New Orleans Having not flown in months, I was curious what was up in the airways. My 6:15 AM on a Saturday to Atlanta was the first flight out of New Orleans. That was already strange. It used to be one of many. Where was the 5:28 AM to Houston? The 6:00 AM to Chicago? The early flight to New York? Nowhere, that’s where. The next surprise was that everything went faster. I was the only one in the TSA-PRE line. They screen for temperatures at the gym, but not on the airlines. Better have a cup of coffee at home, because there was nothing open anywhere in the airport. Not leaving at least. Only Chili’s coming back. It was a ghost town. On Delta, zones were on the boarding pass, but the boarding was by rows, back to front. Bringing back the old school, and I liked it. When the bell rang on landing, I jumped up. I was surprised that everyone ahead of me kept sitting down. Social distancing, I guess?
But that was all about what’s up in the air, the real takeaway from Atlanta in my meeting with folks about organizing there, is the on-the-ground benefit of being in the same room in a different city taking part in the valuable cross fertilization of ideas that comes from face-to-face-mask-to-mask conversations. I’ll give you a couple of examples to prove the point.
- Talking about the long lines in Georgia polling stations and the similar problems around the country in Louisville, Milwaukee, and elsewhere, a constant refrain in the excuses of election authorities is that the reduced number of manual polling sites was because they didn’t have the poll staff willing to work. Anyone who has ever voted has seen the crew at the polling stations. This is like the waiting room of a Social Security office. The ones without gray hair are political cronies making an extra day’s wage complete with donuts for breakfast and fried chicken for lunch. Talking to my colleagues and new friends in Atlanta, here was an idea for a quick campaign: an organization should mass file names of “volunteers” willing to be trained to handle the polls in November so there would be a full force. Who could turn that down? In states trying to run from the mail ballot, it matters that we have as many open polling locations as possible!
- In cities like Atlanta and Memphis where the rent amnesty is ending July 31st, local activists are predicting a tsunami of evictions. In New York City on July 1st for example they are expecting 50-60,000. In these cities the new big landlords are connected at the hip to huge Wall Street private equity companies, so it’s a twofer. In the wave of resistance now, how about a mass protest and campaign to block the landlords from filing to evict that puts pressure on courts and civil sheriffs to refuse to process evictions? Supplemental unemployment will still be good, so the troops are out there. Given the massive support of grassroots donors this day for new activism, it might even hit a cord and raise some money.
- Training? People are suddenly desperate for a way to up skill for this moment!
See what I mean? The back and forth of listening, discussion, and synthesis is not something that the Hollywood Squares of Zoom is best at handling. As hard as it always is, and as virtually impossible as it is now, there’s a reason that organizers have to travel to get closer to people who want to make things happen and help them along. Atlanta was calling, and it was hard not to pick up the phone. We’re open for business again!