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Protesters In Atlanta: Who They Are And What They Want


And I'm Mary Louise Kelly in Atlanta, specifically at Centennial Olympic Park, which was built in 1996, when Atlanta hosted the Olympics, built to be a central gathering place for the city, a showcase to the world. Usually, on a pretty June day like this, we'd be looking out at these green lawns, and people would be sprawled out, picnicking, playing in the fountain of Olympic rings. Today the gates are locked. Steel barricades are up. I'm looking, and there's National Guard spread out in a perimeter around the park with helmets and shields because this is pretty much ground zero of the protests that have roiled Atlanta now for five days running. We are here because we've arranged to meet Mary Hooks. She's a social justice activist here in Atlanta. She was a founding member of Black Lives Matter Atlanta.

Hey there. Thanks for meeting us.

MARY HOOKS: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

KELLY: When we walked up, we just spotted you, and you were yelling something at the National Guard. Tell me what's on your mind.

HOOKS: Yeah, the G.I. Joes who are standing in formation right now, I was shouting to them. I said, did you sign up for this? Many of you have come out of communities that have been terrorized by police, and now you're here tear gassing, barricading protesters in here last night. Is that what you signed up for?

KELLY: Talk to me about - I am struck. It's communities of color, people of color who have been obviously disproportionately hurt by police brutality, also by the coronavirus pandemic. And here we are in this moment where you feel the need to be out in the streets protesting, coming together, raising your voice. And it's dangerous to do so on both those fronts. How are you thinking about that as you organize?

HOOKS: I think that that is the complicated life of what it means to be black in this country. We don't live single-issue lives when it comes to the systems of oppression that are impacting our lives daily. But we do what must be done. And so we - you know, harm reduction - how can we keep people safe? You know, make sure folks have PPE. And at the same time, it is imperative that we be present for what is happening right now.

KELLY: How does this end, by which I mean what would need to happen for you to feel like you've achieved what you came out to do?

HOOKS: That we see a defunding of the police period. That means repair for harms that the war on drugs and the war on black people that has happened. So that looks like a concrete reparations plan. That looks like investing in black communities and underserved communities, and those communities have the power to actually determine what that support looks like.

KELLY: I'm listening to you, and you've been raising your voice on this stuff for years. Does it feel like we're at a moment where people are listening, where you're being heard in a way that you weren't a month ago, a year ago?

HOOKS: Oh, yeah. I think that, you know, in times like this - and for most people that I encounter who enter Movement at very particular times, it is usually a black body, a natural disaster where we see black people being impacted. There is something that sparks in a person, and their eyes become open. And so part of the role of organizers like myself and the other thousands is to continue to beat the drum when we think no one's listening because they're always planting seeds for resistance, planting seeds for hope, planting seeds for longing and desire for another world and for people to become a part of it.

KELLY: It's interesting. Listening to you, you sound - in the middle of everything going on in this country, you sound hopeful.

HOOKS: Oh, yes. I woke up this morning with my mind on freedom every day. I'm not in a feeling of despair. Our movement, the Movement for Black Lives, is in a stronger position than it was years ago because that's been years of relationship and work. And so I'm hopeful for all the folks that are out here. Sure, not everyone's going to join an organization, start an organization and make a lifelong commitment. But many in this moment are doing the best they can with what they have, and so that brings me a lot of hope. That brings me a lot of hope.

KELLY: Mary Hooks, thank you.

HOOKS: Thank you so much.

KELLY: Mary Hooks - she is a social justice activist. She co-directs the organization Southerners on New Ground, which helps advance LGBTQ and civil rights. Thank you very much.

HOOKS: All right. Y'all be safe out here.

KELLY: You, too; be safe. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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