Love in the Nick of Time

“When did the choices get so hard? 
With so much more at stake. 
Life gets mighty precious when there’s less of it to waste.”

TuskegeeThere are many things in life that can never be the same for us again after a certain time has passed. For me, I doubt that my body will ever move the way it once did when in my teens I could mimic the moves of Michael Jackson to a point that made the young girls of my middle school talent show audience scream and swoon. I may never again have the open ended, unique learning opportunity of my undergraduate time at Tuskegee University when there was little else to do at that Alabama wonder-place but soak up history and scholarship. There will also never be another chance on this side of the Divide for me hear the direct words of my surrogate father and life purpose inspiration Dr. D. Mudavanha-Patterson or my spiritual father Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman (Rev. Albert B. Cleage, Jr.), both having joined my personal and communal circle of ancestors years ago. Ase’.

black-and-white-boy-comedy-falling-falling-in-love-Favim.com-453112One area of life that seems immune to the phenomenon of “once in a lifetime” seems to be the onset of falling in love. From the awkward stumbling of our adolescent years to the more refined but often equally clueless affairs of adulthood, the drop off the cliff of what was to what could be feels practically the same. Often irrational no matter how thoughtful the person experiencing it may be, being swept off ones feet is by definition a disorienting experience. Song writers’ attempts to capture the bizarre rhapsody in words have come up with strange lyrics like “Hurt so Good”, “Love T.K.O.”, and “If Loving You is Wrong …”. Well, you get my point. But then there’s Bonnie.

“Just when I thought I’d had enough 
All my tears were shed… 
No promise left unbroken, 
There were no painful words unsaid. 
You came along and showed me 
How to leave it all behind…. 
You opened up my heart again and then much to my surprise. 

I found love, Love in the Nick of Time.”

walking-away-3

My butterfly

I am in love. More certain about it than ever before in my life, this statement for me can stand on its own like garden fresh spring salad greens in need of little dressing which would only spoil the raw and delicious flavor of it. A love warrior not on my first rodeo, I find myself putting down my shield and gradually unfixing accumulated armor as I realize a greater truth than, “Love is a Battlefield”. I am becoming the Dr. King of my own internal strife with the vulnerability of all consuming affection and passion, pledging against all odds to non-violently give up the ghosts of lost loves past. I have a dream and she sports an afro-puff.

In the quirky film “As Good As It Gets”, Jack Nickolson’s character is a curmudgeon and literary recluse that stumbles upon true love accidentally in his narrow minded pursuit of self-centered normalcy. Near the apex of the movie’s plot, he confesses you make me want to be a better manan iconic line to the women of his attentions that she “makes [him] want to be a better man”. Even amid Hollywood triteness we find this pearl of truth about true love. If she is the one, then the whole world should know it by the transformation of ones heart.

Kwabena all smiles

Glowing in the dark 😉

While this love thing feels feverishly familiar, it’s not exactly like remembering how to ride a “bike” of my youth. The balance needed to remove training wheels then is now replaced by the need to balance sometimes competing obligations and priorities. No longer a carefree pre-teen or even a fresh start young adult, at 42 I am a twice divorced father of three children with two different women. They won’t even let the term “spring chicken” get near me anymore. Nevertheless, at this moment in time there is a spring in my step and song in my heart. Rochelle put it there, just in the nick of time.

Birthdays & By-Gone Years: I’m Looking Forward

I was raised in the home of a mother who is a Jehovah’s Witness, so birthday celebrations were not a part of my childhood experience and may explain why I do not have strong feelings about them now. I am perfectly content to pass the date cycle of my birth each year with no more than a cursory acknowledgement that I have advanced another year in my life journey. However, my very involved Facebook virtual reality makes it obligatory that I respond in some way to the many very kind and relationship affirming birthday wishes from my Friends that are conveniently prompted by the social media website’s software. Please accept this blog post as my fullest “thank you” to all who took the time to click birthday love my way.

As I reflect on what another passing year means to me, the strongest sentiment I can find within is a deep feeling of thankfulness. At the mid-life marking point of 42 years old, I find myself extremely appreciative for having a robust life full of my core passions and people I love. I am the father of two amazing children that provide meaning and value to my world each and every day, my lovely daughter Issata Abena Nkromo and first born son Kwesi Muyu Nkromo. I have many true friends (with a small “f”) that touch my life beyond the virtual realms of Facebook or Twitter, making those environments simply high-tech extensions of a meaningful network of relationships that are a treasure to me. I am privileged to be working professionally in fields of my life’s purpose, helping feed God’s people in communities and making beauty art in the world. I may be over the hill, but I like this view.

In my full gratitude, I am therefore looking forward to what future years in my life may bring. Now that I know being a father is something I can do well, I am open to having more children as well as determined to do more in nurturing the two in my care now. Issata and Kwesi are entering a stage in their development that involves much more self expression from them and I am excited about learning more about who they are as spiritual souls and expressions of divine purpose. Even though we are divorced, I hope to continue the healing process for our erstwhile family and gain an even better co-parenting partnership with their mother Kipenzi. Getting to know myself more each day, I expect to make more informed choices in coming years about who I should best be involved with romantically. I still believe in love and marriage.

Leah & Leila

As another year rolls by for me, I look forward to spending more time with people that matter the most to me. I will take time to make it across town to see the many improvements my soul-brother Khari Diop has made to the East Lake Learning Garden and Urban Farm. I will travel to Houston, Texas to see my life-long friend Leah Wilson-Hill and get to know her darling granddaughter Leila, as well as visit with my mentor in the urban agriculture movement Dr. Bob Randall.  I will stop by the Rose Circle Community Garden in the West End and swap horticultural techniques or stories with my forever-neighbor and fellow food rebel Debbie Zimmerman. I will find some way to rebuild communication and ties with community building collaborators and dear friends Mike Mumper and Oni Holley. I will sojourn home to Boston to spend time with high school friends like Bridgit Brown and the many family members that I see too little of lately. I will finally make it to Ghana West Africa to see the home made there by my courageous couple-friends Akua and Chenu Gray, as it may be time to look at options some time soon. Inshallah, I will do all these things and more with family and friends in the coming months.

I believe the future is very bright for Atlanta Metro Food & Farm Network (AM-FFN), a new thing in the world built from scratch by me and a close circle of colleague-friends. While I have started and continue to work on other enterprises like The Brow Tutor, AM-FFN is very special to me and becomes more so as the journey of its organizational development unfolds. I have found my bliss in conjuring up this beautiful answer to an opportunity-problem in the world: How do we help people become sovereign and secure in their ability to feed themselves in a sustainable way that respects the environment and builds community or family wealth? If all continues to go as well as it has thus far, AM-FFN will be among the best things I have done with this often tumultuous life and serve as a significant part of my dues for having taken up air and space during these few fleeting years on earth. I will have left the world better than I found it.

Happy Birthday to me and “medase pa” (thanks very much) to each of you!

Pick the Greens!: Choice is on the Menu for Voters in District 57

In the kind of community that I grew up within and now live as well, there were few things more popular than having options. For instance if there was an alternative from enjoying one entrée for dinner and being able pick from a buffet, the folks I know would choose Paschal’s brunch on Sunday afternoon. Fortunately, the voters who live within District 57 also have more to select from in the election of their State Representative than just the leftovers from the Democrat’s primary barbecue. It’s healthier for you to eat more veggies and it’s certainly better for District 57 to pick the Greens!

Cubby as Chair with members of the NPU-T Executive Committee, circa 2008

My name is Kwabena “Cubby” Nkromo and I am running as a write-in candidate with the Green Party of Georgia to be elected State Representative “for what we have in common” as a community. I am a long standing resident of southwest Atlanta with many years of civic leadership experience and a track record community building success. As a former Chair of Neighborhood Planning Unit T (NPU-T), I strengthened this citizen’s advisory council by increasing the level of participation and developing new leaders from every day citizens who stepped forth for the first time in community service with my coaching. I was a trail blazer with the use urban agriculture for neighborhood revitalization by establishing two urban farms in the greater West End area, both of which still feed many people and provide jobs under new management. In addition to food security, I have fought for housing security by helping found the Atlanta Land Trust Collaborative when serving as NPU-T Chair and now as a member of Occupy Our Homes Atlanta.

Pat Gardner with new District 57 map

My opponent in this race is a decent, caring veteran of the Democratic establishment named Pat Gardner. Having served in the Georgia House of Representatives for eleven years, Ms. Gardner had the opportunity to demonstrate to voters what impact her leadership could have on the communities she served. Based in the northeast neighborhood of Morningside, she was placed as an incumbent representative for communities in southwest Atlanta through the Republican orchestrated redistricting process this past year. Through no fault of her own, Ms. Gardener has been put in a position of having to understand the needs of an area of the city that is new to her and perhaps beyond her ability to respond to effectively. While I too would be learning a relatively distant part of town in the northeast when elected to office, my experience gives me a better perspective to find the common ground that allow me to work for what’s best in all of District 57 in the state house and beyond.

Pat & Rashad during the Democratic primary

Our campaign has offered Ms. Gardner an opportunity to engage the issues in the newly created district and speak directly to voters in a first real debate of this election. She handily unseated her weakened rival Mr. Rashad Taylor in the Democratic primary contest due to in no small part superior cash reserves in her campaign. With money ruling the day, the voters of the district were robbed of the opportunity to have their issues vigorously examined and discussed. In the spirit of respect for the community and integrity, we call on Ms. Gardner’s campaign to accept our offer to debate 6:00pm Thursday November 1st at the Intimate Café (2001 Martin Luther King Drive Atlanta, GA 30310). Whether my opponent shows up or not, I will have a conversation with constituents about what’s best for us and how we can make a way forward together by focusing on what we have in common.

Kwabena “Cubby” Nkromo

It is normal to go with what you know and take the path of least resistance by accepting what the system might present before us as inevitable. Due to the restrictive ballot access laws in Georgia, voters in District 57 will only see Pat Gardner’s name on screen when they reach the point of selecting a State Representative for themselves. However, there is another line on the ballot that reads “Write-in” and you have the choice to place my name there as a certified candidate with the Georgia Secretary of State’s office (signs to this effect will be posted in the voting area). I am Kwabena “Cubby” Nkromo and I am running in this race to help make our communities healthier and stronger. We can win, vote for your hopes and not your fears.

Write-in your vote as Kwabena “Cubby” Nkromo for State Representative in District 57!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love + Time + Values = Fatherhood for Me

As is often said about many challenging roles in life, fatherhood for me came with no particularly clear instruction manual. Fortunately, my children arrived in this world blessed with good health, sound minds and I believe the blessings of our ancestors, but their mother and I pretty much had to take it from there. As their untested father, I felt somewhat less equipped due to the apparent lack of obvious biological reinforcements for what loomed as the most challenging and difficult thing I have ever done in my life. There was no milk in my chest that unmistakably demonstrated my purpose and value to our young babies. Perhaps even less present were cultural and societal reinforcements for how best to proceed with what had become job number one in my life: How to be a father to a child.

My father, Jerry Lee McBrayer

The equation that developed as a solution to my many fatherhood questions came to me through mostly instinct I feel, and a willful intent on my part to be the father my children needed most. Like too many men in our society, my biological father was absent for much of my life. Due to my mother’s brilliant and effective rise to the occasion, I have no extraordinary sob story to present for this reality. I feel my youthful years were good, relatively secure, and nurturing in many of the most critical ways. And I actually have a number of meaningful and positive memories of my birth father’s involvement in my early childhood development, even if they are fleeting and far too few. The hugest liability of my younger years seems to have been a paucity of place due to frequent relocations as my mother moved us again and again in seemingly endless gyrations of separation and reconciliation with her husband (my father). My father’s dominant absence may be an opportunity cost that my psyche will not let me fully appreciate at this point.

Love + TIme + Values

Cool Kwesi

Baby Issata in the sun

I loved my babies from the first moment they burst forth from their mother’s womb. Both relationships with my son Kwesi and my daughter Issata seemed to begin like primal romances filled with excellent drama and deep affections. The first thing I did for my son was sever his physical attachment to his mother but cutting the umbilical cord and setting him on his path as an individual human being. I kept the shirt on which the blood splattered for many years as a relic of this family sacrament, held in the holy abode of the hospital delivery room. He was beautiful to me from the beginning and grew more so each day as a Man-Child of our own doing. The bond with my daughter was also immediate, but truthfully took longer to mature due to her strange “Men In Black” alien appearance as a new born (just being honest). The trick was on me as she has grown to be my heart, probably the closet expression of my nature between the two, and a gorgeous sight to behold.

I started putting the time in early with my son. In the first months, it seemed he would not rest fully unless bundled on my chest and coaxed to sleep by the rise and fall of my breathing. I became a master at diaper changes and kitchen sink baths, while relieving his mother as much as possible with late night bottle feedings of breast milk. To spend the maximum amount of time with him while still earning a living, I launched a “daddy day care” called Alkebu-Lan Family Home Care which allowed me quality time with both him and several other children of friends from my home church The Shrine of the Black Madonna. Kwesi not only knew who I was, but he knew “whose he was”. I believe this intense early investment is much of the reason for the tight bond I enjoy with my son to this day. For most children, quality time is everything.

While I was less available for my daughter is her newborn years due to increased work responsibilities and service as a community leader, Issata didn’t seem to need me as much or even be very interested in a father at first. All she wanted as a baby was her mother and the teats that gave her so much joy and satisfaction. I distinctly remember feeling left out and unappreciated, but also realizing that you can’t always be with the in-crowd. Those years of marginalization eventually melted away as she weaned off her mother alone and embraced both parents equally. While it may too early to call her a “daddy’s girl”, my daughter does love her some Kwabena. Our time together is often some of the best fatherhood moments so far for me, as I see in her many reflections of my own temperament and thinking. She melts my heart when she says, “I want to be a politician like my daddy” even after community meetings at no end. I take my children with me every where I go.

Learning to grow & love vegetables

Another critical part of my fatherhood equation has been the sharing and transferring of values to my children. I am very intentional about helping my children learn loyalty to one another as brother and sister, knowledge of and pride in their African identity, commitment and service to community, and a close relationship to the natural world through horticultural literacy. Good manners are also a very important standard that I try to instill with them, as well as truth telling and critical thinking. I enjoy talking with my children and hearing what their young minds or hearts are making of the world. I am grateful that they listen to me and follow instruction for the most part. More than all else I am trying to do in this world, I take the responsibility of raising these two human beings most seriously. I believe it is the most important thing I will ever do.



District 57 Voters Deserve a Real Debate in the Race for State Representative

Posted also on the Cascade Patch and pending on Snellville Patch websites.

While attending the monthly meeting for Neighborhood Planning Unit V (NPU-V) this past Monday night, I had the pleasure of seeing the Democratic nominee for State Representative in District 57 make an appearance. After an apparently extensive vacation following the end of the Democratic primary race, it’s good for the ongoing contest to see my opponent back out in our communities in southwest Atlanta. As she has been doing at neighborhood meetings since the beginning of her campaign, Ms. Pat Gardner disingenuously presented herself to attendees as the actual elected official for District 57. In truth, she is simply an incumbent Democratic from another area that was reassigned to southwest Atlanta by the recent Republican led redistricting process. She may be the presumptive winner of the race in her own mind, but I would like to remind voters throughout the District that there is still an election in November and they still have a choice.

Kwabena “Cubby” Nkromo, write-in candidate for State Representative, GA House District 57

My name is Kwabena “Cubby” Nkromo and I am the certified Green Party write-in candidate for State Representative in District 57. There are rules in Georgia that make it unnecessarily and unfairly difficult to run for office if you are not a Democrat or a Republican (see APN article HERE). My name has been prevented from appearing on the regular ballot by these suppressive measures, but I am an official candidate and have satisfied the Georgia Secretary of State’s requirements to appear on the ballot as a certified write-in candidate. Registered constituents may vote for me, but they must write my name on the ballot instead of simply checking a box. It is very easy to do and if you live in District 57 I am asking you to write-in Kwabena “Cubby” Nkromo and vote for “what we have in common”.

Pat Gardner, Democratic candidate for State Representative, GA House District 57

While Ms. Gardner has been on vacation after a Democratic primary where money made a huge difference, I have remained on the battlefield of community building and defense like many of the residents in District 57. My opponent was on the wrong side of the recent Transportation Investment Act, or TSPLOST as it became popularly known. Along with many other neo-liberals of her Democratic ilk, Ms. Gardner failed to perceive the fundamental injustice of the proposed legislation that would have perpetuated and expanded the legacy of Jim Crow transportation policy for the metropolitan Atlanta region. Through the Transportation Equity Coalition and other direct actions, I fought with those who saw through the hype and turned down a tax increase without fairness. Despite our obvious need for transportation investment, we also simply needed to do better than TSPLOST.

While Ms. Gardner was I’m sure deservedly hanging out in sunny California, I was fighting with groups like Occupy Our Homes Atlanta (OOHA) to keep banks from illegally evicting people from their residences as a result of unscrupulous mortgage schemes and the hostile policies of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Many constituents within District 57 are in real crisis or duress regarding the lack of jobs and resulting stress on household budgets. We simply cannot afford passive leadership and political representation on any level for our communities during these difficult economic times, and certainly not at the State House. My civic and progressive leadership record demonstrates a real capacity to protect our interests while pointing a way towards more sustainable job creation for our neighborhoods.

On the proposed Charter School amendment to the Georgia constitution that will appear on the ballot November 6th (HR 1162), it seems Ms. Gardner and I are on the same side of the issue in opposition to this insidious legislation. Cloaked in language and advocacy designed to appear innocuous, HR 1162 is actually the continuation of the direct assault from commercial interests on the public coffers of Georgia taxpayers in local school districts for private profits and a dilution of citizen-based democracy. Whatever the relative merits of charter schools, the consistently proven ways to improve the effectiveness of education are reforms like smaller class sizes, more experienced teachers, better nutrition for students, and perhaps school culture. I was elected President of the Parent Teacher Organization last week at my son Kwesi’s public charter school (Atlanta Preparatory Academy in Vine City) and have been actively involved as Parliamentarian last year and Chair of our Edible Schoolyard Committee. I am not opposed to chartered learning institutions and believe all schools do better when parents are meaningfully involved, but we don’t need the Governor of Georgia having the power to supersede the will of local school boards on allocation of local tax dollars to fund profit seeking corporations using our children as their raw material. While Ms. Gardner may sympathize with our plight on this issue, I am the guard dog in this fight.

Green Party presidential candidate Dr. Stein with a family being helped by Occupy Our Homes Atlanta

Given the gravity of what’s at stake in public policy at this moment in our communities, it seems to me that the voters of District 57 deserve a debate about their representation in the state legislature. Ms. Gardner handily defeated her opponent in the Democratic primary Rashad Taylor (who by the way was the actual incumbent for the southwest area of the newly redrawn district), so constituents did not benefit from much deliberation on the issues due to Mr. Taylor’s relatively anemic campaign. Also, we were not likely to get much contrast from two Democrats with very similar voting records and political temperaments. Along with our national candidate Dr.

Jill Stein, the Georgia Green Party offers a real alternative to the status quo of underwhelming and inadequate political leadership. As a certified candidate for State Representative in District 57, I challenge and invite Ms. Gardner to a debate at a mutually chosen place and time for the benefit of voters. Our communities deserve nothing less.

Kwabena “Cubby” Nkromo is a longtime resident of the southwest Atlanta, now living in the Westview community. A former Chair of Neighborhood Planning Unit T (NPU-T), Cubby has a long and distinguished record of civic leadership and professional public service. He is the Founder and Program Director of Atlanta Metro Food & Farm Network and the proud father of his children Kwesi (6) and Issata (4) Nkromo.

Please write-in Kwabena “Cubby” Nkromo for State Representative in Georgia House District 57!

My Call to Write: Inspirations and Models of Prose

My mother, Dolores “Pauline” (Alston) McBrayer.

When I was growing up, there were times that it was hard to express myself verbally. Often, these moments had to do with difficult things that needed to be shared with my parents or other authority figures. Of the many distinct lessons I remember from my mother, among my favorite was her admonition paraphrased as, “If you have something to say to me or your father that is too hard to express in person, remember you can always write it to us in a letter.” As a boy, it took awhile for this suggestion to take root with me. But as some point this alternate form of communication became very useful to me in conveying thorny issues to my folks like bad report cards, behavior problems at school, or requests for extra monetary allowance. The first pieces of literature I can remember writing are missives to my mother.

Dolores and her son Christopher Tyler McBrayer (now known as Kwabena)

In addition to being a verbose communicator of spoken words, my mother Dolores herself was an avid writer of letters. During critical or sometimes poignant moments of parenting, I often recall finding a note (carefully left in a place that I would find it) that would firmly but lovingly instruct me on something she thought her son should know. Sometimes filling me with joy and alternately dread, these pieces of paper would almost always bear her signature cursive writing style that my mind’s eye associates with thoughtful and affectionate mothering. Later in life, longer epistles from her would find me in far flung places such as my college dorm room in the back woods of Alabama or the claustrophobic space of a troubled marriage in Texas. Frequently laced with scripture references and almost always reassuring that I was deeply valued by her, my mother’s letters were unconditional love put to paper for me and among my earliest examples of expression through writing.

Me, my brothers Randall & Lance. I owe Randall a letter now …

Before email came to dominate my life of written communication, conventional letters were my favorite way to reach out and touch some one I cared about. From flirting with girls I wanted to know better sitting across the classroom to staying in touch with my older brothers sitting a prison cell doing time, I learned to express myself by sharing my thoughts and feelings in a most personal way. I remember the early sensation and singular pleasure of allowing my mind to search through its various nooks and crannies for what I felt was the best way to say a particular thing. Usually beside me while reading, I also typically wrote letters with a dictionary close by to help me with fleeting pieces of words or concepts had not yet found a solid home in the rapidly expanding universe of my youthful vocabulary. Very conscious of creating literature of a sort, sometimes I would actually make copies of what I wrote before mailing off my treasure to the intended person. Or more extreme in nature. I would ask the recipient to save the evidently loaned archives for possible review by me later when I was ready to write a memoir.

Notions of autobiographical writing were planted early in my head by seminal works of men like Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey, and William Edward Burghardt DuBois. Exposed to their life stories in my late teenager years and into young adulthood, these tales of exceptional personal journeys and human transformation fired my imagination and fueled my ambition. I wanted to think like Malcolm, lead and organize like Marcus, and write like W.E.B. Perhaps chief among these inspirations were the prolific offerings of self-chronicling by DuBois, as well as the particular power and command of his writing style. I was intrigued by our shared birth state of Massachusetts and identified with his rabidly intellectual, but sometimes personally tortured prose:

 After the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton and Mongolian, the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world,—a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. – “Of Our Spiritual Strivings” from The Souls of Black Folk (1903) W.E.B. Du Bois (1868–1963).

Essayist, poet & publisher Haki R. Madhubuti

While I may aspire to be a scholarly author at the level of DuBois some day, my limited academic achievements to date and political temperament has my sights set a bit more modestly. I find Chicago-based essayist, poet, and publisher Haki R. Madhubuti (formerly Don L. Lee) to be the best literary model for me. I really enjoy the essay format of writing, which is why blogging is such a draw for me. Haki is a master at the art of essay writing, with the added twist of often interweaving a poetic flavor and tone to his prose. While I do not feel like a poet in the classical sense, I believe my writing style possesses lyrical tendencies. I certainly draft my work with a “song” of sorts in my head, humming the words out in stanzas of sentences until the composition seems just right to me. Given that I don’t remember mastering grammar very well in school, I have described my authorship process as “writing by ear”. It just sounds good to me.

Always writing 🙂

The most delicious thing about writing for me is the exercise and practice of critical thinking skills (or ultimately habits). The process of organizing words helps me discipline my mind to think logically and in an orderly fashion. It also stimulates intellectual creativity and retention of memory. I understand the world around me and my relationship to it better when I write about it, leading me to research the basis of my impressions or opinions. And as my mother helped me understand very early in life, some things are just best said with the pen rather than the tongue. My name is Kwabena Osei Nkromo and I am a writer!

Literature saved my life. Art (poetry, music, visual, dance, theatre, fiction and non-fiction) gave me a life. If I had not learned to read, and by extension embrace writing, critical thinking and listening, (i.e. literacy in all of its various permutations) I as a poet and Third World Press would not exist. … One of the great tragedies of modern education is that most people are not taught to think critically. The majority of the world’s people, those of the West included, are taught to believe rather than to think. It’s much easier to believe than to think. People seldom think seriously about that which we are taught to believe, because we are all creatures of imitation and habit.Haki R. Madhubuti

Reclaiming the Commons & Beyond: Troy Davis Park & Fannie/Freddie Connected

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.