After a summer of protests and rallies following deaths in the Black community, some Athens residents are seeking to continue the fight for racial justice this fall.
Athens-Clarke County District 2 Commissioner Mariah Parker believes there are “rhythms” to organizing, where strong public facing demonstrations are followed by periods where people “fall back, study and rest.” These periods can be key for resting and preparing for future waves of protesting, Parker said.
“I was studying folks like Alex Vitale and Derecka Purnell, and learning what other organizers in other cities have been doing in order to get back in this moment when I was needed,” Parker said.
That moment came after the shooting of Jacob Blake on Aug. 25, and Parker, in collaboration with the Athens Anti-Discrimination movement, organized a protest for Blake at Athens City Hall on Aug. 26. She also took part in another protest that took place on Sept. 4 and moved from the UGA Arch to Athens City Hall.
The two protests since Blake’s shooting mark what Parker expects to be a new wave of public facing demonstrations in Athens. After a summer of continuous protests in the city, the Black Lives Matter movement continues this fall with acts of solidarity with the nationwide movement and local pushes for structural change through policy and education.
“This summer was the most intense protesting period I have ever had in Athens,” said Mokah Jasmine Johnson, co-founder of the Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement. “I do believe that people need to understand that this is not a fly-by-night type of movement.”
Some progress was made this summer with the removal of the downtown Confederate monument and the growth of the Athens Freedom Fund, Johnson said. The Athens Freedom Fund raises money to bail out individuals arrested while protesting.
However, activists like Parker and Johnson realize there is more work to be done. Parker proposed a policy plan to the county commission to redistribute funding for public safety away from the police to other resources such as social workers and mental health professionals. The proposed plan would have reduced the county’s investment in armed police officers by 50% over 10 years, but the plan didn’t pass under the Mayor and Commission’s most recent budget cycle.
Parker said that she has to be realistic about the timeline of change, and mentioned that the Montgomery Bus Boycott lasted around a year. After the initial 50/10 plan didn’t pass, Parker is pushing ahead with the creation of a community crisis response team similar to a program implemented in Eugene, Oregon. She hopes for the Mayor & Commission to pass a budget amendment between now and 2021’s budget cycle to fund the program.
“I do believe there is work we can do between now and then to achieve some of the aims of the 50/10 plan in the short term,” Parker said.
Along with Parker, other organizers in the movement are pushing for future change. AADM created a “Justice For Black Lives Georgia Petition,” which includes a list of demands for the ACC Mayor and Commission.
The list includes banning “chokeholds, strangleholds and tear gas,” and removing law enforcement officers from the school system. Another item on the AADM list is the creation of a community police advisory board. Johnson is the co-chair for the board, which is currently in its developmental stages.
“That is something that we need to see go through to make sure that people that are impacted by the police are at the table and they have a voice at the table,” Johnson said.
While community organizers continue to push for structural change, protests and interpersonal activism will continue to play a key role in building the network of activists in Athens.
Graham Jarboe, a lifelong Athenian and teacher at Clarke Middle School, always had an interest in political activism and participated in local non-profits before. However, the events of this summer “kicked everything up a notch,” Jarboe said, who attended multiple protests during that time.
Since the summer’s events, Jarboe made more of an effort to get to know his neighbors. He thinks the community coming together to serve each other is important moving forward. Having a connected community of activists can be crucial for individuals wanting to get involved with the movement but do not know how or where to start, Jarboe said.
“I think that’s one of the most effective forms of activism is mutual aid, where people just work together to provide the things they need,” Jarboe said. “And that’s really easy when you know your neighbors and know the people around you.”
Parker said that out of this community development can come future political candidates. She said that finding people to run in 2022’s local elections starts now, given that some of the local officials elected in 2018 are “not as progressive as they made themselves out to be.”
“A part of this will be candidate recruitment, a part of this will be fundraising,” Parker said. “Part of this will be developing platforms and coalition building within specific districts in order for us to get an honest representation of where people stand.”
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the name of one of the people whose work Mariah Parker studied. The Red & Black regrets this error and it has since been fixed.