2020 has been quite a year. The Confederate monument on Broad Street came down. Protests against police violence still shake the country after the killing of George Floyd. Climate change continues to break new records, with this year being one of the warmest yet. A novel coronavirus is spreading rapidly, causing an economic meltdown in its wake. An eviction crisis looms as the next domino to fall, and it’s only August. Oh yeah, there’s also an election coming that’s kind of a big deal, too.
After all this, you might be wondering, “What the hell is going on?” Or possibly even, “How can I help make things better?”
If you’re new in town and have been asking yourself these questions lately, you’re in the right place. Athens and UGA have a long list of civic, political and activist groups who welcome new members.
“What brings me hope are the people in the streets protesting injustice, the people finding their voices, the organizers who are teaching us how to share power [and] the candidates who are standing up to monied interests and political dynasties,” says Erin Stacer, president of the progressive group Athens for Everyone. “In spite of all the crisis that this virus has intensified, people are rising up to make change happen.”
Take a look at the list below to find a group that matches your interests. Maybe, after meeting some new friends, you can help make the world a slightly less terrible place, together. If you’re into that kind of thing.
Greenability is a student group focused on fighting climate change through policy and research. They’ve recently worked on state legislation with state Rep. Spencer Frye (D-Athens) and are currently pushing UGA to divest from fossil fuels. They will organize this semester using groupme and will soon have a website and listserv, but the best way to follow them is on Instagram @greenability_uga or contact them by email at email@example.com.
Speak Out for Species is an animal welfare organization whose mission is “to defend animals from cruelty and exploitation, to reduce animal suffering, and to encourage compassion for all living beings.” You can contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Athens chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby takes a legislative approach to fighting climate change. Its primary goal is the passage of the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, which would raise the price of fossil fuels and refund the dividends equally to the American people. They meet on third Tuesdays at 6 pm over Zoom. You can follow them on Facebook @athensccl or join their mailing list at citizensclimatelobby.org. They are starting a UGA chapter as well; for more information, contact Gail Gill at email@example.com.
Formerly known as the Lambda Alliance, Pride Alliance is focused on “local grassroots queer advocacy.” Until recently, they held meetings at the LGBT Resource Center on campus. Until that’s safe to do again, you can contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow them on Facebook @prideuga.
Athens PRIDE organizes a major street festival each year, although this fall’s was canceled due to the pandemic, and raises money for nonprofits like Live Forward, which helps HIV and AIDS survivors. Find them at athenspride.org.
Black Lives Matter
The UGA NAACP chapter has recently started the #ArchAccountability initiative to demand a number of changes at the university. These include renaming buildings whose titles honor white supremacists, acknowledging the university’s role in the Baldwin Hall incident and creating scholarships for the descendants of slaves who helped build UGA. The UGA NAACP holds meetings over Zoom, and you can follow them on Twitter @UGANAACP.
The Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement is dedicated to fighting against discrimination and for the value of Black lives to be recognized. They’ve organized many rallies, protests and workshops since their founding in 2016, and they’ve also achieved a number of policy victories. These include the (soon to be formed) civil rights committee and the end of cash bail for local ordinances. They have a number of active initiatives, including the continued fight for Black lives and partnering with the Economic Justice Coalition on voter engagement and registration. They’ve also been working for a robust Citizen Police Advisory Board to provide oversight of ACCPD. You can sign up to join AADM on their website. You can also follow them on Facebook @aadmovement and Instagram and Twitter @aadmovement706.
Politics and Elections
Fair Fight UGA is the local branch of Stacey Abrams’ voting rights organization. They focus on election reform, voter education, access to the polls and encouraging turnout. You can follow them on Twitter @fairfightga or email them at email@example.com to get more involved.
Turning now to partisan politics, the Young Democrats of UGA are one of the more active organizations on this list. They work to spark interest in government and politics among their peers, promote a more progressive community and of course, help Democrats win in November. They’ll be holding virtual meetings again starting on Aug. 26 to showcase candidates in the upcoming election and also for more general political discussion. These meetings will be streamed live, and they’ll also post the Zoom link on social media, so be sure to follow them on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter @YoungDemsUGA.
The College Republicans at UGA have been partnering with UGA Votes to help register students and provide information about voting dates and deadlines. You can follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @UGACRs.
A4E is focused on both systemic change and practical day-to-day initiatives. Right now, they need help in tracking the activities of the local government and board of education, along with social media, research and some behind-the-scenes chores involved in running an organization. They’re currently seeking people who want to organize around public education and equitable access to learning. Go to athensforeveryone.com to learn more.
The Democratic Socialists of America have an Athens chapter organized to promote their vision of “a more free, democratic and humane society.” They often organize protests and have an active book club. You can follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @AthensAreaDSA.
The Economic Justice Coalition is well-known for its comprehensive voter registration drives, which they’ve been organizing for almost 20 years. It strives to fight poverty through higher wages, worker-owned cooperatives and democratic engagement. Currently, it could use volunteers for voter registration drives and support to ensure everyone is counted in the 2020 Census. The EJC is also accepting volunteers to help with newsletter design, their website and social media. You can contact the EJC at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested in any of these volunteer opportunities, or follow them on Facebook.
The Georgia branch of the American Civil Liberties Union now has a presence in Athens. The ACLU works to defend reproductive rights, reform the criminal legal system and support the ongoing effort to divest from policing and invest in community support. To join their efforts, email campaign organizer Adam Lassila at ALassila@acluga.org.
Indivisible GA 10 was founded after the 2016 election to resist the agenda of President Donald Trump while supporting democracy and nonviolence. Here in the 10th Congressional District, their goal is primarily to register voters for the upcoming election and to fight all forms of voter suppression. To join, you can reach out to Indivisible GA10’s Membership Coordinator, Vicky Tavernier, at email@example.com.
Sexual Assault Prevention
UNMASK is the first entirely student-led organization on campus dedicated to the awareness and prevention of sexual assault. Its main goal is encouraging discussion of sexual assault, especially in communities where such discussion is stigmatized. They’re also planning a panel discussion with sorority and fraternity members to discuss the prevalence of sexual assault in Greek life and what can be done to prevent it. They’ll start general meetings soon over Zoom, and you can follow them on Instagram @unmask_sa.
Immigrant Rights and Mutual Aid
The Athens Immigrant Rights Coalition includes groups like the InterFaith Sanctuary Coalition, U-LEAD—which helps undocument high school students attend college—and Dignidad Inmigrante en Athens. Its mission is to provide food and support for immigrant families who have not received federal aid during the COVID crisis. Volunteers can deliver needed supplies door-to-door, help by gathering household items or at the distribution centers. Contact AIRC at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to help with this important work. In addition to mutual aid, AIRC members have held many protests over the years. They organize the yearly LatinX Fest, and they also advocate for immigrant rights at the local level.
The Athens Mutual Aid Network is an affinity group offering radical political education and in-person mutual aid care. This can include almost anything, from helping people check in to motels or housing, accompanying them to the hospital or connecting people skilled in trades to those needing their help. They operate a safe house with a refrigerator for food donations. You can connect with the Mutual Aid Network in their Facebook group or on Instagram @mutualaidathens.
The Athens Area Courtwatch Project empowers volunteers to observe proceedings in Athens-Clarke County courtrooms with the purpose of watching out for the rights of minorities in the court system. To participate, contact John Cole Vodicka at email@example.com or 612-718-9307.
This is not an exhaustive list. In particular, check out the UGA Involvement Network for more information on student groups.
As you can see, activism can take a lot of forms, from protests to phone banking to issue-based advocacy. Increasingly, organizations have been moving online for meetings and relying more heavily on social media to get the word out about their activities.
Even so, nothing can replace the feeling of an in-person rally or protest. If you choose to attend one of these events, make sure to take precautions. You should wear a mask over your mouth and nose and try to stay six feet from everyone you don’t live with, if possible. You may wish to be tested for COVID-19 both before and a few days after attending an in-person rally, especially if social distancing is not possible.
Wear comfortable shoes and bring sunscreen if the protest is during the day. Lastly, be sure to bring enough water. The most important thing is to stay safe so you can keep fighting.
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