A Perfect Storm | Crooked Media
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December 22, 2020
Gaining Ground: The New Georgia
A Perfect Storm

In This Episode

With the global pandemic, multiple murders of Black Americans, and the GOP playing politics, the country reaches a boiling point. How does this play into an already tumultuous election year?


Featured in this episode:

  • Brian Maloof – Owner, Manuel’s Tavern
  • Valerie Boyd – Author, Journalist, Professor at University of Georgia
  • Dr. Mehrdod Ehteshami-Emergency Medical Physician in rural Georgia
  • Bo Dorough – Mayor of Albany, GA
  • Van Johnson II – Mayor of Savannah, GA
  • Charles Bethea – Staff Writer, The New Yorker
  • Angel McCoughtry- WNBA Player Atlanta Dream
  • DeRay Mckesson- American Civil Rights Activist
  • Alyssa Pointer – Visual Journalist, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
  • Curry Stone – Resident of Midtown Atlanta
  • Hillary Holley – Organizing Director, Fair Fight



Brian Maloof: We’ve been in the bar business in Atlanta since… I guess, 1917 — going back to my grandfather. He had a bar across the street from the capital called The Tip Top Billiard Parlor. He was a Lebanese immigrant, spoke Arabic and broken English. When the state legislature was in session, the closest place to get a drink was the Tip Top.


Rembert Browne: The Tip Top was the family-owned predecessor of Manuel’s Tavern, which is located on North Highland Avenue. For more than six decades, the bar and restaurant has been a consistent hub for reporters, politicians, and fans of a good hang. This is Manuel’s owner Brian Maloof… my co host-Jewel Wicker sat down with him last week…


Jewel Wicker: Tell me how Manuel’s became a restaurant connected to local politics. 


Brian Maloof: Manuel’s has a political leaning. We’ve always had a relationship with the political community. So that bar that’s out there is from the Tip Top. And so it’s continued to this day. 


Rembert Browne: Manuel’s is one of many Georgia restaurants that have been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.


Brian Maloof: We’ve had a significant downturn in business, overnight. Just a dramatic drop in business. We’ve been losing on average about 25,000 dollars a month, that’s how we’ve been operating in the red. We depleted all of our PPP loan money and we depleted all of our cash reserves.

It’s been frightening. It’s been incredibly frightening. 


Rembert Browne: According to a recent survey by the National Restaurant Association, almost 40 percent of restaurants in the state say their businesses won’t survive another six months without additional federal aid. Maloof says he’d just told longtime employees that the bar wouldn’t open in 2021 when a customer created a GoFundMe to help the local institution. 

The GoFundMe has raised more than $180,000, which Maloof says should help the bar remain open through April, even without additional federal funding.


Brian Maloof: We got the support that we needed because of our long history, people that came here in the ‘60s, people that wrote about “I was there when Man first walked on the Moon, I was sitting at the bar” — and it meant something to them. And they’d throw 50, 100 dollars at us. And made a huge difference. 


Rembert Browne: From Tenderfoot TV and Crooked Media, this is Gaining Ground: The New Georgia. In this episode we look at the 2020 trifecta of Summer uprisings, Fall elections, and a year defined by the COVID-19 pandemic.


I’m your host Rembert Browne with Jewel Wicker.


Valerie Boyd: Really, it was the seventies when I grew up in Georgia and I had any kind of awareness of all of this. Jimmy Carter was the first president that I was aware of. And of course he was a Georgia president. My name is Valerie Boyd. I am an author and journalist and I am a professor at the University of Georgia where I am the founder and director of the MFA program in narrative non-fiction writing. 


Rembert Browne: Boyd is also a former Atlanta Journal-Constitution editor whose work on race, arts and culture has earned her many accolades, including the Governor’s Award for the Arts and Humanities in 2017. 


Valerie Boyd: I think the South is kind of an ancestral Homeland for African-Americans that’s the way the playwright August Wilson described it. You don’t have to go all the way back to Africa to find your kind of ancestral roots, because we all came through Southern portals to get here.


And so there’s a kind of way that I, and several of my friends claim the South as a space of resistance, a space of creativity. There’s a real sense of fighting for the space and wanting this space to be ours and not sort of relinquishing the South and saying, Oh, well, that’s Republican stronghold. And I think that’s part of what we see happening right now with Georgia becoming this key, key, key player in the future of the country for the next four years, because of the two Senate runoffs. 


Rembert Browne: The two Georgia senate runoffs in some ways may feel as though they’re one race because of what’s at stake. If both Democratic candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock are able to secure wins against Republicans David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, it would tie the senate’s balance of power, with the Democratic Vice President as the tie-breaking vote. But, if only one of the Democrats win, Republicans will retain control.


And like many things in Georgia, the candidates (and those who ride for them) represent a dynamic where it can feel like it’s the big cities versus the rest of the state. 


Valerie Boyd: I tell my friends who live elsewhere, that there’s there’s Georgia and then there’s Atlanta. And that they’re, they’re different. 


Rembert Browne: Miss Valerie Boyd, I told my friends that too… In Episode 1. Run that back. 



Rembert Browne: “Growing up, I’d always heard the phrase — there’s Atlanta, and then there’s Georgia. I’d listen to adults talk about the prospect of Georgia flipping every state and national election my entire life”. 


Rembert Browne: OK, back to the professor. 


Valerie Boyd: And as you know, Atlanta has long been known as kind of a black Mecca. You know, Atlanta has not had a mayor who wasn’t black for 50 years. So there’s Atlanta, but there’s kind of a dome of progressiveness over Atlanta. And then there’s Georgia and Georgia itself is not so progressive in many ways. 


And you see that most acutely, I guess, in the kind of public squabble that occurred between mayor Keisha Lance bottoms in Atlanta and Governor Brian Kemp in Georgia. 


Rembert Browne: In July, Governor Kemp filed a lawsuit against Mayor Bottoms and the Atlanta City Council after the mayor attempted to require face masks in public places. The lawsuit noted Kemp had the authority  “to suspend municipal orders that are contradictory to any state law or to his executive orders.”


Valerie Boyd: The battle lines are kind of drawn and they’re pretty stark. There’s not a meeting of the minds. And so I think that’s part of what you see in that squabble that took place. And with her really holding her ground and being very instrumental too, in this latest election and flipping George blue. Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms worked alongside Stacey Abrams and hundreds, thousands of other people who really have been working for a long time, tenaciously and patiently to make this kind of thing happen.


Rembert Browne: As seen with the beef between Mayor Bottoms and Governor Kemp, the pandemic was political at the local, state, and national level. Doctors, nurses, and frontline workers weren’t just saving lives, they were thrust into the debate, often forced to defend things like science. At times, they were positioned as activists instead of medical professionals doing their jobs. One of those medical professionals was Dr. E. 


Dr. Mehrdod Ehteshami. My name is Mehrdad Ehteshami. I’ve been an emergency room physician practicing in the state of Georgia. My entire career went to high school, undergraduate grad school, med school. I did my residency in Georgia. So I’m very familiar with Georgia or its pros and cons. I remember in February, we were at church talking to some of the other small group leaders. And I was like, Hey, you guys just want to tell you that within the next couple of weeks something bad is going to happen. There’s going to be a virus, and just kind of going into describing it to them. And they kind of looked at me and they’re like, all right, dude, whatever. And I realized at that point that even amongst people who are educated, there’s going to be a lot of misinformation out there.


And so I kind of took it upon myself to find my way back into advocacy and community education. The angle that I’ve been personally taking through this whole thing has been,  ok these are the stats. This is what we know about COVID. But I want to look beyond that. I want to talk about why this has become such a problem. I want to talk about this on a deeper level. The hard thing to say is what infrastructure did we not have there that led to hundreds of thousands of people dying. And that is going to lead to even more people than that filing for bankruptcy because they can’t afford healthcare.


Rembert Browne: In true American fashion, the face mask wasn’t just about survival. It became a political symbol of “Freedom.” So it’s to no surprise, as healthcare made it on the ballot, COVID 19 wasn’t just a public safety issue — but one of the most political issues of 2020. And from Trump to Kemp, Loeffler to Perdue, Georgia has been at the epicenter of these debates. 


Dr. Mehrdod Ehteshami: People follow their leaders, whether you want to believe that or not. Governor Kemp and President Trump have fault. Governor Kemp can come by and say, masks actually do something. Let’s wear a mask. Or I myself am going to wear a mask. I’m not going to hold a rally and think of it as not being an okay thing in the middle of the pandemic. 


Kelly Loffler had a rally. She had a freaking rally during the busiest COVID week that we’ve had since the whole thing started. And here she is, indoors with no masks.


13% of Georgians don’t have health insurance. If they actually cared, then they would know that going to the ER, without health insurance, just stepping foot into the emergency room, will land you a $2,000 bill. How many people don’t even make that in a month?


Rembert Browne: Dr. E works mostly in rural GA. Everything outside of Atlanta is often portrayed as rural. Similarly, everything outside of Atlanta is often portrayed as White. But yes, Georgia’s got other cities. And a handful of those cities have a lot of Black folk. 


Bo Dorough: My name is Bo Dorough. I’m a lawyer and also the mayor here in Albany, Albany is throughout. Most of the 20th century was the biggest city in Southwest Georgia.I grew up in Cordell, which is 40 miles away. We always thought of Albany as a big town because they had a mall and a TV station. And you could actually go to the theater and have more than one choice about what movie you would see.


Albany has struggled in the last 20 years. We’ve lost significant number of high paying jobs. Over the last 20 years, our unemployment rate has been higher than any other metropolitan area in the state. We have a very high rate of poverty in the city. As you may know, Albany earlier this year was hit extremely hard in the early months of the COVID pandemic. And this is before the numbers were high, anywhere else. That revealed some of the underlying economic and racial disparities that we were all aware of because of the high death rate and the percentage of people who were becoming seriously ill, disproportionately impacted our African-American community.


Rembert Browne: Around the time that Georgia’s primaries were originally scheduled, in March, COVID had already started to have a significant impact both nationally and locally, especially in Albany…


It’s my understanding, there were two separate funerals. They call these super spreader events and I’m certainly no scientist. And I hate to sound like Johnny-know-it-all. But, um, having been advised of what occurred, there was one gentleman who was in respiratory distress. He was hospitalized for about four days at Phoebe Putney and had unexposed interaction with the hospital staff. He was transferred to a hospital in Atlanta. We had to quarantine a lot of hospital staff. It got to the point where the ICUs were all modified to accommodate COVID patients. We were transferring patients to facilities in Macon, Columbus, Dothen, Tallahassee, because the hospital simply could not accept any more patients in respiratory distress or who had advanced medical problems.


Rembert Browne: As with previous natural disasters, Mayor Dorough says Albany leaned heavily on the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, or GEMA, for the health pandemic. 

Still, as another Georgia mayor points out, city leaders throughout the state also hoped that state officials would step up and assist them during this time… This is Savannah Mayor Van Johnson…


Mayor Van Johnson: I think that for Savannah, for many years, we had always been the stepchild of Metro Atlanta. Although we love our Capital city, we were here first. We were critical in turning Georgia blue for the first time in almost 30 years. There are distinct times in history where the paradigm shifts, and we are living in that moment. Georgia has shown a propensity to have independent thought. And I think that figures prominently in the senatorial elections coming up. We have two seriously flawed senators. I’ve been the mayor of Savannah for the last almost 12 months. And I have never spoken to Senator Loffler or Senator Purdue. They have never called.


We have sent countless communications to them asking for support for the CARES act for the HEROES act. We’ve never received a response to them. We just want somebody who remembers that we’re here. The coast matters as well. People don’t like to be ignored. The pandemic plays a role in this because people realized they were being ignored and otherwise we’ve been busy living our best lives, doing our own thing and not really paid much attention to. In this case, we really were paying attention to this. 


You would think that a governor of the state would at least talk with, or have conversation with the mayors of his major cities to get a feel of what’s going on on the ground. Governor Brian Kemp has not done that, has chosen not to do that. It’s been unfortunate because we have been in a bipolar mode in this state where the Governor has insisted that Georgia will be the best place to do business, but it’s not the best place to live and be healthy.


Rembert Browne: Georgia businesses such as Manuel’s, where success depends on whether or not people feel safe to socialize, have hung in the balance for much of the year. And the varying mandates by local and state officials has likely added to business owners frustration and confusion about how they’re allowed to operate.


Mayor Van Johnson: People are confused. They don’t know what to do one way or another. And Georgia is positioning itself, unfortunately, to have a major close down, if we don’t stop this trajectory. 


Rembert Browne: As “unprecedented” became the word of the year, due to the life-changing nature of the pandemic, the pattern of violence against unarmed Black people pushed many of us over the edge. 


Some of what you’re about to hear may be troubling to some listeners.  



“Shock and outrage bring protesters to the streets. Arbury’s family calling their son a victim of hate.”

“The man who recorded the shooting, accused gunman Travis McMichael of saying F’in N word as Arbury’s body lay on the ground before police arrived.”

“They put on the police report that there were no injuries in the execution of this search warrant when Breonna Taylor was killed.”

“In March, police used a no-knock warrant to forcibly enter her home. Questions remain about why police entered her home in the middle of the night and shot her at least eight times.”

“Her beautiful spirit and personality is working through all of us on the ground so please continue to say her name.”

“Protests intensified overnight in Minneapolis.”

“A bystander’s cell phone video captured the video monday night.”

“His knee was on his neck, not for one minute, not for two minutes, but for eight minutes.”

“This has to stop. Something has to be done.”


Rembert Browne: When news of the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Breonna Taylor in Louisville, and Ahmaud Arbury in Glynn County in Southeast Georgia made national headlines, many of us were stuck inside as a result of COVID. Every passing month meant another frustrating month inside. And every passing month meant more anger toward the American police state. There was never a year we needed to congregate more, while the threat of congregating grew and grew.


Jewel Wicker: This was the first time the entire country was standing still long enough to really reckon with what was occurring. We were all tired. We’d all seen how the failings of our public health systems had left Black and Brown people disproportionately impacted by COVID. And, we were already grappling with white supremacy as it had presented itself within the Trump presidency. I think by the time we’d learned about Ahmaud, George and Breonna, things already felt like they were at a tipping point.


Rembert Browne: All of this was happening in the middle of an election year as candidates vied for the Oval Office. 


DeRay Mckesson: I’m DeRay Mckesson. I’m a civil rights activist. I am a co-founder of a group called Campaign Zero. We focus on ending police violence in the U S. 


Rembert Browne: In 2015, I got a ride with Deray and civil rights activist Johnetta Elzie from Selma to Montgomery following the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. A month later he co-launched “Mapping Police Violence,” which compiled 2014 data on people killed by police. 


DeRay Mckesson: The police kill 1100 people a year, that has been pretty consistent for as long as we’ve had data. There are some cases that for whatever reason, become these national stories often because there’s a video or a community responds in a certain way. And this summer, the police killed George Floyd in Minneapolis. And it was captured on video. They kneeled on his neck, so long that he died. Everybody was stuck at home and people were like, wow, that’s wrong. And people took to the streets all across the country. Also in Minneapolis, the police were really aggressive. And then in Portland, the police are really aggressive. We were in the street 2014, it was interesting, right? Because people thought we were being dramatic when we were like, the police are killing people.They were like, Oh, okay.  People saw George Floyd get killed. And they were like, I get it. No longer. Are we fighting about like, is it happening? We were fighting now by like what to do. But there were a lot of people too,  know who didn’t do anything in 2014. Right. They didn’t go on the street. They didn’t…. And they were like, they said, then they were like, if this ever happens again, I know, I know it. I know what I’ll do. In 2020 was that moment to go do it. It was now a never, you were stuck home. So it wasn’t like you were doing anything else.


I think the killing of Amaud Arbery was a lightning rod for people. And then was George Floyd. And then it was Brianna Taylor. These are just other proof points for them.  And what was unbelievably different about 2020 was that the media, they were targets of the police in a very focused way. So the coverage was different.


Jewel Wicker: As protests erupted throughout the country, Atlantans took to downtown in solidarity. Journalist Alyssa Pointer was on the scene taking photos for the AJC…  


Alyssa Pointer: My name’s Alyssa Pointer. I am a visual journalist with the Atlanta Journal Constitution. I’ve been at the paper for three years now. I actually volunteered to photograph the first protest and I, and police had no idea what was actually going to happen. It did start off peaceful. I want everyone to know that all the time it was a peaceful protest at the beginning, but then it kind of just turned into an emotional event. We marched from Centennial to the State Capitol, there were a few state politicians they’re trying to rally people, but it seemed like there was too much going on for them to have a formal conversation. And so after the sSate Capitol, everyone marched back to the CNN center. So I start walking down there and there’s just a lot, there’s people on both sides of the street. There’s this big police presence in front of us. Cause a lot of people don’t know there’s actually a police precinct in the CNN Center. When I first walked over there, there was some issues with police with their bikes, the bike police, they were kind of using their bikes to push people back. And then there was a scuffle and pepper spray was sprayed. And that was the first time I was like, okay, this is getting real.

Jewel Wicker: Social media became a hub during this time for protesters to share tips for staying safe…


Alyssa Pointer: Before I got there There was someone on Instagram that had been covering protests in another city. And he said, if you’re going to cover protests, this is what you need.


So he was like goggles and all this stuff. So I actually went to Target and bought some swimming goggles while I was in Target. I see this young lady walking around with like three jugs of milk and she has all black on. I said, why does she have this milk? Is it going to be that serious in my head? Cause I, I didn’t, I didn’t know. And this was before I talked to the police. And so for me, that was kind of not an omen, but I was just like, maybe this is going to be a longer night than I actually thought it would be. 

Jewel Wicker: Medical professionals have said milk doesn’t do much to help if a person is teargassed, but it’s still become a common tip amongst protesters. 


Alyssa Pointer: I think at the CNN building, it got pretty volatile. I want to say I was probably there for an hour or two. And then they set the police car on fire. And that’s when the state troopers came, you know, in a line holding each other with their batons.


I think I ended up leaving. I want to say maybe close to midnight. And I started the day. I mean, I think my day I had an assignment before the protests where I actually photographed the restaurant and I wasn’t going to eat. And the guy was like, you have to eat. So he made me some chicken wings so that I could have some type of energy. And that’s all I ate the whole day. So I am so thankful to that man.   


Rembert Browne: As Deray previously pointed out, one reason this year’s protests were significant because of how reporters were impacted. According to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, at least 117 reporters were detained or arrested while covering protests this year. This is in comparison to the nine reporters who were detained or arrested in all of 2019.


DeRay Mckesson: I remember in 2014, 15, we really were leaning on reporters to tell our story, to be like the police tear gassed you, you know, like they just didn’t always believe us. This time we didn’t even have to lobby. We didn’t have to do it. That the police tear gassed them, like Ali Velshi, like the police were wild to him. Like the police were just like across the board sort of intense. So the coverage was just much more focused on their behaviors as opposed to requiring the protesters, to justify the fact that we were upset, like that wasn’t even like a thing in this moment.


Jewel Wicker: One of the first things we’re taught in journalism school is that we should never be the story. But, what happens when we’re placed in the center of unrest?


Again, Alyssa Pointer. 


Alyssa Pointer: I was detained because I followed a group of protesters on the highway. As a photojournalist documenting history. And my job is to document it. I went down with them. I took pictures. It was very interesting because it was like the state troopers are wrangling cattle. I don’t know state troopers personally, but I know that some of them know my face because I work at the Georgia State Capitol buildings. I know that I’m an anomaly. They’re not alone. I think I am the only black female journalist for a newspaper in this state. I’m down there. I’m taking all the pictures. They give a command that if the people are coming back down the embankment, arrest them.


Jewel Wicker:  Alyssa says three agencies were on the scene at the time: The Atlanta Police Department, Georgia State Troopers and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. 


Alyssa Pointer: So I’m walking up the embankment. I have my badge on my chest, which I decided to tape. I had the thought that if I was detained, I needed to know I needed them to know who I was. I looked to my left and I take a picture of some state troopers arresting two women. Look to my right. And all of a sudden, a department of natural resources officer is like, Hey you. I said, Oh, I’m just documenting. I’m a photojournalist with the Atlanta Journal Constitution. He said, I don’t care. You’re being arrested. And he put his hand on my shoulder and turned me around. 


I started to get frustrated. So when I get frustrated, tears start to form in my eyes. And I was like, no, I am working my badges on my chest. I have two cameras hanging off of me that together probably are worth $20,000 with lenses and accessories. I have a book bag, one I’m working. They put the zip ties on me and they sat me down. We ended up moving closer to the street and that’s when three, uh, local journalists saw me. And one of them is a camera guy and he’s like, Alyssa, stand up. What are you doing? And I said, I can not stand up. I have zip ties. I’m being detained. And he said, no, you can’t do that. So they start trying to talk to the officers that detain me and they keep saying, are you with them? And I keep trying to tell them that I am, I am with my another agency. I’m with the Atlanta Journal Constitution. But they kept trying to put me with the people because I, my word didn’t matter. And for me, that was the most frustrating thing  in the world. 


As like your parents tell you to do everything, right? Like tell the truth. The truth will get you to where you need to be. I’m telling them there’s nothing else I can say. Eventually I’m done. Doug from Channel 11 was live streaming. And he kept telling them who I was. And they were like, okay, well she seems to be, you know, they seem to be vouching for her, let’s try to find the person that, you know, initially did the detainment and the whole time I’m thinking, why are you not listening to me? Why is it that I have to have three men, two white, one black vouch for me, a person I’m telling you who I am, had the badge on my chest. And it doesn’t matter. So they ended up letting me go. I walked past them and then I just started crying. Like I am fully in tears and one lady walks up to me and she was like, are you okay? So just give me a minute. And I’m getting emotional now because it’s like, I’m a, I’m a human being. I’m doing my job. And I guess I feel like it’s an added layer of protection and then it doesn’t even work, you know? And it just hurts because it’s like all of these years, people like me have been fighting to get in these positions. And then we get into these positions and we’re still treated like, I like it doesn’t matter. 


But I, I went back to work, after I cried for about 5 minutes. I think that I have more emotion to do my best because I was like, y’all, aren’t going to stop me. I was like, I’m just going to do what I know I can do. And I’m going to go home. It’s funny in the midst of it all, I called my editor and I was like, Hey, you may see me on the news as being, it’s being detained. I want you to know I’m okay. And I’m still working.


Rembert Browne: Still, even with the heightened attention on police brutality, DeRay reminds us that the killings that occurred this year aren’t much different than the ones we’ve seen in previous years.


DeRay Mckesson: I do want to be mindful to note that the police have killed at the exact same sort of rate and number since 2013. So for all of the conversation, the police have not killed less people. It just hasn’t happened. Even in 2020 with COVID quarantine locked down, the police have not killed any less people. The protest didn’t cause a dip in killings, right? Like they, the police had been pretty unchecked in that one thing. So when I think about the big goal today, that caused people to be in the street, we have a lot more work to do.


Now I’m not pessimistic because I know that the civil rights movement was a decade long worth of activism. Right. It wasn’t like, Monday to Friday. I also know that like, I don’t want people to be too celebratory early and I worry in this moment, people are really celebratory. You should be excited that we have built a new community. You should be excited that we have changed the language, but talking about a new world and living in a new world are two different things. Right? And I think that the conversation is at a different place. The outcomes actually are not matched where the conversation is. And we need to be honest about that. So we like don’t lose the urgency of the fight.


Jewel Wicker: I think one death in particular really stood out to me maybe because it occurred in South Atlanta, so close to where Rembert and I both grew up. This was the death of Rayshard Brooks.


Rembert Browne: Rayshard, who had fallen asleep in the parking lot of a Wendys, was shot and killed during an altercation with police. 


Jewel Wicker: One thing that really stood out was that rapper Lil Baby, who also grew up near the area where Rayshard was killed, had just released a protest anthem less than 24 hours before the shooting occured. He couldn’t have known that police brutality would hit so close to home when he released that song.


Rembert Browne: The killing of Rashard Brooks illuminated how even in a city known as Black Mecca, where we have a long history of Black leadership, even we aren’t immune to these issues of policing. As a Black man here you have the potential to become arguably the artist of the year like Lil Baby, but your life could also end in tragedy like Rayshard’s.



Rembert Browne: We, we weren’t in high school at the same time. 

Charles Bethea: Nope, I think you were closer to my brother, right.

Rembert Browne: Your brother, Robert, was a year above me. So I always thought he was cool. And I knew he had a older brother… But then — actually, I went back in my email, Charles.

Charles Bethea: Oh nooo, don’t do that

Rembert Browne: I did that. I always do this. I can remember some of our exchanges.


Rembert Browne: This is Charles Bethea, Atlanta native, resident, and staff writer for the New Yorker, sitting at Manuel’s — both a political landmark and also the site of our annual alumni high school holiday party. Charles covered the election in his home state at a feverish pace, and is continuing to do so as we head to the January 5th runoffs. 


Charles Bethea: Of the four candidates running Purdue is the only one that’s held office. Right? And his cousin, Sonny Perdue is a former Governor of Georgia. So of the four, he’s the one who has like a lot of name recognition. And that separates him from Loeffler, who doesn’t. She was just installed in her position. After Isaacson retired, she’s married to a very wealthy, somewhat well-known business guy whose company runs the New York Stock Exchange. They live in one of the biggest homes in Atlanta, but people in South Georgia, North Georgia never heard of Kelly Loeffler, even though she ran an WNBA team Loeffler’s name suddenly increased in recognition when she got appointed. But also immediately, she started getting in hot water with her response to social justice movements. Her own WNBA team pushed back really hard against her comments, denouncing Black Lives Matter. And then she very quickly also became one of the first senators who appeared to make stock trades or her, her stocks were traded. She has somebody who does it for her, right after the pandemic appeared and private meetings were held in which she learned things that could have benefited her portfolio. No charges were ultimately brought by the justice department, but her name quickly became associated with being anti-Black Lives Matter. And also like sketchy stock stuff. Purdue also got brought into both of those to some degree, but I think his name is less tarnished than hers at this point, among most Georgians. He’s more likely to get just that like knee jerk support Loeffler, you might be like, ah, I don’t know.


Rembert Browne: You might think the fashion statement of the year might not be masks or shield-related, but you’d be wrong. If we’re talking statements, it’s when members of the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream — owned by Kelly Loeffler — wore black “Vote Warnock” shirts — in response to Loeffler’s many anti-Black Lives Matter comments. The anti-Loeffler energy (and the wearing of the shirts) has spread throughout the WNBA, our most socially awake league. 


Longtime Atlanta Dream star (and clear future WNBA Hall of Famer) Angel McCoughtry has been vocal about her former boss Kelly Loeffler, even as she’s moved on to play for the Las Vegas Aces. We asked Angel how she felt when Loeffler was appointed to the Senate


Angel McCoughtry: Well, at first I was excited. I was like, we have her back. You know, I want to see what she’s about. But then everything went opposite of what I thought. The stuff with the trading, the money came out and then Black Lives Matter came out, that you denounced Black Lives Matter. What? You own a woman’s basketball team, predominantly African-American, what are you talking about? And that has nothing to do with politics, that’s human rights. 


Rembert Browne: Upon hearing the WNBA’s plans to honor the Black Lives Matter movement, Kelly Loeffler wrote a letter the league’s Commissioner, Cathy Englebert. Here is a portion of that letter…


The truth is, we need less—not more politics in sports. In a time when polarizing politics is as divisive as ever, sports has the power to be a unifying antidote. And now more than ever, we should be united in our goal to remove politics from sports.


The lives of each and every African American matter, and there’s no debating the fact that there is no place for racism in our country. However, I adamantly oppose the Black Lives Matter political movement, which has advocated for the defunding of police, called for the removal of Jesus from churches and the disruption of the nuclear family structure, harbored anti-Semitic views, and promoted violence and destruction across the country. I believe it is totally misaligned with the values and goals of the WNBA and the Atlanta Dream, where we support tolerance and inclusion.


I don’t think Kelly is racist by any means. Don’t get me wrong. Do I think that she has to appeal to her political partners and people? Yeah. If you have to do that, you don’t have to denounce a race to do it. I’m not a person that makes people look bad. But when I see that something isn’t right, especially to players like myself and others, I’m always going to speak out on it. It doesn’t make Kelly look good that she denounced Black Lives Matter, but we got to speak truth about it. Right? So number one is the organization I felt should’ve done a better job speaking on it. At the end of the day, sometimes you just got to speak up for what’s right. You’ll get another job.


Number two, Kelly, should you still own a women’s basketball team? Okay. Then issue an apology to your girls because if you don’t win, who’s going to be there for you? I think she should issue an apology and really understand. Maybe here’s some of our stories. Let’s sit down and have a conversation with the girls. Do you have time to do that? Every African American that lives here has a story. We all have a story of something being done to us that that shouldn’t have. Some things had to change. Like you can’t tell me that I’m going to get treated differently because I have more melanin in my skin. And it starts with people like Kelly. If Kelly knew any better, I’m a, I’m a proven winner. I could have coached her on how to get this done.


Curry Stone: I wouldn’t classify myself as a political person. I would classify myself as a person who has an interest in politics and the downstream effects of those decisions that politicians make. But I’m not necessarily politically aligned or generally politically involved in any sort of way. I’ve never gotten out to a canvas or help campaign for a candidate.


Rembert Browne: This is Curry Stone, a 31-year-old Midtown Atlanta resident. It wasn’t until the pandemic and protests of this year that he felt galvanized to become more civically active.


Curry Stone: It felt like a tidal wave or something, right. It didn’t feel like a, like a snap to me, there was a big buildup to it. And so something like that, George Floyd situation, where you have someone so helpless and so out of control, it’s just murder. We, we, we watch murder and that on top of the coronavirus, there’s a fear. And then there’s an anger that, that comes with the fear where you start to just say, my life’s got to mean something. And you’re seeing a lot of things that are just kind of reminding you that it doesn’t. 


I definitely wanted to get out there. And I, and I wanted to show, my show, my support for the cause. I definitely wanted to be safe about it as well. First one I attended was a Memorial service for George Floyd and it was at the King Center. It was the first time I’d ever heard Dr. Bernice King speak. And she was, she was very powerful and really left me that day. Kind of feeling very inspired, but with her message and her message that day was just keep going, you have a lot of momentum here today. And, and I love sports. I’m a sports guy. So it just made me think of sports, right? Like there’s a lot of times and we’re in Atlanta. So Falcons fans can appreciate it, but it’s the 28 to three.


Rembert Browne: For all those betting out there, we didn’t even make it through episode two, without a Super Bowl reference. Back to Curry. 


Curry Stone: Just to see that many people, tens of thousands of young people coming out with a message of positivity. That was super cool to see. The sixties and the civil rights movement, that’s obviously such a big thing that a lot of us learned about here. And the question, I guess I’ve always asked myself is like, if something like that were to happen again today, what would I be doing?


Where would I be? What would I have felt inclined to do? Would I’ve felt more inclined to kind of take a safe position or risk adverse position. Would I’ve felt more comfortable on the front lines? Cause I would’ve just been like F it, how would I have felt? For me, there was such a rush of emotion. Like it wasn’t even a question. There’s no place I would have, rather been that morning, my emotions got to that level. It was just like, this is where I feel like I should be. If I don’t go out here another day, I don’t think I’ll be able to sit right with myself. I was so solid in where I stood, there was no question that I wanted to be there and that I wanted my voice to be heard on this one


Hillary Holley: During the summer, when we saw the uprising after seeing black women and men being murdered by the police, a lot of people wanted to say, don’t protest, just go and vote. And Stacey helped shift the narrative and say, look, voting isn’t enough. And I acknowledge that. Voting is not going to get the overnight change that we need. One vote isn’t going to solve the climate crisis. One vote is not going to stop corrupt DA’s. But it is a step that we have to utilize. 


Rembert Browne: This is Hillary Holly, the organizing director of Fair Fight, the voting organization founded by Stacey Abrams. She says Georgians were able to see the immediate power of voting this year when the District Attorney in Ahmaud Arbery’s case was voted out. Arbery was running near his home earlier this year when three white men chased and fatally shot him. 


Hillary Holley: In Brunswick specifically, the District Attorney, Jackie Johnson, really did not care about Ahmad Arbery’s murder to be honest, it wasn’t until the video came out where she, because of the national pressure, she and the County actually decided to act. And one of the first things we did is on Mother’s Day weekend with permission from the Aubrey family, we worked with the Georgia NAACP and we sent thousands of texts out to black voters saying, please make sure you’re registered to vote because what you can do this year is vote Jackie Johnson out, the District Attorney is an elected office. What happened this November is she’s no longer the District Attorney. The people of Brunswick came in, got rid of her and now they have someone who’s now pledging to help fight racial inequality in Brunswick.


Rembert Browne: As protests from around the country made national news, places like Brunswick were an example of how the fight for social justice directly coincided with voter mobilization. 


A very good, and extremely Atlanta PSA, Get Your Booty to the Polls, featured strippers reminding voters that if policing, cash bail and other criminal justice issues would be on the ballot come November 3, you needed to turn up and turn out. It was a reminder that the local elections hold just as much weight as who we elect to the oval office. 


It’s no doubt that Georgians had these issues, as well as the pandemic, in mind when they began voting in record numbers for the general election. They voted early, they voted by mail, and they showed up in person on November 3rd to make their voice heard. Just like in Brunswick — the state, and the country was ready for a change. 


Next time, on Gaining Ground: The New Georgia. 


News Clips:

“It’s election night in America and a nation in crisis is at a crossroads.”

“We’re counting down to the first exit polls, and the first results as our coverage begins now.”

“I woke up and I just had a feeling, I just like things were gonna shift.”

“We could have historic turnout. Think about this, in 2016, about 130 million voted. At this pace, we could be looking at 150, 160 million. Numbers we haven’t seen before.”

“Its official Georgia has certified Joe Biden as the state’s 2020 winner after hand counting nearly 5 million ballots. The Trump campaign has until Tuesday to request a machine recount.”

“It sounds like we’re not living in reality when we said we had a great election that day because at the end of the day, people who that voted for President Trump were disappointed.”

“The nation is looking at Georgia now, keeping a close eye on us as both senate seats are heading to a run off in January.”


* Donate to help Manuel’s Tavern by visiting gofundme.com/save-manuels-tavern


Jewel Wicker: Gaining Ground: The New Georgia is brought to you by Tenderfoot TV and Crooked Media, in association with Cadence 13


Donald Albright and Payne Lindsey are Executive Producers on behalf of Tenderfoot TV.


Jon Favreau and Tanya Somanader are Executive Producers on behalf of Crooked Media.


Executive Produced, written and hosted by Rembert Browne.


Written and co-hosted by Jewel Wicker.


Our lead producer is Christina Dana.


Gaining Ground: The New Georgia is produced by Jaime Albright, Mike Rooney, Matthew Pusti, Julia Beverly, Tracy Leeds Kaplan, Anne Rusten, Christina Toney-Schmitt and Stephanie Booker, with additional production support from Shaniqua McClendon and Justine Howe.


Edited by Christina Dana and Mike Rooney.

Mixed and mastered by Cooper Skinner, with additional mixing by Devin Johnson.


Original music is by Makeup and Vanity Set. 


Special thanks to Chris Corcoran and the team at Cadence 13, Oren Rosenbaum and Grace Royer from UTA, Ryan Nord, Jesse Nord and Matthew Papa from The Nord Group, and the teams at Tenderfoot TV, and Crooked Media.


And an extra thanks to all our guests and contributors who helped make this show possible.


Check us out online at gaininggroundpodcast.com, and for information on how you can become politically active, check out votesaveamerica.com/volunteer. Thanks for listening.