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Making America Grate Again (lessons to be learned)

Submitted by on June 7, 2017 – 12:48 pmNo Comment

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I’m lucky to have travelled with work and seen places that I otherwise wouldn’t, including Atlanta in the southern United States, where I’ve been many times. It’s a place I have developed and retained affection for. ATL has long been considered the capital of the South. It is home to the world’s busiest airport, the 1996 Olympic Games and 2017 NFL Superbowl runners up, the Falcons. It is also the birthplace of Martin Luther King Junior and, by extension, the Civil Rights Movement.

My journey from Atlanta airport to my base in the commercial north of the city involved an expensive crawl through the city’s jammed highways or a 40 minute ride on MARTA, Atlanta’s Metrolink. MARTA is short for Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transport Authority. Or “Moving Africans Rapidly Through Atlanta”, but only according to a couple of rich, white men I’ve met.

MARTA starts at the airport in Atlanta’s southern side – Downtown Atlanta, as they call it there. The contrast in where it starts – poor, rundown neighbourhoods, similar to those depicted in the film Boyz n the hood – and the glossy, high-rise commercial north of the city where it stops are every bit as stark as any haves-versus-have-nots cliché you can imagine.

When the train leaves it is mainly full of working class black people travelling home from their jobs at the airport and a few visitors, like me. Colleagues always told us not to travel on MARTA but those who paid our expenses never agreed to pay for the taxis. We were often told by locals that travelling on MARTA was dangerous, especially for strangers like us. I never saw any trouble apart from a drunk bloke eating chicken and then throwing bones at a fellow traveller.

As MARTA goes north, particularly after it hits the geographical centre (weirdly, there isn’t really a city centre, it’s just a series of towns clumped together, like Stoke on Trent), many black passengers will have got off and more and more white people get on, journeying to affluent districts to the north like Buckhead and Sandy Springs.

By the time I get off in Dunwoody, no one has been mugged or shot but yet again I’ve been fascinated by a depressing, fast-moving painting of American inequality through the windows of my train. I then spend a week or so there, working for very wealthy white men in a predominantly male, almost exclusively white environment. All the white people work up north in nice offices. All the black people work serving folks downtown. Or so it seems.

But in almost ten years of visiting Atlanta I didn’t experience racism. I often found myself in the company of people late at night after a few drinks, where you would normally expect people’s prejudices to find an outlet. In those early days of visiting, as one of the “Libtards”, I would have put good money on one of my Southern companions coming out with all sorts of racist bile after a few too many weak beers. But I never once heard racism, despite what I saw travelling there.

If you’re not familiar with the term, Libtard is ‘someone with left-wing political views’. It is a term thrown around by right-leaning folk to belittle us lefties, like ‘snowflake’. I was often called Libtard whilst I was in Atlanta, but for believing, for example, that Malcolm Glazer was a twat for carpet-bagging his way into Manchester United or that the poorest in American society deserved the protection of a national health service. But never during a conversation about race. Because I never had any.

My last visit to Atlanta was in early 2016, months before Trump’s dumfounding election victory. I travelled north, as I’d always done, on MARTA. And I survived. I spent a week working and socialising with the same people, leading to the usual late night drinking. We ate chicken wings and other shite food. We pretended we knew what was going in in their late season football games. But something there had changed, with Trump having firmly planted his hateful seed in many minds.

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The polls weren’t opening for ten months but the election coverage, even then, was overwhelming. It was all we heard on TV at the hotel in the mornings. It was discussed constantly by everyone at work. At night, as beer flowed so too did the unstoppable river of propaganda from every telly in every bar. Inevitably given the inescapable coverage, conversations turned from work-related dick-waggling (Zzzz…) to politics and the restoration of American greatness.

It was now, with alarming ease, that people who’d never before mentioned race to us felt comfortable in the company of relative outsiders to spout their new-found, or more likely long-held but until now supressed views about the perceived danger they faced from Islam and the burden of paying the medical bills of lazy, unemployed African Americans and Latinos. Far from being the joke figure he was to us, Trump was being openly celebrated by many I met in Atlanta as a leader who would deal with these “problems”. These sorts of conversations were not difficult to get into on that visit. Foreign policy never came up though.

I’m not holding up my Atlanta visits as a scientific study into American race relations – visitors to New York no doubt had different experiences – but I had seen and heard enough in twelve months between two trips down South to know first-hand that Trump had very quickly and adeptly legitimised overt racism where I had previously experienced none. And he did so for votes.
The shift in tone was alarming. The night before leaving and in the early hours one of our American colleagues came back from the toilet and loudly asked another where two black women who had been at the hotel bar with us had gone. I’m not going to use the term he used but we finished our drinks and left, probably for the last time. I no longer work there and it saddens me that that was my abiding memory of Atlanta.

I may end up regretting this come Friday morning but Theresa May has spectacularly failed to run a similar campaign of hatred and division during this election. ‘Strong and Stable’ is her ‘Make America Great Again’, the flaccid product of a marketing team, shamelessly slotted in to every Tory candidate speech or interview despite how starkly the facts betray them.

She wants Leave voters to believe she will be tough in Brexit negotiations, even though she clearly doesn’t believe in leaving the EU and has been shunned by those she supposed to be negotiating with. That’s her very own wall along the Mexican border, with which she’s appealing to those who want to keep out the outsiders who threaten our way of life. By the way, Trump also doesn’t believe in building a wall, like May doesn’t believe in leaving, and he won’t do. He just said that, saw the reaction and stuck with it because people loved it. It is this kind of political dynamism that has completely escaped May at every turn. She’s as much an awful leader as she is an awful human being.

In Corbyn, May has the mad socialist, like Trump had Bernie Sanders, the communist who wants to take all your hard earned money and hand it out to scroungers. Our precious NHS is being painted as the millstone around the neck of every taxpayer, like Obamacare hurts hard-working Americans. But people aren’t buying. Especially when they see billions in arms sales or corporation tax cuts lining the pockets of the already rich while people are dying in corridors or taking their own lives having desperately waiting months to see a mental health professional.

Theresa-May

Trump is better at what he does than May. We can be make better decisions at the polls than America so please help beat these bastards on Thursday. It is fantastic that social media, particularly Twitter, is absolutely packed with stuff that rubbishes this pathetic Tory campaign of division and lies. But that’s because you follow good people. Don’t forget that there are still loads out there duped by Tory lies and a huge number of floating voters, betrayed by New Labour and Clegg’s Lib Dems, who might do nothing on Thursday. We have to get them out.

Corbyn and the Labour party are not perfect but we have an opportunity that we cannot miss. If we do then we have five more years of the same punishing cuts and immeasurable misery. This is borrowed from someone on Twitter who I’m sure won’t object – “this is a crossroads kids. Friday you’re sitting on a rainbow getting hand jobs off golden unicorns or you’re sitting in Hell. Vote Labour”.

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