Clayton County, Georgia and the Fight for the Public Sector
Clayton County, a working-class, mainly immigrant and African-American suburb just south of Atlanta, is the latest victim of neoliberalism. Last year, the Clayton County Board of Commissioners voted 4-1 to shut down C-TRAN, the county's bus service, which had been around for almost a decade. In response, Atlanta Jobs with Justice started mobilizing riders last October, but there was not enough time to develop a large and strong enough movement to push back the cuts.
Besides the lack of time, most people simply were not able to believe that the county would actually cut their buses, their only means of transportation to work, school, and grocery stores. Many who were able to do so sought individual responses to the cuts, like getting a car or simply moving somewhere else. With more time to organize riders, these initial responses could have been minimized.
Activists are still in the midst of unraveling the damages that this has done to the Clayton community. We have some reports, but much more is yet to be discovered:
A week after the buses stopped running, people still showed up to some bus stops, which might have been a combination of language barriers and not understanding that the County could and did take away their buses.
Clayton county has very few sidewalks. There are many people with children who have to walk for extended amounts of time. There are people with disabilities who will not be able to leave their homes anymore. Others report that crime has gone up tremendously. With this rise in crime, so have the miles that people now have to walk especially in the dark where they are more likely to get robbed.
Those that could leave have left or are in the process. Many have had to break their leases to move somewhere else quickly in order to go to work or school. There are students, the first in their families have had the chance to go to college, who have had to drop out or find another way to get there. Before the buses were cut, temporary job agencies were only accepting and placing job applicants who had cars.
The initial damages portends a greater catastrophe. There is a budget crisis in Georgia; tuition increases, massive lay-offs, and furloughs are in our immediate future. The defeat in Clayton County was a wake-up call to organize before the these austerity measures are taken by the state governments. We have no short-term solutions, but we are gearing up for a long fight. The newly created Atlanta Pubic Sector Alliance (APSA) is committed to training and empowering people in the public sector who either have already felt the burn of Georgia's budget crisis or will shortly be affected. This is a group made up of teachers, union members, transit riders, students, and community organizers. The success of this group will depend on time and the ability to do on-the ground organizing. There is a lot of work to be done and we definitely have to do it because there is no alternative.
Stay tuned for more blogs on APSA...