Protest like the Greeks: Visiting Athens

In Sina's Posts, Tamás' Posts, Trips on March 25, 2012 by SN

In early March, Tamás and I visited the city of Athens. Athens is a city of about 116,000 people and it is famous for its music culture. R.E.M. is from Athens. The University of Georgia (UGA), one of the oldest and largest universities of our state, is also located in the city 1.5 hours east of Atlanta.

Visiting Athens revealed the fissures and distortions of the American South to us. On the one hand, Athens is a gem in the midst of the Georgia forests. It has a beautiful small-town feel to it. It is walkable, environmentally aware, bohemian, vegan, educated, and politically active. The campus of UGA is historic and beautiful and the 35,000 students university houses every field imaginable under the sky.

However, the city as well as parts of the university are a stronghold of Republican thought. The university’s main source of income is its football team, the Georgia Bulldogs. The university employees are chronically low and underpaid (especially the staff) and were forced to work one entire week last year without pay in order to secure the university’s financial status.

Athens also faces intolerance and discrimination towards liberals. We heard stories about the prohibition of a Stop Walmart sign in the front-yard of a house owner, of a scratched car, because it had Obama stickers of the 2008 Presidential election, and of nasty letters to a German American lady to “go home” after attending an anti-Iraq War demonstration in 2003.

Currently, activists are fighting against the construction of a Walmart which would significantly change the dynamics of downtown. Small independent business owners fear the destruction of the downtown community. Downtown had been revitalized by alternative shop, bars and clubs after “regular” business had left for new malls during the 1980s. But downtown Athens is a “food desert”, which means you can not get groceries without driving to a mall. Poorer downtown citizens, who are primarily African American, favor the new Walmart because they would be able to buy affordable products close to their homes. When we visited Athens, we visited such a rally against Walmart:

Walmart Protest at Athens City Hall: Can you find us?

The issue of Walmart is not bound to Athens by the way. Walmart recently changed its policy and increasingly targets urban areas, and increasingly faces protests. It is a divisive issue in America. Read the cover article “Walmart Cometh” on Walmart’s expansion in metro Atlanta in the latest issue of Creative Loafing.


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