(Photo by Rebekah Joy)
I had heard that Killer Mike was going to meet with Bernie Sander supporters at the Atlanta campaign office on the morning of the rally at Morehouse College. Killer Mike had electrified the crowd at the Fox Theater the last time Bernie was in town. So, I was looking forward to seeing him up close and even meeting him. When I arrived at the campaign office located at 236 Auburn Avenue, the meeting was already in progress. Approximately 75 people had gathered together and were listening to two young African-American men from Chicago attached to the campaign who were explaining why they were supporting Bernie for president. . .
They began to share their stories. Being physically harassed by police officers for not having proper identification near a bar was reason enough for one to support Bernie and his call for racial justice. To another, the tearing down of a housing project and the gentrification of the neighborhood made Bernie's fight against economic inequality personally meaningful. LaDawn Jones, a Georgia State representative and the director of Bernie's Atlanta campaign, then introduced Ted Terry, mayor of Clarkston. Terry was proud to endorse Bernie and noted that he was the only mayor in Georgia to do so. Adding to his progressive credentials, Terry had testified a week before at the Capitol in favor of the $15 an hour minimum wage bill.
Killer Mike then spoke. He described his meeting with Bernie at a restaurant in Atlanta and came away convinced that Bernie was the candidate most committed to advancing Martin Luther King's legacy. "Hope," he said, "must overcome fear, and thinking big is crucial." He stressed the importance of building an independent movement, separate and apart from the Democratic and Republican parties, but also urged everyone to be sure to vote. While describing himself as a "compassionate capitalist," he nevertheless was driven by a strong passion for the common good, the self as part of the whole.
Following his remarks, I had a chance to respond to a question that was asked of the group. "Why are you supporting Bernie?" I first introduced myself and mentioned that I was chair of Metro Atlanta Democratic Socialists of America. (It was nice to hear people applaud after hearing our organization's name.) I recounted how Bernie had been our first keynote speaker at our Douglass-Debs Dinner ten years ago after being elected senator. "For me," I said, "Bernie was speaking out against inequality even before Occupy Wall Street and had moreover demonstrated a strong commitment to the struggle for justice his entire life." I then turned to Killer Mike and invited him to be our guest at the next Douglass-Debs Dinner to receive an award for helping build a progressive movement in Atlanta. He thanked me, said he would come and asked that we talk after the meeting about the specifics. We did exchange contact information and I gave him a copy of the 2015 Douglass-Debs dinner program book (on desk in photo; photo by Nick Langley). In our conversation he cited Rev Orange as his mentor. Lunch was then made available for those who would do phone banking.
In the late afternoon, I headed toward Morehouse College with hundreds of buttons and fliers. The doors to Forbes Arena were scheduled to open at 5pm. At 4pm a long line had already formed. With a little help from my friends, the buttons and fliers were passed out to those standing in line. Because of the variety of buttons, people enjoyed picking and choosing theirs, while expressing much appreciation. The flier addressing racial justice with Cornel West's endorsement was well received. I was impressed by the many students who were familiar with West. Our February 20 meeting notice was circulated, as well.
Inside the arena, the start of the program was a bit delayed. The arena seats 6,000 and except for one section the arena seemed full. Both Killer Mike and Nina Turner, an Ohio state representative, revved up the crowd, bringing cheers and wild applause. Who was then left to introduce Bernie Sanders? None other than Metro Atlanta DSA's good friend, Senator Vincent Fort. Fort gave a full-throttled endorsement of Bernie. He touched upon all the key elements of Bernie's platform: providing free college tuition, fixing the criminal justice system, getting rid of Citizens United and taking on Wall Street. Fort then reminded Georgians that he and Governor Barnes had worked together to enact strict anti-predatory-lending legislation. Those laws could have protected many people from losing their jobs and homes, but Wall Street banks lobbied long and hard to repeal that legislation.
When Bernie strode on to the stage, everyone came to their feet cheering, clapping and shouting. Bernie delivered his usual solid and effective stump speech. I noticed a few new wrinkles to his address. First, he made it clear that he strongly opposed capital punishment. Second, He identified Wal-Mart as a major recipient of corporate welfare. By paying low wages, Wal-Mart forced their workers to rely on food stamps and Medicaid to make ends meet. The net result was that the American people are subsidizing the corporation. The program ended at 9:15 pm. As I left the arena, I could hear people carrying on lively conversations. It was evident. They were still feeling the “Bern.”