When Mokah Jasmine Johnson pulled fellow activist Mallory Harris aside at a protest to tell her she was thinking about running for office, Johnson told her she wanted to stay true to herself and her activism, Harris said.
Now, as the Democratic candidate for State House District 117 running against Republican incumbent Houston Gaines, Johnson is still participating in and organizing rallies and protests to demand justice for Black lives.
Johnson began her journey into activism after an incident where General Beauregard’s, a bar in downtown Athens, had a racial slur in the name of a drink. In response to this incident and other reported discriminatory actions Athens bars had committed, Johnson organized a rally on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2016.
Around the same time in January 2016, Johnson and her husband, Knowa D. Johnson, launched the Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement in response to the discriminatory acts by the Athens bars. Since its founding, AADM has grown to be an organization that advocates for the equity of Black people in the Athens community.
In 2019, Johnson stepped down as president of AADM to run for office.
Johnson said in an interview with The Red & Black that her activism has led to more changes than other people have been able to make in the past. Some of these changes include a 2016 ordinance that addresses systemic discrimination in Athens bars and a 2020 ordinance that eliminated cash and bond bail for low-level offenders.
There is still more progress to be made, Johnson said. For example, Johnson is fighting to expand the cash bail ordinance, so more people can get out of jail without having to worry about cash bail. Johnson also said decriminalizing marijuana needs to be pushed forward, and Harris said Johnson is pushing for expanding Medicaid.
“Even with the little needles that we have pushed forward and the little holes that we have poked, it’s still just like foundation, it’s still not enough,” Johnson said. “We’re putting down one brick, we need to put down a couple more bricks for it to truly have strong teeth and for it to really really impact our community the way that we would want it to.”
Johnson said she and her campaign team have been focusing on reminding people to vote in the days leading up to the election. Johnson said she and her campaign team have been encouraging people to be aware, involved and engaged not only for the Nov. 3 election, but after Election Day as well. On Saturday, Johnson hosted an anti-voter suppression rally to encourage people to vote.
Campaigning during COVID-19 has looked different than planned, Johnson said. A lot of people had to withdraw from canvassing, and the campaign has recently begun doing literature drops. The campaign team has been working on phone banking as well.
Harris, the social media director for the Mokah for Georgia campaign, said she planned to be in Athens during the week before the election. Harris, who lives in California as she pursues a doctorate in biology at Stanford University, has to participate in the campaign virtually.
“My plan was always that this week I would be in Athens knocking on doors, but I think especially with everyone being remote now… [it’s] made me able to feel like I’m more a part of it. Because, you know, now everyone is meeting on Zoom,” Harris said.
Harris is a 2018 graduate from the University of Georgia who has stayed on Johnson’s campaign from across the country. She said with family and friends in Athens, and after living there for four years, the issues Athens face are very close to her heart. It was important to her to stay involved and do whatever she can to get Johnson elected, and her staying on the campaign is a testament to how much Johnson has impacted her life, she said.
“She is someone who has, like, influenced my trajectory so much, even before she kind of knew she was doing it. She is someone who gives me so much hope… It’s not just me, like there’s so many people who would say this,” Harris said.
Johnson also thinks her activism has sparked other people, like Harris, to stand up for what they believe in. Harris said in office, Johnson would lead by example to listen to experts and help mitigate the impact of the pandemic on the community.
“Some people might not like the outcome [of the election], but that doesn’t mean that we stop fighting,” Johnson said.