Crossover Day: To Move Forward or Hold Back

I’ve reflected more on what was shared from the podium regarding the Buckhead City vote. There are things that were shared that make me want to take some of those gentlemen by the lapels and shake them, yet others called me to think deeper about motivations and feelings around not being heard. I know that feeling. I know it well. I’m thinking most of us know something about not being heard unless you show up in a certain way.  I also bristled at the use of Secoria Turner’s name. That name stings in a different way to me and I’ll try to explain here why. Overall, the vote left me feeling that there is so much more work to be done in Atlanta and Georgia as a whole. Our interest in division rather than unification as a state is so foreign to me and silly, but it is an idea that persists and has for all of my life. Maybe we won’t be able to ever break free of that dichotomy, but to me, it’s all playing FAR too small. And there are a few things I hate more than squabbling over meaningless Us vs. Them issues. 

I think Senator Randy Robertson really thought he was leading an important stand for a people he feels have been disenfranchised. I think he believes that down to his bones. And I think there’s a reason for that. When the City of Atlanta has spent the last few decades trying to attract white folks back into it after the White Flight immediately following integration…. When all of the development has centered around Midtown and business boomed in Buckhead, I can see how it would be really jarring for residents in that area to not have the city ask ‘how high?’ when it said ‘jump’. I mean, this IS the Atlanta Way, right? Buckhead is the Nice White Parents of Atlanta who have benevolently given money out of the established capitalism-normed exploitive labor practices of the American Century, so how could we say no? I mean, they aren’t Arkansas, for Godsakes.  

When I moved into Mozley Park, I was amazed at how close my neighbors were to City Hall and the Capitol but had no exposure to either. Many of my neighbors do not drive, and even with a moderately functional transit system, I was surprised to learn that my husband and I would be providing the first visit to the state Capitol for a younger neighbor. We dressed in business casual, and we learned later that the young man had been taken out by his family the night before to purchase black slacks so he would be appropriately dressed. It hadn’t occurred to us that clothing would be an impediment. 

This is how privilege works. It’s something I take for granted so much like water around fish. Essential for breathing, but something that is only noticed when it’s gone. 

I think Buckhead is like this. They aren’t aware of these power dynamics because it never occurred to them that things could exist in another way.

For a long time, Buckhead has been isolated from downtown and the south and west side of the city. Maybe Midtowners ventured to the Eastside at the Earl, or maybe some danced as I did 20 years ago at Compound off Brady or at the Star Bar in Little Five. But the pandemic shattered this disconnection with a strikingly intimate digital connection. When WiFi was extended to rural areas and urban areas alike for free so kids could go to school from home, we opened up windows into homes where others can see into home life in ways they had not before. Gone were the veils of hiding poverty and abuse. Others could see but the folks living in those situations couldn’t do a thing about it any more than they had before. In a study of NYC neighborhoods experiencing rapid gentrification, the study reflects higher instances of anxiety and depression in children in those areas. So before anyone says, well EVERYONE experiences that or EVERYONE suffered during the pandemic….I need you to understand that BEFORE the pandemic, these were the situations existing in rapidly gentrifying areas AND THEN we experienced the pandemic on top of that. So even though we have data that tells us that anxiety and depression are higher in areas of rapid gentrification, Atlanta leaders assumed we could just keep giving the absolute least to these areas. Or maybe that was just my representation who was happy to give away free turkeys but wasn’t interested in asking why free food was needed across generations in the same household. 

As I said, I’m not into thinking small, y’all. 

So Imma kindly ask those in rural counties to dig deep into their understanding of class differences and reflect on that when they think of Buckhead. I understand writing to a predominantly white audience here on Peach Pundit, none of us can fully understand the racial dynamics, but if there’s one thing I know most rural white men CAN recognize is how class differences show up in the Skoal outline on well-worn jeans, hands that are calloused more from farm work than pushing paper, and well-pressed Pointers being the best thing you have to wear to a city meeting where folks look down their nose and over their glasses at you or your family members. 

Now, please remember that those looking down at you have a lake house to retreat to and a gas valet to fill up their cars on the way out. 

Are you understanding more fully now?

No one who is willing to work wants a handout or sympathy, regardless of race or class. They just want an even playing field to compete. But at this point in my life I know something about exposure to different possibilities, jobs are given based more on who you know than what you know, and when no one looks like you in some spaces, perceptions can be unwelcome realities.

Previously, Atlanta had a Mayor who while posing as America’s Mom also shut down the city to protect everyone. While I personally agreed with this choice, that is because I had the luxury to do so. The unintended consequence of that shutdown was that some neighborhoods had the luxury of stepping out of the workforce but others had to step up. And all those new Amazon and grocery delivery folks got to see how well others lived just up the street from us. 

So Buckhead never had to change. But the rest of the city did. 

The rest of the city stepped up to deliver groceries to the elderly, to teach children when their own kids needed help in school, and to nurse others even though their own family members were sick they still showed up to care for whatever political stripe showed up in their ERs- mask wearers or pandemic deniers.

So when Mayor Dickens stepped into this mess I bet he really wanted to address the crime problem head-on. Right, wrong, or otherwise, he centered his campaign on it. I think he did it to the best of his ability. When I went through the Citizen’s Police Academy, the graduation at that time was to be largely for officers being sent to the new Buckhead precinct. 

I can’t argue with wanting faster police response times. I’d venture to say my neighbors want that as well- affluent or not, we all want someone to be on the other end of the line when a disaster occurs. But I know growing up in a rural area during Desert Storm, the rich do not send their children to serve. I would also venture to guess there are few Buckhead moms who want their daughters and sons to stick their necks out to serve the city in parts where they may have to encounter complicated issues that can’t be easily resolved. What’s more, those daughters and sons have probably been taught better than my generation in that these challenges are multi-layered and stem from years of systematic oppression and isolation that literally breaks a human mind without a strong support system. 

Even though I’d bet my bottom dollar they are unwilling to send their own to serve, Buckhead was still heard. And if they want more police recruits, I’d suggest Buckhead start sending their own to the Police Academy rather than expecting surrounding cities to ante up their children to protect their gas valet Rep. Dolezal advocated for protecting.

Rep. Dolezal really liked spitting Secoria Turner’s name from the podium. However, I will kindly point out it was my neighbors who attended her funeral as family. An uncle lives a few streets back, across the street from her classmate, who often leaves books in my Little Free Library, and other family members have been my next-door neighbors.  There is no question the loss of Secoria’s life has been deeply felt in Mozley Park on a much more intimate level which has brought anger among parents and left a void among children. But these families take it in stride because they have all experienced a different kind of violence, a longer growing cancerous one that Bobby Kennedy referenced shortly before he was assassinated, and shortly after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. The emboldened lines of emphasis are mine.

For there is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly, destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night. This is the violence of institutions; indifference and inaction and slow decay. This is the violence that afflicts the poor, that poisons relations between men because their skin has different colors. This is a slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books and homes without heat in the winter.

This is the breaking of a man’s spirit by denying him the chance to stand as a father and as a man among other men. And this too afflicts us all. I have not come here to propose a set of specific remedies nor is there a single set. For a broad and adequate outline we know what must be done. When you teach a man to hate and fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies – to be met not with cooperation but with conquest, to be subjugated and mastered.

Robert F. Kennedy
Cleveland City Club
April 5, 1968

If Rep. Dolezal wants to see fewer children meet the fate of violence from a gun, then I would encourage him to work on the other menace of violence Kennedy referenced here. One plays into the other. When we teach that differences of opinion threaten freedom, then we establish enemies where we might otherwise build bridges to our shared prosperous future. When we starve our children, we feed them the seeds of hopelessness and unrest.

Ignoring Buckhead is no more the answer than ignoring the needs of the rest of the City of Atlanta. But only if we’re willing to work together can we possibly move forward in a meaningful way. I want Buckhead to have all the cops that regularly patrol my area. I want us both to have reduced response times and community-oriented police officers that know the areas in which they patrol. But let’s also be clear about what that means: affordable workforce housing in Buckhead. BCN is going to have to come up with a plan for offering in-community living space for the police officers they want to house. And for the sake of everything that is holy, can we all agree that Fulton County needs to tax its businesses at the rate they should be so that residents don’t have to keep bearing the majority of that burden? I can’t be the only one writing in ‘Dead Cat’ and ‘Mickey Mouse’ instead of Arthur Ferdinand!?!

I want all of us to have what we need to thrive in Atlanta. I just also know that the baselines from which we’re starting are different depending upon which neighborhood you grow up in the city. From what I saw of the Mayor’s Neighborhood Summit, it appears he’s aware of that as well. I also don’t align poverty with race nor do I think the propensity of looking down one’s nose is exclusive to Buckhead. Cascade does a pretty good job of that as well. I need Georgia’s legislators to recognize that their actions of dividing us up just distract from making us a great state. 

I’ve written numerous times that Georgia’s crown is jeweled not by a singular city, but by its unity of all municipalities. I understand the politics of division win races in petty primaries, but I also have worked for legislators who knew governing together was what was done at the Capitol. 

Can we do that? 

Today is Crossover Day, and the Gold Dome will be tasked with deciding what will move forward and what will be held back. May what crosses over today bring us all forward together toward renewed prosperity, equity, and justice rather than divisively hamstringing us for another year.

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