Last night, Democratic politician Stacey Abrams became the first African American woman to deliver a State of the Union response. This achievement comes shortly after Abrams narrowly lost the Georgia gubernatorial race, in which she was poised to become the United States’ first African American female governor.
In her speech, which took place in Atlanta before an audience of workers, activists, labor leaders, teachers, and others, Abrams emphasized the high cost of higher education and urged the nation’s political leaders to confront the student loan crisis. “The price of higher education grows ever steeper,” she said, adding that “our leaders must face the crippling effect of educational loans.”
She also connected her upbringing as a young African American woman in the Deep South to the broader ideals of increased diversity and inclusion within the Democratic party. In addition, Abrams condemned the government shutdown as a “stunt engineered by the President” and spoke out against the suppression of voter rights.
U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer — who asked Abrams to speak last night — is encouraging her to continue to advocate for low-income and underrepresented groups. He is in the process of persuading her to run for a Republican-held Senate seat in 2020. According to analysts at PBS, her speech last night symbolized the power of women — especially African American women — to the Democratic base.
During her campaign for governor, Abrams proposed a $100 million plan for making higher education more affordable. Her ideas included a $5 million effort to provide high school students with free SAT and ACT testing services and mandating that every University System of Georgia institution provide individual consultations to help students understand federal student loan forgiveness programs.
Abrams has firsthand personal experience with the burden of student loans and was criticized by opponents for being heavily in debt during the campaign. Many political commentators have pointed out that as more working-class individuals, women, and people of color run for elected office, the disparities between the types of debt that these individuals have versus that of wealthy white male politicians will become a focal point.