The protest to nowhere

How is a rally's blind negativity expected to elevate Augusta?

This city’s mayor will be at a star-studded national summit Monday, explaining how Augusta became the model for wounded warrior care at a veterans hospital.

It’s the same city where, in March, national coffee chain Starbucks announced the construction of a new $172 million manufacturing plant. It’s part of the company’s American jobs initiative, creating 140 jobs here alone.

This is also the city where Rockwood Color Pigment and Services announced last December that it’s building a new $115 million plant near the airport. And where two universities are about to merge and Fort Gordon continues to grow and, nearby, Plant Vogtle is about to become the site of the nation’s first new commercial nuclear reactors in decades.

So, what does Mayor Deke Copenhaver think of two Augusta commissioners’ planned involvement in a May 14 rally at the courthouse to protest “the many changes that have occurred as a result of commission votes and action by the state delegation and others ...”?

“Whatever,” the mayor said.

“I’m going to focus on the big picture. I’m focused on creating jobs and opportunity and bringing positive national attention to Augusta.”

Though word of the rally “wasn’t intended for citywide distribution,” a Chronicle story Thursday revealed that Commissioners Al Mason and Bill Lockett are asking 1,000 people to attend the rally. What they’re protesting, however, is a bit vague.

“I don’t know,” Copenhaver admitted Thursday.

It’s no secret, however, that the two commissioners have opposed a number of commission actions and the legislature’s redistricting efforts this past year.

It certainly is an odd and rather ineffective path: utilizing the Civil Rights model of public protest to, in effect, rail against the very commission they sit on. The Civil Rights model is a poor substitute for actual governing. It assumes one is “speaking truth to power.” The truth is, however, that elected officials have power.

If they don’t also have the power of persuasion, and the ability to work with others and convince others that they’re right, then that’s not anyone else’s fault.

Folks are free to follow this parade down the dead end of negativity and confrontation, and turn out for a protest to nowhere over something nobody seems able to put their finger on.

Or they can follow real leadership – the kind that creates a positive, progressive, forward-looking environment for job growth in which we are all free to actualize and become our best selves.

We’re reminded of an editorial cartoon from the 1990s, when things were actually pretty good but the public mood was strangely sour. In the cartoon, a pollster asks a resident if he’s better off than he was four years ago. “Yes!” he says. “And I’m not going to take it anymore!”

We urge Augustans not to be seduced into anger and blind negativism – by their supposed leaders, no less. Whatever we visualize and work toward for Augusta will likely come true. It’s our choice whether that is something positive or negative.

The mayor has made his own choice, as job growth here shows signs of confounding the national trend.

“We are about to transform faster than anybody can imagine,” he says. “We are feeling it in this office. Everybody better hang on. We’re about to go big. I can’t waste time and energy.”

It’s a sorry shame that others can.

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