How the Clayton County MARTA Vote Was Won (UPDATE 1)
(APN) ATLANTA — Over thirty organizations came together to make sure Clayton County residents did not miss a historic opportunity for mass transit that would allow workers there the mobility necessary to get jobs, and would bring economic development to Clayton County.
As previously reported by Atlanta Progressive News, Clayton County has been without transit since 2010, when the C-TRAN bus service, which only provided limited service, was cancelled.
The same year, Clayton voters participated in a non-binding referendum on whether to join MARTA, which previously only included DeKalb County, Fulton County, and the City of Atlanta. It passed, but was non-binding.
Then, in 2012, the Metro Atlanta region, including Clayton, rejected the T-SPLOST, which may have restored some transit for Clayton County.
Many Clayton County residents have continued to suffer from the recession. Especially hard-hit were people without cars, who found it difficult to look for jobs; get to jobs; go to the doctor, school, and grocery stores; and access other necessities of life, without bus service.
In what was overall a dismal 2014 Statewide Election outcome for progressives, the MARTA vote was the one bright spot and a forward-leaning victory for the citizens in Clayton County whose lives and economic opportunities will be greatly improved by bus service, and eventually, rail service.
Voters turned out in droves in Clayton County for the MARTA vote and easily passed the referendum and the one-cent sales tax increase.
The referendum passed with a vote of 73.72 percent and had a higher vote total than for the U.S. Senate or Governor’s races, in Clayton.
The huge turnout for the MARTA vote did not happen by accident or without dedicated people and on the ground hard work. Coalitions came together from labor, business, community, environmental, civil rights, voter empowerment, faith, and social justice organizations to get people involved and out to vote.
Georgia STAND-UP got the campaign office started, for all the coalition partners to use to phone bank, canvass, organize, and work out of.
Rev. Al Sharpton of the National Action Network; Rev. Jesse Jackson of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition; U.S. Rep. David Scott (D-GA); County Commission Chairman Jeffrey Turner; former State Rep. Roberta Abdul-Salaam (D-Riverdale); and many more passed through the office.
It was not a top-down campaign, it was a grassroots, bottom-up campaign, organizers said.
Labor unions came on board and set up a canvass operation with Georgia STAND-UP and other coalition partners. They knocked on over twenty seven thousand doors.
Though this effort, they learned that people were willing to pay the one cent tax to get transit, but were not going to vote and were not excited about the political election.
Education centers were set up to explain to people how voting for the transit referendum would affect them and their families.
Clayton residents thus learned that they could get buses by March 2015, and have more economic opportunities. Once people understood the benefits of the MARTA vote, over eighty percent said they would vote for it.
The face of the campaign was Rosa Parks and the coalition branded the MARTA vote as if it were a person running for office.
“The success of this campaign was due to the hard work of multiple stakeholders from community, business, labor, and the faith community working side by side with environmental groups and social justice groups fighting for equity, good jobs, and transit. This collaborative stakeholder partnership is the Clayton Model of people willing to work together, to share resources, space, and winning,” Deborah Scott, Executive Director, Georgia STAND-UP, told APN.
On Election Day, many volunteers provided rides to the polls for everyone who wanted or needed a ride.
Clayton County citizens have proved that when people get motivated, turn out to vote, and stay involved in the process, public policies can change for the better.
The economic impact will be four to six hundred immediate jobs at MARTA, and regional transportation for thousands.
Half of the money collected from the tax will help fund limited bus service starting in March 2015 and full bus service in 2016. The other half will fund a future high capacity transit option, either commuter-rail or rapid bus transit service.
Clayton is the first new county to add MARTA service since it began operating in 1971. It serves 1.7 million people in the City of Atlanta, and Fulton and DeKalb counties.
The MARTA Act of 1965 allowed five core counties to join MARTA: Fulton, DeKalb, Clayton, Cobb, and Gwinnett. But only two did.
Today with the addition of Clayton County; hopefully, Cobb and Gwinnett will want to think about the addition of rail to their own transit systems.
Environmentalists were involved in getting the MARTA vote passed because of their concerns about polluting emissions from so many cars on the roads in Georgia.
“Transportation accounts for about one third of our climate pollution and the biggest contributor is passenger cars. We are interested in figuring out how folks can have other options that includes everything from buses, trains, and bikes, to walking,” Colleen Kiernan, Director of the Georgia Sierra Club, told APN.
“The commuter rail in Clayton will be the first part of a longer leg down to Macon which has been studied for a long time. If the first segment is successful, I think it would behoove the State to figure out how to make the rest of the line successful and it could then extend into Savannah,” Kiernan said.
More bus and rail transportation in Georgia is an intelligent, forward thinking, winning solution for Georgia citizens, economic development, and mitigating climate change.
CLARIFICATION: Also instrumental were State Rep. Mike Glanton (D-Jonesboro), who introduced HB 1009, which created the referendum; the Partnership for Southern Equity; the “Power of the Penny” campaign; and historic participation and actions of the Clayton Clergy in general, the Clayton County Ministers’ Conference, and Clayton County Clergy Coalition for Transportation.