The Atlanta Objective: Boom Goes The Cannon

Georgia Capitol police arrested State Rep. Park Cannon last night. When they start complaining later, remember who fired the first shot.

Liliana Bakhtiari pulled me aside as I arrived at Fulton County Jail last night. An hour earlier, State Rep. Park Cannon’s arrest hit Facebook, and I came running from Pine Lake. Bakhtiari was sitting on the sidewalk with Cannon’s wife.

“She doesn’t like you,” Bakhtiari said, casually drawing me away. Something about “ops” I’ve run in the past, she said.

I have no idea what that might mean — it could absolutely mean something — but right then was probably not the right time to sort it out. We were all there to bear witness, and maytbe to pony up bail money.

Bakhtiari, who is running to replace Natalyn Archibong on the city council, has a sixth sense for conflict. One night ten years ago, the Occupy Atlanta movement was nearing its ignominious end. We all stormed out of a meeting at the Peachtree and Pine homeless shelter wondering whether we would catch tuberculosis and pissed off at one another. Jonathan Tooker — a deeply troubled man now famous for calling people ni**ger while maskless at Publix — had hinted at breaking an activist we called Copper out of jail after some arrests earlier in the week. The idea was absurd. Most of us weren’t having it.

I was standing on the corner at the door when a big, drunk anarchist came outside, walked up to me and told me he didn’t like me much. I told him the same. He made some vaguely threatening remark and I invited him to walk around the corner with me to … talk. I wasn’t going to talk.

Bakhtiari stood in between the two of us and talked us out of going to jail that night.

(Five years later I helped close down that shelter, which might be the “ops” in question.)

Among activists here, there are some common virtues. Knowing you can take a punch is one of them. Knowing who is going to show up at jail with bail money is another.

Cannon was a street activist before winning a house seat. I first met her at a house party at State Rep. Dar’shun Kendrick’s place a few years ago. Cannon brought her mom. The last time I saw Cannon, it was at the funeral for Haroun Shahid Wakil last month, a few days after she was manhandled by a state trooper at a sit-in protest at the capitol. Cannon was still pissed about it. She gave me the trooper’s name to file away for later.

I was at the jail to see who had Cannon’s back, because if police were ready to arrest a state rep inside the capitol again, for the bullshit we saw on the video recording, I sense another summer of street protests before us. The jail scene tells a story about who would be willing to drop whatever they were doing to go help, on the spot.

I shot Ed Hula an email as soon as I saw the video and called him while I was in the car. Hula runs communications for Congresswoman Nikema Williams, who was also arrested by capitol police a couple years ago. I had seen her at the capitol myself a couple of hours before: I had spare tickets to a fundraiser for the Gateway Center and wanted to offer them to her. She couldn’t take them; no babysitter.

I remember the social media chatter as the pictures of Williams in handcuffs started to make the rounds, a mad scramble to make sure someone could get her then-two-year-old son Carter out of the day care up the street.

Hula’s an unparalleled Georgia political nerd, like me. He said he told Williams as soon as he saw my email. He didn’t know if a statement would come that day, because everything remains in varying states of on fire after Kemp signed the legislation. But Hula understood the implications.

People accused Williams of planning her 2018 arrest as a stunt. I promise you, activists who are planning to get arrested arrange for day care. In Cannon’s case, they’re not wearing three-inch heels and a nice jacket while expecting to land in Rice Street.

Lawmakers do get arrested at the capitol from time to time, on purpose. State Sen. Vincent Fort should have sold tickets to the show. Hell, Sen. Raphael Warnock got arrested at the capitol four years ago, which might be part of the reason he got on the first plane from Washington D.C. to Atlanta to come get his state rep.

About a dozen elected officials and candidates spent some time waiting for Cannon to come out, including some folks I wouldn’t have expected. (I’m almost certainly leaving some people out here. My apologies to you if I do. It was raining.)

  • Katie Kissel, head of the Kirkwood Neighbors Association, is also running to succeed Natalyn Archibong. Both are good friends, which is why I’m keeping the race at arm’s length. I think both women may be underestimating each other.

  • Devin Barrington Ward, also running for the city council, is a seasoned protest leader, and played hype man for the crowd that night.

  • State Senator Sheikh Rahman from Lilburn worked the phones from the parking lot.

  • State Representatives Erica Thomas, Sandra Scott and Kim Schofield, had enough local juice to get inside the building and out of the rain. Thomas is in the video demanding an explanation from the police as they carted Cannon away.

  • Daniel Blackman (!), former candidate for the public service commission and a crowd favorite.

  • Alfred “Shivy” Brooks, who is running against Michael Julian Bond for a city council seat.

Kimberly Jones, an Atlanta author whose video during the first days of the Atlanta protests went viral and landed her on the Daily Show, gave an impassioned speech on the jail doorstep, exhorting people there to run for office and to engage with legislators.

“You don’t work for them, they work for you,” she said. “You have to have actionable items. You have to have plans. You have to find quicker ways to disseminate information, not just when it’s quiet but when it’s loud. This is your time to make a difference, but it requires work.”

For the moment, I have one question on my mind. Are we about to see a boycott movement emerge over the new voting laws?

A couple of weeks ago, Eric Robertson, an old school labor organizer and Occupy Atlanta alumnus, staged a protest of Coca Cola at the World of Coke. A few days later, Coke offered a relatively tepid rebuke of the voting reform bills.

The “bathroom bills” in North Carolina cost that state about $400 million before they were repealed. I have no doubt that the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and other business groups did what they could to keep this bill from advancing. But I sense that legislators are more afraid of Trump voters than they are of corporate lobbyists.

Park Cannon, I note in passing, was at a mass protest of Delta at the airport when she heard about the bill signing.

Protest material has been circulating for weeks now, showing just how much money AT&T and Delta and Home Depot and the other titans of Georgia industry give to Republican lawmakers here. It’s a hit list for protesters.

Republican legislators plainly didn’t want to have to explain to MAGA voters how they caved into business elites on election “reform”; that would sign their political death warrant. But cracking down on protests against corporate Georgia to keep their lobbyists from defecting? That’s a feature, not a bug.

Republicans will paint calls for a boycott as socialist agitation by antifa, and blame any economic damage the state sustains on the protests and not their own legislation, justifying the jailing of protesters as a defense of the state’s fragile economy as it emerges from the pandemic.

Opponents of the legislation face a strategic question. But Warnock posed the moral question when I asked him about boycotts last night.

“I can tell you as someone who is the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church where Dr. King served, that come Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, the corporate entities will all be falling over themselves to honor Dr. King,” he said. “If you want to honor Dr. King, stand up to voter suppression right now.”