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Where is the Dream In Atlanta, Georgia?

Where is the Dream In Atlanta, Georgia?

By Barbara Payne

Fifty years ago, Dr. King had a dream.
It seems small to say it this way. So many
have repeated these words, so many times over the last half-century, that conjuring
the dream doesn’t pack the punch it should. Not to me.

Maybe it’s because I’ve spent the last eleven years in Atlanta where the Dream was planted. Where it grew, blossomed… and was promptly harvested. If there had been composting in Atlanta, that’s where the Dream would have ended up. But instead it was left to decompose on Auburn Avenue, at the foot of his tomb.   (thoughts from the sitting wall by the tranquil pool around the tomb).

The King Center

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, Inc.

I’ve spent many hours at the MLK National Historic Site… sitting on the floor watching hours of footage, quietly crying. Empathizing with the struggle of minorities. I’ve taken multiple classes on social movements at my beloved PSU. I organized for the smartest progressives on the planet during the Bush regime. I’ve been photographed, followed, black-listed and squeezed out.  I know how essential social movements are; without their successes (and failures) life today would be quite different for a great many of us.

When I arrived in Atlanta over a decade ago, I brought with me all of what Portland had taught me as an activist. I intended to be successful at moving the progressive agenda forward. If you’re not shaking your head yet, you may not be surprised to read that the only progressive agenda I made a dent in was keeping some low-income black communities from being over-taxed on their homes.

In 2002, when I asked a colleague why there wasn’t more activity in Atlanta, she told me that after Dr. King was murdered, the White Power Elite and the Black Power Elite simply ‘got together.’  Basically the deal went down like this: Don’t make a fuss from here on out and you can have Atlanta. What has followed since that fateful meeting is black on black warfare—politically, financially, criminally and spiritually. I’ve seen it first-hand and it’s one of the most depressing things I’ve experienced as an activist.

While I was front and center in Portland during the late 90’s and early 2000’s, in Atlanta (except for my group’s political pull) I was on the sidelines. I got reports from progressive, black, elected officials regarding the power-plays and we plotted strategy around them. What else could we do? Some of the ties went so deep and were so wrong that I dare not ever mention them here or in conversation.

Where is the Dream in Atlanta? Beyond black on black warfare, the city remains  segregated. People of all ethnicities, sexual orientations, classes, economic status... whatever, keep to themselves and have no interest in community. I may be generalizing but I’m not the first or the last. The progressive agenda moves through many communities and changes lives: the agenda for people over profit, communities over corporations… good against evil. Yet we still watch low-income housing demolished, homeless shelters shut-down and public transportation plans hijacked by developers. 
I want to know what happened to our visions and dreams.

One example is the land-grab deal for the new Atlanta Falcons stadium.  The gist? Destruction of historic homes; elimination of low-income neighborhoods; increased property taxes; higher motel and convention taxes; construction for years to come; brutal traffic; dirty air; tax breaks for developers; and cash under the table.  Nothing new in 50 years.   But this time we didn't even get to vote.  The reason for a new stadium? To keep up with other NFL cities and their new stadiums. Can you imagine a proposal to build a new Rose Garden Arena without public input or a vote in Portland? I’d like to be a part of that protest…

In all fairness: Atlanta is great for minority-owned, small businesses. The city is incredible for higher education options. It’s a wonderful place where significant national history unfolded. It’s a bankroll for the movie and music industry. If you’re a runner, the Peachtree Road Race is a must-do. Atlanta is a cool city if you have a car, don’t like politics, have a steady job and like to travel.  But these restrictions exclude lots of progressive activists.

I thought Atlanta would offer more. The first night I landed in Atlanta, I went to Dr. King’s tomb with a fellow activist friend. It was 2 in the morning. We had been at my office, organizing and preparing for an event with Ralph Nader. We sat there on the knee-high brick wall, next to the pool, looking at where Martin Luther King lay. We didn’t say much. It was very quiet on Auburn Avenue that night, which was unusual, (in 2002 the neighborhood was in a transformation/revitalization).

I think I may have cried a bit. My black, gay friend was also emotional that evening.   Nader’s inspirational speeches about saving the world can be overwhelming.  When we left the tomb, I got back to my rental car to find its back windows blasted out. I was beginning to feel that my notions about starting a movement to save the South, in Atlanta, might be in vain.

There are progressive pockets in Atlanta, but they must keep to themselves. I guess it’s easier. Everyday people in Atlanta encourage those around them to garden, recycle, take public transportation and vote— but that’s about it.
The dream seems over.  


But some in Atlanta deserve our thanks:
Atlanta Progressive News and Editor Matthew Charles Cardinale,
Eric Robertson, Political Director Teamsters Local 728
Viola Davis, Unhappy Taxpayer of DeKalb County
State Senator Vincent Fort (D)
& Derrick Boazman, Community Affairs DJ on AM WAOK
…to name a few.

I’m glad about the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. The young can learn about one of the most important dates in America’s history, the elderly can remember, and the struggle continues.  

Barb Payne graduated from Portland State University in 2000. She promptly worked for Ralph Nader's Democracy Rising which brought the People Have the Power Tour to
Portland in 2001. She lived in Atlanta for 11 years, having spent the last 5 as the
Executive Director for the Fulton County Taxpayers Foundation. The Foundation
received a Georgia Senate Proclamation in 2009 and Barb received a Georgia Senate
Proclamation in 2011 for her work in the community on behalf of Atlanta and Fulton
County taxpayers. Her first book, "So You Wanna Date An Activist" was released in
April of this year and was inspired by her work in Portland during the Anti-Corporate movement in the late 1990's.   You can look forward to her next article in the Alliance,
focusing on developments in medicinal marijuana. 

                          "People have only as much liberty

as they have the intelligence to want
and the courage to take.”
Emma Goldman

The right to rebellion is the right to seek a higher rule...
~George Elliot

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