Democrats grew over the decade to seventy-seven by 2021—the goal Stacey targeted a decade before. As of this writing, Georgia’s House Democrats are just fourteen seats away from a majority, and picking up those seats will be a core component of the Liberation Battle Plan for the 2022 election, with Stacey Abrams at the head of the Democratic ticket.

One critical function of a plan is to help assess and inventory the capacity of your forces. What Stacey’s landscape scan revealed was that Georgia needed a stronger civic engagement infrastructure, with an anchor organization capable of turning population trends and demographic potential into tangible votes and real political power. Through her work as the top Democrat in the state House of Representatives, Stacey had built one important piece of the infrastructure in terms of fortifying the political arm of House Democrats, but they needed more if they were going to truly transform the state. Recognizing the hole in the landscape, Stacey set about filling it by creating the New Georgia Project (NGP) in 2013. Again, a hallmark of the organization was a detailed, data-driven plan.

NGP’s 2014 prospectus stated that its focus was “in six main areas of the state—the Greater Atlanta region and the counties that contain the smaller cities of Macon, Augusta, Savannah, Albany, and Columbus”—the places in the state where the reverse migration of African Americans was upending the traditional electoral balance of power. While the New Georgia Project is a nonpartisan 501(c)(3) organization, it just so happened that democratizing the electorate in a racist state and making the voting population look like the state’s population created conditions where the racists didn’t always win. Over the next several years, NGP would play a pivotal role in turning demographic change into electoral power


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