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While Americans watched the nation undergo a massive metamorphosis last year, Clayton County community organizer Alaina Reaves was experiencing a political baptism by fire.
At 32, Reaves is the youngest of the eight-member Georgia delegation to the Democratic National Committee, which has a total of about 400 people. She had a clear vantage point of her state as it took center stage in one of the most tumultuous political seasons in recent memory.
“It’s been a whirlwind year,” Reaves told Atlanta Civic Circle. “Now I have this better understanding of what it means to be a DNC member. Every time I meet a democrat, I think,’ Oh my gosh, I get to help elevate your voice to a national level’.”
Reaves ended the first year of a four-year DNC term this month. She spent nearly an hour talking with ACC about what she’s learned. The following is an edited version of the conversation.
Q. You had quite a first year. A contentious presidential election. An insurrection in January. Protests and a very vocal and politically divisive, partisan-packed year. What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
A.The biggest lesson I’ve learned or that I saw was that people didn’t know how the process works. The light finally turned on (for many people who saw) how democracy works, how presidents are elected.
Q. Is that because our country has gotten away from teaching basic civics fundamentals in school. How do people not know how the system doesn’t work after all these centuries. What’s missing?
A. Great question. I hear anecdotally people say that civics isn’t taught in school anymore. I can only speak for Georgia, I know government’s a required class. I went to Georgia State for public policy. I remember taking a government class. But there’s a difference (from) sitting in a classroom reading something from a textbook versus fully grasping, how it affects your everyday life.
Q. What was the biggest challenge during your first year with the DNC?
A. The pandemic. We don’t get to physically meet the other DNC members and hear about their roles and the work they have done. (Georgia) Congresswoman Nikema Williams and I have talked about how different it is for me to have my first DNC year be during a pandemic. It’s definitely different. Typically, the meetings are in person.
Q. As the youngest member of the Georgia delegate to the DNC, what fresh perspective do you bring to the fold?
A. That’s one of the things I campaigned on was having a young vote on the DNC from Georgia. We looked at the statistics of some of the largest voting blocs in Georgia. It was young voters. So for us to continue to move forward as a party, we need to make sure we have young voices who are at the table. I’m always careful to make sure the older generation doesn’t feel like we don’t want to also hear and learn from them. Bringing a young voice to the table we can learn from those who came before us while they are still here to teach us and pass along that institutional knowledge. I like to think it’s going to be our generation who is growing up and raising children based on the policy decisions made today. So we need to make sure we’re in the room when those decisions are being made.
Q. What is the most pressing issue you bring to the DNC from our state?
A. Voter suppression tactics. I hate that it is something so negative. Georgia is really the battleground for what we saw with (the passage of) Senate Bill 202. That bill was a blueprint for how to suppress the vote of young people, young voters, poor voters, black and brown voters – basically the democratic base. That bill was specifically in response to the historical turnout in November and January, We’re now seeing that same bill (emerging in various forms) across the country. When the vote for the Texas voter suppression bill came to the floor, the Texas House democrats actually left the chamber so that there was no longer a quorum. So the bill couldn’t be brought to a vote. So shout-outs to the Texas democrats.
Q. How does Georgia factor into the DNC’s future strategies and plans?
A. During our January meeting, we got to elect (Atlanta)) Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms as the DNC vice chair for civic engagement and voter protection. I think that’s an incredible nod to the historic (voter) turnout we had in Georgia. Every time I’ve heard (DNC chair) Jaime Harrison speak, he has talked about how the Georgia voters and the
organizing that was done in Georgia has shaped the outcome of the U.S. Senate.
Q. What do you think is the biggest challenge for American democracy going forward?
A. The biggest challenge to American democracy is partisan. The partisan political polarization of the country.
Q. What’s the biggest challenge going into the 2022 midterms?
A. The voter law. SB 202. We just had sweeping changes to our voting law and 2022 is going to be the first big election where we’re going to see those changes come into play. We’re going to see the ballot boxes being put inside, and only available during early voting hours. We’re going to see line warming being removed. So you can’t bring water and snacks to folks when they’re waiting in long lines, Now people can’t vote absentees in the drop boxes because you put the drop boxes inside. Also, we’re going to see county election boards spend so much more money on conducting elections because when the Republicans passed SB 202 they did not attach a fiscal note on how county boards of elections would be impacted by the election process. Arnold Schwarzenegger had grants that were coming to county board of elections offices throughout Georgia. SB 202 says that counties can no longer take outside grants. It’s a terrible bill.
Q. So what needs to be done to foster greater collaboration between Democrats and Republicans in Georgia and nationally?
A. If I had the answer to that I could be president. I’m kidding. Before the presidency of Barack Obama, I would have thought that that was the way to go. When Obama was chair of the Harvard Law Review, he governed from collaboration and compromise. When he was president, he did the same. All you needed to do to bring people together is to collaborate and to compromise. I saw how flawed that thinking could be when (I saw) there are people who will take advantage of collaboration and compromise. So I don’t have an answer to your question.