Protest organizers led group chants and songs at a protest in downtown Athens, Georgia, on Oct. 4, 2016.

‘Fighting for everybody’: After protesters march to City Hall, Athens commission puts nondiscrimination ordinance on agenda

Members of the Athens and University of Georgia communities gathered at the Arch on Tuesday to protest and march for an ordinance aimed at curbing discrimination in the county.

At the demonstration, which was organized by the Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement and Athens for Everyone, about 100 people held up signs with messages such as “Black Lives Matter,” chanted and sang about equality in an effort to urge the Athens-Clarke County commission to address the nondiscrimination effort.

The proposed ordinance would, at least, require bars and restaurants to post dress codes and private event dates at the door. Since its inception in January, several people in the Athens and UGA communities have voiced their support not only for the measure, but also an amendment creating a civil rights committee that would help address future acts of discrimination in the county. However, Mayor Nancy Denson has twice removed the ordinance from the commission’s agenda—once in August and once in September.

Protesters hold signs addressing racial inequality at a protest in downtown Athens, Georgia, on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016.

The goal of Tuesday night’s protest, which ended with a march to City Hall, where the October commission meeting was set to take place, was to try to get Mayor Denson to put the updated ordinance back on the agenda, according to Heidi Elrod, a member of the Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement.

“Right now, they’re trying to pass a bar admittance ordinance, and we want an anti-discrimination ordinance to cover not just bars, but discrimination in other Athens businesses,” she said.

After Tuesday’s protest, Athens is one step closer to reaching that ideal.

Following the march, protesters entered City Hall during the commission meeting and demanded Mayor Denson put the ordinance on the agenda for next month’s meeting. Within the first half hour, she announced that she would.

Tuesday’s win for the Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement comes after months of commissioners debating whether or not to broaden the ordinance to create more than additional regulations for bars. Meka Pattman, also a member of the Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement, agreed with Elrod on expanding the ordinance, but also said one of the biggest issues facing African Americans in Athens is discrimination at businesses downtown.

Protesters gather at Athens City Hall before the monthly county commission meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016.

“I just think we should all be able to come together, no matter if you’re a UGA student, no matter if you’re retired — if you want to go to a bar, hell, let them in!” she said at the protest.

Tim Denson, president of Athens for Everyone, said a civil rights committee could ensure that discriminatory issues are dealt with before they even happen.

“This would be an entity that would basically study the health of human relations in our county and make recommendations about how it could be improved and about how issues could be addressed,” he said.

The next county commission meeting is Nov. 1 at 7 p.m. It is open to the public and can also be viewed online.

This article is an assignment for an Advanced Writing and Reporting class in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.