In January, Sen. Nikema Williams became the first black woman elected as the chair of the Democratic Party of Georgia

In January, Sen. Nikema Williams became the first black woman elected as the chair of the Democratic Party of Georgia / Facebook

The past year has been a whirlwind for state Sen. Nikema Williams.


In November, she was re-elected to her post in Atlanta-based Senate District 39.


But later that month, she and 14 others were arrested during a protest in the Capitol rotunda demanding that every vote be counted in the gubernatorial race between Brian Kemp and Stacey Abrams.


 GPB's Leah Fleming interviews Nikema Williams, the new chair of the Democratic Party of Georgia

Those charges were dropped last month.


Now, Williams is tasked with leading Georgia’s Democratic party. She became the first black woman elected to the role in January. 


Williams sat down with GPB's Leah Fleming.

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On being removed in handcuffs from the Captiol building by police

That moment taught me the more things change, the more they stay the same.

I grew up in rural Alabama, and I've been in Georgia since after college. So many people in my generation feel that the things that people fought for in the civil rights movement are over and done with and we need to move on. But something as simple as standing up for our rights to vote led 15 Georgians to be jailed that day.

The Capitol rotunda should be the most protected space for free speech. But yet, we were taken to jail.

On deciding whether to take legal action

I'm working with the other people that were arrested. My attorneys and I are highly considering civil litigation to ensure that no one feels that their right to free speech should be something that they'll be punished for.

I want people to know that the Capitol, their Capitol, is the people's house, and everyone should be welcome to come and voice their concerns.

On whether voters who identify as independents are actually independent. 

I have found that to be true. People like to be reminded of what a party is doing for them. It’s that ‘what have you done for me lately’ syndrome.

People do have leanings before they go into the voting booth based on what they've done in the past. What we're doing in the Democratic Party, though, is we're making sure that we're turning out our voters. We have a lot of confused Democrats in Georgia that just don't turn out to vote. So, we have instituted a year-round field program.

As my grandma would say, "If you stay ready, you'll be ready." So we're going to make sure that Georgia Democrats are ready.

On the idea of 'confused Democrats'

Yeah, they show up to vote when they want to show up, but not necessarily every time we need them to show up. We're reminding them of why they're Democrats.

On whether the film industry should boycot Georgia if abortion law takes effect

I don't think that's the right way to go. I think that people need to fight with Georgia women, they need to fight with Georgia voters and they need to help us grow our base. They need to invest in the organizations that are here fighting.

If they don't have another home to send their money, the Democratic Party of Georgia is here and we will fight with them to make sure that their voices and their concerns are uplifted.

On giving Gov. Brian Kemp a 'report card'

When I came into this session, all I heard on the campaign trail was that people were hurting, and they needed health care. Medicaid expansion was the number one issue. And based on that being the number issue, I'd give governor Kemp a big fat 'F.'

We just did something in our state that covers fewer people for higher cost by doing these Medicaid waivers. People needed health care, people were concerned. And we're even doing more by passing something like HB 481 [the abortion ban] to scare doctors and possibly criminalize them.

We already have 79 counties without an OB-GYN. That's not leadership, that's failed leadership. And we need someone who is going to put the people of Georgia first. He's not doing that.

On seats the Democrats are watching for 2020 elections

In 2020, every state House and Senate seat is up for election. And Leah, we're laser focused on taking back the House.

We know that it takes 91 seats to win any legislative battle in the Georgia House of Representatives. We're laser-focused on making sure that Democrats have a majority in the House. We have 22 seats that we're looking at across the state. And we're going to be in control of the House come 2021.

On the best way to unify Georgians and at least have conversations that are meaningful

For far too long, we [have been] in this space where we don't even talk to each other. Now, there are some people who don't even believe in my humanity. And those are probably not the people that I need to be having conversations with.

But there are other people who just don't even realize that you agree on so many things. And we've gotten away from that.

That's why we're taking our program with Georgia Democrats to the doors of voters, and we're knocking on their doors and having those direct interactions with voters.

On campaigning and being seen, heard

I'm in the middle of a listening tour right now, going across the state.  My chief of staff keeps me quite busy. Sometimes I'm like, “Maria, how are we going to get here!”

But yeah, we are all over the state, making sure that we're listening to the concerns. I don't want to run the Democratic party that was run in the past.

I have a vision to be inclusive and to bring more people into the fold and to make sure that people who have felt like they didn't have a party home have a home in our democratic party. That takes going out and meeting the voters.

State senator Nikema Williams (left) speaks with GPB's Leah Fleming (right) in the GPB-Atlanta studios.

State senator Nikema Williams (left) speaks with GPB's Leah Fleming (right) in the GPB-Atlanta studios. / GPB