Voting rights activist Stacey Abrams helps Detroit Pistons kickoff awareness, engagement efforts during pivotal election year

Arn Tellem, Stacey Abrams, Dwane Casey
by Vince Ellis
Special for Pistons.com

The first Black female to represent a major party in a governor’s race.

The first Black female to deliver the response to a State of the Union address.

A published author with her latest work, “Our Time is Now,” currently available in bookstores and online.

Years of public service in the state of Georgia.

Stacey Abrams has put together an impressive resume’ in her 46 years – a resume that could be further burnished later this summer if presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden picks her to be his running mate for November when Americans decide the direction of the country for the next four years.

She can speak with expertise on a number of issues, but her voice has grown nationally on an issue that is front and center in the wake of voting issues across the country during primary season, issues exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

After her narrow loss in Georgia’s 2018 gubernatorial election, Abrams founded Fair Fight, a voting rights nonprofit organization that advocates for fair elections and fights voter suppression.

That’s was one of many reasons she was invited to speak to Detroit Pistons staff on a Zoom call Wednesday – a fortuitous coincidence since her appearance coincided with the announcement of several initiatives to encourage voter participation in the city during this fateful election year.

“Our responsibility is to make certain every person in our country, every citizen has the voice necessary to select representatives who can speak for us,” Abrams said during the hour-long chat. “That’s the social contract we have.

“We say we are going to pick people who see us, who believe in us and are going to do their best to make sure we have access to opportunity.”

The partnership with Michigan’s secretary of state office is one of the first actions from the Pistons since owner Tom Gores’ call to action in the days following the senseless killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers.

Gores released the statement as protesters took to streets across the nation to demand change and justice for Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.

Activating voter participation was one of the promises made.

“Our organization is committed to promoting informed participation in the electoral process,” Gores said in the Pistons release. “We are pleased to partner with the secretary of state on its efforts to register and enroll eligible voters for this year’s elections, and to provide our employees with the day off on election day to ensure they are able to get to the polls and make their voices heard.”

Civic engagement

The main news is the organization will invite residents to register and vote at the Henry Ford Detroit Pistons Performance Center for the Nov. 3 election.

The Pistons also announced plans to:

  • Coordinate an employee volunteer program to work the polls in concert with the Detroit City Clerk’s office for the Aug. 4 primary and Nov. 3 election.
  • Partner with the Secretary of State’s office on a series of public service announcements with players, coaches and personalities aimed at voter education, applying to vote by mail and instructional videos to ensure ballots are filled out correctly and returned properly to be counted.
  •  Build a voter registration page at Pistons.com that integrates directly with the Michigan Bureau of Elections so that individuals can register to vote online and submit their application to vote by mail.
  • Host live voter registration and education events with community organizations featuring information on how to register, vote, complete and return voting ballots

 “The Detroit Pistons are tremendous civic leaders and I am proud to partner with them to ensure more citizens are educated voters and active participants in our democracy,” Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said in the release.

 Important work

 Pistons coach Dwane Casey and vice chairman Arn Tellem introduced Abrams, who gained national prominence when she ran for the Georgia governorship in 2018.

 A Democrat, she lost by less than two percentage points. It was the Georgia’s closest governor’s race in more than 50 years.

 Observers criticized the electoral process, which was overseen by Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who was also her opponent.

 Voter roll purges and other issues were at play according to published reports.

 She founded the nonprofit in response to address the issues – issues that disproportionately affect communities of color and young people.

 Recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought these issues back to the forefront during primaries in Georgia and Wisconsin. Long lines of voters trying to follow social distancing guidelines were readily available on social media.

 “We weren’t the only state that faced voter suppression,” Abrams said. “Voter suppression has been baked into the system of democracy of our country, but it’s why we have the ability in each election to do better.”

 Before taking questions from Pistons representatives, Abrams implored Detroiters to participate in the ongoing census, explaining that federal dollars were at stake. Census participation is another area Gores has promised to promote.

 Casey and Tellem extolled Abrams’ expertise on a conference call with reporters after her appearance.

 Both men implored Detroiters to exercise their constitutional rights later this year. Casey brought up his experience growing up in Kentucky during the civil rights movement of the 60s so it’s a personal issue.

 “Voting is such a right,” Casey said. “Sometimes it’s something the younger generation takes for granted, but for us older folks, it’s something that I remember when my grandparents (faced obstacles to voting).

 “One reason why we’re opening up (the Pistons Performance Center) is to encourage everyone to get out and vote. It’s a right, it’s a privilege and we should never take it for granted.”

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