Editor, The Messenger:
I am writing in response to the Oct. 3 Athens City Council At-Large Forum hosted by the League of Women Voters. I preface this with saying that I am a renter, a low-wage service worker and a queer woman. On a panel of six running for Council seats, I only found one candidate who I felt consistently represented the interests of people like me.
Ellie Hamrick, a socialist, renter and food service worker herself, was prepared at every question to steer the conversation to something meaningful. Hamrick stands with Athens mayoral candidate Damon Krane’s Slumlord Smackdown, and she seems to have a full understanding of rent control, something other candidates lacked. In fact, candidate Sarah Grace said that it had “negative” effects in the long term, but had no evidence or examples to back her claims. Beth Clodfelter also misunderstood the term, seemingly believing it only applies to renters in long-term situations, instead of all renters in all properties, city-wide.
Some of the questions posed at the forum were very privileged. The location of the farmer’s market has no bearing on workers who labor every weekend to afford increasing rent costs. The viability of AirBnB’s doesn’t matter to someone who doesn’t own their house. Hamrick, however, used these questions to shed light on food insecurity and gentrification. Consistent through the whole night, Hamrick used the questions as jumping off points to really show what she believes in, something I cannot say about her counterparts, who shied away from truly taking a stand on the most important issues.
When asked about safety, Hamrick turned to poverty as the source of the issue, stating that if people had the resources they needed, less crime would be committed. Beth Clodfelter seemed to suggest that street lights would prevent rape, and that active shooter situations could be avoided by checking on your neighbors. It was off-putting to hear someone place individual accountability on issues that are so systematic. Hamrick, on the other hand, pointed to this broken system, and to toxic masculinity.
On small businesses, Hamrick said she’s “more interested in supporting the worker.” Perhaps this came as a shock for well-to-do liberals in this town, but for the low-wage workers, the backbone of this town, it is refreshing to see someone who understands that bosses are bosses, corporate or local. It is fundamental that we vote for a candidate who understands the daily struggles of the 80 percent of this town, the renters. I am tired of a Council of primarily Democrats which focuses on people-pleasing instead of making a real difference in the life of the majority of the city. We live in the poorest, most unequal county in this state, yet our Council is made up of landlords and business owners who do not represent our interests.
I believe a vote for Ellie Hamrick means a vote for someone who fights for any of us living paycheck-to-paycheck, struggling to make ends meet and wondering where their next rent check will come from. Ellie is a candidate who knows the limits of city government, and is willing to fight inside it and beyond it to achieve a better world for the rest of us.