Atlanta City Council voted, as expected, to approve the additional
$67M $31M for Cop City. The vote was 11-4, with the four no votes being Dozier (my Council member), Waites, Lewis, and Bakhtiari, the last of which was probably the most vocal in opposition and interacting of the Stop Cop City movement. I took notes from when I left the GSU MARTA station at 12:03 PM, with the Phoenix chopper flying overhead until I crossed a silent Mitchell Street around 12:06 AM, with Troopers and Capitol police setting up barricades. I was hoping to remember some high points to offer in the analysis here. I didn’t sit in the chambers because I thought it would change anything. Honestly, they don’t need me, I can CLEARLY see the change around me, and even in my cynicism, no one could walk away from the chamber feeling things will remain the same in Atlanta. There’s a different air here, and I’m eager to see what that holds. No lie, it gives me more hope than feelings of disappointment. What that holds for Georgia politics, I’m not quite sure, but it will have an effect, trust that. Friend of the blog, George Chidi, asked a meaningful question that I hadn’t yet been fully able to formulate in my sleep-deprived brain, although I could feel it. I’ll talk about that and some cultural things I see changing here. There is also a 10 AM press conference today regarding the Stop Cop City movement and their wish to place an initiative on the ballot in Atlanta. So as you see, the movement moves fast and it’s hard to keep up. My piece is not newsy- more analysis of Council and comparison to how this impacts Georgia. Grab a toter, and walk with me a while.
First, a note on Atlanta political culture vs/ the Gold Dome: there are narratives here like I’ve never seen. Lies spun from whole cloth. This isn’t limited to one person, entity, or even department. It’s a culture here in the government that is pervasive and sucks up a LOT of energy just to provide consistent transparency. I think that’s part of why this Stop Cop City movement has such traction- completely aside from its police abolitionist aims. Atlantans know we’re being lied to by the City government. Like Scot Turner, no one here trusts the City. We know the fish wrap is in the pocket of the Atlanta Police Foundation, and so in our starvation for truth and transparency, the movement has risen up in defiance of all that by providing some sunlight in a dark and dusty room. In the face of all the moving pieces, deflecting, and distracting, the Stop Cop City movement is consistent and transparent, and each member seems to use their talents to bring clarity, focus, and share information along with some performance art to keep it entertaining! I kid you not- there was a Joni Mitchellesque performance by Leah Clements (7:53:26) in Chambers that was surprisingly great! And the numbers! There are just more people who are literally engaged in combatting the lies- faster and with receipts (some of which were literally held up in the midst of comments).
This latter point- there was a QR code that was held up while speaking (10:04:45), by a woman with a distinct name- Mabel Thomas. George Chidi was sitting next to me when Council President Shipman read off the name and we both were like, huh? Not ‘Able’ Mabel Thomas, who served for years in the Georgia General Assembly, but a skinny young white woman who knew she was being live-streamed. The QR code leads to this document of citations of the facts she used in her arguments and she ends by RICK ROLLING the reader!! For me, this was the moment that I knew this group of activists are different- they knew how to engage a bigger group, one that is digitally connected to NYC, DC, LA, and countless other cities around the nation- and to have FUN with it. That young lady wasn’t speaking to the Council members.
She was speaking to the world outside and exposing how reasonable and prepared she was in comparison to the Council members who can’t answer many questions about this facility. Some body find her and get her to run for office!
When I was more embedded in Capitol culture, there were talking points, sent out on Senators’ behalf, so they were consistent, informative, and timely, usually with a Founding father’s quotation for good measure. I did that as a Senate Aide for Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers. Members talked to the media in specific instances, staff, and aides spoke among themselves, and lobbyists listen in and also talk among themselves. If you wanted a rumor to float, you knew who to speak to and spread it quickly. But everyone in the building knew you had three rings to kiss- the Governor, Speaker, and Lt. Governor to make legislation move. The Rules Chairmen held it up or made it move based on the previous three. And everyone sort of knew how it was going to play out. With the exception of a few hotheads in the halls or that one year a beer bottle almost severed the ear of a lobbyist at the Sine Die after-party, things kind of ran on rails inside the building with a healthy amount of palace intrigue. Outside it was more opaque.
Atlanta is more of a shell game with the Mayor at the top. There are elements of people who speak about the process (Council member Michael Julian Bond did that a LOT in this paternalistic way that demonstrated how far removed he is from the city over which he legislates) or talk about how they can’t do anything. The weird thing I’ve found here is that some people believe them!
That’s another cultural note here that falls along race and generational lines. For many, the past actions of Council and community members seem to have earned them a perpetual blank check and a “well they tried” from older Black Atlantans. It’s been really surprising how much the Black Boomers in Atlanta will actively defend their Council members or community leaders if they’re spoken against- by either white or Black citizens. I’ve seen it at the NPU level as well, with NPU chairs being reluctant to talk among themselves in APAB because they realize they all get different answers from the city. Unlike the Stop Cop City movement, APAB members hoard information and make backroom dealings, which undercut their ability to effectively make a citywide impact. The Stop Cop City movement folks seem to be VERY aware of the fact that their unity and common ground are what makes them strong. They lean into that. I definitely saw folks around me chatting in Cop City-specific Slack channels, so I’m betting there are more circles in the Stop Cop City part of Atlanta than Mayor Dickens’ version.
A general rule for moving things forward in groups is to focus on what you can agree on, right? Don’t get lost in the details of what you don’t. The activists from Stop Cop City could give APAB leaders a good lesson that they should have probably learned some decades ago. One is probably moving forward and activating change. The other is having an internal fight about trying to shut out members.
The difference I saw in the Council Chambers was something that I’ve seen bubbling up all over the city- preceding the summer of 2020. Younger Black Atlantans challenging their venerated leaders. I’ve seen this in my neighborhood, but saw it demonstrated in real time in the form of one speaker. Rev. Yearwood spoke (4:15:18 begins the exchange with CM Bond’s remarks) and identified himself as the President of the Hip Hop Caucus. When he called Council Member Bond out for his lack of siding with activists, it led to an exchange I’ve literally never seen before- at the Capitol or City Hall. I’m paraphrasing, but the man said, (the money shot at 4:19:14) ‘respectfully, I knew your father,’ (that would be Civil rights activist and past state Representative Julian Bond who was famously not seated in the General Assembly because of racism and his anti-Vietnam War stance) ‘and the last time he was arrested… we shared a jail cell … we were protesting in DC, under the Obama administration against racial eco-justice..this is this century’s lunch counter moment’. The words clearly stung MJB and made whatever words he uttered after that meaningless, quite honestly. The oxygen had been sucked from the room and his blusterings afterward were sort of embarrassing for him.
A note on Southern culture here: we don’t speak ill of the dead, right?
But names of the dead came up many times in the chamber, and not in ways I had anticipated. In the remarks from Shannon Gaggero (1:29:37), a friend of Amy St. Pierre, who was tragically killed in the Midtown shooting earlier this year. The results of what appears to be a similarly tragic failure in mental healthcare. Taking a page from Rahm Emanuel, Mayor Dickens didn’t let this crisis go to waste in his poorly timed Op-Ed in the AJC. In response, Ms. Gaggero penned her own Op-Ed to honor her friend that the AJC would not publish, but the Atlanta Community Press Collective did. I don’t know who the Mayor’s PR folks are, but could they PLEASE find someone else to help this man?!?! These things kind of make me cringe in a space deeply steeped in both Southern and politics of respectability culture. These seem like easy blunders to have researched before using them as a political prop. It feels very Donald Trump in-front-of-a-church-holding a Biblesque. Just don’t do it unless you really mean it and have spoken to the families, yo. Not genuine or a good look.
The activists who were in the chamber were neither outside agitators (as they consistently and methodically identified where they lived). They also weren’t majority white or young. One previous Council member’s son even spoke against Cop City (Deborah McCarty, 6:56:33). And their very diversity exposed the challenges and sort of made a mockery of the city that we all know to be true in real time- the elevators broke, there were problems with the AC, and for Barry Lee (3:44:50)- he brought his own ASL interpreter because the City literally does not have one. He also detailed instances of routine traffic stops in which presumptions from police officers about his speech patterns and inability to hear caused him to be suspected of DUIs among other issues.
Now if you follow the APF’s lobbyist’s Twitter, you will see a very different picture painted of the activists. And this, along with the AJC’s representation of the Stop Cop City movement is why I wanted to show up in Council myself. These activists weren’t just young either- I saw older Black and white women who’d never spoken up at a Council meeting addressing Council. The fact that this movement engaged them and so many others- Baptist ministers- one of mine was in the hall when I sought a restroom- speaks to its status.
In fact, this tweet was what really summed this point succinctly for me.
Cop City came out of an attempt to answer the City’s cries for reform or abolition of the police in 2020, in the wake of George Floyd’s and Rayshard Brooks’ murders at the hands of police. The discussion in Council began on what should have been Breonna Taylor’s 30th birthday. Instead of galvanizing the city of Atlanta toward the reform process and highlighting the fact that police officers are helpful to the Atlanta community, this push for Cop City has shown that the City of Atlanta is VASTLY unprepared for its own citizens to meaningfully engage, and the Mayor and some members of City Council’s inept excuses have exposed that when pushed, the Mayor will (at least from all appearances) lie, cheat, and steal the civil liberties away of his own citizens with the help of the Republican Governor and Attorney General Carr while the majority of Council will simply not hold him accountable.
And here are these folks with their cell phones, Twitter, and some Open Records Requests showing the world how feckless and petty Atlanta’s leadership really is. It’s sort of breathtaking in the form of a modern David and Goliath parable. These people aren’t well funded. They aren’t even in agreement on why they come to the table. But because the City of Atlanta has failed us all for so long, and uses the police among other departments as a way of hiding that rather than fixing it, the City has unified all these people together who probably couldn’t agree on much else!
This issue will cost some Council members their seats. That was just a feeling I had a few weeks ago, but three folks spoke from the podium who had canvassed in D1, D8, & D12- that’s Council members Winston, Lewis, and Norwood’s districts. The Norwood canvasser had a head full of gray hair and could probably have been one of the younger audience members’ grandmothers. But here she was, telling Mary Norwood that folks in her district wanted better roads, sidewalks, more programs for kids, and more staff members at the Bitsy Grant Tennis Center!
Y’all could have knocked me over with a FEATHER.
Then there was David Martin in a pressed plaid shirt (6:35:47) and khakis quoting from the AJC about the fact that the Cop City issue was one of fiscal irresponsibility. He had a nicely trimmed beard that made him look like he could have been walking out of any GOP meeting in Walton County! Chase Oliver (1:38:23) made a very compelling speech and was outside on the street as I walked in with a megaphone. No one will accuse him of being liberal, will they? Alex Joseph (6:31:14), a previous US attorney stood up and said what I’ve been saying for the last few years- there is a perfectly good training center that actually certifies officers in Forsyth. We not only don’t need this mock city, but if it is built- it puts us in an arms race along with 200+ other cities across Georgia, all wanting their own training centers, and 200+ new training protocols that open everyone up to liability because of its lack of standardization. This movement has gone from small to mainstream, and from Twitter posts to activism at City Council, to canvassing that tells me they know how the process works, and it’s not just a bunch of angry self-indulgent white kids like many would like you to believe.
My expectation of the movement was that they are actively seeking opposition candidates to each of the 11 who voted yes. Instead, they’re seeking a ballot referendum, which OCGA 36-35-3(b)(2) provides them with the ability to do so. Be still my little open ballot access/ direct democracy heart! This gives me great personal pleasure, knowing that the Municipal Clerk’s Office will be weaponized against Mayor Dickens after DCP weaponized it against me. Look at God always providing a path!
Meanwhile, my bet is they’ll use this as a means of finding opposition candidates in all of the ‘yes’ vote districts save Council member Shook’s and Norwood’s for a total of 9 seats. To be clear- I don’t have any inside track on this, but it was clear that organizing was already happening, and this would be the most likely next step. Now that they’re going to use this as a ballot measure, they won’t let Council escape this. BRAVO! What a twist! It’s doubtful the movement will have opposition success in Hillis’ district. They will be more than likely successful in Council Member Winston’s district. Bond’s seat, like Westmoreland’s, is citywide, and I know Bond already has opposition. Most people recognize both men are largely performative but have been respectful of Bond previously because of his father’s legacy. Not this crowd. I, along with the rest of the room turned my back on Council member Bond as he spoke (repeatedly, to every time he was called out by name) more than once. The room was done with what he had to offer, and it was clear he wasn’t accustomed to that. He demonstrated in real time what a relic he is. My hope is he realizes that and seeks a nice paid job somewhere via the Mayor for his work rather than trying to run again.
Westmoreland is Morningside’s proud son, checking the many boxes of the traditional, old-school white Atlanta liberal elites’ boxes. His latest convenient timing of coming out as gay after proposing and being engaged to a woman and then winning his seat is his only minority status. In striking contrast, I was pleased to see Kyle Lamont as I walked in. I was even more pleased to hear him speak. Lamont, NPU S’s APAB delegate, and member of the Development Authority of Fulton County, spoke early on (3:18:31) and sharply about how Westmoreland likes to get his pictures with the LGBTQ community but doesn’t seem to actually vote with them. I hope Kyle will give some thought to running for office himself in the future. His impeccable houndstooth suit with no breaks made for a striking contrast to the plain-jane white pressed shirt and baby-blue straight tie Westmoreland wore. If we were judging on style alone, Mr. Lamont would win in spades, but I know Kyle to be far more substantive than that. He is a wise parliamentarian and deferential, when necessary, to his older, Black city leaders. He doesn’t shame them, but I’ve watched him literally lead from the floor in APAB meetings vs Councilmember Westmoreland who struggled to maintain order in the absence of Council President Shipman.
Council members Farokhi and Wan were surprising to me. I sat next to three folks who stood up and named that Farokhi hasn’t responded to their multiple outreach attempts. Wan received the same as well when the friend of Amy St. Pierre made a pointed statement about his lack of response to her calls. She was his constituent. When I lived in Wan’s district, he had great constituent services. I was surprised to hear this about his office. My surmise would be that if the Stop Cop City movement wanted opposition candidates, they’d have a greater opportunity with Farokhi than Wan. While Farokhi was present in the room more than not during public comment, he was virtually nonexistent during the budget presentations I sat in on recently, which was taken up yesterday. To be clear, I think Farokhi and Wan have the opportunity to be better Council members, but these two ivory tower thinkers would rather be idea people rather than get in the weeds of their constituents’ needs. Also, Midtown and O4W are areas that are the north/south border of the city- where white liberal folks live (it’s where I lived as well) while either aspiring to be or looking down their noses at Buckhead and wringing their hands over the south and west sides of the city. Last night at 11:18 PM, Council Member Wan sent out a newsletter explaining his reasons for voting yes. He ended it by saying,
“However, what I absolutely will not tolerate are the online threats to me and my colleagues who voted yes, including listing our home addresses that have been posted since this morning’s vote that are credible enough for APD to take precautionary measures for our safety. This is not okay, and I will not be intimidated by these tactics.”
His wording choice could have been more precise, because all City Council (and any members of BACEs, like myself) are required to fill out ethics disclosures that list our addresses online. You can look his up just as easily as any reader can look mine up. Also, my husband found his address in three clicks on his phone thanks to Arthur Ferdinand. That all said, what Council Member Wan is getting at is that the movement is turning up the heat on the Council members in ways they have not expected. I feel like Brad Raffensberger is somewhere saying, “welcome to the club!” And while knowing where one lives is available to all in these internet streets, making threats on anyone’s life remains egregious and actions on anyone’s life remains illegal.
A note on my writing here: I have never written about all I know in a situation. I assume no one does. There are things I will not write about. There are tons of rumors (and requests for dirt) swirling around Atlanta’s Council members now. I generally have never come after anyone’s job nor will I come after someone’s loved ones. Seats are fair game though, yo. I’ve always found those stories make their way to the light without my help of putting them to paper. Please know I know these are out there and I may hold my own opinions, but what I write here will stick to policy and culture, not personal details.
Council members Boone and Overstreet have plenty of opportunity for improvement. It isn’t clear to me if they just don’t know how to do it or if they just aren’t anymore of visionary leaders than their male counterparts. I find like Fulton County Commissioner Natalie Hall, Marci Overstreet is far more concerned about appearance than policy. When the Department of City Planning decided to “realign”/eliminate/redistribute NPU R, I was told by more than one person Overstreet’s ire at the NPU Director was because she was not given a heads up before this was announced, not because she was specifically against it. But because it bruised her ego to be caught off guard by her constituents more than it concerned her about their ability for input on zoning. Yesterday, Overstreet passed legislation to incentivize grocery stores for improved food access. Sounds good, right? But grocery stores set up in areas where they know development is already happening. The Greenbriar Mall area and Campbellton Rd. Corridor citizens have long advocated for better transit (rail) and a hospital in the area, both of which would improve the likelihood of a grocery to set up shop there. I have heard rumors of a potential candidate considering a run there, but nothing firm yet.
Boone was specifically called out for campaigning in one way with white constituents and another with BIPOC constituents (5:28:42). This is really common in politics, so nothing new here, but I think it speaks to the ingrained separation of residents some Council members perpetuate. Just as the OTP vs ITP cultures dominate politics in the Gold Dome, white vs Black and north vs south parts of the city have different cultures and ideas about one another. While Mayor Dickens has spoken much about one Atlanta, the reality is that because the South and West sides of the city have been ignored for so long, the Cop City issue has highlighted how deeply underserved these areas are. Ironically, similar to the Buckhead City movement, the South and Westsides want better roads & sidewalks. The difference is their list is much longer than Buckhead’s because they are in need of better street lighting, sewer accesibility, and utilities that don’t flake everytime a big storm blows up. Any opposition candidates wouldn’t have much challenge here with any name ID, an actual plan, and a decently funded campaign. There’s definitely opportunity here.
Amos and Hillis are somewhat similar to Boone & Overstreet in that their districts are in the mid-late stages of gentrification. After decades of dearth of investment, these areas are experiencing a revitalization. This has been going on for the last 15 years- even before they came to office. The challenge is that this gentrification also pushes tenants and older, less socio-economically advanced folks out. Neither member seems to be particularly concerned about that and Amos has the greatest opportunity for loss here. He won by 44 votes, so an incredibly small margin. His name ID after successfully gaining his school board seat was what gave him that little edge. Sadly, his vacating that seat to run for Board of Education left my School district seat vacant for 11 months before it was filled with its current occupant. I believe his Cop City vote will draw opposition and I could see how he could be easily toppled. His previous opponent was Greg Clay, who I know and admire. Greg is employed by Mayor Dickens now as managing his constituent services, so because of Greg’s alignment with Mayor Dickens, I cannot see his success in opposition to Amos going forward. I think the margin of 44 votes demonstrates how closely people couldn’t differentiate between the two candidates as well.
George posed a question/discussion in a thread that I thought hit the canvassing question on the head and speaks to the ramifications it remains to demonstrate in Georgia going forward:
“As we watch this last third of public comment on #CopCity, I have a political question for the council.
Does a yes vote on Cop City today make Georgia more likely or less likely to give the Democratic presidential nominee its vote?
The activists at City Hall were the folks who have knocked on doors and made calls for Warnock and Ossoff. Young people are always the workhorses of campaigns. Now that this Stop Cop City movement recognizes the alignment of the Mayor, Governor, and the majority of City Council, George accurately points out that they will be less inclined to support the DPG and its candidates in the coming years.
A note on the DPG: While I really can’t speak much to the insides of either party aside from commentary as an outsider that both appear to be raging dumpster fires! I have noticed that the DPG is DEAFENINGLY silent on the Cop City issue. Even Senators Warnock and Ossoff offered commentary only on the arrests of the Solidarity Fund folks rather than the Cop City issue itself. Ossoff’s comment was so milquetoast it really didn’t merit the time spent typing it. I mean, Warnock has been honestly engaged in activism for years-some of which was through the Moral Monday movement in Atlanta, in which a previous pastor of mine engaged, but what can Ossoff offer? Empty words, possibly a documentary later on.
What was surprising to me- and I owe her a phone call- was Senator Nabilah Islam’s tweet and state Rep. Ruwa Romman’s comments (6:11) beginning the public comment period. The reason I even gave Andre Dickens a second thought years ago as a Council member was that Senator Islam worked for his campaign and spoke highly of him. She does what any good party member would do- she calls attention to the opposition rather than eating her own. But the reality as Zack Murray, an Organizing Director with The Guild, (and Lakewood Heights resident) bluntly put it, after highlighting the MANY ways Council and the City of Atlanta has failed Lakewood Heights (he mentions lack of sidewalks, the fire training center moving will remove jobs from the community, and flooding because of no sewer access in that portion of the city)-I’ll let you listen to that at timestamp 10:24:26 rather than write it.
Atlanta thinks these folks are going to go away, but I’m here to tell you- they aren’t, and they’re gaining steam. They have the Quakers involved, for goodness sake! And they are smarter than the electeds who govern us. So while Governor Kemp and Mayor Dickens have tried their very best to stymie this band of merrymakers, the electeds seem to only be playing wack-a-mole. And not very successfully at that. The Mayor hasn’t learned yet that he needs to peel the layers back rather than control the message. Let the sunlight in to the City of Atlanta departments and let this issue go. Otherwise, their methods will continue to gain steam and will become a Georgia problem, not just an Atlanta one. Ballot referendums for everyone probably isn’t something Governor Kemp would like to see. The people are speaking, and though they be small, they continue to be mighty.