Interview: Umoja Abdul-Ahad with City Council Movement on Grassroots, Electoral Organizing

Nov 12, 2020

Umoja Abdul-Ahad from the the Knoxville organization, City Council Movement.
Credit Submitted by Umoja Abdul-Ahad

Georgia is seeing a historic flip to having a Democratic candidate in the lead in the presidential race. A lot of the credit for that flip is going local, grassroots organizations in Georgia. WUOT's Claire Heddles spoke with Umoja Abdul-Ahad from the local organization City Council Movement about electoral organizing here in Knoxville, and what comes next post-election.

UMOJA ABDUL-AHAD, GUEST: Congratulations to all of the people who are working in grassroots organizations and grassroots efforts and to what's happening in Georgia, it's just very, very exciting.

CLAIRE HEDDLES, HOST: Unlike Georgia, Tennessee’s electoral votes went to President Trump pretty quickly after polls closed last week. But Abdul-Ahad points to races like former senate-candidate Marquita Bradshaw’s campaign as evidence that Tennessee can’t be written off as just a red state, even if she didn’t win.

UMOJA ABDUL-AHAD: She got a million votes and she started out with $27,000 as a mom and decided she wanted to make a change. Her name is well known, she made history in terms of being the first African American woman to make that kind of a move. Henceforth now and forever people will be talking about Marquita Bradshaw and what she's done and I'm sure we haven't heard anywhere near the last of what she does.

City Council Movement shared guides and resources on social media for Knoxville and Knox County voters in the lead-up to last week's election.
Credit City Council Movement on Facebook

HEDDLES: City Council Movement focuses their efforts locally, creating ballot guides and voter resources for big races like last week, and endorsing candidates in local races with the goal of building a majority of five people with similar values on city council.

ABDUL-AHAD: Local races are important, all of them are important because all of them have something to do with our livelihood, with safety, with working with mental health. They all are important cause what I'm feeling is that the local races give you a chance to be effective, get some victories, get some knowledge about what you're doing and then you can go forward and be able to be effective in those other races, both statewide and nationwide.

HEDDLES: To get things done, the organization does what many grassroots political groups practice: building connections.

ABDUL-AHAD: I think our sincerity in terms of City Council Movement in reaching out to people of goodwill. We look to how we can ensure that the African American community can have political power in the city of Knoxville and also start to build wealth in the city of Knoxville. And there are a lot of people in the city of Knoxville, and in the county, and in the state who have goodwill. You just have to show them that you are sincere, that you are a grandfather just like their grandfather. That you have interests that you want to do, you want healthcare, you want various things, we all have similarities.

HEDDLES: As to what comes next for the organization post-presidential election, Abdul-Ahad said City Council Movement is focused on changing what they can at the local level by being a bridge between city council and the community, and they're planning for 2021 city council races.

ABDUL-AHAD: I'd like to start with making ourselves available to help because a lot of times a city councilperson needs somebody to do some research, needs someone to answer the calls, so CCM is available to do those things: to answer calls, to help in any kind of way. So we make ourselves available prior to putting pressure on someone to do what they said they were going to do, that is accountability. So that's what we intend to do. We're all looking forward to 2021, there will be five seats running at that particular time.

HEDDLES: While this election produced little change on Tennessee’s political stage, City Council Movement, like many grassroots organizations is continuing to emphasize the power of one, local vote.

ABDUL-AHAD: In 2017, there was a tie. Amelia Parker had 488 and the guy that was running against her got 488, so there was a tie. So no time ever can anybody in Knox County or the city of Knoxville say that their vote doesn't count.

HEDDLES: You've been hearing from Umoja Abdul-Ahad from the local organization City Council Movement. I’m Claire Heddles, WUOT News.