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Romancing the Runoff: How a Group of Romance Authors Are Fighting For The Georgia Senate Runoff Elections

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Politics | November 17, 2020 |

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Politics | November 17, 2020 |

Romancing the Runoff logo banner.jpg

Last week, after many days of the vote being too close to call, the networks finally confirmed that the state of Georgia had turned blue in favor of the now-President Elect, Joe Biden. In one of the most hotly contested races of the 2020 election, the Peach State pushed Biden to 306 electoral votes. Donald Trump has not yet conceded the race, and his administration continues to push false and deeply paranoid conspiracies around the supposed fraud of the electoral system. The battle, however, is not over for Democrats. Georgia’s key Senate races will take place in a run-off election in January. If the Democratic candidates — Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock — win, then the Senate will be divided 50-50 between the two parties, giving future Vice President Kamala Harris the deciding vote in key issues. Given the Republican Party’s history of impeding the progress of Democratic administrations, especially on urgent matters like healthcare, voting rights, and climate change, the fate of Georgia has proven more important than ever.

Fundraising campaigns, doorstop visits, phone banks, and voter registration continues, with Stacey Abrams and Fair Fight leading the way following their successful mobilizing of voters in the state. Another such group helping to get the vote out is Romancing the Runoff, a fundraising effort organized by a group of romance authors seeking to support the grassroots efforts of a fellow romance writer (Abrams writes romantic fiction under the pseudonym Selena Montgomery.)

Alyssa Cole, Courtney Milan, and Kit Rocha (aka Bree & Donna) are names that will be familiar to any lover of romance. While watching the agonizingly slow vote count, they felt motivated to do more.

‘I think a lot of us were caught in a miserable stasis in those first few days after election day. The need to do something was overwhelming,’ the quartet told me via an email interview. ‘On Thursday, while watching the votes trickle in, we realized Georgia was on the cusp of turning Blue. And more: we realized that the determination of fellow romance writer Stacey Abrams had a lot to do with it. On Thursday night, we decided to channel our restless energy into an active pursuit: giving her organization and other grassroots voting organizations on the ground in Georgia the funding they need to continue this momentum into the runoffs.’

Romancing the Runoff was up and running within twelve hours of its conception, and over the next few days, with a lot of help from avid romance readers, the group raised a startling $85,000. Up next is an auction, where bidders will have the chance to win a bevy of prizes, including an online pajama party with the bestselling duo behind Christina Lauren, a TV pilot consultation with Sheryl J. Anderson, the showrunner of Netflix’s Sweet Magnolias, and a gift basket of Atlanta-themed goodies, including a signed book by Abrams. All proceeds will go to Fair Fight, the New Georgia Project, and Black Voters Matter.

As a romance lover myself, the work of Romancing the Runoff makes total sense. The genre, which is one of the few areas of culture created almost exclusively by and for women, has always been underestimated by the world at large. It’s 2020 and romance is still bombarded with concern-troll think-pieces about its artistic legitimacy and whether or not it’s feminist. The influence and power of a multi-billion dollar a year industry built almost entirely on the desires of women is seldom given its due. The Romancing the Runoff crew, which includes several volunteers and many supporters from across the country, are keenly familiar with the uphill struggle of perception they face from such scornful forces. For them, loving romance and political activism go hand in hand:

‘Romance author Racheline Maltese did an amazing thread on Twitter in which she noted that the romance genre, in general, has a liberation wing (where protagonists bend the world to find their joy) and a compliance wing (where protagonists bend themselves to find their joy).’

‘Those of us who move in the liberation wing read and write books that suggest to us over and over again that happiness is something you seize, and if the world isn’t ready to encompass and welcome your view of happiness, you go out and make the world ready. We read books where the protagonists usually experience a moment where everything seems lost — say, the entirety of 2020 — but gather their resources and their communities and the people they love to fight their way through to a happy ending. If you think about it that way, Romancelandia is a well-trained army of people who respond to despair with even more radical hope. And then go out to turn that hope into change.’

On its most basic level, romance is about pure satisfaction: the celebration of feminine joy and pleasure, and the freedom that comes with such pursuits. It’s also a genre that allows for a truly radical exploration of happiness and change for oft-marginalized voices. These are stories that open up a realm of possibilities for readers and authors alike, whether it’s through expanding our view of history away from the dominance of cishet whiteness or discussing matters of sexual autonomy free from the confines of patriarchal rule. Nothing in life is guaranteed but in romance, you know you’ll get peace, a happy ending, and the reassurance that women are being taken seriously for a change. As someone who loves romance novels, it feels totally natural to jump from that world to one of political activism. Take a group of frequently ignored and under-represented women (particularly Black women, as was certainly the case for this election), give them a goal and a seemingly insurmountable villain to defeat, then watch as they subvert the odds and get their happy-ever-after. That’s obviously simplifying things by quite a bit, but that natural urge to defy what everyone says about you is intensely familiar to so many for a reason. It’s the bread and butter of Romancelandia.

The romance community has not been without its problems. The past few years have seen the publishing industry confronted with issues of systemic racism and homophobia, as well as questions of failing leadership at the heart of the Romance Writers of America. At the beginning of 2020, the entire board of the RWA resigned in the fallout of a major debate over the group’s systemic racism (the full timeline for that can be found here.) For Romancing the Runoff, the current political situation is part of that same tangled cycle, a reminder of the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, and policy, among other things.

‘RWA and romance publishing do not exist in a vacuum,’ they said, ‘Racism, homophobia, pay inequality, and, to be romance specific, who is seen as worthy of love, are all offshoots of institutionalized white supremacy, as are the GOP’s efforts at voter suppression. In Romancelandia, there has been a strong tradition of activism amongst Black authors and other marginalized authors fighting for their right to exist outside of the white imagination and their right to equitable pay from publishers. RWA itself was started by a Black editor and writer, Vivian Stephens, who was seeking to organize and rectify these issues, though eventually, RWA’s goals veered sharply away from that. The fights mirror ongoing political activism in America, so “changing goals” isn’t a great descriptor. It’s more the same goals, the same fight, as generations before us, but being fought on more visible battlefields and with an increasing number of allies.’

Georgia Democrats have been fighting an uphill battle for the past few years, nobody more so than Stacey Abrams. While running for Governor of the state, she faced the blatant scheming of her opponent, Georgia’s Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who purged several hundred thousand people from the voter rolls during the race. The work of turning Georgia blue was an uphill battle for Abrams that even many Democrats had written off as a waste of time, a needless drain on resources they did not wish to make.

For Abrams and many other prominent figures in the state, such as Nse Ufot (Executive Director of the New Georgia Project), LaTosha Brown (co-founder of Black Voters Matter), and Stephanie Cho (Executive Director for Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta), proving them wrong wasn’t just about achieving their goals: It was about changing what the political establishment viewed as possible. In an interview with Chris Hayes, Abrams said that it was ‘important for the American imagination for us to expand what we believe is possible. I think it’s important for me as a black woman who has been responsible for expanding where we get to stand.’

This is a sentiment echoed by Romancing the Runoff.

‘There is a tendency among the left to say things like “Black women will save us,” and we have to resist that because it’s an unfair burden to place on anyone, let alone Black women who have their own lives to live. We would say, listen to Black women, and then look in your own community and figure out how you, too, can work hard and plan meticulously. You, too, can join the fight to save everyone.’

Romancing the Runoff is but one of many groups of driven citizens working towards flipping Georgia’s Senate seats blue, and as they discussed, the stakes are high for all involved.

‘America is not on the precipice of a cliff where healthcare, COVID-19 relief, the safety of its marginalized citizens, the well being of those seeking said citizenship, and climate change must be addressed—we’ve already fallen over the side and are hanging on by a spindly branch. Change can only truly begin to take place with a Senate that won’t obstruct change for the better, and the runoffs in Georgia can help us start to claw our way back up to solid ground. It’s our duty to support not only the Senatorial candidates but also the grassroots organizers who got us to this pivotal point as they fight for their voices — and votes — to be given the recognition they deserve.’

This is about more than a mere happy ending, but it’s not a bad goal to aim for right now.

If you want to support Romancing the Runoff, you can donate via their website. The auction kicks off on November 18. You can also support the candidates, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, via their websites, as well as surrounding groups and figures, and spread the word on social media.

Header Image Source: Romancing the Runoff