In 1997, at the age of 17, I fled rural Kentucky like my life depended on it. When I arrived in Atlanta to attend Morehouse College, I never looked back. Atlanta embraced me. In two years I was the youngest Student Government President elected at Morehouse since Dr. King was a student. I got married in Atlanta. I bought my first home in Atlanta. Our kids were born there. And for fifteen years my family called it home. It’s the only place in the world that I don’t have to use Google Maps to get around.
Even though I now live in Brooklyn, and love it, Atlanta made me. I still read the local news there every single day and am obsessed Atlanta politics as much as I was when I lived a few blocks from Georgia Tech. It was for all of these reasons that I decided to nearly a year ago to back a man named Vincent Fort in his bid to become the 60th Mayor of Atlanta. I’ve known Vincent since I was a teenager. He was regularly a guest instructor and speaker at Morehouse and has always been equal parts activist and legislator.
When I saw that he was running for mayor, I envisioned he could mount a Bernie-esque campaign and had an outsiders chance at victory. Bernie Sanders himself backed Fort early. I endorsed him myself. Bernie’s political organization, Our Revolution, got behind him – as did familiar faces like Nina Turner and the rapper Killer Mike. But Fort’s campaign never really took off. When the election came around on November 7th, in spite of the serious support from Bernie and his apparatus, Fort came in a disappointing 5th place.
Now let me pause right here. Before you get bored and click away – what I am about to say is deeply emblematic of a larger problem.
Keisha Lance Bottoms was the establishment Democrat in the race. She was supported by the Democratic Party. She was endorsed and supported strongly by the previous Mayor, Kasim Reed. She was absolutely supported by much of the black establishment in Atlanta.
Keisha Lance Bottoms, on policy matters, is not Democratic Socialist. She’s not a Berniecrat. She’s not an activist. To my knowledge she’s never been arrested in a protest. She’s not a radical. She’s a mainstream Democrat. And for many progressives, that makes her and anybody like her persona non grata. Now, in a political race where candidates whose policies and positions and history are more progressive than hers, by all means, support the most progressive candidate. Before the runoff, for me, that was Vincent Fort. He lost. It wasn’t even close. And between Keisha Lance Bottoms and Mary Norwood, the most progressive candidate between them was clearly Keisha.
Anybody who knows Atlanta politics knows that Mary Norwood is about as conservative as an Atlanta politician can get. She has sometimes voted for Republicans but has also voted for Democrats. She calls herself an independent but has moderate to conservative leanings. For instance, she proudly received the endorsements of the state and local police unions and bragged about this on the campaign trail. She seemed to outright refuse to denounce Donald Trump on multiple occasions and struggled mightily to explain why multiple times. Her campaign treasurer, Republican Jamie Ensley, was an open Donald Trump supporter. In a conversation in which she asked attendees to not record her, she was heard calling African Americans felons and thugs. And like Trump, her voting base is nearly 80% white. She exists as a credible candidate in Atlanta because white voters back her so strongly.
Every single day, though, I saw self-proclaimed progressives attacking Keisha Lance Bottoms. They wouldn’t always endorse Mary Norwood, but they would actively and consistently tear down Bottoms.
Now I endorsed Keisha because I felt very strongly that she best represented, between the two available options, the positions, and policies and people I care about most. And every single time I mentioned her on Facebook or Twitter, “progressives” called me a sellout, said I was supporting the Democratic establishment, and asked if I was being “paid by the DNC.”
This is foolish. They speak as if the more progressive option was to support Mary Norwood. It wasn’t – at all.
But this is where progressives find themselves. When our preferred candidate of choice doesn’t win, either because they ran a bad campaign, struggled in the two party system, or lacked the support they needed in other ways, progressives too often then proceed to tear down the establishment candidate. I’m not speaking in code here about Hillary Clinton – either. I’ve seen this in races now all over the country.
Progressives are terrible losers. Don’t get me wrong, I hate losing. I despise it. But when my preferred candidate loses, I simply don’t feel like I have the right to set the whole election ablaze. And that’s the rub for me. It’s far too easy for people who won’t be directly harmed by conservative policies and leadership to trash a Democratic candidate that they didn’t prefer, at the risk of assisting their opponent. This isn’t me echoing the “if you aren’t for me, you are against me” style of politics. In primaries, you should go hard for the candidate you love and support, but when you lose, a transition should take place.
Keisha Lance Bottoms is not perfect. Hell, if you thought Vincent Fort was perfect you probably aren’t from Atlanta. But I have to be honest with you – hating good candidates because they aren’t perfect is getting old. Critique their policies. Investigate their decision making and financing. Do those things – but when a race comes down to a left-leaning Democrat and a right-leaning conservative, stop pretending like they are one in the same. Stop acting like the Democrat has cooties. Stop acting like you are so holy that you can’t lower yourself to vote or support a person endorsed by the establishment. This type of thinking loses important elections and puts real people in harm’s way.
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