DONALSONVILLE, GEORGIA – As Black Voters Matter’s bus drove south by way of Georgia, cotton fields shortly turned into downed timber and destroyed houses. Many residents of rural southwest Georgia are nonetheless struggling after Hurricane Michael left them with out electrical energy, operating water, or authorities assist.
Late Tuesday morning, the bus pulled as much as a fellowship corridor in rural Donalsonville beside a severely broken church. Black Voters Matter organizers instantly started an meeting line, unloading instances of water and lining them up contained in the constructing. Cecelia White, a native Democratic chief, showered them with reward and stated Black Voters Matter was the primary group to convey assist to rural Donalsonville.
“We had one of the worst hurricanes take out a rural city that already had limited resources, so what you’re having is a lot of devastation,” she stated. “People have no power and water, and it’s been like that since Wednesday. So what you’re doing helps tremendously… This is going to be very important, and I’m so thankful.”
Donalsonville, Georgia, the place the one demise from Hurricane Michael occurred in Georgia, is over 61 % black. On Tuesday, Black Voters Matter stopped in 5 totally different counties with giant African American populations which might be nonetheless struggling after the October 10 hurricane.
The stops have been a part of the group’s “The South is Rising” bus tour, a street journey through which organizers had been doing voter schooling and outreach and constructing black political energy in seven southern states. When the storm hit, organizers stated they determined to shift their focus for a portion of the Georgia leg and concentrate on relief work.
“While voting is always at the center of our work, sometimes you have to pause and just make sure folks have basic needs met,” Wanda Mosley, Black Voters Matter’s Georgia director, advised ThinkProgress from the group’s bus because it drove south.
Through the peak of the storm, Donalsonville skilled 115 mile per hour winds, and Seminole County’s Emergency Administration Administration director advised native reporters that Donalsonville seemed like a “war zone.” In the times since, the Nationwide Guard has arrived within the metropolis of Donalsonville, however individuals within the rural elements of the county stated they’re nonetheless struggling as a result of they will’t get to the town they usually additionally misplaced their energy and water provide.
“We know that particularly rural black communities get left out,” Black Voters Matter co-founder LaTosha Brown stated about relief work.
On Tuesday morning, Brown and co-founder Cliff Albright additionally introduced the fellowship subsequent to the St. John AME Church with a generator, which native leaders stated they might use to energy up their kitchen and feed roughly 400 individuals.
With a important election that may decide Georgia’s subsequent governor simply three weeks away, Brown and Albright are largely targeted on getting out the vote. On Monday, their bus stopped at a Stacey Abrams marketing campaign occasion and distributed details about early voting. However they stated once they discovered parts of the state have been nonetheless struggling, they put election work on maintain.
Catastrophe relief isn’t new to Brown and Albright. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the 2 organizers borrowed a bus and drove throughout Mississippi distributing help. Albright stated that work taught him the necessity to handle marginalized black communities after disasters. “We saw there were communities in the Gulf Coast that weren’t getting resources,” he stated.
13 years later, storms are nonetheless disproportionately impacting rural individuals of colour. “Disaster relief is not exempt from racism,” he stated. “Disaster relief is filled with issues of race and inequity.”
In Albany, Georgia — their final cease of the day — a native chief once more thanked them for the assistance, explaining that Albany is split into white and black sections. Solely the white aspect has acquired assist.
Black Voter Matter distributes water in Donalsonville, Georgia. CREDIT: Kira Lerner
Black Voters Matter’s bus arrived in rural Georgia Tuesday with 90 instances of bottled water, 5 turbines, charcoal, chainsaws, matches, tarps, and cleansing provides. In Blakely, Georgia, organizers unloaded water, charcoal, and cleansing provides to be handed out on the Church Road Church of Christ, which was serving as a distribution middle. James Scurlark, the minister of the church, stated he has been working on the church 11 years and that is the worst storm he’s seen. However, all the help they’ve acquired has been from personal organizations, he stated.
Tonya Hicks, a 48-year-old former instructor in Blakely, stated her home is critically broken. She and her husband have been sleeping of their truck as a result of her bed room is unbearably scorching.
When requested how lengthy it took to get help, she laughed. “Today?” she stated. “We got ice and MREs, but we have a generator so we’re blessed because we’re still without power since Wednesday night.”
“The city and the government — our local government and the big government — I don’t think they’re doing enough because they know we’re struggling,” she added. “We’ve never been through anything like this.”
Many individuals throughout rural Georgia advised ThinkProgress that they will’t take into consideration voting proper now once they’re nonetheless struggling to ensure their primary wants are met.
On Monday, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) made an effort to answer voters’ considerations, issuing an government order extending the voter registration deadline via Tuesday night time in 4 counties affected by the storm – Clay, Grady, Randolph, and Turner. However Albright stated he fearful that voters, particularly these with out electrical energy or web service, gained’t get that info.
“What other accommodations are going to be made?” he requested, questioning whether or not voters may run into issues once they current IDs displaying incorrect addresses. “How the county or state responds to people who are now displaced, that needs to be taken into account. What turnout will be depends on those policy responses.”
It’s nonetheless unclear how the storm might have an effect on election turnout. Whereas fewer individuals might early vote, Albright stated they could be much more excited to forged ballots by Election Day.
“People will be motivated by this disaster because they’ll be more clear about the role policymakers have in times of disaster,” Albright stated.
In Blakely, Hicks stated she all the time votes, and the storm has made her need to work with campaigns to assist get different individuals to the polls. “That’s my goal for now on – to put proper candidates in office who will respond to things like this,” she stated. “Seeing how our officials here in local government and national are handling our small town, I’m not happy.”
Albright stated Black Voters Matter will urge voters to assume the identical approach, explaining that the hurricane ought to encourage individuals to vote at each degree.
“Disasters like this show us that leadership matters,” he stated. “It’s not just president. It’s the local level, it’s county commissioners, it’s county administrators. Those are the people that make some of these decisions, like which of these counties are going to get their roads cleared first or which of these counties are going to get power first. It’s some of these positions that people don’t even think about. These county level administrators can determine life and death in times of an emergency.”
Voters obtain help in Albany, Georgia. CREDIT: Kira Lerner
President Trump on Monday visited Warner Robins, Georgia, an space additionally hit by the storm, to survey injury. Neither Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams nor GOP candidate Brian Kemp joined him, however Abrams’ marketing campaign stated she’ll be visiting exhausting hit areas later this week and stated she is going to change the best way the state handles catastrophe relief if elected governor.
“I’m running for governor because I believe in making sure that we have a leader who sees these communities not only in the moment of devastation and the immediate aftermath, but a year out when folks have walked away and supplies have dwindled,” she stated throughout a marketing campaign cease.
Kemp, who traveled to southwest Georgia Saturday after which once more Monday, applauded restoration efforts on the bottom.
“The response on the ground, while there is much to do, has been unbelievable from the federal, state and friends and neighbors who are helping men and women indeed,” Kemp stated Monday at a distribution middle, in response to the Atlanta Journal Structure. “It makes you proud to be in Georgia.”
Albright stated that although it’s targeted on election turnout now, Black Voters Matter gained’t depart after the November 6 midterm. The group will proceed serving to these on the bottom and can construct infrastructure for black political energy in rural elements of the South.
When Hurricane Michael struck rural southern Georgia on October 10, 72-year-old Clarice Blake hid in a safe room in her residence, nervous as howling winds cracked timber outdoors her window. When she emerged after the storm handed, she discovered three timber had punctured her roof and 11 extra down in her yard.
(PHOTO CREDIT: Kira Lerner)
Blake, a native of the U.S. Virgin Islands who moved to Georgia in 2013, stated Hurricane Michael felt surreal. “I left the Virgin Islands, which we call Hurricane Alley, and came here,” she stated. “I keep saying, this place is so quiet. Nothing happens here.” Most of her metropolis, Donalsonville, nonetheless doesn’t have energy or operating water. Throughout Donalsonville, timber and street indicators are down, and scattered houses are destroyed.
“Thank God I’m not worse off, but it’s bad,” Blake advised ThinkProgress Tuesday from the Donalsonville fellowship corridor. She stated her daughter, who lives in Tallahassee, additionally has a tree by way of her house, however extra individuals know concerning the injury in Florida as a result of the media and lawmakers have targeted consideration there.
President Trump issued a federal emergency declaration for counties in center and southwest Georgia on Monday, 5 days after the storm. The choice makes federal funding obtainable for individuals in six counties in Georgia and lots of others via state and native authorities businesses. In the meantime, the president issued an emergency declaration in Florida on October 9, the day earlier than the storm.
Brown stated with out the declaration, individuals in Georgia can’t apply for FEMA vouchers. She referred to as the delay “an enormous burden on poor rural folks that don’t have resources.”
Hicks, who stated she and her neighbors didn’t adequately put together for the storm, stated the concentrate on Florida bothers her.
“The news reports are mostly focused on Panama City and Mexico Beach,” she stated. “We just got on the list to get FEMA yesterday. We were kind of pushed to the back.”
In Blakely, Scurlark stated that Georgians endure when the federal government targeted on Florida.
“Georgia is sort of like, whenever they get around to it, but in the mean time we suffer until they bring relief,” he stated. “We’re having to depend on private agencies.”
Black Voters Matter distributes water in Albany, Georgia. CREDIT: Kira Lerner
‘There’s a political storm as nicely’
Even earlier than the hurricane, black voters in rural Georgia have been dealing with different limitations to the polls. Kemp, who can also be the state’s election chief, has been sued over his effort to put 53,000 voter registrations on maintain utilizing an “exact match” system which flags any purposes which have even the smallest discrepancy, like a lacking hyphen, from the knowledge the state has on file. The AP reported final week that 70 % of these registrations belong to African American voters.
On Monday, Black Voters Matter was stopped from taking roughly 40 senior residents to the polls. The senior middle in Jefferson County stated they have been notified by county officers that the bus couldn’t transport the voters, so the aged individuals acquired off the bus. As they walked off, many stated they’re much more fired as much as forged ballots, however Black Voters Matter organizers on the bus stated they have been witnessing reside voter suppression.
“There’s a physical storm that happened but there’s also a political storm as well,” Brown stated.
In Albany, one among Black Voters Matter’s remaining stops in storm-ravaged Georgia Tuesday, the group distributed ten instances of water to roughly 50 individuals ready to obtain help. Mosley stood in entrance of the gang and stated whereas the contribution was small, Black Voters Matter will even be offering group companions with monetary help.
“Normally we have a lot of talk about voting, but today we’re just here to bring hope and love,” she stated. “When people’s basic needs are met, everything else will fall into place.”