An Exclusive Interview with Rev. Raphael Warnock
“I’m running for the U.S. Senate because I’m a patriot. I love this country. We have these high ideals: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Equal protection under the law. E Pluribus Unum — ‘Out of many, one.’ That’s the ideal.”
That’s Reverend Raphael Warnock, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church and candidate for U.S. Senate, who recently sat for an exclusive interview with Butter to answer four questions about his candidacy, what Atlanta means to him, and of course which Atlanta rapper is his favorite.
ED NOTE: Butter.ATL and The Churn do not endorse any candidate, and we’re always open to hear from our elected officials and those who are running for political office.
BUTTER: When people see a U.S. senator, they sometimes see them as “Washington” people and not as connected to their state. What does being Georgia’s next senator mean for the folks back home?
WARNOCK: Wow, where should I start? Right now we’ve got 500,000 Georgians in the Medicaid gap. We have a sitting U.S. senator who seems to think it’s a good idea to get rid of the Affordable Care Act in the middle of a pandemic.
This is not just political talk. When we talk about people with preexisting conditions, we’re talking about the people I visit, as a pastor, everyday in the hospitals. We’re talking about people with diabetes, hypertension, folks who’ve had cancer or a heart attack. And now we’re talking about COVID 19.
Public policy shows up in the lives of ordinary people. When we say “elections have consequences,” that feels like an understatement this year. Elections are literally a matter of life and death. If you’re concerned about your health care, or if you’re a young person concerned about how you’re going to pay for college or vocational school, or technical school, if you are a worker and you’re seeing less prosperity and you’re working hard, then you need a United States senator who’s gonna stand up for you and also work in conjuction with local leaders to help you live your best life.
BUTTER: What is Raphael Warnock’s Atlanta? Where do you go, what do you do and how do you experience the city in your own personal way?
WARNOCK: As a pastor, I get to see so much of our communities. I see the good, the bad and the ugly, and in between. I see folks at their best and people who are struggling. My job is to try to be a source of comfort and hope as people are trying to navigate their lives.
That path moves me from the church to the community. And I’ve never thought that my influence stops at the church — I think that’s where it starts.
Much of my work has been in the streets and in the public square, fighting and standing up for ordinary people. That’s often taken me into their homes, into places of power where I get to advocate on behalf of the most vulnerable among us.
The wonderful thing about Atlanta is it’s always been aspirational. [There’s] the sense that we’re stretching for something higher. We don’t always live up to it, but at least there’s that reach.
And that’s why I’m running for the U.S. Senate. That’s who America is at its best. There’s a story that we tell ourselves about ourselves. That’s the ideal, and we need that ideal because it causes us to stretch real hard and try to reach it.
They say Atlanta is the city too busy to hate. The question I often want to ask us is, are we a little bit too busy to love? And justice is what love looks like in public. Are we too busy that we’re leaving too many of our young people behind?
It is a place that has the largest wealth inequality in the country. But there is still this aspirational story, and I think that story is good inasmuch as it stretches us to grow, as long as there’s not a denial about the contradictions of who we say we are, and the reality that people are living. And so it is with America.
The great story, the grand story of the American democratic experiment, is the effort of ordinary people, whether it was slaves who were seen as three-fifths of a human being, or women who were denied the right to vote, people with disabilities who didn’t actually have access to the spaces we said they had access to, or members of the LGBTQ+ community who say ‘You must affirm my humanity also.’ It has been a train ride towards freedom. As a passenger on that train, I’m looking to embrace my role in this defining moment in American history to push us a little bit further.
BUTTER: To get into the U.S. Senate race, you not only have to see yourself possibly winning, but also have a strategy. Can you talk a little bit about the strategy one needs to have as a Black man who grew up in housing projects in Savannah, Georgia, on your journey to launch a campaign?
WARNOCK: Well, honestly I did not set out to see how I could land in the U.S. Senate. The fights I’ve been in, I’ve been in because I care.
I want to see people have health care. I want to make sure their voting rights are secure. I want to make sure that young people across the state and all over the country have access to a good quality education. I want to see our criminal justice system not be two systems — one for us, and one for others.
These are the fights I’ve been in. I’ve been working as an agitator all these years. Now I want to transfer my agitation into legislation.
As people have been calling on me to run, at the grassroots level, when I looked at it this time I said to myself, ‘How can I say no? Who am I to say no to an opportunity to make life better for ordinary people and stand up for the people I care about?’
And what an amazing honor it would be to serve in the most consequential deliberative body on the planet, at this defining moment in our history when we’re dealing with a renewed reckoning on race?
I’m the pastor of Dr. King’s church. It is a church with a storied history. I’m only the fifth pastor in a church founded in 1886. The leaders of that church have never shrunk from taking on big challenges. I like a good fight. Here’s one. I’ll take it, lay my case before the people, and gratefully the people are responding. I think we’re going to win.
BUTTER: Of all of the hip-hop artists from Atlanta, who’s your favorite, if you had to pick just one?
WARNOCK: [Laughs]. Ah, there are so many. T.I. and I are actually friends. He’s a good brother.
I’m still working on him, trying to pastor him. [laughs again] But he’s got a great heart, and when I hear him and the brilliance that’s coming out of him, his story is similar to mine — growing up in a struggling community, with a family not having much.
And yet he and so many others have transformed their pain into power, and they’re using their platform for change. They should be commended for that.