Democratic Decatur community members met at the Oakhurst Garden before the 2014 state elections to support Michelle Nunn and Jason Carter. Children participated in activities like sign making so they could help as well. (Timothy Cole)
Democratic Decatur community members met at the Oakhurst Garden before the 2014 state elections to support Michelle Nunn and Jason Carter. Children participated in activities like sign making so they could help as well.

Timothy Cole

Liberally Leaning

February 10, 2015

“Georgia’s liberal mecca.”

Decatur Metro, a local news-blog, used this phrase to portray Decatur’s liberal reputation in a 2008 article. While Decatur is often portrayed as liberal in the media, as in Decatur Metro, conservative voices exist in the city.

Robin Rock, a conservative Decatur parent, believes Decatur citizens represent a broad range of political and social beliefs.

“I don’t think you can broad-brush Decaturites,” Rock said. “Even though it is considered liberal, there are many different kinds of people here.”

Rock thinks that people outside of these four square miles know Decatur’s culture, not its politics.

“I think people see it more as earthy,” she said. “They think of it as more granola, like a funky sort of place . . . a mecca for intown Atlanta culture.”

Alan Abramowitz, an Emory University political science professor and Decatur resident, disagrees.

His stance’s statistical point of view supports popular opinion of Decatur fitting the liberal image.  Abramowitz says that Decatur is “strongly Democratic” as far as voting goes.

Abramowitz believes liberal voting is equivalent to Democratic voting because both platforms tend to support change in government. He thinks Democratic voting patterns continue to create an accurate label for the political and social atmosphere of the town.

Not everyone agrees.

Bill Floyd, a long-time resident and former mayor, believes, like Rock, that “liberal” does a poor job of portraying Decatur.

For Floyd, “liberal” can easily misrepresent political stance, and he instead prefers the word progressive. Although the terms are similar by definition, progressive means supporting social reform whereas liberal means promoting new and untraditional political values.

“It’s not all political,” he said. “Some Decatur events are made to draw people in and expose our businesses. That is a sort of progressive attitude, and some might call it liberal.””

— Bill Floyd, former mayor of Decatur

He also believes a liberal label for Decatur can misrepresent Decatur residents.

“My nephew, who is 40, and his wife are extremely conservative from a political standpoint,” he said.

Not only are younger Decatur adults conservative, but some Decatur students are as well.

Junior Nathan Tumperi is politically and socially conservative, but he does not feel unwelcome among his peers at Decatur. He is often outnumbered and his views aren’t always accepted, but he doesn’t let that stop him from voicing them.

“Students tend not to be as accepting, but it makes for interesting conversations,” Tumperi said. “Most people here never really hear another side of a lot of topics since they live in such a liberal town. So when I disagree with them, it gives them a little more perspective.”

Dominic Antinozzi, a fellow Decatur junior, shares Tumperi’s conservative views, but doesn’t always enjoy being outnumbered in school debates. While Antinozzi finds this “frustrating,” he recognizes that his arguments are strengthened by the opposition he faces.

“It kind of forces me to know what I’m talking about and be able to argue to defend my ideas,” he said.

Antinozzi was raised Catholic, alongside his father’s “very conservative beliefs,” and he recognizes these factors as large influences over his political standpoint.

Antinozzi first felt different in fifth grade, during the 2008 presidential campaign. The Glenwood 4/5 Academy held a mock election and Antinozzi was one of two students in his grade who did not vote for Barack Obama.

Antinozzi didn’t realize that his beliefs differed from those of his classmates, but found it “definitely shocking.”

Tumperi realized how his views differed from many of his peers at Decatur during AP US History class in tenth grade.

His class had three outspoken conservatives, which created a good environment for debates in his eyes.

Tumperi remembered when one of his classmates told him she was scared to voice her liberal views because she knew people would disagree.

“It’s kind of funny because that’s how I feel talking about politics in any of my other classes,” Tumperi said.

Even though he doesn’t feel completely immersed in a group of peers who share his beliefs, Tumperi finds merit in conversations where he feels he can open people’s eyes to another side of the story.

Decatur hasn’t always carried a liberal image, contrary to popular belief.

Walter Drake, a Decatur historian and prominent lawyer, voiced a few key reasons why Decatur earned the label as a liberal area.

Atlanta expanded its liberal views during the Civil Rights Movement, when the push for integration began, and people started to move into proximal areas like Decatur.

As Atlanta grew and became a hub for the Civil Rights Movement, the majority of the liberal African-American population spread out, some ending up in Decatur. This large demographic shift replaced “mostly all white” conservatives with more politically-radical African Americans who favored liberal ideas such as integration.

“There was concern about integrated neighborhoods, so there was some “white flight” where a lot of people left Decatur and a new population came in,” Drake said.

Elizabeth Wilson was the first African American mayor in Decatur. During the mid 60’s, Wilson helped integrate the library, which was the “first public facility to be integrated in DeKalb county,” according to Decatur Metro.

Her efforts did not stop there.

She started pushing for integrating Decatur public schools. Alongside other parents, Wilson managed to create a smooth transition from segregated to integrated education by continual pressure on the superintendent of schools, she said in an interview with 11Alive.

Another critical influence, according to Drake, was Decatur city commissioner and mayor Mike Mears’ progressive stance on homosexuality in 1993. In response to Cobb county passing an Anti-Homosexuality resolution that year, Mears publicly promoted Decatur as an accepting community for gay and lesbian families.

“We, in Decatur, officially recognize same-sex families, single-parent families,” Mears announced. “We in Decatur take a 180-degree opposite view of that in Cobb.”

As a result of his speech, more gay and lesbian couples moved to Decatur, further cementing Decatur’s reputation as a liberal city.

Chris Billingsley, a former Decatur teacher, has lived in Decatur for his entire life and remembers reading about Mears’ statements in the paper.

“There was a lot in the news about how Cobb county passed a resolution prior to the Olympics that condemned the homosexual lifestyle,” he recalled.

Billingsley believes that Decatur was already a “gay friendly town” by the time that Mears issued his statement.

Billingsley was born and raised in Decatur when it was a more conservative town. He bought his house from Carl Renfroe in 1980, and believes that it is the last house in Decatur built by black craftsmen in the early 1900s. He said that one could call him a “son of Decatur.”

Billingsley is politically and socially conservative, and disagrees with both Floyd and Drake, believing that describing Decatur as progressive is just a way to make liberal sound more appealing.

A progressive is a liberal. A progressive is a liberal. People like to hide behind the term progressive because it’s associated with people a hundred years ago, [like] Theodore Roosevelt,” he said. “[Liberals, now and from the past,] believe government has the solution to problems that affect most Americans.”

Billingsley occasionally feels hostility from local residents because of his conservative outspokenness, but easily looks past these issues.

“Decatur is a great place to live, regardless of what kind of views people have,” he said.  “The history, the neighborhoods, the street I live on, the house I live in, the church I attend.”

 

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