Just a few miles from an Atlanta barbershop where activist and rapper Killer Mike and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders met to discuss the economy, an economic justice movement was once beaten back. You can bet downtown Atlanta, formerly home to the state's burgeoning branch of the Occupy Wall Street movement, will be listening to this economic chat between Killer Mike and Bernie Sanders, set to be released this Tuesday in a six-part video series.
For their video series, the rapper and politician met at Killer Mike's Atlanta-based barbershop, Graffitis SWAG Shop. The space, used as both a barbershop and community meeting place, is thriving. Much of downtown Atlanta, however, is not.
I attended college at Georgia State University in the heart of the city, not far away yet still distinctly separated from some of Atlanta's more wealthy, booming areas. The downtown section has a very different feel. Businesses struggle to stay open. Many storefronts roll their shudders closed, leaving the downtown area in a near-permanent atmosphere of abandonment.
One of downtown's major parks, Woodruff Park, is frequently a site of conflict in this economic disparity. In 2011, Occupy Wall Street set up their Atlanta branch at the park. It was filled with a makeshift tent city, occupied by activists and the city's large homeless population. But after a SWAT team raid during which 53 protesters were arrested, the park was closed off by fences with barbed wire. More recently, flowers have been lined on the park's barrier to discourage the homeless from using it as a sleeping space.
And now, four years later and just a few miles down the road, you can see a rapper and and a politician address the very issues that brought Atlanta protesters out in the first place. This wealth disparity, shown so clearly in downtown Atlanta's economy, is the exact thing Sen. Sanders and Killer Mike hope to address in their barbershop video series.
Downtown Atlanta reflects the same economic strife present throughout the rest of America, but at a much higher degree. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the poverty rate in Atlanta, 25 percent, is roughly 10 points higher than the U.S. average. Atlanta has a higher poverty rate than the rest of the state, too — Georgia sits at an 18 percent rate. So the city's older, low-income residents, for instance, would benefit from Sanders' position on boosting social security and Medicaid benefits. In a preview of their conversation, the senator talks to Killer Mike about creating sustainability for the community through these programs:
Another topic that will be covered in Killer Mike and Sen. Sanders' videos, marijuana legalization, will be particularly important to downtown Atlanta's residents. According to a 2013 study released by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), two of Atlanta's most populous counties, Fulton and DeKalb, have some of the largest amount of "racially-biased" marijuana arrests in the nation. According to the ACLU, black citizens accounted for nearly 90 percent of all marijuana arrests made in Fulton County between 2001 and 2010, a disproportionate rate that is nearly double the county's black population. Sen. Sanders and Killer Mike address this in one video:
These conversations are important ones to have — not just for those living in Atlanta, but for America as a whole. Sanders and Mike break down these loaded topics in an accessible way, showing that sometimes, all you need to fix the economy is a chat with your local barber.