Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff Are People Too, You Know
The two Georgia Senate candidates are Democrats’ last hope for Senate control. But they’re also a lot more than that.
For the first seven years after moving to Athens, Georgia, from New York City, most of my old friends back in NYC had little interest in my new home. They kept thinking that Athens meant Atlanta (it doesn’t), that I by definition lived in a deep red county (not since 1984, baby), that I was somehow going to really get into golf or something (god no). But once Election Day came and went, and it became increasingly clear that the only way the Senate could end up in the hands of Democrats (and not have everything Joe Biden is trying to do constantly obstructed) would be for Georgia’s two runoff races to go the Democrats’ way … well, suddenly my friends out east and up north suddenly became very interested in my adopted state.
I don’t blame them for this: Control of the Senate is a really big deal! But it still feels like the immense interest in this race is more about that Senate control than, you know, the actual two Democrats who are running and who would become the actual seated Senators. They are the Reverend Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, and if they win, they will become United States Senators. It’s probably worth learning a little bit about them other than just “we need their seats, and they have to be better than Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue,” no?
To be clear: They are absolutely both better than Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, two particularly lousy Republican candidates who would be third-tier politicians even if they hadn’t made money off coronavirus information that they didn’t provide to us. But if you knew more about Warnock and Ossoff, you might end up liking them for more than just “they’re the last hope for a functional national government.” Even though, uh, they sort of are.
So, here are three likable, commendable factoids about both Democratic candidates. On January 5, when you’re watching returns come in, know that you’re not just rooting for the Senate: You’re rooting for these two.
- He’s as connected to the late John Lewis as anyone. When Ossoff was 16, he wrote an admiring letter to the Georgia congressman, who immediately brought him on as an intern and set him up with a job running the longshot campaign of a fellow Georgia Democrat, Hank Johnson. Ossoff led Johnson to victory and worked for him for six years. Former U.S. ambassador and Georgia civil rights legend Andrew Young went so far as to call Ossoff “Lewis’ protege.”
- Some of his documentaries are legitimately good, and they’re all extremely noble. Ossoff’s job is often called “documentary filmmaker,” but that’s only slightly true. What he really is is the owner of Insights TWI, a documentary production company that helps make documentaries for news and entertainment organizations. I’ve seen a few of these films, and they are uncommonly gripping; they tell stories that are rarely told elsewhere. The best is Cry Freetown, about the Sierra Leone Civil War; it won an Emmy. It also was made before Ossoff took over; the best in his tenure is Living With Ebola, which was made for Al-Jazeera English and is, uh, rather relevant to the current moment.
3. He’s a former blogger. In a good Charles Bethea profile in The New Yorker back in 2017, Ossoff admits that he spent most of high school writing a politics blog called “Great Speckled Pi.” (I have not been able to find archives of this blog online. Ossoff admits he was “a little nerdy.”) If that sounds like a guy with no future, know that he had top secret security clearance roughly five years later as a member of Johnson’s staff. See? Blogging works.
- He’s the only author in the race. Warnock’s book is “The Divided Mind of the Black Church: Theology, Piety, and Public Witness (Religion, Race, and Ethnicity),” which came out in 2013, nearly a decade after he took over as pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Martin Luther King Jr.’s old church. Publishers Weekly called the book “an altar call to action that honors the liberationist roots of a global church community, regardless of race or gender.”
- He grew up in Savannah’s Kayton Homes housing projects and ended up getting a world-class education. His father was a WWII veteran who fixed cars and had 12 children with his wife. Raphael was number 11, and the first to go to college. He has four different degrees, by the way: A Bachelor of Arts, a Master of Divinity, a Master of Philosophy, and a Doctorate of Philosophy. (As of yet, no one from The Wall Street Journal has told him not to use any of them.)
- His views on reproductive health are hard-earned and well-considered. Warnock has taken heat in recent weeks for being, as he puts it, “a pro-choice pastor.” But a new profile in Harper’s Bazaar notes that Warnock has a deep and rich history with the subject, thanks largely to how he navigated the AIDS/HIV epidemic in the Black community over the last two decades, noting that Warnock “engaged the faith community around HIV/AIDS as pastor of Douglas Memorial Community Church in Baltimore. During an interview with Project Q, Warnock pointed to Georgia’s status as the state with the third-highest number of HIV cases as reason to fight for equity in prescription drug coverage, including PrEP, and increased funding for HIV and AIDS prevention.” His opponents may be just attacking him for this now, but this is a field he long been navigating.
Also, in case you were curious: He still loves puppies.
But these are just three arguments for the men: Leave your own in the responses. Because you’re not voting for parties, not really: You’re voting for people. These people.
Will Leitch writes multiple pieces a week for Medium. Make sure to follow him right here. He lives in Athens, Georgia, with his family, and is the author of five books, including the upcoming novel “How Lucky,” released by Harper next May. He also writes a free weekly newsletter that you might enjoy.