This article was originally published as “Report From Georgia” in the Jewish Standard on January 7, 2021.
As soon as I understood that Georgia’s two Senate runoffs were to determine control of the Senate, I knew I had to go to Georgia.
Jon Ossoff and Reverend Raphael Warnock have faced off against incumbents David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler in the most expensive and contentious Senate elections in history — with more than $800 million dollars spent between the two races. Armies of campaign workers set out to knock on every door and get out the vote. My brother, Ariel Fine, and I were among them. My father, Rabbi David Fine, traveled with us to Georgia, and while he attended to synagogue business over Zoom in our hotel room in a northern suburb of Atlanta, Ariel and I took the car and went to work.
Although I canvassed in Gwinnett, Clarke, and Dawson counties, I spent most of my time in Forsyth County, which has a dark racial history. In 1912, lynch mobs of more than 4,000 people drove out its entire 1,100 Black population in just a few weeks. Forsyth became an all-white county, but it has changed a lot over the last couple decades. I spent at least three days in solely Indian American neighborhoods in Forsyth, and on other days I canvassed farms that had horses and cattle. I even saw one ostrich, which was so surprisingly exotic that I thought of the Netflix documentary “Tiger King.”
And yet I could not escape the knowledge of the dark history of where I was, as well as the different potential futures I was facing.
We canvassers knock on each door; if there is no answer, we leave hangers with information about the candidates and how to vote on the doorknob. Because the election was expected to be close, voters were bombarded. As we got closer to election day, I would see other campaign fliers and door hangers from other organizations and the other side lying around at each door. The day before election day, I re-canvassed a neighborhood that I had just canvassed the week before, and within that week, another organization also canvassed that same neighborhood. Some voters were confused by this, but not everyone answers the door the first time around. Coming back to knock again is so important for maximizing voter turnout in underrepresented immigrant communities, where many first time voters have questions about voting.
With the intensity of the election in Georgia, with the four campaigns running non-stop commercials on every channel and large-scale canvassing efforts, voters sometimes knew exactly why I was there when I knocked on the door. Every so often I heard the Senate election TV ads from inside the house when they opened the door. Once, when my father sent me to pick up a pizza, I said I had an order for David, and the pizzeria proprietor asked with a wink: “For David Perdue?” The election was inescapable.
I even ran into canvassers for the other side on the same streets I was knocking — multiple times! I was able to spot the difference between Democratic and Republican canvassers from a distance: one team wears masks and gloves, while the other team does not.
Having studied Spanish in school for six years, I had a fun experience canvassing a voter in Spanish. Towards the end of our conversation, I explained that mi español es no bueno (“my Spanish is not so good”). She replied: como mi inglés (“like my English”). We laughed, and thanks to my basic Spanish, I figured out that she already voted early for Ossoff and Warnock. I took pride in this moment with a newfound appreciation for language learning — a skill that helps bring people together.
As a young American Jew, I was inspired by the promise that this election effort offered. Throughout our family travels, my parents have always sought to instill in me and my brother an appreciation for heritage and history. When we first arrived in Georgia in late December my father took us to Atlanta to see the Ebenezer Baptist Church where Martin Luther King Jr. served as pastor, and where he and his wife Coretta are buried. He also took us to the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, where we learned about the good and bad that a democracy can do. On a cross-country trip we did as a family over a year ago, we stopped in Memphis to see the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was assassinated. At the Atlanta museum, my father showed us the display about how the rabbi of Atlanta’s oldest congregation was a strong ally of Dr. King’s, a support culminated in the bombing of his synagogue. Today, Raphael Warnock occupies the same pulpit as Martin Luther King and is running for Senate alongside a Jewish candidate, Jon Ossoff.
That so much of Georgia, and the country, has put its faith in a young Jewish guy and an African American Baptist preacher, two candidates from two minorities with a shared destiny, should give us great hope about where we are heading.
Photo: Laurence Fine