Season 2, Ep 10: Changing the Culture with Nsé Ufot

What do outsiders get wrong about Georgia? How does the evangelical left influence the state? Where is Big Boi really from? Atlantan Nsé Ufot, who heads the New Georgia Project, is here to answer these questions and many more, as people around the country focus on the Senate runoff election. She also explains the importance of building political infrastructure that goes beyond a single election cycle, and why it’s not enough to get out the vote—equality means changing the entire culture of electoral politics. Plus: Using data analysis to combat today’s increasingly sophisticated voter suppression tactics.

Twitter: @nseufot | IG: @nseufot404

VOTE

Today is the last day to vote in the Georgia runoffs! Need to find your polling location? A free ride to the polls? Head over to The New Georgia Project!

ACT

Donate to The New Georgia Project and help them continue to build infrastructure and fight voter suppression across the state of Georgia – the work continues beyond one election cycle! 

LEARN

Read up on Dorothy Bolden and the history of Black domestic worker organizing in Georgia with We Dream in Black.

Welcome to sun storm, where we get real about what’s happening in the world and what we’re doing about it because we are the light in the storm.

 

Ai-jen Poo:

Hi, I’m Ai-jen Poo.

 

Alicia Garza:

I’m Alicia Garza and we are back with two special bonus episodes of Sunstorm. In these episodes we’ll be talking with a couple of our friends who’ve been doing the work in Georgia because ob vi, Georgia is on our minds hello.

 

Ai-jen Poo:

And today to talk about all of the incredible work on the ground in Georgia is Nse Ufot. Nse is the CEO of the New Georgia Project under Nse’s leadership NGP has registered nearly 425,000 Georgians to vote and counting Nse is an organizer who’s been fighting for labor rights and voting rights for many, many years also, she understands what twitches and how to use technology to reach and empower more young people welcome Nse my friend.

 

Nse Ufot:

I’m so happy to be here with you all thank you for having me.

 

Alicia Garza:

Lets jump in because we know we’re taking you from doing the important work that you’re doing on the ground. So here’s the deal and say we all know Georgia is national news right now, but even alongside of that right? Even as people are trying to figure out right? How to support this work and how to really make sure right? That we are solidifying our victories now, everybody has an opinion about Georgia politics and they’re not from Georgia. So as a Georgian, what do people who don’t live in Georgia get wrong about the politics in Georgia?

 

Nse Ufot:

So here’s what people should know about Georgia is that one, It’s not Atlanta and not Atlanta that there are seven like metropolitan areas with progressive political infrastructure and multiracial multiethnic progressive majority in the state. So Savannah, Albany, Augusta, Macon, Columbus in addition to Metro Atlanta. And so people should absolutely know that, that in this new American battleground state, that there are held about around counties. And that it’s more than just, like the civil rights movement versus the Confederacy.

 

I think that the other thing that people should know is that it’s changing really, really rapidly. It’s going to be the first state in the deep South with a white minority so people of color are going to make up the majority of Georgians and like four, five years max. So by 2025 white people would be the minority and what does that mean for our politics? I think that Georgia is in this place where we’re going to either be moved towards California or move towards Texas, right? Both of these are majority people of color States, both of them have a pale, male, stale minority. And the question is what politics are we going to adopt going forward? Once we become a majority people of color state? I think that people need to know that the rapper young Jeezy is not from Atlanta he’s actually from Macon.

 

Alicia Garza:

Okay.

 

Nse Ufot:

[inaudible 00:03:33] Who’s actually from Savannah and on and on and on. So again just geographic diversity. Oh, I also think that rural voter is often code for white conservative and that’s not the case at all in Georgia that we have what’s known as The Rural Black Belt imagine a prom sash going from Northeast Georgia down to Southwest Georgia diagonally across the state it’s known as the Black Belt. Georgia has 159 counties they’re about 20 counties that are majority black most of them are rural. And so thinking about broadband challenges, thinking about having, face-to-face conversations, thinking about the Bible Belt, I think is also important. Oh, the Evangelical Left, it’s a thing ,right? It’s a thing, and people need-

 

Alicia Garza:

Come on.

 

Nse Ufot:

[inaudible 00:04:28] these folks, ride like the legacy of evangelicals who come out of like Martin Luther King, Bayard Rustin, even Reverend John Lewis, right? Like the Evangelical Left is a whole thing they’re organized, they’ve mobilized and they’re turning up and they are not going to have you come after one of their own.

 

Alicia Garza:

I just got chills with that, that is exciting and also just sounds like so much dynamism happening in Georgia right now. Talk to us about that talk to us about what has been built and how in Georgia.

 

Nse Ufot:

There’s a lot that got us here to this point, right? I think it’s important to a, sort of flag and shout out the long legacy and history of black women and black women organizers, and black women building movements that are designed to survive themselves. Shout out to Dorothy Bolden and the idea that we need political power as well as economic power that it’s not an either or that it’s a both. And again it’s important that we build infrastructure so that we can win like actual wins, not like moral victories although those are fine and those are important but, real wins and then defend those wins beyond one election cycle. And so I think about Dorothy Bolden and domestic workers and black women and leaders in Atlanta and across the South and what remains after they’re gone.

 

We work really hard to not be extractive, we work to pour in to our leaders, pour in to our communities. And so what that looks like is Stacy starting New Georgia Project in 2013. And the idea was to register people for the affordable care act. And getting to a place it quickly towards the end of 2013 where you realized that the healthcare exchange is garbage if your state hasn’t expanded Medicaid. Knocking on the doors of people who’ve been working for 20, 30, 40 years and never had health insurance And to try to tell them like, “Yeah, pay $800 a month for crappy insurance.” People weren’t buying it we didn’t have any credibility it wasn’t working and so she realized that none of this would matter none of this would change until we change the legislature. So that’s when I came on in 2014 to focus on voter registration, Expand the electorate.

 

Demographics is the fire organizing is the accelerant the gas that we have put on what’s happening. And so trying to burn down these structures that no longer serve our purposes anymore and trying to build something for the new Georgia, for the new South that takes into account what our priorities are, what our hopes are, what our fears are for our families that we elect people who are accountable, who know that we’ve hired them and know that they can get fired. It’s New Georgia Project all these black women led organizations that are building infrastructure.

 

And that’s how we win that’s how it’s not a fluke that’s how if one of us gets taken out, that the work will continue and I don’t offer that lightly the death rates are off the chain [inaudible 00:08:12] and it sucks. We know each other, we support each other we take care of each other we look out for each other, we share resources, we share research, we get better together. And that’s why I’m excited about this particular moment that folks are starting to see that it’s not like a Messiah in the wings or like there’s not a puppet master that there’s an ecosystem.

 

Alicia Garza:

I love that, well speaking of ecosystem part of your strategy as we understand it is also about changing, not just the culture of organizing right? From competition to collaboration, but also changing the culture of voting from registering voters to actually growing active, engaged, civically participatory folk who are active in the process of shaping democracy rather than having government act on you. I think that’s a really important and visionary perspective. So tell us a little bit more about what you mean by changing the culture of voting and why we need to be aware of that.

 

Nse Ufot:

Yeah, I think historically voters of color, particularly black voters have been treated like just mobilization targets, right? Just like they’re already going to vote the way that they should so just find your favorite pastor give them a crash bag full of cash and tell them to turn their people out. No data, no accountability, no infrastructure that’s remaining, and that’s how politics has been done. The South is littered with stories of presidential campaigns and then the various committees. Again, historically coming in and finding normally a dude, normally a pastor and not actually investing in the infrastructure. And so they don’t really start talking to people until after Labor Day of an election year because they didn’t see them as persuasion targets. There’s a gentleman’s agreement that takes place in a lot of places across the South where there are black Democrats or Democrats of color who have a handshake agreement with White Conservatives or White Republicans.

 

And these are our seats, these are your seats, these are where the lines are drawn, you turn out your people, we turn it out folks and nothing gets done. And I think that that was very much still a feature of Southern politics and that’s also the culture that we are pushing back against. I think we’re pushing back against the culture that you have to be like hyper articulate with a nice suit and wear hard bottoms and have a penis in order to lead people.

 

I think that we are pushing back against the culture of… Again the idea that folks wait till Labor Day to get serious about talking to people about the vote. And so all of those things are features of… There aren’t red states or blue states or purple states, Georgia has always been a battleground, right? Given the racial demographics that make up… Mississippi is a battleground state but what we’re talking about is voter suppression that gets ignored and that is accepted. And so we work to expose that and to address that in today’s politics.

 

Alicia Garza:

I could listen to talking about a culture of voting all day long.

 

Ai-jen Poo:

Me too.

 

Alicia Garza:

And it’s just so much brilliance and I think one of the things that has been so important about your leadership and so many others from Georgia is really helping the country understand just how pernicious voter suppression is and how profoundly it affects our ability to have a functioning democracy. I just want to double click on that for a second. Like what do people really need to understand about voter suppression?

 

Nse Ufot:

I think that people need to understand that while they’re still [inaudible 00:12:26] with shotguns showing up to polling locations, trying to intimidate voters that today’s voter suppression is actually much more sophisticated. And that [inaudible 00:12:36] organizers, who are working to win elections and then went on policies have to meet that sophistication with sophistication. And so my individual background, right? I have research data, data analysis, technology, gaming, artificial intelligence that’s my jam. That’s my personal secret nerd jam, but obviously my values and as an organizer I have sought to sort of marry them together. So using data analysis to expose voter suppression, tracking and targeting, and having a culture of data hygiene in our movement spaces so that… Before we would be like, “We register all these people, where are they?”

 

And then the secretary of state would shrug their shoulders and hit us with the Kanye shrug and be like, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” And then they tried to do that to us in 2014 when we launched the new Georgia project. And I replied with the first name, last name, birth date, the date and time the street corner that they were registered, the organizer that registered them and like what position the sun was in the sky when they were registered right? And it helped us in court, and it helped us tell the story about voter suppression and what it looks like in today’s elections in Georgia.

 

Alicia Garza:

Nse you’re absolutely amazing thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today. You inspire us every single day and that’s not just true for Ai-jen and I… Sorry to speak for you Ai-jen, but I think-

 

Ai-jen Poo:

You can, full permission.

 

Alicia Garza:

We stand actually, but and say you are… And the New Georgia Project is such a light for this whole entire country so thank you. And people can find you and follow your work at Nse Ufot on all the socials. This has been lovely you are [inaudible 00:14:43] and leaders I would follow you anywhere.

 

Nse Ufot:

Y’all are in my village, so I’m happy to have you in my village and to be a part of the ecosystem then we learn and grow through out the hood and do dope things.

 

Ai-jen Poo:

Yes! Lets keep doing dope things, we love you we’re with you, here for you and so excited about everything you’re leading.

 

Alicia Garza:

Oh yes. And thank you listeners for tuning in to our special bonus episode of Sunstorm. Don’t forget to check out sunstormpod.com, where you can catch up on all the Sunstorm conversations and see you soon.

 

Sunstorm is a project of the National Domestic Workers Alliance in collaboration with Participant. Sunstorm is executive produced by Alicia Garza, Ai-jen poo and Kristina Mevs-Apgar Sunstorm is produced by Amy S. Choi and Rebecca Lehrer of the Mash-Up Americans. Producers are Shelby Sandlin, Mary Phillips Sandy and Neo Warren original music composed by Jen Kwok and Jody Shelton.

 

Ai-jen Poo:

Well, we’re so happy to have you and too bad our listeners can’t see this video because your glasses chef’s kiss, absolutely excellent.

 

Nse Ufot:

Its a thing.