When I was 17 my parents navigated the old Volvo station wagon through the gates of a college on your outskirts. The back was filled with everything a freshman dorm room needed. I got out of the car, and I fell in love with you.
I have lived in eight states in my four decades. The career of a father who served in the federal government plus my own vocation have necessitated movement. But it’s yours that I’ve lived in longer than any other. For eleven years, through college and seminary and the first years of my young professional life, you were home.
Eleven years later, even with most of my accent faded, my use of “y’all” is still a dead giveaway. When people ask me where I’m from I tell them “Virginia originally, but Georgia more than anywhere”.
My Yankee friends sometimes don’t understand my love for you. But they don’t know what I know. They don’t know about the land of Carter and King. They don’t know about Congressman John Lewis standing on the corner of Piedmont and 10th, cheering on the Pride parade. They don’t even know about the good southern Presbyterians who shows me grace and taught me about gratitude in their churches.
These days I live away, in the northern states that we always looked at suspiciously. I love it here too, but even now, when I come back to town and angle my car north from the airport, as soon as I see the exit for Freedom Parkway, I feel like I’ve come back home.
Atlanta, I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately. This election has been like a national rock bottom. It’s like someone kicked over a rock and we saw all those things we had willed ourselves into believing no longer existed had just been secretly thriving in the hidden places.
They’re out now. The worst of our past, poised to make a comeback wrapped in the language of “greatness”. But, Atlanta, more than any place I’ve ever lived, you acknowledged the fact that your past hadn’t been so great for everyone. And so when you talked about a “New South” I believed you, and this Southerner hoped with you.
For a while this year it looked like your state might do the unthinkable: turn blue after decades of red. Part of me still thinks, if everyone turned out and voted, that could still happen. But I know it’s a long shot. And I know that in our electoral college system that means that all of you New Southerners, who will stand in long lines and cast your votes, will still just be seen as a red mark on the CNN screen on election night.
Know that I see you anyway. I see my friends, met and unmet, and I know that so many of you are afraid. Not afraid like we were in 2000 or 2004 and a Bush presidency made us joke about moving to Canada. Afraid in the sense that your marriages, your safety, your education, your rights, and, yes, even your lives feel at stake.
This is real fear, and fear shouldn’t be what drives us to the ballot box. It should be hope. And hope is not dead. But some of you have not been given the luxury of voting just for hope in this election. You know that this one could really hurt. I talk to my friends back home, and they’ve never sounded so scared as they do now.
I live in a purple state now. We could conceivably swing red or blue this year. Yesterday 538 said that we could be the state that decides the electoral college. And so, Atlanta, come Tuesday morning at 7am, I will be in line at my polling place. And I will cast my vote and dedicate it to you.
For the gay couples I know who worry their marriages will be invalidated. For young women at my alma maters who need safe reproductive health options. For immigrants and refugees on Buford Highway. For kids in Atlanta who need good schools. For trans youth who want to use the restroom in peace. For friends who will need good healthcare. For everyone who wonders whether their life will matter when America become “great” again.
My vote is for you. And I pray that in swing states across this country others who love people and places who made them who they are will tell their own story, mark their ballots, and send a prayer of hope off for back home.
A friend of mine sent me a “get out the vote” sticker from Georgia. It says “Voted Y’all”. Tuesday morning, once my ballot is in the machine, I’ll put it on. And all day I’ll look down, and I’ll think of all y’all.
With all my love,
A grateful ex-Atlantan
Note: As always, this blog represents my opinion as a private citizen, and not that of my church or denomination, both of which remain non-partisan.