Andrea Farnham was around two years old when her parents entered the missionary field. Her parents’ devotion to sharing the Christian faith took the family across the world to France, Germany and Africa, where they spent 10 years.
Along with the travel came a conservative Christian upbringing for Farnham, through which she was consistently in churches and attended numerous Christian schools. The religious climate she was immersed in made a conservative out of Farnham. Topics like pre-marital sex were taboo, discussions about race were not prominent and she was opposed to same-sex marriage.
“I just had a really narrow view of right and wrong,” Farnham said.
Yet Farnham’s politics and worldview today look drastically different from that of her parents and upbringing. For the last 10 years, she has worked as a sex and couples therapist in Athens and is now running on a progressive platform for the Athens-Clarke County District 8 Commission seat.
Current District 8 Commissioner Andy Herod announced he would not seek re-election in September. Carol Myers, a former teacher and administrator, has announced her campaign for the seat. Flagpole reported Kamau Hull, a local lawyer, is in the race as well.
Part of Farnham’s interest in the profession did start out of a slight “rebellious streak” coupled with a general curiosity about how to create good relationships between people. She remembers seeing bad marriages and couples, wanting to learn “why we’re so bad at good relationships,” and then finding solutions to those problems.
Through her job, Farnham has learned about more than just creating better relationships — she’s seen how politics are connected with family issues.
Farnham has come across clients who were stressed about their jobs because they were treated poorly at work. Time and time again when working with clients, she would run into political problems.
“She understands that a lot of mental health problems have political antecedents and it’s really refreshing,” said Irami Osei-Frimpong, a local activist, a Ph.D. student in philosophy at the University of Georgia and one of Farnham’s political influences.
Another one of Farnham’s political influences comes out of Athens as well. Richard Winfield, a UGA philosophy professor and candidate for U.S. Senate, has written on “ethical communities” and a book titled “The Just Family” that have helped Farnham connect the political and personal.
Winfield described the concept of ethical community as the ability to access the rights within an institution only through a person’s freedom in the institution. The concept can extend from families to political institutions, Winfield said.
“If we have a state that is properly constituted as an institution of political freedom, you have a right as a citizen that you can only exercise as a member of a democracy,” Winfield said.
The philosophy has been a defining characteristic of Farnham’s campaign thus far as she has advocated for a candidate debate inside the Athens-Clarke County Jail. Her efforts have been stalled by Clarke County Sheriff Ira Edwards Jr. over concerns of safety, costs and an ordinance violation, according to an October press release from Farnham. In an email, Chief Deputy Jimps Cole said the Sheriff’s Office does not have any additional comment from what it told Farnham in October.
While the effort for a jail debate has been unsuccessful, Farnham hosted a panel of former inmates in January who shared their experiences as black men within the criminal justice system. Farnham’s efforts to include inmates in the political process are rooted in a deeper political philosophy that was not always there in her.
“I used to think that politics had nothing to do with me,” Farnham said.
As a byproduct of having missionary parents, Farnham often moved schools, including periods of home school, and “fake Christian school,” she said. The result was a “bad civics education” that never taught what it meant to be “part of a whole” and understand how local politics affected her everyday life.
However, it was coming to Athens that helped open new doors to new perspectives and ways of thinking.
Inquiring into truth
While her family moved often, Farnham’s time in the United States has been spent around the southeast. Her first name is pronounced the “Alabama way,” she said.
After being born in Florida and bouncing around states like Kentucky, Alabama and North Carolina, Farnham found her way to Athens in 2008 to pursue a master’s degree.
Farnham’s first semester as a graduate student “blew up that whole box” of her conservative religious childhood.
“Everything I thought was true just got—,” Farnham said, making a “whoosh” sound to mimic a “mind-blowing” brain explosion.
This novel deconstruction forced Farnham to question herself and inquire about “what is true” and what she really liked and did not like.
Farnham has been in Athens ever since and is now married with her husband, Aaron Farnham, and has two children, Nora and Gabriela, who attend Gaines Elementary School. In the past three years, Farnham has become more engaged in local politics and activism.
Farnham started volunteering on local campaigns for candidates like Winfield, who ran for Congress unsuccessfully in 2018, and District 2 Commissioner Mariah Parker, who won her current commission position in 2018 as well.
Recently, Farnham has been involved with local initiatives like the Baldwin Hall protests. On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Farnham spoke at a rally for recognition and redress for Linnentown, a historically black neighborhood demolished in a 1960s-era urban renewal project.
At the rally, Farnham was bold and unapologetic, stating that she was there to “speak truth to power,” while advocating for reparations for former Linnentown residents.
“She is not afraid to say what she believes,” said Jodi Barnes, a recent friend of Farnham’s who held a neighborhood town hall for her. “She is going to fight tooth and nail.”
This story is part of a series covering candidates for office in Athens. Like The Red & Black on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and sign up for our email newsletter to stay informed as we cover the 2020 election.