Good Trouble

Atlanta Mayor Kiesha Lance Bottoms, courtesy of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

I live in perhaps the most racially dynamic city in America. The birthplace and home of Martin Luther King, Jr. The economic capital of the Confederacy. A most prosperous, progressive city where race alone doesn’t seem to matter. Our state is second in the country in lynchings. It has produced such leaders as King and James Earl Carter and Sam Nunn and Ralph David Abernathy. Lester Maddox met potential customers, Black ones, at the door of his restaurant with a baseball bat. The current Georgia Governor pulled every dirty trick in the book to fend off his electoral competitor, a black woman on a mission, to secure his office.

And so today, on the occasion of US Representative John R. Lewis’ memorial, Kiesha Lance Bottoms, Atlanta’s mayor, an African-American woman with deep family roots in Atlanta, paid respects to her Congressman in the historied rotunda of the Georgia capitol.

Never mind that she, recently diagnosed as COVID-19 positive, received the remains alongside Brian Kemp, the governor who has, at every turn, shirked the hard responsibilities of leadership during this pandemic and has famously made masks optional, among other things. Never mind that Kemp called out the National Guard a couple weeks ago due to “continued violence” in Atlanta’s streets. (There was none, only idiots partying on Saturday night and questionable vandalism at the DMV). Never mind that he sued her to stop her measures to require masks and protect her fellow Atlantans.

Anyway, Kemp spoke first. He delivered a generous speech, keeping his remarks safe, acknowledging Lewis’ commitment to equality and justice and solution and bipartisanship. I give Kemp high marks, considering that just Sunday he extended the National Guard’s stay in Atlanta, siting “unrest.”

But then Kiesha spoke. She based her short remarks on Langston Hughes’ poem “Let America Be America Again,” about the false promise of America, the missed potential of this country. The “what could have beens.” The particular “what could have beens” for a for an intellectual, closeted, gay, Black poet. A Negro in the era of Jim Crow. A Harlem radical more comfortable in Paris than pre-War New York City.

And the Mayor, in a most pointedly political speech, brought forward the true nature of our divisive times and squarely laid the blame for our current condition on those that govern the state and the nation. She called for change. She admonished the deception used by those in the hallowed room in which she spoke. She used Lewis’ example to insist on dogged determination, protest and resistance. Yet, she cloaked her pleas in the rich poetry of Hughes and the lush feelings of hope and reflection and aspiration the funerals of great men inspire. She did it decisively and eloquently.

I listened on the radio, in a parking lot, imagining the Governor smiling and nodding politely, his mind elsewhere.

And then, mere feet from him, she closed with this:

“…I was deeply moved when a couple of days ago, Lewis’ Chief of Staff shared with me that the Congressman was intently watching the news of Atlanta and was proud of the leadership that’s been shown.”

“And so, Governor, when the good trouble continues,” she concluded. “It is with the blessings of Congressman Lewis.”

Well done, Madame Mayor. Well done, whomever writes your speeches.

I suspect, though, that it’s you.



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