Fayette County has long been known as Republican territory, and it even gained national attention less than a decade ago when conservative columnist Tucker Carlson ranked Fayette among the top 20 conservative-friendly counties in the United States.
It might seem absurd that a handful of women Democrats would even bother to form a group in Fayette dedicated to empowering progressive leaders and advocating liberal principles, but that’s exactly what they did in 2004, when they established Fayette Democratic Women and staged a rally for presidential candidate John Kerry.
“We were struggling just to have a presence in those early years,” recalls Elverta Williams, a past president of FDW. “We were a very small group just trying to show that we were not crazy people set on overthrowing the county.”
Back then, the number of members in the organization was equal to the number of people now serving on the Executive Board.
Since the 2016 election, the FDW has tripled its rolls, swelling to nearly 100 dues-paying members, packing meeting rooms to capacity, and attracting 300-plus followers on Facebook.
FDW President Pearline Greene says many new members are “closet Democrats” who have been stunned to discover like-minded people in the area, and some are people “who have grown disenchanted and are looking for ways to bring about positive change.”
The FDW is a social and political organization of multi-generational and multi-ethnic members whose four main goals are expressed with the acronym S.A.N.E.:
1. Support: The group recruits, trains, and supports Democratic women who run for office and seek political appointments.
For example, its annual luncheon, which this year will be held August 25 at Flat Creek country Club in Peachtree City, raises funds to support candidates as well as to help non-political community groups.
It also supports candidates by working hard to get out the vote. This year, about 40 members have been trained to register voters.
2. Advocate: Putting values and ideals into actions helps the group show its true-blue colors in a deep red county, while at the same time improving life for local residents.
Earlier this month, FDW gave away free children’s books to families who attended Fayette Factor’s Back-To-School Expo 2018. The group has volunteered with a wide array of organizations, including Midwest Food Bank Georgia, and has donated money to others, such as Fayette Samaritans.
3. Network: Joining in social, business and political events is key to FDW’s aim of building relationships in which people can work together to create stronger, healthier communities.
An upcoming example is The 3rd Congressional Labor Day Family Picnic on September 2, where FDW members and their families will mingle with candidates, meet new neighbors, and simply have fun.
The group also has plans for a new initiative called “Sip and Say,” where people of all political stripes will be invited to a local restaurant for coffee, tea, and conversations about important issues.
“We want to put party labels aside and have real dialog among women to work on issues we all care about, such as improving education for our children,” says Greene. “We want to bring people together on common ground to talk with civility and kindness.”
4. Educate: At its monthly meetings, FDW hosts speakers to teach and inspire members, not only on political issues such as immigration and gender equality, but also on a variety of topics ranging from heart health to community safety.
The group has hosted gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, but has also had a presentation on leadership by DeShawn Dominique Jenkins, Executive Director of Alliance Française d’Atlanta, the city’s French-American cultural center.
“Our presentations are designed to stimulate your mind, give you different perspectives, challenge your beliefs, and ensure that we all keep learning and growing,” says Greene, a retired teacher and school administrator.
Despite FDW’s growing membership, Greene says many Democrats in the county still remain hidden. “I think people are afraid of losing friendships,” Greene says. “People don’t want to lose their Republican friends.”
But, she adds, this unlikely group that started with a handful of women 14 years ago can only continue to gain new members as people learn what FDW is all about.
“We love our country,” says Greene. “We want things to work well for everyone.”
The surge of new members gives FDW’s veterans hope that the organization can accomplish much more in the years ahead.
“I’m so very proud to see how far we’ve come,” says Williams, who was president in 2007-08. “But we still know that we have a lot of work yet to do.”