Stacey Abrams on the Power of Storytelling and Showing Up – SXSW 2021 Keynote [Video]
On the heels of an unprecedented voter turnout and historic win in Georgia during the 2020/2021 U.S. elections, multihyphenate Stacey Abrams – author, entrepreneur, leader of the Fair Fight Get Out the Vote movement, and 2021 nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize – joined award-winning science fiction novelist N.K. Jemisin for a Keynote conversation during SXSW Online 2021.
Kicking it off author to author, Abrams and Jemisin discussed storytelling and the writing hurdles Abrams maneuvered before entering politics. Abrams' first rule when faced with a roadblock is to find a new way no matter what: "It may not work out the way you intend but that doesn't relieve you of the responsibility." Beyond the pages of her many bestselling novels, it is clear Abrams applies this rule to all aspects of her life as an entrepreneur and political leader.
"Politics is about self-preservation and it's about creating the world that you want to see."
N.K. Jemisin touched on another form of storytelling: politics. Dissecting the political power of storytelling, Abrams shared how positioning the community – and the voter – in the narrative is key in connecting on public policy issues and gaining greater participation in civic engagement.
"By centering those communities...we create space for other people to tell better stories by going to the polls, by being involved, by being civically engaged."
As the founder of multiple organizations like Fair Fight and Fair Count, Abrams' fight for marginalized voices and against voter rights suppression proves there is power in investing in communities. In 2020, Abrams worked to engage the single highest number of communities of color as active Georgia voters in the state's history and subsequently deliver the state's first Jewish senator, first Black senator, and first Democratic candidate for president in 28 years. "We did it by telling them a story about their power," said Abrams of the Georgia voters. "If they want to be free from COVID, if they want access to voting rights, if they want criminal justice reform that's real, if they want policing reform – these are the things they need to do. They need to show up to vote, they need to make a plan, and bring their families. They listened."
"It's about the act of choosing. It's about the power to decide what my future looks like."
Engagement is where it begins but it doesn't stop there. Abrams noted that part of the responsibility is "to not just tell a chapter of the story but to come back and tell people what happens next." To every voter and anyone thinking of running for office, Abrams addressed that "our responsibility is to ensure the foundation of participation...we can fix the world if enough of us who want the world to be actually show up and demand that it be so."
Build out your summer reading list with Abrams' latest bestselling book, Our Time is Now, as well as the May 11 release of While Justice Sleeps. Then unofficially join in on the Abrams' family book club with their N.K. Jemisin selections including the Broken Earth trilogy and most recent bestseller, The City That Became.
Stay tuned for 2022 PanelPicker®, Film Festival submissions, Music Festival applications, and other participation opportunities opening this summer.