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Building a Better Athens: Stories, Strategies, and Advice for Changing our World

Hosted by Athens for Everyone and Avid Bookshop, this community gathering’s goal is to allow a prominent political activist to impart his wisdom about civilian and political activism, as well as to listen to the advice and opinions of some prominent activists and community leaders in Athens.

by Kerri McNair

As I walk into this event half an hour early to an almost full room I am clued in to exactly how much the people of Athens value their civic duty. To say the room is bustling would be a vast understatement; by the time the event has officially started there are people standing outside the door so they can listen even if they can’t see and younger attendees sit in the aisles.

Hosted by Athens for Everyone and Avid Bookshop, this community gathering’s goal is to allow a prominent political activist to impart his wisdom about civilian and political activism, as well as to listen to the advice and opinions of some prominent activists and community leaders in Athens. The lineup includes names such as Ovita Thornton, Executive Director of the Georgia Clients Council and member of the Board of Education; Melissa Link of the ACC Comission, District 3; Broderick Flanigan of Flanigan’s Portrait Studio and Assistant Director of Chess and Community; Mokah Jasmine Johnson, leader of the Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement; Lemuel “Life” LaRoche, Executive Director of Chess and Community; and Tim Denson, President of Athens for Everyone.

Licata himself has served five terms on the Seattle, Washington City Council and won legislation for that city such as paid sick leave and a $15 dollar minimum wage. He mentions how much he enjoys visiting Athens as soon as he takes the podium, stating “I’ve been in Atlanta but…that’s different.”

He continues by humbling himself and assuring the audience, “I offer these [words] as what I’ve learned, I’m interested in hearing what you’ve learned as well.” He goes on to describe three overarching steps to effective citizen activism, the first of which is “evaluation and maintenance of resources you have access to,” meaning that one should be aware of the skills and influence of their fellow activists and how people can contribute to a cause other than with their wallets. A point he reiterates again and again is, “we’re a democracy but we’re a democracy because the rules are written down.” Without written rules, he mentions, people can tell you how much power they have.

Licata shares some funny lines about how a passionate activist must sometimes tone down their outward passion in order to get results. You don’t drive 60 miles per hour in a residential street, he says, and most of these politicians are residential streets. He also expounds upon the value of celebrating all victories, citing the fact that getting $15 dollars minimum wage for the citizens of Seattle was planned to happen much earlier than when it actually occurred. Without persevering and recognizing the small victories throughout the entire process, that large victory might never have come about. He ends by saying “The goal is to win with the least amount of pain on your part and the other person’s part, because you want to go back for more wins.”

After Licata’s address, other members of the panel offer their opinions, grounded in years of experience, before the Q and A session that would allow Athens citizens to voice their specific inquiries and concerns. Thornton, who first began her activism in the days of the Black Panther organization, starts by saying to the audience“Hi! …You’re supposed to say hi back!” the continues to impart her wisdom with an air of approachability. It’s about bringing something to the community, she says, bring something, recognize it, take something back.

Kerri McNair is the Opinions Editor for Infusion Magazine.   


Photos are curtesy of Avid Bookshop, an Athens local business.

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