El Centro: Hispanic community ‘invisible’ in downtown Athens

The chant echoed through North campus. “Undocumented, Unafraid!”

Dozens of undocumented students gathered at the Arch on a hot August day. They were there to protest the Georgia Board of Regents ban on undocumented students from some of Georgia’s flagship universities.

The rally was a downtown sighting some call an act of courage.

The Hispanic community is mostly invisible downtown, Center for Latino Achievement and Success Director Pedro Portes said, for two reasons. Hispanics, he said, use their time to work or they are afraid.

And this is why he said standing up in front of the UGA Arch and Broad Street was a brave move on the part of young Hispanics.

“It is not only an act of courage,” he said. “But it is also an act of intelligence to say to those who are less knowledgeable, ‘Here you are wasting human potential. I have been raised in this country.’”

Instead of shopping in the downtown boutiques or eating in the downtown restaurants, Humberto Mendoza, a Hispanic Athens resident since 1999, said Hispanics are “hidden.”

“Usually, people work,” he said in an interview in Spanish. “You go to a restaurant and see the white waiter and the white owners, but the dish washers are Latinos. Some of them perhaps immigrants.”

He said people worked in the back of hotels and restaurants, so they would not be seen.

Mendoza listed friends who worked those hidden jobs. He himself works as a mechanic.

It seems the focus on finding a job or keeping a job is what concerns the 10 percent of Athens Hispanic residents in downtown.

And if they are not working behind the scenes, they are three miles up the road at the Home Depot on Atlanta Highway waiting for one.

Portes said this was a gathering spot for those Hispanics looking for a job.

“Go there any morning, and you’ll find a bunch of them waiting for construction companies and others to hire them for day rates,” he said.

Still, another reason the community doesn’t gather in the downtown area is fear.

“The other thing is that I think there is fear [from] the most humble and less bilingual or Spanish speaking undocumented to show up downtown,” he said.

He said these undocumented immigrants in Athens are afraid given the situations in states like Arizona.

Arizona has what some call the strictest law on immigration, which requires immigrants to carry their documents on-hand. Not doing so would result in deportation.

In Georgia, Gwinnett country’s 287(g) program also deports immigrants after simple crimes like driving without a license.

Since 2008, a similar statewide law passed allowing for fingerprinting violators, fines of up to $1,000 and jail time for the first offense.

“I’ll tell you, ‘safe community’ programs like 287(g) increase racial profiling,” Mendoza said. “If you are short and a little bit brown, they are going to pull you over.”

And being pulled over means more to this community than it does to every day drivers.

“Driving without a license is a big crime,” Mendoza said. “The risk is bigger. It is not seeing your family again or even being jailed for years.”

Still, it’s not all work and fear for Hispanics.

Unlike most of the college-student community in Athens, Hispanics found their entertainment outside the downtown walls.

“People used to go to what is now the extinct ‘Suburban.’ It was a club on Danielsville Road,” he said. “People used to go there on the weekends. If you were there around midnight or 1 a.m. you would find a stand of tacos right outside.”

He listed several other places like the local clubs ‘El Carretonero’ right off GA Loop 10 and ‘El Paisano’ off North Avenue.

But being part of downtown may be the real sign that the Hispanic community is progressing.

Portes said once Hispanics begin attending the University of Georgia, they would be more visible in downtown.

Hispanics would begin having interests that are displayed downtown and they would begin shopping and eating there.

But in order to reach this goal Hispanic students must find their way into the University.

“Often times Latinos will go to community colleges and stop out or drop out,” he said. “The aspirations are usually blocked for economic reasons and also because the demands of succeeding in college and actually obtaining a degree require a lot of family support, not only in terms of parents being middle class but also supporting students with tutors and giving them environments where they feel safe and where they belong.”

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Super Tuesday in Athens suffers from disinterest, experts say

Gail Schrader and the staff at the Athens-Clarke County Board of Elections office enjoyed an easier Super Tuesday on March 6 compared to previous elections. While many Georgia citizens took to the polls that day to select a presidential candidate to represent the GOP, only a small portion of Athens-Clarke County citizens took the time to vote.

In fact, only 12 percent of registered voters in Athens-Clarke County made the trip to a voting precinct for the Georgia primary, a drastically low turnout compared to recent elections in Athens-Clarke County.

The low turnout did not surprise Schrader, who serves as supervisor of elections and voter registration, because she expected to see fewer than the 6,985 voters that participated in this year’s primary.

“I expected somewhere around ten percent based on the lack of turnout during our early voting period,” Schrader said.

The turnout was significantly lower than the nearly 50 percent of registered Athens-Clarke County voters that took part in the 2008 presidential primary when Barack Obama defeated Hillary Clinton. The recent Republican primary turnout was also lower than the 2004 presidential primary, which featured a 27 percent turnout.

Reasons for low voter turnout range from demographic to economic to technological explanations. The cause of a low turnout on March 6 in Athens-Clarke County, according to Schrader, is much simpler.

“There just didn’t seem to be a lot of interest in this election,” said Schrader. “A lot of [Athens-Clarke County] voters vote Democratic, and that side was unopposed.”

Dr. Robert Grafstein, professor of political science at the University of Georgia, believes the disinterest may be indicative of a general disapproval of the candidates in this year’s field.

“Republican voters have consistently indicated that they are not thrilled by the choices they’ve been presented this cycle,” said Grafstein, who also serves as associate dean of the School of Public and International Affairs at UGA.

While Schrader was not alarmed by the low turnout in Athens-Clarke County, Grafstein believes some should be worried about the lack of concern for voting in the primary election this year.

“The low turnout for a primary should be of greater concern to leaders of the Republican Party,” said Grafstein.

Political scientists have often debated what low voter turnout means for the election process and the idea of democracy. Some experts and critics believe a low voter turnout means the election does not represent the will of the people, or constituents.

Grafstein believes that logic should not apply in every election, especially the presidential primaries, but experts must look at factors that may have determined a decreased turnout.

“Primaries traditionally have lower turnout than general presidential elections. Low turnout in those general elections would mean that a relatively small minority is electing our leaders,” said Grafstein. “In any specific election, however, one has to distinguish various reasons for low turnout.”

According to Grafstein, possible factors for a low turnout include lack of interest in politics, disaffection with the parties and their offerings, satisfaction with the status quo, the cost of participation, and the accumulating toll of numerous elections and run-offs.

Legislators in Georgia have created measures intended to increase voter registration, election security, and turnout for elections. For instance, an absentee voter does not have to provide a reason for submitting a mail-in ballot, and forms can be downloaded online to help citizens register to vote.

However, recently Gov. Nathan Deal signed in a law that decreased the early voting window from 45 days to 21 days prior to the election with at least one Saturday prior to the election provided for early voting.

Despite the shortened window for early voting, Schrader believes these laws will help bring more voters to the polls.

“The law has made it easier for citizens to vote by mail,” said Schrader. “Also, early voting helps people have a larger window of time to cast a vote in person.”

The new laws follow a controversial piece of legislation passed by Georgia legislators in 2006 that requires voters provide photo identification before they are allowed to vote. The photo ID law may serve a hindrance to the general election in November, according to Grafstein.

“Obviously Georgia’s voter ID law is likely to lower turnout in the general election,” said Grafstein.

No matter the reasons for low turnout in the past, Schrader insists that local and state officials have set up ways to increase the turnout in upcoming elections and keep the process easy for voters.

“The Georgia voter registration laws have really made it easy to register, with most people registering now when applying for or renewing their driver’s license,” said Schrader. “Also, the [political] parties are usually available to give citizens rides to the polls on Election Day.”

Though there are steps to increase voter participation, if this year’s presidential primary turnout in Athens-Clarke County is any indication, the only ones experiencing a free ride are the ones in charge of counting the votes.


Kony 2012 in Athens

    A 29 minute video called Kony 2012 went viral the first week in March. Social media and news organizations in Athens and around the world buzzed about the video created by Ben Keesey, the executive chief officer of Invisible Children.
    The video called for volunteers to make the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), Joseph Kony, as famous as celebrities such as George Clooney in an attempt to have the war criminal captured, according to the Invisible Children website.
    Anna Jolley, co-president of the University of Georgia chapter of Invisible Children, was not as pleased with Kony 2012 because she reluctantly admitted she did not personally agree with the cause. “The goal of the video was to inform people. It was a great viral campaign, but I don’t think it did a good job at explaining the situation.”
    The video directed volunteers to the Invisible Children website to purchase posters, yard signs, and stickers that advertise the Kony 2012 brand. The goal of the campaign, according to Keesey and the organization website, is to display memorabilia in communities in a nationwide event on April 20th called Cover the Night. The event is meant to bring attention to the cause in order to draw the attention of political leaders who could make a difference in the world.
    “Invisible Children uses film, creativity and social action to end the use of child soldiers in Joseph Kony’s rebel war and restore LRA-affected communities in central Africa to peace and prosperity,” says the organization website.
    Volunteers in Athens were interested in the campaign after the video went viral, according to Jolley.
    “I was getting about 20-25 emails and Facebook messages a day about Kony 2012,” said Jolley. “There was a large interest of people. It was a little overwhelming.”
    Multiple Facebook groups dedicated to Cover the Night in Athens have surfaced as a result of the video although these groups are not associated with the University Invisible Children organization, according to Jolley. These groups are created by volunteers who want to raise awareness by covering downtown Athens with posters of Kony, according to the event descriptions on the social media site.     
    Groups of five “roadies” are traveling across the United States assisting volunteers with their role in the movement. The roadies will give a presentation in Athens on April 17th, according to roadie and University of Georgia alum, Danielle Discepoli.
    “The roadies will be doing a 50 minute presentation at Memorial Hall. Basically the presentation starts with a short intro by one roadie, and they will show the film KONY 2012,” explained Discepoli. “After that their Ugandan teammate, Santo, will share a little bit of his story of growing up and living during the conflict in Northern Uganda. After that there will be time for questions, and they will conclude. There will be a merchandise and information table set up for people to buy Action Kits, tshirts, bracelets, etc.”
     Jolley does not agree with the idea of Cover the Night worrying it could lead to vandalism in Athens. “Cover the Night is a waste of time and money. The policy makers already know about Kony. They have not been ignoring the issue. Cover the Night is also a waste of money that could go to the field. I wish the organization would use the time and effort to effect change.”
    Other University students also found fault with the campaign. “I agree that Kony is a bad man,” said sophomore Lacey Kincheloe. “I just don’t agree with Invisible Children. Not all of their money goes towards the kids. I would rather give my money to help the kids than give money to make a video or sponsor the roadies.”
    Jolley discussed the goals and upcoming events of Invisible Children at the University in a meeting on Monday. The main goal of the organization is to continue informing the masses about Kony through video screenings and preparation for the events in April including the visit from the roadies and a bake sale to raise money for the cause.
    More informative videos were also shown at the meeting to show the progress of the campaign. A short video released this week announced that the campaign has been the driving force between two resolutions in the House and Sentate. A sequal to the Kony 2012 video was also announced in the video.
    The meeting also discussed  the response Invisible Children has issued on their website to the recent criticism. The rebuttal includes information about the organization’s finances, responses to questions raised by the video, and more information about the goals of the campaign.
    Jolley encouraged anyone with questions about Invisible Children and what the organization does at the University to contact her. “I know there has been a lot of negative publicity in the news lately, and it can be hard to talk to people about the cause when all they have been exposed to is the bad stuff.” 


Wal-Mart Always Plays the Villain.

     Local Barber Patrick Watkins has an unconventional view of Wal-Mart.

     Unlike most Athens residents that tend to disapprove of Wal-Mart Watkins believes it is a great idea.

     “I think a Wal-Mart is a great idea, there are no jobs here, and that’s what we need.” Watkins said.

     For the past year the plans to build a new Wal-Mart near the downtown area in Athens have been underway and met with a lot of scrutiny from the local people.

     Concerns of low wages, healthcare options, and mistreatment of workers have plagued the company for years and these concerns are no different in the Athens area.

     It is always easy to blame a collapse of small town economy on the local Wal-Mart that might come into town. It is easy to blame loss of local markets on the villain that is Wal-Mart.

     However, many people believe that Wal-Mart will be beneficial for the Athens area, and will make the area thrive instead of wilt.

     Selig Enterprises has been planning a 200,000 square foot commercial space between East Broad street and Oconee streets which will include a 90,000-95,000 “square-foot big-box” which will be the new downtown Wal-Mart, According to the Online Athens Banner Herald.

     Wal-Mart is the world’s largest retailer, and is the largest corporation and private employer in the United States according to their website. 

     Local Athens residents have been concentrating on the negative aspects of Wal-Mart coming to the downtown area such as taking business from local retailers and ruining the current culture and charm of the downtown area.

     There have been several local social groups that have rallied against the Wal-Mart for these reasons. Just days after Wal-Mart was announced a petition against the Wal-Mart received more than 4,000 signatures, according to the Georgia Politico website.

     Athens residents have not been very understanding of the good that a Wal-Mart might bring to the area as well. Athens is one of the poorest counties in the nation with an unemployment rate of 6.8% according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

     One of the main concerns of the new Wal-Mart downtown would be that it would only hire students and not lend itself to the needs of other struggling individuals in the Athens area.

     Wal-Mart spokesperson Bill Wertz addressed this issue and said, “In Georgia Wal-Mart generally pays $12.48 per hour (Minimum Wage in Georgia is $7.25) and hires both entry level positions and experienced workers.”

    “I don’t think they would hire just students or just Athenians, they would hire people who need jobs. Do you know how many people it takes to run a Wal-Mart?” Watkins asked.

     The answer to Watkins question; Wal-Mart employs 2.1 million full time employees according to AOL’s Daily Finance.

     “I know a lot of people that would happily work at Wal-Mart” Bernard Anderson, another local barber said. “People need jobs.”

     Local Athens people understand that jobs are needed in the area and Wal-Mart might just be pinpointed as a villain to the area because of past issues with the company.

     Caterpillar, Another large company has recently chosen Athens as its new equipment plant. The plant that will be near Athens will build smaller tractors and excavators and employ 1,400 people in the next 5 years, according to the Caterpillar website.

     There has not been as much hostility towards the equipment company as Wal-Mart. Local barbers Walker and Anderson also agrees that this will help Athens residents that are struggling financially.

     “Caterpillar will be a good look for Athens I’m really excited about it.” Walker said.

     While Caterpillar has not had as many scandals as the Wal-Mart has they are still bringing jobs to the area and might put some local venders of equipment distribution out of business. However, this issue has not come to the forefront of news as of yet.

     The Athens Chamber of Commerce supports the new Wal-Mart development downtown. Doc Eldridge the current president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce said, “It is a good development.”

     The downtown Wal-Mart will be the largest private sector development in Athens history according to Eldridge. “I believe the market responds to demands. In this case, there is a demand for a Wal-Mart downtown.”

     Athens is a unique town for the fact that there are so many different types of people that live here. There is the University that has students that are in need of a place that provides cheep food and clothes for their budgets and then there are families who are in need of those same things.

     There are already two Wal-Mart’s in the Athens area, one on each side of town but a central Wal-Mart would benefit and serve more people.

     “It is like those that say there are too many bars and clubs in downtown Athens. If there is a market for it, the bars and clubs will open if they are not successful, they will close.” Eldridge said.

     There is a demand in the Athens area for stores that provide cheep alternatives for anything and everything that Wal-Mart sells.

     Wal-Mart is often seen as a Villain when it comes into local retailers but people should stop and consider the positives that Wal-Mart’s bring such as more jobs in an n area that desperately needs them. 


Food Truck Festival Coming to Athens

By: Sarah Proctor

 

On most days, Walter Washington’s “Lafonda Dawgs” hotdog stand is the only food cart in sight around Athens.

But, come Saturday, that will change.

About 15 food carts and trucks will line the streets of downtown Athens, boasting their signature roadside specialty for the first ever Athens Food Cart Festival.

This festival is part of a national growing trend experts are calling the “mobile food industry.” Now tourists, commuters, or crunched-for-time business people can find a variety of gourmet and even organic meals on the streets of almost any metropolitan city.

In 2011 international food consultants Joseph Baum and Michael Whitman released a food and dining forecast which named mobile trucks the number 4 ‘trend,’ the Food Network created and aired two seasons of their show “The Great Food Truck Race,” an elimination challenge style show which followed some of the best food trucks in the nation cross country as they battled it out for the top prize, and many smartphones have developed apps to help customers locate the trucks via GPS and satellite signals.

Although this is only Athens’ first festival of this type, it is not uncommon to urban cities. During certain months of the year Tallahassee, Florida holds a food truck ‘rodeo,’ as it is sometimes called, featuring multiple food truck venues and live music every Thursday night.

For Athens’ upcoming festival, carts from both Athens and Atlanta will have set ups. Some of the Athens venues will include Farm 255’s FarmCart, King of Pops popsicles, an empanada truck and the Athens favorite- Washington’s Lafonda Dawgs hotdog stand. Some of the Atlanta trucks include Nana G’s chick-n-waffles, Pressed for Time Panini’s, and Honeysuckle Gelato. Many of these Atlanta trucks are members of the Atlanta Street Food Coalition, and send out their location constantly via Facebook and Twitter for their followers.

Washington expressed great excitement for the food truck festival. “I think it’s great because it gives the customers a chance to try a variety of food… and they don’t even have to cook it themselves,” he said.

One popular aspect of food trucks is their price and convenience. Natalie Gonzalez, a junior who worked in downtown Atlanta over the summer, said she was a frequent visitor to food trucks.

“I had a ton of options depending what type of food I wanted, and it was all so good,” said Gonzalez. “It was also a lot quicker and cheaper than going to a sit down place, which I liked.”

Another positive to the mobile food industry is the cost for the vendors. In a study done by PBS, the average cost of a brick-and-mortar restaurant averages $100,000-$300,000. However, a food truck can be started up for only $30,000 and usually no more than $80,000.

Some Colleges are even incorporating the industry into their classes. Culinary schools in Florida, Virginia and North Carolina have added courses in mobile food to their curriculum, according to the Atlantic Cities website. And some schools have recently begun to offer food from these trucks in their cafeterias.

The food cart festival was Eric MacDonald’s, an Assistant Professor in the UGA College of Environment and Design, idea. The idea came to him in the spring of 2011 and has been growing ever since.

“We are hoping to increase interest in mobile food vending, and get people to think about and discuss how these kinds of businesses could enliven downtown, underutilized public spaces,” said MacDonald. “Right now, very few permits for mobile food vendors are issued by ACC. However, mobile food vending could be used as a business or neighborhood development tool.”

Many city officials, such as ACC commissioner and Downtown Development Authority board member Mike Hamby, are also optimistic about the new business niche it can bring to Athens. “This Food Cart Festival will enhance the vibrant downtown culture that already exists here in Athens,” Hamby said in an interview with the Athens Food and Culture magazine. “This event will demonstrate the possibility for a new dimension of food and street culture in Athens. We are excited to support this event and wish it continued success into the future.”

Planners and cart owners are hopeful the festival will have an impact on more than just the business aspect to Athens, however. They hope it will bring the community together for an afternoon of good food and fun.

“It’s a great event for our community. It will just give Athens a small town atmosphere, even for the people coming from Atlanta,” Washington said.

 


Super Tuesday Delivers Shrunken Turnout

Nicholas Watson

The stroke of 7 a.m. on March 6 at Clarke Central High looked like a normal day of school at the District 3A polling place. Little would change over the course of the day, as 84 voters, according to the Athens-Clarke County Board of Elections, approached the ballot box at CCHS on Super Tuesday 2012.

Only 6,985 cast a ballot for the presidential preference primary in a pool of 56,386 registered voters, producing a turnout of 12.39 percent. The rate was nearly four times higher in 2008, according to the Board of Elections, giving a turnout of 49.32 percent.

“I just didn’t hear the interest in this election like we have in the past,” Gail Schrader said, supervisor of elections for Athens-Clarke County. “Since the Democratic nominee was already selected … especially in Athens where we are known as a Democratic county, I think a lot of people just sat this one out.”

Young voters in Georgia accounted for 70,000 ballots, approximately 5 percent of the population under 30. Dismal estimates, according to the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement, in Georgia are identical to the approximate 5 percent seen nationwide.

“I doubt very seriously that we’ll see the same level of enthusiasm this year as we saw in 2008,” said Kevin Poole, professor of political science at the University. “You have to have some perspective about people’s participation when we’re in such a crisis.”

UGA College Republicans held a voter registration drive on Feb. 1 and 2, adding around 200 citizens to the registry.

“You definitely come across people who don’t care, and you can tell,” said David Bishop, activism director for UGACR. “A lot of times they won’t outright tell you that they’re not going to vote, but they just sort of shrug it off.”

Pushing past the apathy are complaints from many that abysmal voter turnout links to voter ID laws and decreases in accessibility. Rep. John Lewis said to USA Today that these laws were “robbing Americans of a basic constitutional right.”

“Over time, we’ve found that making voting easier helps [turnout],” said Edward Burmila, professor of political science at the University. “Letting people vote on different days, like early voting, really helped people to get out and vote.”

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed House Bill 92 in May 2011, reducing the early voting window from 45 days to 21. Supporters of the bill, according to the AJC, touted the cost and confusion reduction.

“I think three weeks of early voting is a lot of time, [and] we also included an additional Saturday this time,” Schrader said. “You can kind of get a gauge for [interest] in the weeks prior to an election — and you know — people just really weren’t talking about it that much in Athens.”

Georgia joins seven other states in the strictest of voter ID laws, requiring voters to present government-issued ID to vote. The Peach State, according to the AJC, led the way in stronger voter ID regulations, being among the first to enact it in 2006.

Supporters of the legislation note the reduction in voter fraud cases, while those against them – like Rep. Lewis – believe that it keeps away the poor, elderly and racial minorities.

“I can attest that every year we investigate and penalize hundreds of people guilty of election and voter fraud,” said Brian Kemp, Georgia Secretary of State, to the Washington Post. PolitiFact, a fact-checking site for political news, found that at least 200 people were penalized each in the last three years.

The crux of the argument against stronger voter ID laws is the lack of documentation. To obtain a driver’s license, voter ID, or any other acceptable identification, a citizen must have access to a passport, naturalization paper or a birth certificate.

The Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law released a study in 2006 that showed that 7 percent of U.S. citizens do not have ready access to citizenship documents. The study also found that 11 percent of citizens do not have government-issued ID and that 33 percent of voting-age women do not have documentation of a current legal name after marriage.

Registration remains low in Athens-Clarke County. The latest census revealed that the voting-age population for the county was 96,289, creating a 58.56 percent registration rate.

“To be honest, I actually didn’t know it was a voting day ‘til it passed,” said Serena Rutter, junior linguistics major from Dacula. “Had I known, I definitely would have voted because I know enough about the candidates to know what I want. I just don’t know enough about the elections process to know when to go do that.”

Out-of-state students or those registered elsewhere to vote can do so with an absentee ballot, although this hasn’t been utilized fully in recent primaries.

“There wasn’t a real interest for absentee ballots for any age group,” Schrader said of the latest Super Tuesday. “The absentee voting is wonderful. The law has made it easy for anybody who wants to vote absentee.”
Schrader also believes that as we creep closer and closer to November, voters will begin to emerge to cast their ballots.

“Generally, the best way to get people to vote is to ask them,” Burmila said. “There is something psychologically-based when people ask us to do it that forces us to do it. And campaigns are aware of this.”