I grew up in Athens, where I was fortunate enough to go to a diverse elementary school where every child was taught about the Civil Rights Movement. I am glad that I was exposed to a variety of cultures and beliefs at an early age. As I grew older, I often found that I was teetering between two worlds: the values of a long Athenian lineage of white Protestants and the desire to know more and explore the rest of the world. Thanks to UGA, I finally got to study abroad in 2010. However, I now find in my 30s that the challenge lies right here at home.
According to the Athens Clarke-County Board of Elections, there was only a 67.4% voter turnout in this election. Many folks were very excited to vote for president, but down-ballot candidates suffered as a result of what I can only imagine is ambivalence. I do not claim to have a perfect voting record; only in recent years have I begun to educate myself on policy. Yet as I look around at the world, it worries me that an entire third of my home county did not vote, period. Why is a town that is so invested in wearing just the right combo of red and black on a Saturday sitting on the bench?
I understand that some people just aren’t interested in elections or politicians. That’s their right and, to be fair, it’s difficult to get behind most candidates because of the pervasive shadiness that clouds our political system. However, I want to know who these Athenians are so that I can understand the disconnect. I also want to continue to develop a better understanding of why our town seems so progressive and, at the same time, so antiquated. I suppose this town is experiencing a bigger version of what I have always felt: Do we go along with our legacy and what’s comfortable, or do we break the cycle by daring to wonder how someone else feels?
These are complicated issues with no clear solution. However, there are some things that we can be doing as a community to cut down on the ambiguity. Our leaders should not be afraid to “offend” (I use this word flippantly) those who think that a police brutality protest downtown is the cause of a surge in COVID-19 cases instead of weekly keg parties where no masks are worn at all. I live near Milledge Avenue, and I’ve certainly seen some things that defy the ideas of social distancing and cleanliness (not to mention the litter).
I also implore our leaders to enact policy that may not be popular with the powerful. This is a relatively progressive county in many ways, despite the mysterious third of the population who did not vote, as well as the folks who had no idea we even had two Senate races last month (or that we have more coming up; please vote). I’m not asking everyone to think as I do. I am asking that Athenians think more deeply about why they think the way that they do. Is it because of your mom and dad? Is it because of your friends? It is our civic duty not only to exercise our rights, but also to understand the meaning and gravity of said rights. Athens is a beautiful town with beautiful people. It’s time for us to get to know each other a little better.
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