Emory: The Eastside Breaks Its Silence

Nuance is a funny thing. Self-awareness, too. Both seem to have been lost to political discussions at some point as we divided into those of us who revert to the binary of buzz-word bingo campaigns and the tedium-driven world of debate the ramifications found in between “may’ and “shall” in the policy realm. The recent protests on Emory’s campus give us a great place to peel some things apart- U.S./ Israeli policy, Emory’s legacy of class and its faith affiliations, and how all of the philosophy of ivory towers alters when we watch people’s bodies be slammed against the ground by police. Maybe they also give us a little insight into some future politics?

Long asserted by one of Atlanta’s native sons as the language of the unheard (and implicitly of the ‘have nots’) protests often erupt as a means of communication when other avenues have been ineffective. So too, globally we’re now seeing students engage in the political process of protest similar to their Boomer grandparents in the civil rights era where tacit support of Netanyahu’s violent agenda is up for national debate. Many often present this in a binary- pro-Israel or anti-Israel. Liberal or conservative. In contrast, I’ve found the people most affected by policies, war, and economic sanctions are much more nuanced in their perceptions. I’m also always impressed when I see a STRONG civil Libertarian streak develop in any liberal hotspot anywhere

I remain steadfast in my belief that we can walk and chew gum at the same time.

In terms of U.S./ Israeli policy, my first glimpse of nuance was as a college student, babysitting for a Jewish couple down the street in Decatur who met at a pro-Palestine rally when they were in college and then later in college while I studied in France, where the media presentation of Israel and Palestine is very different from American news sources. At that time, I learned about Al Jazeera as a news source, along with my penchant for Le Monde for national news. Later, while on my honeymoon, my husband and I were visiting the best man from our wedding in the West Bank and we had to change taxis as we crossed the border. Gett, the local version of Uber, didn’t serve across certain streets- it was an entirely different system. It was wild it was so contrived! Especially given the reputation of the Albright Institute. It is probably as contrived and dangerous as my marriage would be in Belfast. 

I think we’ve all flattered ourselves a bit too much to presume these long-held prejudices of our ancestors are dead and buried as they should have been. If Trump/ the last few years have taught me anything, he/they have taught me that racism, anti-semitism, anti-Asian prejudices, sexism, ablism, and classism are alive and well and not buried as deep as I had hoped. My husband would remind me here that anti-semitism, anti-Jewishness, anti-Israeli, and anti-zionist are four very distinct, though sometimes overlapping, ideologies. But again, this requires a level of nuance that is often lost in our political discussions, as is evidenced by Rep. Esther Panich’s anti-Semitism law.

I’ve personally been silent out of respect for my Jewish friends who I hope and pray for the safety of their loved ones. A colleague of the aforementioned best man lost nine family members on October 7th. I often would prefer my words towards friends inspire hope, comfort, love, and affirmation. I want nothing more than for the chaos in that part of the world to end and for their loved ones to be safely home. While I’m not so naive as to not recognize war as a tool, I also know war is a tool of the privileged where teens’ lives are mortgaged to bolster the egos of world leaders’. I recognize my own privilege to be able to keep silent or to write when others are literally dying. While I don’t think my words will alter the trajectory of world events, I recognize the need for empathy and solidarity we all require when our loved ones and ideals are in peril. I also have family members who’ve served in every branch of the armed forces save the Marine Corps and I know that rural and poor kids are often the first to answer Uncle Sam’s call. Further, I cannot ignore what I know of decades of U.S.-led arms sales to various countries- Afghanistan and Pakistan in my college years comes to mind- that bear upon what we face today. We study history so we hopefully won’t repeat it. But it seems like some lessons didn’t sink in.

I cast my ballot for President Biden instead of Trump for many reasons. One of those reasons was his relationships and knowledge of foreign dignitaries and policy. Yet like all of the septuagenarian politicians, I’m ready to say “bye-bye” to Bibi.

In terms of Emory, I always found its campus to be a well-heeled lot. 

For context of my lack of inside knowledge of Emory, the time I’ve spent on Emory’s campus was either researching things in their library or enjoying a few house parties with their fraternities when I was in college. I’ve gone to mass on their campus a few times with friends, have a few friends whose divinity degrees came from Candler, and who doesn’t love the Carlos Museum? Like my undergrad alma mater, Emory likes to tout its diversity of ethnicity and race, yet I often found that no matter which corner of the globe Agnes Scott and Emory students came from- more than not, at least in the early 2000s, we shared common ground in the fact that we were far from poor. The trust fund kids who drove the family Benz to college weren’t the type I typically hung with but over time I’ve found that Emory has served as a repository for legacy Protestant Southern families who want their children to go into law or the clergy and the welcoming space for North and South Eastern Jewish families whose kids pursued law or medicine. The business college was actually more diverse- Asian of some variety, and less white. During my college years, Emory’s professors were often the liberal elitist hippies my conservative father abhorred.

I’ve been waiting to see what role Emory and Jewish Atlanta will play in the Cop City divide, because this isn’t a space in which I am an insider. 

Bankrolling many political candidate races, influencing development, and aiding both sides of the Civil Rights struggle, Jewish Atlantans are active, and engaged, in the political process, and are not monolithically supportive of one party or another. While they may have no problem with the rumor of Israeli-trained APD officers in Cop City, I’ve never found Jewish folks who didn’t have a healthy skepticism of mob rule in politics. The shadow of Leo Frank and bombing of The Temple looms across generations. The proximity to privilege lighter skin and class privilege affords Jewish folks in Atlanta provides just enough division to make me wonder where folks will fall on Cop City just like divides existed in serving Black folks during the Civil Rights era.

What I had not expected was the complete and utter milquetoast response I’ve seen from some Democratic political leaders. The word salad statements Seantor Elena Parent, Congress members Johnson and Williams have posted on social media make me wonder where these folks have placed their backbones! It reinforces to me that establishment Georgia Democratic leadership has no vision. I know members of the party who do, and who’ve encouraged leadership to lead in a nuanced way on Cop City, yet I’m not seeing less from the Democrats on this than the Republicans. 

To be honest, at least the Ga GOP has picked a side, even if it is one with which I personally disagree.

So too, President Fenves’s immediate departure from the campus as the protest transpired surprised me. I thought, like a captain of a ship, that a president of a college doesn’t leave the post! Guess I was wrong! 

But then I read Patricia Murphy’s pearl-clutching op-ed in the AJC today. I can picture her hand draped over her head and fanning herself in the April humidity, wondering ‘who will protect all the Jewish kids’ while “…progress and understanding are supposed to happen and could happen now. But it should come through scholarship and dialogue and open debate, not with a list of demands issued from a tent on the quad, and not from at the expense of the academic needs of every other student”. I presume her petticoats are likewise afflutter as her Westminster School Vanderbilt and Columbia diplomas hang on the wall in the background.


I wonder if Patricia had lived in the 60s what she would have thought of the education beaten into John Lewis at Selma, or if the letter from a Birmingham jail would have been meritorious enough of an origin point for her. Reverend Reeb may not have gotten his degree from Candler, but I trust his moral convictions were resolute. 

What I do know is that the AJC continues to reek of the privilege of the haves across America who have the privilege of opting in and opting out of political challenges. It’s a little too much for me at this point. I can’t imagine how much the white moderate annoyed King, but I’m beginning to see. The AJC seems to reside squarely in the ivory towers without ever concerning itself with the complications of quotidian life in a war zone or ramifications of mandatory conscription as their siblings face in Israel. As a parent, I can certainly understand the preference to protect one’s child from the harshness of the world, yet I also know the man in the arena does not become a man without stepping into it first. 

Atlanta likes to sell herself as this peaceful bastion of diplomacy, but moving into the Westside has removed any scales left on my eyes of this white myth.  My backyard, like many others in this area, doesn’t have a fence around it because of historic precedent. Civil rights leaders who lived here walked through neighbors’ backyards from meetings rather than on the sidewalk, lest they be apprehended by police. The state has ALWAYS exercised its power via police. This is nothing new to Atlanta or America. America’s willingness to grapple with it may be new, but the question of where the line is on police power, is not.

It used to be a conservative ideal to question the overreaches of that power but Georgia now has a conservative Governor and Atlanta has a liberal Mayor who have no problem equally using authoritarian exercises of police power. It puts Georgia in a unique position as we approach the Presidential election. It’s hard to criticize one party when yours is doing the same thing, you know? 

Emory just thought its kids had enough money and privilege to avoid the scuffle.

And to that I say, ‘c’mon in kids, the water’s warm and we have cookies! You don’t have to question your government, but it’d be cool if you did!’ I sincerely wonder how many Libertarians were created on the quad on Thursday. 

As for those hippie elitist professors? The faculty and staff of both Oxford College (about 20 minutes from my hometown) and Emory University’s College of Arts both held votes of no-confidence following the protests. I love to see a community come together, don’t you?

Now, the question the protests leave me with are how this impacts Atlanta and national politics?

When Dickens was elected, the AJC reported a blanket win on the Eastside, which was a key aspect of success for him. 

Here’s a nice map the AJC featured. Click on the link above if you want the precinct by precinct data.

Moore had taken Buckhead, and Dickens has long been aspiring to ingratiate himself to that part of the city. But Atlanta remains divided, for all of the circles he tries to draw. Now most Emory professors reside in Decatur, and have no ability to vote in Atlanta elections. But not all, and they not only influence votes on the eastside of the city, but Emory dollars influence campaigns. Dickens’ flip flop on Beltline rail and numerous campaign promises he’s made yet haven’t delivered upon are all working together to etch out whatever lead he had over Moore. His attempts at affordable housing isn’t masking the fact that his administration has put developers at the table of deciding their own ethics. And he’s consistently unable to lead at the ARC, despite being the chair. 

I’m eager to see what President Biden’s visit will bring at Morehouse next week. While Patricia Murphy suggests some kids are too afraid to lead and should stick to ‘scholarship and debate’, Morehouse men would NEVER miss an opportunity to lead. It’s one of the reasons why they always do. 

Cop City and Bibi’s answer to Hamas’ terrorism aren’t going away. 

At this point, I’m eager to see the next generation step up. They’re the ones that will be sent to die or be trained to oppress further. America is really grappling with herself- the myth we’ve perpetuated for so long is being met by those younger than me who have more fight in them than I have energy for any longer. This determination of whether or not America will have Cop Cities in their hometowns or if they will be sending guns, ammo, and people to fight for Bibi’s legacy is now their fight. The Boomers, whether they will go quietly into that good night or not are coming to their end. And we’re watching the Zoomers stepping up. Some will listen to Patricia and keep to the Ivory Towers, but my bet is more Atlantans will heed the calls of Malcolm and Martin and take to the street. Atlanta has ALWAYS had more hustle in some corners of the city than others. Atlanta Influences Everything.

May hard-won freedom ring.

One Reply to “Emory: The Eastside Breaks Its Silence”

  1. Thanks for your post and I appreciate your perspective on this Scarlett.

    This is meant to be a more general statement, and not one directed at you Scarlett.

    Perhaps those opposed to Israel’s military action in Gaza would have been better served to make their stand in Georgia on a different campus. Given Emory’s large Jewish student population, anti-Isreali protests on that campus blur the lines between the four ideologies Scarlett identified – especially given some things we’ve seen at similar protests across the country. Connecting “cop city” to Israel and its war against Hamas blurs the lines even further in my view.

    Nevertheless, Scarlett is correct that Atlanta Influences Everything. 😉

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