Thursday, October 13, 2011

The best read of the day...on Georgia, Racism and Occupy Atlanta

This morning I read an article by Kung Li, a Georgia human rights lawyer, titled A Brief History of Georgia's 1%: Why You Must Face Race to Occupy Atlanta. Its one of the most powerful things I've read in a very long time. And I've spent all day trying to figure out why. I suppose part of that is because it is thoroughly grounded in history and brings all that to bear on what is happening today. In some ways the story Li tells is very much about Atlanta. But the truth is - if the OWS movement doesn't grapple with what happened there - we'll never tell the whole story about where we are now. And that will make it impossible to move forward...together.

Li starts off the story talking about the fact that the Occupy Atlanta assembly refused Congressman John Lewis' request to address them last week. And here's where he goes from there.

Getting it right about race is important for the Occupy movement everywhere, but especially here in Georgia, where there is nothing subtle about the relationship between race, corporations and the government. Georgia’s government was created by and for plantation farmers, the original 1 percent, running antebellum corporations. And that 1 percent has been using everything in its power, most notably the criminal justice system, to hold on to its centuries-old gains.

Occupy Atlanta is still braving the elements today in Woodruff Park, a green space in the middle of downtown Atlanta. Many in and around the Occupy movement have been asking how we can talk about corporate control of government, economics and race all in the same breath. Considering the history of Woodruff Park, we have to wonder how we can talk about it any other way. Here, I offer a crucial primer for the full history of this occupied space.

He then goes on to tell the history of Woodruff Park at four critical points of Atlanta's race story starting with the period just after the Civil War. The very park being "occupied" by mostly white protesters (how do they pull that off in Atlanta?) has been the hub of some of the most important struggles for African Americans in that state. As he points out - this is what the 1%ers in that town have been up to for generations. To ignore it is to miss the story.

Being anti-racist is, if you are going to set up camp and take Five Points as your center point, acknowledging that the corporate forces at play around there are totally about race. This is true currently, and it is true historically—no surprise. When Occupy Wall Street declared, “We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments,” that was old news here, friends. The plantation owners have always run Georgia’s government.

The truth is - young white kids are pretty new to this game. They could learn a thing or two if they paid attention to this history and folks like Rep. John Lewis who have lived it. Grappling with those plantation owners is in fact, old news to them.

Please do yourself a favor and go read the whole article by Li.


  1. I have been reading your blog for awhile and I don't remember any mention of Facing South, although I could have missed it.
    It is part of Southern Studies:

    This is the most recent article that caught my attention:

  2. As a side note I lived in GA for 11 long years. I tease and say that since I was represented by Newt the state just wasn't big enough for the two of us. Oddly enough I found people who moved from up north to be more problematic. It was as if they suddenly had permission to act out racist fantasies.
    In a town of about 67% AA the insensitivity shown to John Lewis was just pain stupid.

  3. Yes, he does give a comprehensive history, much of it so hidden. That post is a resource.