By Pat Priest
One part of the book Alice in Wonderland keeps coming back to me. It’s where the Mock Turtle is boasting to Alice about what he learned in school. He muddles the subjects subtraction, multiplication and division and describes them this way instead: "distraction, uglification, and derision.”
That reminds me so much now of the tactics the president and other Republicans are using in their ads and tweets, and I worry about what they’re teaching America's children with their behavior.
Mokah Jasmine Johnson's opponent, for example, has stooped especially low. You can’t even recognize Mokah in Houston Gaines' ugly ads!
I’ve known Mokah and her husband Knowa a long time now. They are extraordinary — principled and tireless as public servants. I first saw Mokah when she organized a rally to protest the not-guilty verdict against the officer who killed Philando Castille and to jointly grieve the loss of police officers killed in Dallas.
Mokah and Knowa co-produce the annual benefit concert Athens in Harmony with me — an uplifting show that pairs people across differences in race, ethnicity, genre and age to sing duets. She co-hosted the show with police chief Scott Freeman the first three years — and after that with a police chaplain and then with our wonderful mayor Kelly Girtz. Mokah and Chief Freeman got to know one another well and often worked behind the scenes to ward off problems. And the organization Mokah co-founded, the Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement, has given out awards to police officers for exemplary service. It simply is not true when Houston’s campaign says that she is anti-police!
Yet a recent ad featuring Oconee Sheriff Scott Berry shows photos of burning cities (from elsewhere, of course) and claims that Mokah’s stances about policing are “downright scary.” Berry says of Gaines’ values: “It's not about politics; it’s about families.” But whose families? Does that include people of color? And he says, “As sheriff, I see the defund-the-police movement tearing up our neighborhoods every day.” Really? The rest of us have seen in news reports again and again how police across the country who are not held accountable are the ones tearing up families every day. We join Mokah in calling for real change that will institutionalize not racism but equality and justice for all.
The worst of the flyers came just the other day. A full-page photo shows a white child going into a school as a person in a hoodie lurks nearby, suggesting that it is young people of color who endanger America’s schoolchildren. But white men — usually further unhinged by white supremacist ideologies — are the ones who have killed people in schools and in churches in South Carolina and Texas and a synagogue in Pittsburgh — and in hundreds of other sites where innocents are slaughtered.
It’s so perverse — and telling — to use that hoodie as a motif in Gaines’ ad. For most of us, the name Trayvon Martin will resound through history as an awful crime and travesty of justice just as Emmett Till’s name does. Yet Trayvon’s killer went free after killing the hoodie-wearing youngster under the pretext of stand your ground.
That kind of injustice and the often-blatant racism in Republicans' flyers are why millions of people now are standing their ground by voting in long lines despite the pandemic. I hope people will put an end to distraction, uglification and derision and support Mokah Jasmine Johnson. Addressing problems in Athens to bring about a prosperous and just Athens in harmony — that’s Mokah’s vision. Don’t let Republicans uglify our values in America!
Pat Priest, an Oconee County resident, earned a doctorate from UGA's Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. She is founder of Athens in Harmony, Walk and Talk with a Scientist, New Friends for the New Year, and Artists in Residence.