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Why Stacey Abrams sees reason for optimism in the Georgia primary voting mess

June 18, 2020, 12:14 PM UTC

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Quaker Oats finally retires its “Aunt Jemima” branding, Patty Quillin and Reed Hastings make a historic donation to HBCUs, and we talk with Stacey Abrams. Have a lovely Thursday. 

– ‘Progress is possible.’ One-time Georgia gubernatorial candidate and voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams, a Democrat, has a new book out and Emma interviewed her about it.

Abrams’s new title, Our Time Is Now, is landing in the midst of three enormous, simultaneous crises: the coronavirus pandemic, the societal unrest and upheaval over police brutality and racial inequality, and the growing concern about voting access in the 2020 U.S. presidential election. Emma’s exchange with Abrams covers all three topics and starkly illustrates the overlap between them.

The pandemic, Abrams says, threatens to force voters in November to “choose between their health and the right to vote.” What’s urgently needed are resources for vote-by-mail and early voting efforts. “It is a constitutional requirement that we hold this election, therefore this is a responsibility on the part of the federal government to invest in making sure those elections can happen,” she said.

Voting has become a flashpoint in the ongoing protest movement as some leaders—former President Barack Obama included—have urged demonstrators to vote for the change they want to see. The advice has drawn some skepticism. “Going to vote is a critical part of the solution—it’s just not the only thing,” Abrams said. “Voting is an essential part of the solution,” but it can feel inadequate, especially when floated as a protest alternative. Her advice: “protest in the streets, and then protest at the ballot boxes.”

Abrams’s 2018 loss in Georgia’s gubernatorial race came in an election tainted by accusations that her opponent engaged in voter suppression. That experience “was emblematic of a larger problem in our country,” she said, one that was underscored by Georgia’s recent primary debacle. The meltdown, in which voting machines broke and voters waited in hours-long lines, signaled “that this wasn’t just about a single election,” she said. “The system itself is not structured to deliver the democracy it should.”

Even with the plain failings of the Georgia primary, Abrams saw reason for optimism, with Democrats reporting record turnout. It showed “that progress is possible, especially when we don’t allow voter suppression to defeat us and instead use it to galvanize us. That record turnout did not diminish the existence of suppression, but it challenged it. We have the power now to demand better.”

You can read Emma’s full interview—including Abrams’s response to the perennial Biden VP question—here.

Claire Zillman
claire.zillman@fortune.com
@clairezillman

Today’s Broadsheet was curated by Emma Hinchliffe

ALSO IN THE HEADLINES

- Overdue update. Quaker Oats, a subsidiary of PepsiCo, announced yesterday that it would rename and remove the logo from its 130-year-old Aunt Jemima breakfast brand. The name and image had overt ties to American slavery, reports Fortune's Beth Kowitt. Quaker Foods North America CMO Kristin Kroepfl said that the company realizes that changes it has attempted in recent decades to "update" the brand "are not enough." Fortune

- UN guidance. UN leaders—human rights chief Michelle Bachelet and Agnès Callamard, a human rights expert who led the UN inquiry into the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi—weighed in on the protests roiling the globe right now. Bachelet urges countries confronting legacies of slavery or colonialism to pay financial reparations, while Callamard says the U.S. should listen to protesters' demands. 

- Historic donation. Philanthropist Patty Quillin joined her husband, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, in donating $120 million to fund scholarships at historically black colleges and universities. Spelman College president Mary Schmidt Campbell said in this story by Fortune's Ellen McGirt that the gift shows the couple's commitment to "education, equity, and the future of our country." Fortune

- North Korea news. Kim Yo-jong, sister of Kim Jong-un, issued a statement that shows her growing clout in North Korea. She said she would "prepare a bomb of words to let it known to our people" after hearing a speech by South Korean President Moon Jae-in that she called "sickening." "Few leaders other than [Kim Jong-un] can issue first-person statements like that," reports the NYT. New York Times

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: Gucci parent Kering added actor Emma Watson and Didi Chuxing president Jean Liu to its board of directors; Watson will chair a committee on sustainability. Twitter general counsel Vijaya Gadde joins the board of Guardant Health. Lifehacker promoted Alice Bradley to editor-in-chief. GO Topeka promoted SVP of women and minority business development Glenda Washington to chief equity and opportunity officer. 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

- Test results. The startup Modern Fertility is introducing new pregnancy and ovulation tests that make an intentional choice: neither features a cute baby anywhere. The company led by CEO Afton Vechery made the decision after a survey of users of its at-home hormone fertility test found that 75% were not currently trying to get pregnant. Fortune

- Protesting protest decisions. Alexis Johnson, a black reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, was barred from covering the city's protests after tweeting a comparison of any destruction caused by protests or looting to the usual damage after an annual Kenny Chesney concert. Johnson denies that she showed any bias and is now suing the paper for racial discrimination and retaliation. The Post-Gazette declined to comment. Time

- Crisis's crisis. What happened at Crisis Text Line? This story investigates the circumstances that led to the firing of Nancy Lublin as CEO. Employees had complained about Lublin's behavior—which they said included racially insensitive comments—to the board of directors but never got a response. Employees also tried with little success to reform Crisis Text Line's practice of automatically sending the police to the house of a user believed to be actively suicidal. A spokesperson for Lublin said, "Many of the complaints about Nancy are coming from disgruntled and anonymous former employees." The Verge

- Positive spin. Fortune's Adam Lashinsky interviewed Robin Arzón about her transition from a litigator at law firm Paul Weiss to her current role as Peloton's vice president of fitness programming and head instructor. "We tend to think of the Jerry Maguire moment where you throw the books on the floor and everything changes," she said. "But our journeys don’t work like that." Fortune

ON MY RADAR

The Zora Music Canon: The 100 most iconic albums by African American women Zora

Serena Williams commits to U.S. Open Guardian

Carol Barr, wife of U.S. Rep Andy Barr, dies at 39 Lexington Herald-Leader

PARTING WORDS

"You literally think to yourself, are we serious here? It's 2020." 

-Katie Rae, CEO and managing partner of The Engine, a venture capital firm spun out of MIT, on the lack of venture capital funding that goes to black founders