Nearly four days into occupation of Woodruff Park in the fall of 2011, Occupy Atlanta renamed the 6-acre Downtown greenspace “Troy Davis Park”. The renaming honors the Savannah man executed by the state of Georgia on September 21, 2011 for the 1989 shooting death of Savannah Police Officer Mark Allen MacPhail. Davis’ case drew worldwide attention and appeals for clemency because of doubt regarding his guilt in light of seven of nine witnesses who recanted or changed their original testimony.
While it was never likely the City of Atlanta’s parks department or city council would recognize the renaming, the internal exercise within the Occupy Atlanta (OA) movement was a powerful expression of popular reclaiming of a public space by citizens. The park is named for Robert W. Woodruff, president of Coca-Cola Co. from 1923 to 1954. A corporate philanthropist that epitomized the 1% in his time, Woodruff donated the land to the city in 1971 and it was opened as a park in his honor two years later (Peralte Paul, East Atlanta Patch). A commentator in the Atlanta Independent Media Center describes the OA movements’ renaming and location of its base of operations in the park as a “protest against the system” and “an occupation and liberation of space back to the commons … the foundation of our ability to better organize as a movement based on PEOPLE POWER in the Atlanta area”.
The 99% are occupying public spaces to reclaim the Commons for public use and social resistance.
A group in San Francisco that calls itself Rebar has launched a project called COMMONspace that aims to “identify, map and conduct a series of performance investigations in San Francisco’s privately-owned public open spaces (“Po-Pos”).” Po-Pos are those spaces in a city where the city government has partnered with private developers to create nominally public spaces. Rebar explains, “One of the more critical issues facing outdoor urban human habitat is the increasing paucity of space for humans to rest, relax, or just do nothing. For example, more than 70% of San Francisco’s downtown outdoor space is dedicated to the private vehicle, while only a fraction of that space is allocated to the public realm.”
The phenomenon of Troy Davis Park in Atlanta, however, is both about defending The Commons as well as asserting the value of human life by exposing the illegitimacy of the ruling regime’s criminal justice system and its corporate sponsors. The prevalence of Robert W. Woodruff’s name on Atlanta institutions from art museums to Atlanta University Center’s library reflects more than just a benign exercise in honoring the life of a dominant capitalist. Much like the graffiti tags of a street gang, the branding of Atlanta as essentially “Coca-Cola town” is a manifestation of a civic mafia-like orthodoxy that holds up corporate elites as better citizens than the rest of us and views as blasphemy any deviation from this social narrative. Therefore, the renaming of the city’s central park from its patron saint of the 1% to that of the literal poster figure of the 99% was a dual act of reclaiming Commons space and challenging the governing status quo in Atlanta.
Housing as a Human Right and remaking Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac as the “People’s Banks”
Nearly one year after the Occupy Wall Street movement spread to cities across America, supporters of the Occupy Atlanta movement are still operating, though with different objectives. New tactics have emerged to reflect the consistent theme of resistance against the 99% suffering at the hands of the 1%, including now a campaign against Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (congressionally chartered agencies intended to keep money flowing to mortgage lenders in support of homeownership and rental housing). “They’re holding onto about 1,200 Atlanta properties that are totally empty and vacant, and refusing to turn them over to the communities,” said organizer Tim Franzen. Since the Occupy movement focused on protesting at and camping out in Troy Davis Park last fall, it has evolved in its understanding of how the current system denies the human rights of the masses and misappropriates public resources.
“We have been more relevant than we ever were when we were in the park,” said Franzen, who claims they have helped save a dozen home owners in the Atlanta area who were in danger of being foreclosed on. “We know we’re not wasting our time, because we’ve already won homes back.” Franzen said they’ve done that by protesting at foreclosure auctions, and on foreclosed properties, to prevent banks from coming in. “We don’t want to spend all of our energy fighting police over a hunk of dirt,” Franzen explains. “That’s not what a lot of us signed up for. We want to take on the banks, we want to take on economic disparity. And sure, the fight in the park does connect to that. We don’t want to give it up. We should have the right to assemble there. But we also want to be doing some serious base building, building community support… reaching Americans who are hurting the most. (Huffington Post)”
Franzen and other members of the OA movement have formed an affiliated group from a national initiative called “Occupy Our Homes” in Atlanta. Occupy Our Homes groups and other anti-displacement organizations around the country have led hundreds of successful campaigns to prevent foreclosures and evictions at the hands of big banks by using direct action and public pressure to force them to the table to negotiate. Hundreds more, however, have hit brick walls or stalled in their tracks because Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac refuse to grant principle reduction or give property over for community control. We recognize that Fannie and Freddie’s share of the market is so large, and their influence so widespread, that systematic change is impossible without a dramatic change in their practices.
Edward J. DeMarco is the acting director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), the conservator for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac
Although Fannie and Freddie are under conservatorship of the government, and funded by tax dollars, their influence and allegiance to Wall Street, big corporations, and the 1% instead of the 99% is visible in their handling of the housing crisis–and especially in refusing to grant principal reduction. Their willingness to sell off millions of foreclosed properties in bulk to the exact same hedge funds and investors who created the current housing crisis demonstrates the need for immediate action. A shift in their current practices, including providing principal reduction to millions of underwater homeowners will be one step towards economic recovery and the return of the wealth that was taken from communities and put in the hands of a wealthy few. National pressure is needed on Fannie and Freddie if we really plan to strive for housing as a human right (Occupy Our Homes ATL Facebook page).
“The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated!”
Thus quipped the great writer Mark Twain after a newspaper supposedly prematurely published his obituary, and it seems perfectly relevant to the Occupy Atlanta movement and an emerging broad progressive coalition around many issues in city. From defeat of the TSPLOST to the OA “Mass Strategy Meeting on United Progressive Defense” that now occurs monthly at Troy Davis Park in response to attacks last session on citizen’s basic rights by the Georgia Legislature and their corporate sponsors, it is clear that Atlanta has a popular uprising on its hands that holds recalling the Commons as a central theme. Coalitions are developing between groups like the Georgia Green Party and its Fulton County Affiliate, Atlanta Jobs with Justice, NAACP chapters across the region, the Sierra Club and many other progressive forces. Atlanta’s ruling 1% backed regime should be worried.
Thanks often to the influence of community elders like Joe Beasley or Joseph Lowery and political guidance of progressive elected officials like State Senator Vincent Fort, the Occupy Atlanta movement had the benefit of both youthful energy willing to take risk as well as the experienced insight of veterans in the ongoing social justice struggle. Most important in my mind to the likely continued success of OA is its leader’s ability and willingness to learn and evolve. As with other institutions and organizations of the 21st century, only those that are capable of adaptation will survive and thrive. With Occupy Atlanta and the future of progressive influence in Georgia, I believe the best is yet to come.
Misty Novich, “Power to the People”
Abiodun Henderson & Occupy the Hood
Commoners, reclaiming the Commons & their humanity.