Of the 10 city council members who voted for Cop City, one that was hardly a surprise was District 4’s Councilwoman, Cleta Winslow. Winslow’s support for corporate interests runs deep in her tenure. Despite repeated efforts to circumvent campaign finance laws, it is known that her largest donors include Atlanta Commerce Club member Mike Russell and Real Estate agent Carl Westmoreland.
But Winslow’s actions run beyond the average corporate politician. During her 27 year tenure in the city council, she has used her office as a vehicle for personal enrichment, circumventing the most basic tenets of democracy.
Rather than treating her office as beholden to the larger community, she treats her district as a fiefdom, openly viewing the public with contempt. Despite Atlanta already being one of the least walkable major cities in the country, Winslow personally removed bike lanes in her district to replace them with parking spaces, circumventing city council procedure. She has used taxpayer money to pay for campaign events and materials, and when stealing from the public isn’t enough, she exploits the homeless with sub minimum wage campaign jobs.
One may wonder how a Councilwoman like this can keep getting reelected. this grotesque level of corruption could be excused if she perhaps delivered real, material benefits to her constituents (beyond free food during election season). Unfortunately, District 4 remains the most impoverished district in the city, and any positive trends are almost certainly the symptom of rapid gentrification, displacing much of the existing residents.
The combined destitution of her district, and her abuse of city resources has resulted in many of her constituents avoiding politics altogether. Her district boasted one of the lowest turnout levels in the city in 2017, with only 4,717 voters in a district of over 35,000 residents. But despite depressed turnout, and a campaign where the rules clearly did not apply to her, she was brought within 250 votes of defeat.
Much of Southwest Atlanta has been depleted of its historic industrial base. Factories have become breweries. Working class apartments have become slums, or condemned units. A single Kroger provides the only fresh groceries for miles. The result has created stratified communities that are unable to build powerful, democratic structures that can hold elected officials accountable.
A single election will not solve this issue. But it can be a piece of building robust, working class power.
In March, Atlanta DSA endorsed Rogelio Arcila, running to challenge Cleta Winslow’s 27 year reign. A committed socialist who was born and raised in West Atlanta, Rogelio’s platform focuses on the bread-and-butter issues that affect people’s everyday lives: better roads and sidewalks, broadband for all, investment in public health, police accountability, and housing rights. He holds canvasses almost every day and phone banks 3 times a week.
Only through direct engagement with voters, and appealing to real issues that affect our everyday lives, can we build an alternative to Cleta Winslow’s political machine. If you want to help towards that, join DSA and get involved in our electoral work.