Why are police across the country arresting and dispersing occupation sites? And why is the Black Misleadership Class, and its black Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed threatened by the occupy movement? Why did Atlanta send copters, hundreds of police, and spend at least $800,000 to breakup Occupy Atlanta? Where will it assemble next? Can homeless Atlanta and Occupy Atlanta work together, and if they can, will Mayor Reed and his friends in the one percent like that even less?
Back in Janaury 2010, I wrote that
“the black political elite no longer believes its mission is to fight for peace and justice. The newer, more cynical black elite are unmoored from their peace-and-justice-loving base. They are focused on their own careers, and the corporate largesse that makes those careers possible… the black politics of a previous generation, in which black candidates and public officials were expected to stand for something beside their own careers, is over.”
I pointed to Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed as poster boy for this new and cynical generation of the black misleadership class. On Saturday afternoon, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed screamed, shouted and threatened representatives of Occupy Atlanta, declaring that those who wanted to be arrested “would get their wish.” After a mobilization of several hundred additional protesters, some barricades and a threatening display of police numbers, City Hall decided not to clear Woodruff Park that night. The mayor declared he would send a delegation of preachers to talk to occupiers, but that this would be their “last chance.”
By Monday, the mayor regained his composure, and called an afternoon press conference in which he declared that Occupy Atlanta was an imminent danger to public health and safety, because of a single gas-fueled electric generator. In the park. Never mind, Occupy Atlanta’s Tim Franzen pointed out, that Atlanta tailgaters at college and NFL football games deploy dozens of generators in parking lots every weekend. Atlanta police massed around the occupiers again Sunday and Monday nights, amid renewed mayoral threats, but took no further action. TV viewers were treated to the spectacle of former Mayor Andrew Young, advising occupiers to settle on one or two good demands and leave the park. When a couple of the mayor’s preachers, who claimed they were not acting on behalf of the mayor, finally showed up on Tuesday, they demanded an immediate meeting with five to seven leaders of the occupation, and one or two demands they could take back to City Hall. Spokespeople for the occupiers, who included State Senator Vincent Fort, Ron Allen, Tim Franzen, Joe Beasley and a handful of others, told them the earliest meeting date that could be arranged would be Thursday, and expressed serious doubt that the mayor was able, or willing to address their demands. The Thursday meeting was agreed upon, and the preachers departed.
But late Tuesday night, in a display of contempt for the occupiers and his own preachers, Mayor Kasim Reed ordered Woodruff Park surrounded by hundreds of police, who cleared the park shortly after midnight, arresting more than 50.
Atlanta’s Black Mayors, The Black Misleadership Class and the One Percent.
Nobody should doubt that Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed is firmly in the pocket of the one percent. It’s old news. It’s a choice he and leaders of the local black misleadership class made more than a generation ago. The clique of black political leaders who came to power with Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson in 1973, and who still hold sway today, have never been friends or advocates of black or white working people. Though they owed, and still owe their offices, careers and personal fortunes to the political victories won by the Freedom Movement, Atlanta’s black misleadership class has rarely, if ever, lined up with black and working people when it came to economic justice.
In 1977, Mayor Maynard Jackson defined the relationship between the class of newly privileged black politicians and the rest of black Atlanta by deliberately provoking and then savagely breaking a strike by Atlanta sanitation workers seeking decent pay and medical benefits. Georgia’s white business leaders began to understand that though the color of the city’s politicians had changed, little else would. And it hasn’t. By the end of the 70s, the Maynard Jackson administration boasted of leveraging city contracts and the construction of the nation’s largest airport to create two or three dozen new black millionaires, from whom wealth was to trickle down to the entire African American community. The only thing that really trickled down to black Atlanta and black communities nationwide was the PR campaign, the self-celebrating myth of Black Mecca, where the climate was begin, the housing affordable, the jobs plentiful and the policians enlightened. It was a myth, but a potent one.
Maynard Jackson was succeeded by Andy Young, a former confidante of Martin Luther King. Young’s signature project was bringing the 1996 Olympics to Atlanta, providing the excuse to clear vast tracts in the city of poor people and abandoned industries, and replace them with richer people and more shopping. Jackson returned for a last term after Young, and was followed by Bill Campbell, who sold the city’s water network to a private firm. Young cashed in his chips as a civil rights icon to found GoodWorks International, a PR and consulting firm for multinational corporations like Wal-Mart and Nike, and serve on the boards of corporations like Barrick Gold, which is heavily implicated in plunder and genocide in the Congo.
Shirley Franklin came in after Campbell with a campaign of sweeping privatizations of parks, city services, parking and more. But with Atlanta’s newly privatized water works pumping rust colored mud through the taps of tens of thousands of Atlanta residents (including wealthy white ones), the drive to privatize everything in sight had to be slowed, though Franklin was able to complete demolition of nearly all Atlanta’s public housing, driving tens of thousands of poor black Atlantans from the city. Like Andy Young, Franklin also cashed in after leaving Atlanta’s City Hall, as a consultant for the telecom industry, and championing the privatization of schools and services of all kinds. By 2002, after a generation of “Black Mecca,” and black political leadership, the city’s poverty rate was in the top five of metro areas nationwide. One in three black Atlanta children is in poverty, even with the expulsion of tens of thousands of poor Atlantans as their neighborhoods have been demolished.
The current mayor is firmly within the tradition of his predecessors. Kasim Reed is a corporate lawyer for the rich and racist, a man who has never fought for, or believed in, justice for ordinary people. As a state senator in 2006, he introduced vicious anti-immigrant legislation that paralleled similar racist bills passed this year in Georgia and Alabama. As a mayoral candidate, Reed called himself “a civil rights lawyer,” leaving out the key detail that his practice represented the corporations that violated civil rights, not the black, brown, elderly or disabled plaintiffs whose rights had been violated. The day before being sworn in as mayor, Reed promised local business leaders that he would deal with downtown “panhandlers” in what he called a “very muscular” fashion. The term “panhandlers” is shorthand for homeless black males, even though any sociologist or person who works with the homeless will tell you that only white homeless men can beg on the street. Unless they are very elderly or handicapped, black men are considered inherently too “threatening” to be successful street beggars. The convention and tourist industry seems to want black men, especially homeless black men, out of downtown Atlanta. Hence an obsession for Kasim Reed, and his wealthy real estate backers is closing down the large homeless shelter at Peachtree & Pine, at the edge of downtown Atlanta, only a mile from the site of Occupy Atlanta, where hundreds of men, many of them gainfully employed, sleep every night.
Where the Occupy Movement in Atlanta May Be Going.
About half the Atlanta occupation in Woodruff Park was composed of homeless mostly black men who had been in the park on a daily basis before the occupation. When the mostly white occupiers brought tents and food in, some of the homeless got tents too, and were able to use the portable toilets. The homeless men were fed along with the occupiers, and took part in daily marches to banks, the scenes of police shootings and other activities. Though significant tensions existed within and among the occupiers, homeless and not, the two were beginning to learn how to work together. Headquarters of the occupation, according to some of its leaders, may be moving to the Peachtree-Pine shelter complex at the edge of downtown. In contrast to cities where the mostly white occupations have utterly failed to connect with the ongoing struggles of local residents, Atlanta’s occupiers are being driven into the arms of the homeless community. The next version of Occupy Atlanta will be even less to the liking of city officials and business leaders.
Why are police arresting thousands and dispersing “Occupy” gatherings in dozens of cities across the nation? Because they know that the occupy movement is a clear, present and persistent danger to established authority. People are emerging from their homes — if they still have homes — freeing themselves from TV and shopping, if they still have anything to shop with. They are coming out on corners in hundreds of cities and towns, most of them, for their first political activity beyond the narrow vote-and-go-home model sold to them by the two corporate parties. Neither occupations, nor occupiers, are perfect. People are coming as they are, bringing the baggage of racism and classism and sexism, of divergent political views, of poverty, homelessness and despair. But they are coming. They are eager to connect with each other, to connect with whatever movement exists, or to help bring one in to being that can challenge and change the world they live in. They are ready to learn and do real politics. What could possibly be more subversive, and more hopeful?
Editor’s Note: This story originally published Wednesday October 26, 2011 at BlackAgendaReport.com. For an update on Occupy Atlanta, go to the AJC.com or OccupyAtlanta.org or follow #OWSAtlanta on Twitter.