A Republic, If You Can Keep It

There’s been much discussion of the Cop City petition, arrests, and whatnot around Atlanta. I’d like to talk today about the broader impact of the issue, both in state and national politics. Atlanta influences everything but the city leaders like to downplay when we show up in the news in ways they don’t like. In my mind, I see white-gloved hands rubbing out the smudge on their otherwise gleaming perceived surface of Atlanta’s reputation. This fear of authenticity/ only showing the superficial good side of the city is what disengages me personally. I’m an odd duck, I suppose, in that, I love the spectrum of the dynamic nature of Southern culture from the pristine setting of Charleston’s High Cotton’s white tablecloths that are slightly north of Broad with feathered, bow-tied waiters to the heat of the grease and frankness of Willie Mae’s Scotch House in Tremé. For one, this fear of authenticity is cowardly, secondarily, I’ve always been confident in the need for cities and our state to claim their uniqueness, not to assimilate into a void of Alpharetta-beige. One could say this is all a hot mess (and they wouldn’t be totally wrong). Still, one could also quickly say we are demonstrating ourselves to continue to be one of the most dynamic spaces across the nation for carving out what we believe are rights-civil and human at this point- in our nation’s history. As politicians try to position themselves around the ever-evolving news waves, we lack the steadfastness of actual leadership. I think Republicans are trying to discern their part in that, as are Democrats. So far I haven’t seen a strong leader in either, which will make the primary season difficult for me more than usual. There is the opportunity for improvement, though, abundant for anyone who wishes to claim it. I’ll leave you with another question that I hope piques your interest in history and pushes you to consider more.

First the petition and a little history.

Petitions are purposefully difficult, and Southern states have a long history against them.  If you’d like to learn about why petitions are difficult and their tie to abolition, here’s a JSTOR link that can be accessed through your public library regarding the history of petitions in our country. It seems that early indigenous folks used them to go around Governors, Georgian colonists wanted to expel Cherokees, and Baptists used petitions to address taxation. There were also groups with nationwide standing who could mobilize petitioners, like the American Anti-Slavery Society. In his attempts to stymie the petitions against slavery in the Southern states, John C. Calhoun tried to initiate a gag rule (maybe the first?). Not kidding. As King Williams reminds us about news weeks in Atlanta, history is also never boring. 

I know about the mechanics of petitions from professional experience. In 2014, I consulted Bill Bozarth’s successful petition campaign to run as an independent for HD 54. While he didn’t take the seat (past Rep. Beth Beskin did), he did accomplish the task of getting onto the ballot. In a candidate’s petition, a candidate must acquire signatures from 5% of the registered voters in the district to get their name on the ballot. There is a specific 11’x14’ paper form, with slots for one’s name (as it appears on your voter registration), signature, address, birth date, etc. These are to help panelists who validate the signatures as authentic or false with as much information to think the signatories are in fact registered voters in their district rather than some rando. And to be clear- there is a panel of people who look at these signatures. 

We know what challenges this presents, right? How many of us sign our names as it appears on a voter registration we made when we were 18? How many of us print our names as it appears on record with the Secretary of State? The easiest way to address this is to purchase and parse a voter database. Voter databases are available from the Secretary of State, or through party-affiliated groups like Aristotle or NGP, which will also give you an indicator of political lean, based on the primary ballots one has pulled in the last 2-4 primaries. Thread this data through apps like NGP Van or Ecanvasser, and you get voter data that is geo-coded and can be ‘cut’ into ‘books’ of walk lists for canvassers. The geo-coding is to ensure the canvasser actually walked the routes they said they did. The walk lists are fed to canvassers’ cell phones via an app. Believe it or not, during Bozarth’s campaign, we used printed paper lists from Excel spreadsheets.

Why use this voter data? 

It saves time and leads to greater validity of signatures. While you can set up in specific high-traffic locations (as the Cop City movement has) this doesn’t mean those signatures will be accepted. Atlanta has an abundance of folks who reside here but may be registered to vote elsewhere because of temporary employment here, they’re a student, etc. In my area of Atlanta, there’s not an insignificant amount of previously incarcerated individuals, which means they cannot vote, nor would be able to sign the petition. Age and documentation status also impact this. You could knock on the door of some parentalized teenagers or undocumented folks that aren’t registered to vote based on age or citizenship status just as easily as you can visit a senior center and hit the jackpot of registered seniors who have to vote exclusively via absentee but can still sign. The fam may have taken the keys away, but they can still have a part in democracy, yo! 

Friend of the blog, George Chidi of The Atlanta Objective, Matt Garbett of ThreadATL, and recent recipient of Georgia Tech’s censorship and The Xylom fame, Alex Ip, engaged in a Twitter discussion regarding the importance of what the 70K signature threshold might mean for Atlanta politics. They’re right. 70K signatures would have a DRAMATIC impact on Atlanta and state politics by simple mobilization of this group. Ip asserted the last time a Mayoral candidate broke 70K votes- it was Mayor Maynard Jackson.

The reality is- the Cop City movement is already impacting state politics. On Monday, I tweeted out this email I received from the current Insurance Commissioner, John King. He’s using his previous employment in public safety and the Cop City issue as a means of fundraising for his campaign. We’ll more than likely see more of this from the GOP in the months to come. This signaling plays on not only the OTP vs ITP divide in Georgia but also the prominence of policing as an issue in politics.

This has got to be SUPER awkward for the DPG. 

Their homeboy is leading this and they can’t really back him up on the policing thing because our country as a whole (and now France) is divided on the issue of proper protocols for police. And rather than addressing the root of the challenges, we just seem to want to ‘back the blue’ and expect all our literal generations of challenges to disappear. It’s sort of funny if you think about the cognitive dissonance that is required to maintain that with greater knowledge of neurodivergence, we’re somehow still stuck on resolving these challenges by putting people in cages. I guess that’s one way to rural economic growth. 

In Georgia, we are finally no longer willing to ignore the need for mental health support in our communities, but we can’t seem to fund them more than our police officers. In Atlanta, the APD takes up ⅓ of our city budget. Additionally, as a state, both the Governor and the Mayor really love to use “affordable housing” as a talking point, but they shy away from talking about what the community in Atlanta actually needs- housing at 30% AMI, because that’s a genuinely difficult market point for developers to deliver and still make a profit without deeper subsidies in our municipalities and teeny tiny square footage units. But hey, Buckhead is getting the Beltline connectivity to MARTA that the rest of the city would actually use! Maybe that’ll maintain the Buckhead donor support for Ossoff when Kemp challenges him in 2026. 

I really think Scot should sell Peach Pundit branded popcorn for that showdown. You KNOW they’re going to light money on fire in that race! WSB will create new news shows just to sell ads again. Mo’ money for the Cox Family! 

John Ruch of the Saporta Report published a seriously layered piece on the multiple facets driving why the issue of Cop City is so problematic that it’s probably time for the U.S. Dept. of Justice should be engaged. From Atlanta’s interlocking challenges of overblown prosecution, the bleeding out of taxpayer money over multiple media lawsuits, to the Governor and Attorney General’s misrepresentation of the Atlanta Solidarity Fund three as somehow directly linked to violent acts. Ruch reminded readers (and me) that Fani Willis prosecuted members of the controversial APS cheating scandal on racketeering before AG Carr and Governor Kemp tweeted about domestic terrorism. It seems Georgia has a history of approaching issues at an 11 when a 5 or 6 would probably do. Go big or go home, amirite or amirite?

The challenge, as Ruch and others have pointed out, these things aren’t siloed and individual. They are in fact, patterns of power sustaining itself. I’ve written about APAB and its ties to various other entities and its (lack of) oversight of the Dept. of Planning. Ruch has written about CSAC- the puppet advisory group that was supposed to provide some oversight into the site of the mock city. Ruch points out that this would fit well into the DOJ’s tool of ‘pattern or practice’ investigations. He also reminds us that the DOJ is currently looking into Georgia’s prison systems. I haven’t forgotten the DOJ settlement regarding Georgia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities and who can forget we have a long history of pre-clearance maps as an integral part of our redistricting process? Georgia has probably had a longer relationship with the DOJ than any of our elected officials would like to admit. We seem to have some challenges with our interactions with vulnerable populations, incarcerated folks, and now legal observers and the media who want to look under the hood. If the DOJ does intervene, that puts Georgia even more on the front line of national headlines than what it has previously experienced.

Democrats usually like to make this a Republican problem, but Cop City is really exposing how the two parties are really just working to preserve the current and unjust system.  This also presents a real challenge of actual political significance. This discussion of policing is not one the country seems to be ready to have, even though it seems we’re closer every day to admitting that mental health and lack of support contribute to root causes of crime more than a fiction of moral failing.

Further, the national efforts of diversity, equity, inclusion, and individual autonomy have been dealt serious blows by the SCOTUS. Any inroads to what we may have indulged ourselves into believing about a post-racial society with equity and equality for all was unequivocally dismissed by Justice Sotomayer in her dissent.

By contrast, the Court’s holding is based on the fiction that racial inequality has a predictable cutoff date. Equality is an ongoing project in a society where racial inequality persists. See supra, at 17–25. A temporal requirement that rests on the fantasy that racial inequality will end at a predictable hour is illogical and unworkable. There is a sound reason why this Court’s precedents have never imposed the majority’s strict deadline: Institutions cannot predict the future. Speculating about a day when consideration of race will become unnecessary is arbitrary at best and frivolous at worst. There is no constitutional duty to engage in that type of shallow guesswork. 

Democrats will have you believe this is THE blow to our current system to moving toward equity. The reality is, (AND GOD KNOWS I HATE TO ADMIT THIS) it’s very similar to Roe- a privilege given by the court we should have codified into law long ago. Losing both now sets us back, no question, but it also calls us to reconsider and act on that reconsideration. What I hope all of these calls Americans do is strive to think about what we need now to form ‘a more perfect union’. The wails of the prisoner transport I heard, as I paused dropping my husband off at the Ashby train this morning, make me wonder what it will take for other Atlantans- Democrat or Republicans to see how unequal Atlanta is- in its police presence, its generational wealth gap, its provision of care for our most vulnerable…even the funding from Congress going to the Beltline just perpetuates the access to transit divide, rather than giving us a more equitable distribution.

If you think Georgia is getting to a better space of inclusion and my assertions are a bunch of hogwash, I’ll remind you that East Cobb, Macon, and Atlanta all experienced some form of hate-fueled efforts last weekend. Roaming neo-Nazi groups decided to pay a few Georgia towns a visit last weekend. Jason wrote about Cobb. This synagogue is home to an active Boy Scout Troop my husband remembered (he grew up near here) and is the spiritual home of previous Attorney General Sam Olens. Frank Malloy covered Macon. The Temple Beth-Israel in Macon is a 164-year-old historic jewel in our central Georgia city. I toured it years ago, compliments of retired Commissioner and Rabbi Schlessinger. Even my own church, the Church at Ponce & Highland was vandalized for the third time this month (Pride month) for our welcoming of all. 

This leaves the country, our state, and my city of residence in the midst of a debate about it all. I can honestly say that police arresting the vandals who defaced my church sign isn’t what I’m aiming for, but it seems egregious that the neo-Nazis were allowed to scream as loud as they wanted. Didn’t our grandparents fight a whole world war to ensure their type of hate had no home here?!? 

So we must ask ourselves: do we support creating a militarized thought police with a ‘kindler, gentler, machine gun hand’ to use violence against those who disagree or do we wrestle with the responsibility of the ever-evolving message of what freedom, equality, and equity really mean in our present day and time? 

These are the questions we have to ask ourselves as we engage in this fragile republic we have-at least for as long as we can keep it. Reagan said about being one generation away from losing it.  Perhaps we should actually do the work and have the hard conversations so the Republic continues to stand. Otherwise, Pye’s assertion stands: statists gonna state.

3 Replies to “A Republic, If You Can Keep It”

  1. Scarlet, I know that, politically, you and I have had differences in the past, but this is a very well-written, well-linked, in-depth piece that taps into knowledge that I doubt anyone else on the planet possesses.

    Any interest in breaking it up into a 3-parter?


    -Bill Simon

  2. That’s truly kind of you to say, Bill. Thank you further for the kindness of taking time to read what I’ve written.

    I can certainly try to break it up. I can’t make any promises I’ll write up to expectations, but I’ll certainly try.

    What would you suggest?

    1. Well, upon taking some more time to branch-out on the hyper links and then return to your article, I realize it can be digested in one post as you made it, so…I wouldn’t change a thing as to breaking it up any. It works as is.

      Please disregard my suggestion.

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