An Instagram video posted by the Stacey Evans campaign has caused quite a stir. The footage was clipped from what appears to be a celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. The video ends with a closeup of Evans with an image of MLK overlayed on her face, followed by the words “Bringing Hope Back to Georgians,” with “Hope” italicized.
The campaign of Stacey Evans, candidate for governor in Georgia, posted an ad with the worst kicker I've ever seen — juxtaposing the white Evans' face over Martin Luther King's. pic.twitter.com/2YbQp6DLw7
— Political ad disliker (@EoinHiggins_) January 24, 2018
The cringe-worthy video has since been deleted from the campaign’s social media account. While it is unclear whether the Evans campaign had permission to use footage of the celebration, it is clear that they did not consider the message or the optics. Someone thought, hey, simply clip footage of an MLK celebration, highlight clips of a candidate with Black people, and voila — super-woke campaign video, right?
Consider the video released by Professor Richard Dien Winfield, who is running for Congress in Georgia’s 10th Congressional District. Professor Winfield’s video, “The Unfinished Work,” highlights clips of Dr. King speaking along with himself and supporters discussing the need to continue Dr. King’s work 50 years later. Professor Winfield connects the references to Dr. King with his campaign.
Similarly, Lisa Ring released a video of her participation in the Savannah MLK Day Parade. A candidate for Georgia’s 1st Congressional District, Ring also mixed in clips from an MLK speech along with highlights from her campaign platform. Both Ring and Professor Winfield are progressives running in conservative districts, and both face a similar challenge of appealing to a broad base of voters.
However, where Winfield and Ring connect Dr. King’s work on poverty and racism to their campaign goals, Evans’ video just ties his face to Evans’ without any discussion of any social, economic or racial issues. What makes this worse is that Team Evans knows how to deliver when it comes to campaign videos.
Unlike “16 Homes,” where Evans tells her emotional story of growing up in a series of poor and unstable situations, Evans’ MLK video is poorly thought out and tone-deaf. Through the MLK video, her campaign attempted to center her in a moment that simply was not hers. It would be different if the clips were of Evans speaking directly to issues related to MLK’s work. A reading of Letter from a Birmingham Jail could be in order. Instead, we get Evans going to a black church, being seen with black people and having her face visually connected to MLK’s.
I asked for comment on this video from the Evans’ campaign and they did not respond.
Several questions come to mind when seeing this video. A key one is this: Does the Evans campaign know how to build a coalition that seeks to engage all Georgians instead of sacrificing a diverse statewide coalition in favor of courting moderate white voters by including black faces but not things that might be seen as black issues? Some of the election coverage has framed the race for the Democratic nomination as differing strategies — as if somehow building a broad statewide coalition comes at the expense of the “white vote.” Evans has been wedded to a strategy that has failed to yield a statewide Democratic win in over a decade.
While some may feel that Evans is equally competent to handle issues addressing Black people and others of color, this video is yet another example of how she falls short of leading needed dialogue. Addressing race and persisting injustice while building a broad statewide coalition to win is not as complicated as some make it seem. Standing firm and steadfast on issues and policies that matters will turn the tide going forward.
In the wake of Doug Jones’ upset win in Alabama, Democrats across the south have been put on notice. In a recent conversation with Eric Robertson, Political Director of Teamsters Local 728, he noted the importance of consistently sticking to our issues while building a broad-based coalition to win.
No, Black voters are not the magical elixir to turn Georgia blue. But if you want to win, you must engage the diverse citizens on issues that matter. No longer can you cling to the center, hoping to peel off moderate Republicans. Voters need strong candidates focusing on the issues. The Democratic Party must address pocketbook issues and social justice at the same time.
That is the legacy of Dr. King.
A video of Evans reflecting on King’s legacy about her campaign could have taken many directions without appropriating a celebration of King’s life and legacy. Whatever the original intention behind the video was, the fact remains that it took liberties and used an experience to give the impression of favorability or preference by entities affiliated with the King family and those who attended the celebration.
To be clear: This is not about whether Evans is a good person or even a racist. This is about whether she can lead Georgia forward with meaningful consideration of the diversity of issues and people that make up our state. Superimposing Dr. King’s face over your candidate’s does not move you closer to uniting us all. Our legacy and struggle are not to be used as props to push people across the finish line. Evans should continue to focus on her platform, story, strength, and experience, not on these cheap tactics.