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The way we live politics

Amid the plumes of bipartisan vitriol arising from clashes over Supreme Court appointees, from bursts of violence between police and civilians (and protesters and police, and vigilantes and protesters), and, oh yeah, from waves of the deadly virus battering us on all sides, we’re all pretty bleary. In this most unprecedented of election years, it’s become exhausting to give much thought to something as implausible as empathy.

And, sure, it’s probably naive to believe that there’s room right now in political discourse for anything as uncommon as compassion, as audacious as hope.

Yet, when we set out to explore the political tensions that have trickled down into our everyday lives—not the ones that invade our psyche as a result of the actions of the President or Congress or the Court, but the ones that we simply can’t avoid because of who we married, who raised us, who we befriended—something surprised us. Yes, there are interpersonal tensions aplenty these days, but when we spoke to people about their relationships with spouses, parents, and friends who hold different political views, the resounding message was not one of despair over their differences but of confidence that they can overcome those differences. Really? In 2020?

“If we kept saying, I’m right, you’re wrong, then, no one grows, and you don’t feel respected,” 24-year-old Samantha Phelps, a Democrat, told us when describing her unusual relationship with her boyfriend, a staunch Republican.

“If you want to be heard,” said 39-year-old Elizabeth King, a conservative Christian, “you have to learn to listen.” That’s exactly what her best friend—a liberal Democrat—does best.

There are dozens of opposing political viewpoints in the three stories that follow. But there also are abundant examples of ways in which two polarized people have found elusive common ground. And no matter what happens on November 3 and beyond—no matter how elated or wrecked you might feel—common ground is the one thing we’ll all need . . . to survive 2021.

In politically mixed friend groups, a lesson for navigating differences
By Heather Buckner

Laura Phelan and her friends have been meeting for breakfast every week for the last four years. The owner of their favorite spot, Gracious Plenty Bakery and Breakfast, makes the best biscuits Laura has ever eaten, she says, “and I had a Southern grandma.” The top left corner of the menu reads, “All Are Welcome, Hate Has No Place Here,” which feels fitting to Laura, “this Southern biscuit place with this progressive message.” Her friend group that gathers here is split politically—three lean left, three right.

They’ve met, all six women, only a few times since March, when their kids’ schools closed and the pandemic ramped up, when wearing a mask became a political litmus test, and when they unconsciously sorted themselves into two groups: those hunkering down at home, and those not.

There’s a generational divide between Black Democrats. How will that play out at the polls—and at home?
By Raisa Habersham

Nationally, the political divide between younger and older Black voters is more vast than the divide between younger and older white ones. According to national polls conducted late this summer, white “likely voters” between the ages of 18 to 29 were more likely to support Joe Biden than those over 65, but the opposite was true of Black voters: Biden had stronger support from older Blacks than from younger ones, with a wider margin separating them compared to their white counterparts. And with the Democratic party relying on significant Black turnout to defeat President Donald Trump, motivating Black voters, old and (especially) young, will be crucial to the party’s success. That goes double for Georgia—a swing state with one of the nation’s largest Black populations.

It’s increasingly rare for a marriage to cross party lines. Can such couples offer us hope?
By Jennifer Rainey Marquez

Going into the relationship, Dave and Jessica knew they had their differences. He’s Black, and she’s white. He grew up in a small town in coastal Georgia; she’s from metro Atlanta. He’s a 50-year-old Gen Xer; she’s a 38-year-old Millennial. But to many people, the difference that’s most surprising isn’t any of these: It’s that he’s a Republican, and she’s a Democrat.

In politically mixed friend groups, a lesson for navigating differences

This story is one of three narratives in our “The way we live politics”package; check out its companion pieces about marriages that cross party lines and young voters who navigate generational differences with their parents.

Laura Phelan and her friends have been meeting for breakfast every week for the last four years. The owner of their favorite spot, Gracious Plenty Bakery and Breakfast, makes the best biscuits Laura has ever eaten, she says, “and I had a Southern grandma.” The top left corner of the menu reads, “All Are Welcome, Hate Has No Place Here,” which feels fitting to Laura, “this Southern biscuit place with this progressive message.” Her friend group that gathers here is split politically—three lean left, three right.

They’ve met, all six women, only a few times since March, when their kids’ schools closed and the pandemic ramped up, when wearing a mask became a political litmus test, and when they unconsciously sorted themselves into two groups: those hunkering down at home, and those not.

About a mile south of Gracious Plenty is Roswell Presbyterian, where the friends, most in their 40s, and their families have attended services for a decade. The oldest church in the city, it offers some insight into the United States’ inclination to divide itself: Galleries built to seat enslaved people still loom above its circa 1840 sanctuary, which would later serve as a Union hospital during the Civil War.

Laura describes her church in its current incarnation as progressive. It allows LGBTQ+ marriages, women can hold leadership positions, and, this summer, two of its pastors joined Black Lives Matter marches. The congregation has taken a cautious approach to reopening; phase 1 started in September, meaning outside services with limited attendance, social distancing, mask-wearing. A friend of Laura’s serving on the church’s governing body told her about the plan to reopen: You know how the country is divided right now? It’s pretty much like that at church, too.

Laura Phelan

Photograph by Eley Photography

Laura supported the suspension of services but says the absence of in-person fellowship—with people from different generations, with different ideologies—has been difficult. “Not having that right now, because it’s not safe to gather, is so hard on us in terms of retreating to our echo chambers,” Laura says.

She sees her small group as a microcosm of her church family—and perhaps a microcosm of the country, politically. One woman casts her vote according to convictions related to social justice and climate change; another is fiscally conservative and supports whichever party’s tax plan makes most sense for her family.

All six women live in the Sixth Congressional District, which was a Republican stronghold for four decades—until 2017, when suburban women helped power Jon Ossoff’s campaign against Karen Handel through what would be the most expensive U.S. House race in history. Ossoff lost, but his margin of defeat was surprisingly thin, less than four points. (The district would finally flip for Lucy McBath a year later.) Laura considers herself a moderate, but she served as a precinct captain for Ossoff’s campaign, which, for a while, some of her Republican friends wouldn’t even discuss.

“You know how it is in the South,” Laura says. “So many people for so long were like, Well, we just don’t talk about that.

But the 2016 election season changed something for her. “We’re sick of going to cocktail parties and talking about nonsense when we really feel like this is important,” she says. “I feel like more and more people find it hard to just make small talk when their whole lives have been turned upside down.”

Her friend group has weathered differences in various members’ ideologies over the last four years in part because of a shared Christian faith and in part because their lives are so interwoven. “We know we don’t all agree, but we are here because we’re supporting each other,” Laura says.

That’s not to suggest that they’re all on the same page when it comes to supporting each other’s choice for president. In fact, they say they don’t even know what page the others are on.

Laura says the women share a bond so deep it allows them to “transcend” certain issues. There are other potentially divisive topics on which they choose to remain mum. That explains why, when I ask the group of six friends who they plan to vote for in November, no one answers.

The friends, all white women, sit in socially distanced lawn chairs outside a gray stucco home with a big Palladian window in a Marietta subdivision. There’s a chemist-turned–stay at home mom of four, a violin teacher and small business owner, a freelance writer, the director of arts and worship for their church, another stay-at-home mom, and an account executive for Dooney & Bourke wearing a blue-and-pink striped maxidress and flip-flops. All six families, 16 kids among them, camp in the North Carolina mountains every year and meet for a supper club every few months. A few of the women run road races together.

After a long pause, a few of them speak. They say they probably can guess each other’s chosen candidates, but they haven’t told one another—or, for that matter, their husbands or their children.

“That is very personal and private. There’s a reason you’re at a ballot box by yourself,” Laura’s friend Katy Vogel says. “That allows for freedom and dialogue. I just think putting a label on yourself means that you stick with that label, and that’s not my jam.”

Another friend, Betsy Jackson-Homer, says she and her husband voted differently in 2016, which was a source of some contention for a little while, but “it’s just not something that I talk about, even in our marriage. I think I know how he’s voting, but I’m leaving that up to him,” she says.

Betsy Jackson-Homer

Photograph by Eley Photography

This group is part of the elusive, coveted “suburban woman” voting bloc that helped Trump win office in 2016, then flipped the House to Democratic control two years later. Both parties have pinned their hopes on them this season, aggressively vying for their attention. See Biden’s commitment to naming a woman as vice president or Trump tweeting to “suburban housewives” that his opponent will destroy their neighborhoods.

Laura and friends look similar to what many imagine Trump is referring to when he promises “the people living their Suburban Lifestyle Dream that [they] will no longer be bothered or financially hurt by having low income housing built in [their] neighborhood.” Because, despite the ongoing suburbanization of poverty and the fact that a third of suburbanites are nonwhite, “suburban woman” is often code for educated, middle (or upper-middle) class, and white—a swingable demographic that for four decades has leaned Republican.

“I think [Trump’s tweets] in some ways signal that his version of what a suburb looks like is a version of what suburbs originally looked like in the ’50s and ’60s, without recognizing that suburbs have changed,” says Andra Gillespie, an associate professor in Emory University’s Department of Political Science and Director of the James Weldon Johnson Institute.

The political divide within the “suburban woman” set is widening—which makes successful friendships such as the ones maintained in Laura’s group more rare and more necessary.

“Individuals have to take ownership of how they may be exacerbating the problem,” Gillespie says. “If they want polarization to end, they need to stop polarizing in their personal lives.”

In an experiment conducted by psychology professors at the University of Winnipeg and the University of Illinois at Chicago and published in 2017, participants reported that hearing from the other side of the political aisle was “as unpleasant as taking out the trash.” Just under half of Republicans and Democrats view their opposition as “downright evil,” and about one in five think they “behave like animals,” according to a 2019 study by political scientists at Louisiana State University and the University of Maryland. The same survey found that a significant percentage of voters—enough to equal 20 million people in the U.S.—“agreed that the country would be better off if large numbers of opposing partisans . . . ‘just died.’”

In a Pew Research Center study on partisan antipathy, researchers found one thing everyone can agree on: Nearly three-quarters of the public say the parties “not only disagree over plans and policies, but also cannot agree on the basic facts.”

Gillespie says this disagreement is manifesting itself in how we record history (or don’t). For instance, Trump floated a proposal for patriotic education and Tom Cotton sponsored a bill banning schools from using federal funds to add the New York Times’s 1619 Project to their curriculum.

“Slavery is a historical fact; its genesis in what became the United States traces back to 1619. Yet we see that undisputed facts are now being contested,” Gillespie says. “And this is happening in real time. With the rise of opinionated news media, there isn’t a uniform story.”

The problem, says Spelman associate professor of political science Desiree Pedescleaux, is that voters today “aren’t willing to do the necessary critical analysis of information to really vote [their] interests.” If a politician says he’s creating jobs, look at what kind of jobs. “Are they part-time jobs offering minimum wage? You can’t support yourself on minimum wage anymore—unless you have three jobs.”

But Pedescleaux says people don’t seem to be voting in their economic interest anymore. “They’re voting their interests all right, but it’s a different interest; it’s me against them or it’s us against them, which is something much more dangerous and insidious.”

Katy Vogel

Photograph by Eley Photography

Sandy Dawson is allergic to cats but finds herself taking care of one that belongs to her friend Kathy Scribbins’s youngest son’s girlfriend; Binx will be with her until his owner finds a new apartment, Sandy explains, as she and Kathy and four others wait on the last of seven women to join their Zoom call. Beth Smith Lindner is the glue in this friend group, gathering other women from PTA meetings, church, and the tennis court, and folding them into the mix.

Beth, 53, is a Libertarian, but she was a Republican for years. The transition was gradual, an accumulation of little things that picked at her until, eventually, “I just stopped understanding the platform; I felt like it changed a lot.” She was in the midst of a divorce when she realized her opinions “had been suppressed. I just realized, Gosh, this is not where I really want to be.

In the last five or six years, she’s found her voice and become a lot more outspoken. She has a warm, welcoming personality and throws great parties—she just got some new wine in from Nassau and jokes that she needs help cleaning out the wine cabinet.

Some of the friendships in the group are as old as the women’s children: Beth met 58-year-old Julie Ethridge at the pool while she was pregnant with her twins. (Julie’s boys turned 22 this year.) Tip Tucker Kendall, a 45-year-old nonprofit manager, is the youngest of the group. She played on a tennis team with a few of the women until she moved to Tucker two years ago; she still considers them her sisters, mothers, mentors. The group is composed of three Republicans, two Democrats, a Libertarian, and an Independent; four of them will vote for Trump and two for Biden. (One is unsure.)

Sandy is one of the two women who identify as Democrat. She calls herself a “faithful liberal” yet voted for Jill Stein in 2016 and says she can’t vote for Biden in November—because she’s convinced he has Alzheimer’s. Plus, “the progressives will be running the country, and he’ll be the puppet,” she says. “That scares me to death.”

Kathy, 63, was hesitant about voting for Trump in 2016—“just all the situations that he put himself in with womanizing and all that kind of stuff”—but now says voting for him was one of the best decisions she’s made. She echoes Sandy’s fear that Biden would be a puppet in Nancy Pelosi’s hands, which, in her mind, is one step closer to “progressive socialists” gaining control.

“It terrifies me, what I see in this country,” Kathy says. “More people are buying guns, where, they can’t even keep up right now because people are scared. They are scared to death because of what they see in the media. It’s unbelievable.”

Julie says she doesn’t like the names Trump calls people, like Sleepy Joe. “I wish he would be nicer,” she says. “But that’s his personality.”

Journalist Anne Helen Petersen might describe these women as “Ivanka voters,” a term she coined to describe pro-Trump women who find his language and behavior indefensible but don’t feel that it’s their responsibility to defend. Like “Ivanka Voters,” they prefer to steer clear of politically divisive conversations.

“I have to be careful about what I say; as a Republican, I have heard so many people say, I cannot talk about it, because if I do, I will be verbally abused,” Kathy says. “I usually keep silent, because I feel like freedom of speech is not on the conservative’s side.”

Tracy Turner, 51 and an Independent, is the only Black woman on the Zoom call. She says she voted for Trump in 2016 and hasn’t yet decided if she will again. “It’s really hard in my family, because if I’m not with Black Lives Matter, then I have a situation that is kind of like what Julie describes; now, I have to deal with the ridicule of, Well, why aren’t you? Because you’re Black,” Tracy says. “To me, all lives matter. I’m in the middle of that. I have a police officer as a son, but he’s also a Black boy.”

Tip, who interned for a Republican Senator in college but now considers herself a Democrat, is fiscally conservative and socially liberal. As the parties have drifted further apart, she says it’s been harder for her to find a home. She quips that election years are as hard to navigate as college football seasons. She and her friends agree that the media—which they all say they deeply mistrust—is to blame for driving society to political extremes. Tip says the bombardment of polarizing news is overwhelming.

“You cannot get away from it,” she says. “And I think we’ve had to live with it in a way that we didn’t have to live with it 20 years ago, when the nightly news was the end of your political lesson—that was the end of politics for the day. Now, it is in your face all the time.”

She says the result is a state of constant defensiveness. “You’ve got to go into battle if you’re going to open your social media feed.”

Ella Wilson and Elizabeth King each were navigating divorce and single motherhood when they met at their daughters’ daycare seven years ago. “I feel like a disaster—wait, you’re a disaster, too! Can I get your number?” says Ella, laughing about how they became friends. “Thank god we had each other, because that’s a lonely, isolating feeling to have everything blow up and then suddenly, you’re doing it all on your own.”

They bonded quickly—and, for one reason, surprisingly. Ella is an unlikely Democrat, and Elizabeth is a conservative-leaning Christian. “I didn’t have a single influence that I can think of that was liberal,” says Ella, a 40-year-old copywriter who lives in Gainesville, a few minutes from where she grew up. “I mean, that was a bad word in the Bible Belt.” She says being the only liberal Democrat in her circle of close friends has made her good at “deflecting and keeping the peace.”

Elizabeth, a 39-year-old HR training and development specialist, grew up a self-described “army brat”; she and her family were living in Germany when the Berlin Wall fell. Elizabeth’s politics center in part on the fact that she is anti-abortion, which, she explains, is not only a moral issue but a deeply personal one: She had a stillborn baby at 27 weeks.

She describes herself as an evangelical Christian, with a disclaimer: “I think, sometimes, people think that means rightwing, straight–party ticket type of personality.”

Ella is pro—abortion rights, but her number one issue is universal healthcare. She jokes that she “would vote for Satan himself if it meant that everybody in the country could have quality healthcare.” When Elizabeth suggests that universal healthcare could turn into socialism, Ella responds, “I don’t care if it does.”

Despite their differences, they act as sounding boards for one another when it comes to parenting. Finding common ground is just as much for them as it is for their children. “You don’t want to go out of your way to teach your own children to be crazy about the same things that you’re crazy about,” Ella says. “I want to set them up to go out into the world and not make fools of themselves.”

The two women are learning to school their daughters on politically divisive topics in ways that don’t undermine an opposing worldview, because, Ella says, “screaming at people that they’re wrong has never changed anybody’s mind in the history of the world.”

Elizabeth agrees: “If you want to be heard, you have to learn to listen.”

This article appears in our November 2020 issue.

There’s a generational divide between Black Democrats. How will that play out at the polls—and at home?

This story is one of three narratives in our “The way we live politics” package; check out its companion pieces about marriages that cross party lines and friend groups that bridge the political divide.

Jayme Beasley grew up listening to her father talk about surviving the Vietnam War. “I remember asking him about being in the military. I was maybe 10 or 11. And I was like, Why did you go?” she says from her Stone Mountain home. When Jerome Beasley explained to his daughter that, because of the draft, he had no choice, Jayme’s curiosity turned to confusion. “That made me start to ask why. Why does anyone have to do something?”

His observations about the inhumanity of the war and the senseless politics underpinning it inspired the younger Beasley to keep asking questions. Now 26 and a political science doctoral student at Clark Atlanta University, Beasley studies progressive, pan-African political views espoused by activists such as Communist-feminist journalist Claudia Jones, who was convicted of “un-American activities,” and Civil Rights organizer Kwame Ture (born Stokely Carmichael), who coined the term “Black Power.” Beasley also cohosts the podcast Politics OR Politiking.

Jerome Beasley has inspired his daughter to think politically—even when she disagrees with him.

Photograph by Eley Photography

Despite their 44-year age gap, the father and daughter find that their political ideologies aren’t too far apart: They both were early supporters of Elizabeth Warren, citing her encyclopedic grasp of a wide range of policies; they are equally critical of what they see as Bernie Sanders’s inability to build bipartisan relationships; and neither will easily overlook Joe Biden’s involvement in the 1994 Crime Bill. (Though they will vote for him in November, as they did for Hillary Clinton in 2016.)

But they disagree on how effectively the Democratic Party is courting Black voters. Jayme thinks the party is too comfortable rallying behind politicians—including Biden and even his running mate, Kamala Harris—who pander to older Black voters instead of putting its support behind a more progressive agenda. “For people my age, they’re too safe,” she says of party leaders. “They’re not as liberating or critical of the system as a whole as we would like for them to be.” She also is less forgiving than her father is of Biden, calling him a “lazy” campaigner who relies on his former vice presidency to appeal to older Black voters instead of working to connect with younger ones.

Jerome says “lazy” is unfair. “I think the pandemic gives him more reason to say, I don’t have to campaign too heavily,” he says. “I can understand that. I’m not too happy about going out. I have no medical conditions, but still, I have age. I would think that caution is everything right now.”

“He was being lazy,” his daughter insists.

“You have your opinion. I have mine,” he says. “That’s the difference between being 26 and 70. It’s like night and day.”

Nationally, the political divide between younger and older Black voters is more vast than the divide between younger and older white ones. According to national polls conducted late this summer, white “likely voters” between the ages of 18 to 29 were more likely to support Biden than those over 65, but the opposite was true of Black voters: Biden had stronger support from older Blacks than from younger ones, with a wider margin separating them compared to their white counterparts. (Neither the summer’s Black Lives Matter protests nor the choice of Harris as a running mate did much to change Black voters’ support for Biden.) And with the Democratic party relying on significant Black turnout to defeat President Trump, motivating Black voters, old and (especially) young, will be crucial to the party’s success. That goes double for Georgia—a swing state with one of the nation’s largest Black populations.

Jayme Beasley learned a powerful lesson from her parents—one centered on acceptance.

Photograph by Eley Photography

There are other profound generational differences among Black voters, according to a poll conducted earlier in the summer: While 78 percent of older Blacks said they were “definitely motivated to vote,” only 29 percent of younger ones were. And more than three-quarters of older voters found the Democratic Party “welcoming” to Black Americans, compared to less than half of younger ones.

With November 3 drawing closer, however, the Black voting bloc likely will further coalesce to overcome some of its generational differences, according to Morehouse College political science professor Matthew Platt.

“My sense is that this divide [ultimately] will not show itself in this election,” Platt says. “I think the divide probably will still exist and will continue to manifest in Democratic politics in a variety of ways going forward, but I think most [Black] people are on board [with Biden].”

Platt says one of the best ways Biden can still win over young voters is by focusing on the pandemic. “That is actually the most important thing,” he says. If you’re a young person, “you would like to go out and live a life that you thought you could live in your 20s, and right now, you can’t because of Covid.”

Rick Hart, a junior at Morehouse College, was “politically active” growing up in his native Virginia, but his investment in the progressive movement wasn’t fully realized until Georgia’s 2018 gubernatorial election, when Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams lost to Brian Kemp in a tight race wrought with charges of voter suppression.

“I was always trying to rationalize where I stood on the spectrum,” Hart says. “And then I got to Atlanta, and Stacey Abrams was running for governor. That’s when I think I started to shift leftward.”

After initially mulling support for Warren and Sanders, though, Hart settled on what he believes is a more pragmatic choice: He decided to back Biden, believing that he is best poised to defeat President Donald Trump.

“We can elect somebody that better understands the issues and is willing to change where they are right now and adopt broader policy patterns, or we’re stuck with another four years with what we’ve had,” Hart says. “And I don’t think that alternative is what we want at all. Anything is better than what we have now.”

Born in 2000, Hart is a part of a generation distinguished by tragedy and hardship. When he was just a year old, the United States was attacked on 9/11. In 2008, the country began its descent into a housing crisis and the Great Recession.

Enter Barack Obama, who ushered in an era of hope and change, political catchphrases that to many young people were more than just empty slogans—at least for a while.

“After eight years of that, he leaves, Trump comes in, and then you realize it’s all broken. It always has been broken,” Hart says. He points out that Covid-19, which has further exacerbated such societal failures as inadequate healthcare and systemic racism, is the third major crisis to grip the country in his short lifetime. “We were raised in all of this,” he says of Generation Z. “We’re done. We’re done. We know what we want.”

But even when skeptical, young Black voters are willing to compromise, what they want isn’t always in line with what their parents want.

Agnes Scott student Loren Walter has had a hard time finding common political ground with her father, a moderate Democrat who supports Biden and considers Sanders’s and Warren’s policies socialist.

“I originally supported Warren, because I really, really do want to see a woman president,” says Loren, who’s now a Biden supporter. “Once she dropped out, I put my support toward Bernie, specifically because of his progressive ideas about healthcare, climate change, and student debt.”

“Although I want to see change, they’re too extreme for me,” says her father, Willie Walter. “I know that we need to take care of those who can’t afford healthcare. I understand that. I’m not trying to sound conservative, but we have those who are able-bodied, who can work and pay for their own insurance.”

Willie says he believes the government should help as needed, but not to the point where people are overly dependent on that help. “I believe if we do too much, we continue the cycle—like with welfare, we make it comfortable for them instead of providing them with opportunities to get off welfare,” he says.

Nia Foster, a junior at Spelman College, initially backed Sanders. But Foster’s more moderate parents, who are in their early 60s and upper-middle class, supported Biden from the jump. “Somebody like Bernie is threatening to them because there’s this fear they’re going to lose what they basically earned their whole life,” she says.

While Biden’s views don’t align with hers, Nia says she “probably” will vote for him because she simply can’t take four more years of Trump.

But Sanders supporter and Morehouse College student Patrick Darrington isn’t convinced Biden can do enough to satisfy voters who demand a more progressive approach to policy.

“I don’t have any faith in him to do anything that will come close to [a progressive agenda],” he says. “I’m not going to vote for him.”

Convincing younger Black voters to support Biden is half the battle for Democrats in Georgia and beyond. The other is ensuring that when ballots are cast, they’re counted.

Concerns about voter suppression in Georgia skyrocketed in 2018 after Abrams’s razor-thin loss to Brian Kemp and again this past June, when many voters in the primary election, particularly ones in majority-Black neighborhoods, were forced to stand in line for upwards of four hours. (On average, Black voters nationally wait 50 more minutes to vote than white ones.) What’s more, an ACLU of Georgia report published in September revealed that the state wrongly removed nearly 200,000 residents from voters rolls in late 2019. The report found the state removed voters who had supposedly moved from their registration address, when in fact they had not moved at all.

Taos Wynn is working to mobilize voters through his organization Millennial Civil Rights, which seeks to unite younger and older Blacks in the fight against voter suppression.

“When you talk about experiencing extremely long lines, when you talk about having inoperable equipment, when you talk about having inadequate resources—all of these things add up to the [disenfranchising] experience,” Wynn says.

Jayme Beasley says she is privileged to have grown up in a household where political discourse was encouraged. “I have some friends who just don’t talk about politics at all to their family,” she says. “It’s not a regular conversation at all.”

Though she and her father haven’t always agreed, the most powerful lesson she’s learned through her dialogue with her parents is not really about politics at all but about acceptance. “I think your understanding of love definitely impacts how you see somebody who disagrees with you,” she says. “My parents understand that love is letting a person be their full self and not trying to control them. Love is the ability to be free and to think on your own and to be able to accumulate knowledge. That’s how you fully love somebody. You let them be their full selves.”

Her father—exhibiting his characteristic proclivity for diplomatic debate—gently calls her out on her idealism. “Politics in the household has a lot to do with how the household is functioning, how it’s surviving,” Jerome Beasley says. “There are different levels of income, different levels of education. And when you’re in an environment that may not be a very good environment, in terms of those things, then Black people aren’t going to talk politics, because they have too many other things going on—like trying to make sure they can get their kids fed. There can be some rough spots if the child wants to talk about politics and the parents are talking about rent.”

“But they go together,” his daughter says of those two things.

“Yeah, they go together,” he replies. “But that’s not the issue at the moment. They’re not talking about politics, because they don’t have time to.”

This article appears in our November 2020 issue.

It’s increasingly rare for a marriage to cross party lines. Can such couples offer us hope?

This story is one of three narratives in our “The way we live politics” package; check out its companion pieces about friend groups that bridge the political divide and young voters who navigate generational differences with their parents.

Jessica Howell first met Dave Pratt at a dinner party hosted by mutual friends in 2011. A while later, she sent him a message on Facebook. He took three months to respond. (In his defense, “I really don’t check Facebook very much.”) Soon after, they went out for barbecue at Fox Bros., where they were so absorbed in conversation that they were the last patrons left in the dining room as the restaurant was closing. Dave asked what she was doing the next night. “Going out with you,” she said.

Nine years, one marriage, and two sons later, their Kirkwood home is full of noise and music and fun. During family dance parties, Jessica, Dave, and their two young sons (one is five, the other is two) take turns dancing and egging each other on. No matter what song is playing, Dave will twirl Jessica and then pull her close for a kiss.

Like every married couple, the Pratts argue—about housework or how much screen time the kids should get—but there is deep tenderness between them. Dave, a consultant, typically logs longer hours than Jessica, who works for Georgia State University’s School of Public Health, and, when things get busy, he doesn’t get home until close to midnight. On those nights, before she goes to bed, Jessica writes love notes on Post-its for him to find when he walks through the door, and he brings her dessert from whatever restaurant he grabbed dinner from. “It’s kind of like Christmas to check the fridge when I wake up in the morning,” she says.

Going into the relationship, Dave and Jessica knew they had their differences. He’s Black, and she’s white. He grew up in a small town in coastal Georgia; she’s from metro Atlanta. He’s a 50-year-old Gen Xer; she’s a 38-year-old Millennial. But to many people, the difference that’s most surprising isn’t any of these: It’s that he’s a Republican, and she’s a Democrat.

Jessica Pratt

Photograph by Eley Photography

When choosing a partner, there aren’t many taboos left. Interracial marriages have increased steadily since the landmark Loving v. Virginia case in 1967 and, as of 2015, comprised 17 percent of all new marriages. Nearly 40 percent of people who married between 2010 and 2014 wed someone of a different faith. And as of 2017, two years after the U.S. Supreme Court made same-sex marriage a right, about one in 10 LGBTQ+ adults were legally wed. Relationships that transcend political party lines, however, have become something of an oddity.

In 2017, Dr. Tamara Afifi, a communications professor at University of California–Santa Barbara, surveyed 1,000 people and found that only about 80 were married to someone who voted for the opposite candidate during the 2016 presidential election. “It’s pretty rare for people to actually be in a romantic relationship where one of them would vote for Clinton and the other would support Trump,” she says.

It wasn’t always that way. Shared political affiliation has become increasingly important for couples, in part because partisanship has become shorthand for something much more divisive than which policies you support, says Dr. Alexa Bankert, assistant professor of political science at the University of Georgia, whose research is focused on the development and consequences of partisan identities. Party affiliation has become what political scientists call a “mega-identity” among strong partisans, more closely aligned with their values than even race, religion, education, age, or gender. “Partisanship aligns, at least in our head, with much more than ideology,” says Bankert. “We use it to infer so much about the other person and what they stand for.”

As more of our values divide neatly along partisan lines, Americans increasingly view members of the other party in a negative light and choose friends and love interests based on political compatibility. These days, we’re less likely than ever to have a conversation with someone from a different party, let alone marry them.

Jessica admits she had some initial reservations about embarking on a serious relationship with a Republican. She grew up in a moderately conservative household, became a Democrat early on, then took a “sprint to the left” while getting a graduate degree in public health. These days, she says, she rarely interacts with any Republicans other than Dave and some extended family members.

“My social circle is pretty homogenous,” she says. “I had assumptions about Republicans, and I spent some time thinking through the long-term implications, like, will this lead to fundamental differences about how we might raise our kids?”

Dave Pratt

Photograph by Eley Photography

For Dave, a political-science major at UGA who later studied negotiation at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, the idea of dating a Democrat was of no concern. “As long as the person can voice their opinion in a convincing way, maybe I can be convinced. Jessica is very vocal about her beliefs and it’s one of the things I find most wonderful about her. . . . If you want to have a strong, enriched life, you’re not going to always agree.”

Couples that form across party lines may be judged harshly. Unlike interracial and same-sex marriages, which the majority of Americans now support, acceptance of interpolitical marriages has declined over the past several decades. Surveys from Gallup show that parents today are significantly more likely to care about their future daughter-in-law or son-in-law’s political affiliation than they were in the 1950s.

Jessica and Dave married in 2014, and their coworkers or new friends often express surprise when they find out that they’re wedded to someone of the opposite party. “During the Clinton years, when Democrats found out I was a Republican, they just laughed,” says Dave. “Then, once Republicans took control, it went from humor and disbelief to mild hostility. Since Trump came into the picture, it’s been overtly hostile.”

Dave says he sometimes gets judged by Trump supporters who are astonished that he’s not in favor of the President. But he receives the most hostility from Black Democrats, for being a Republican. “A lot of Black Democrats who meet me for the first time give me this look like I’m an Uncle Tom. If they never get a chance to get to know me, they always carry that,” he says.

It’s one reason why he thinks it’s so important to engage on a human level with people who believe differently than you. “If you never talk to them,” he says, “you just believe the memes and the tropes.”

Julie Shingadia, a moderate Democrat, has been married to Raj, a Libertarian who leans Republican, since 2004, and the couple has three children. She says as political polarization has increased, it’s been tough on their relationship.

“We’ve been together since the Clinton years, but I’ve felt the arguments [with Raj] more [acutely] over the past eight years,” she says. Julie, 42, was raised by parents who also didn’t agree politically and grew up having rousing, friendly debates around the dinner table. Now, she says, the friendliness has been removed from political discourse in general. Julie says that living in Suwanee, where her neighbors have expressed a lot of support for Trump, “conversations tend to get heated, even among friends. I’m not afraid to say that I support Black Lives Matter or gay rights or whatever, but I don’t want to get into a deep conversation about Trump.”

Raj, 42, who is Indian American and immigrated to the U.S. at age 10, is not a citizen and cannot vote. He considers himself a fiscal conservative and social moderate. “I support many of Trump’s policies and his position on China,” he says. “I don’t support his tweeting.” Still, the president and his rhetoric can act as an irritant in his relationship with his wife.

“He’ll defend some of the stuff that Trump does, and it drives me crazy,” says Julie. “When we start talking about candidates or people who are currently in office, that’s when we start butting heads more.”

“I’ll give somebody credit when they do something good, and I’ll bash them when they don’t,” Raj responds. “Trump is easy to bash, but I do give him credit for the times when he does something good.”

Because Dave and Jessica went into the relationship knowing that they were on different points of the political spectrum, they say they don’t get too fazed by disagreements. Still, the conversations aren’t always easy.

“I am almost always emotional when it comes to disagreements,” says Jessica. “Conversations escalate quickly to me flailing my hands in the air and raising my voice, and Dave is trained in keeping a cool head and bringing it back to the issues.” The downside is that sometimes “for him, it’s a fun debate, but for me, it’s upsetting. It gets to the point where I’m like, Stop negotiating with me. Let’s just talk about this like two people.

After the 2016 presidential election, Dave, who initially supported Jeb Bush for the party’s nomination, was wary but hopeful that, once in office, Trump would become less antagonistic and polarizing and would work collaboratively with the Republican establishment. Jessica was crushed.

“The next day, my coworker and I watched Hillary’s address and just wept in my office. I remember thinking, This is going to be such a disaster, and Dave and other Republicans saying, Once he’s president, he will be more presidential.

“I understood her point of view, and I also believed, then, it was a little bit of an overreaction,” says Dave. “I took [Trump] at his word, and I deferred to the judgment of the Republican leaders. It did not happen as I had envisioned. It probably didn’t happen how they had envisioned.”

Dave’s initial tepid support for Trump evaporated in the wake of the President’s reported disdain for fallen soldiers and feuds with Gold Star military families and Senator John McCain, who Dave considered a personal hero.

Even so, Dave isn’t willing to say that he is definitely voting for Biden this time around. He desperately wishes that another Republican had thrown their hat in as an Independent, and it clearly pains him to think about voting against his party. As of September, the most he’ll admit is that, “Right now, [Trump] does not have my vote.”

Asked how her husband’s statement makes her feel, Jessica says: “I don’t think there’s any chance he’d vote for Trump, and I would be shocked if he did.”

Dr. Jeanne Safer is a psychoanalyst and a Democrat who has been married to a Republican for more than 40 years. She says for many couples, political fights are really about being seen by their partner. “People don’t realize what these fights are about. They think it’s about Trump. But they’re really about the fact that somebody that you care about sees the world very differently than you do. That’s devastating to a lot of people,” says Safer, whose latest book I Love You, But I Hate Your Politics plumbs the complexities of interpolitical relationships.

She says couples have to focus on what they have in common and figure out a way to let the other things go—even if it means that some arguments never really get resolved. “People who agree politically can still have terrible relationships. People can be good partners even if you don’t agree,” she says.

In their marriage, Julie and Raj have embraced the idea of “letting go,” even if they aren’t always sure that it’s the right thing to do.

“We do talk more about those things we agree on, which tend to be social issues and human-rights issues,” Julie says. “I want to make sure that the kids absorb those values.”

“I don’t think we’re so far apart on the fundamentals,” Raj says. “I bet if we worked through those differences, we could find consensus.”

“But maybe not in terms of a candidate we support,” Julie adds.

Jessica and Dave both admit that they aren’t sure if they’d even have met or started dating after Trump’s election. The friends who introduced them are Republicans, and “I don’t think I’d have even been with that group of friends, given all of this,” Jessica says. Even if she had, “I would see that ‘R’ next to Dave, and been like, No.”

Finding couples to interview for this story was not easy. One source said all the couples she knew who had voted for opposing candidates in the 2016 presidential election had since divorced. In fact, every couple that agreed to be interviewed had something in common: at least a baseline agreement on President Trump.

Afifi says that’s not surprising. “I think what people are having a hard time with in the Trump era is that, as the parties move further apart ideologically and the rhetoric gets more poisonous, a vote for your values can become a vote against my values,” she says. When she surveyed couples in which one person voted Trump and the other voted Clinton, typically at least one partner would say, Politics don’t really matter to me, actually.

“It’s kind of softening the blow,” she says.

Safer, who interviewed dozens of couples while researching her book, says that, in the last few years, the number of relationships that are mixed politically is getting much smaller. “I think Trump has made the whole dynamic much worse. People think, How can you love me if you voted for this person?” she says. “They can’t even conceive that they could have a friendship or a marriage with someone who voted for the other side.”

That’s a shame, says Safer, because human connection is perhaps the only way to break the self-perpetuating cycle of polarization and antagonism between party members. The fewer crosspolitical relationships there are, the easier it is to believe the worst about the other side.

Samantha Phelps, a 24-year-old Democrat, has been dating her boyfriend, Nik Oesterle, a 30-year-old Republican, for three years. Nik’s last girlfriend broke up with him in 2017 because she couldn’t get over the fact that he voted for Trump, and Samantha’s previous experiences with Republicans made her feel like she was “talking to a wall.” They say that the key to their relationship has been keeping an open mind. As a result, they’ve intentionally worked hard to remove themselves from their respective echo chambers.

The couple, who live in South Forsyth, turn to Google and Apple News to stay informed (Nik deleted his Facebook account because his feed has become so politically charged) and seek opinions from both sides on conservative and liberal YouTube channels. Afterwards, they discuss how both sides presented the story and try to sniff out biases.

“I tried to have so many conversations with my ex-girlfriend about politics, and it was like a window that was always closed,” says Nik, the Atlanta branch manager of a national home-service company. “After we broke up, it was very important for me to find somebody who was open enough to have these conversations.”

“We’ve evolved as we’ve been dating. At first, it was more, I’m right, you’re wrong,” says Samantha, a market researcher who was recently laid off during the pandemic. But “if we kept saying, I’m right, you’re wrong, then, no one grows, and you don’t feel respected.”

The couple say their approach to their relationship has made them more centrist in their views and more supportive of politicians who are willing to work with members of the opposite party. “People don’t see the middle as bringing about change,” Samantha says. “But to us, that’s the way that you build consensus and actually make things happen.”

This article appears in our November 2020 issue.

How is Fulton County preventing an election day disaster?

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How is Fulton County preventing an election day disaster?
People wait in line to vote in Fulton County during the Primary Election on June 9, 2020.

Photograph by Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images

Voter roll purges, long lines at some precincts, late results. Will the Fulton County and state officials who oversee voter registration and the polls redeem themselves on November 3?

Okay, first off: Why is Fulton always late returning its results?
Fulton often doesn’t learn the winners of races until well after midnight, long after other counties have counted ballots, and the June primary was no different. Blame it on Fulton’s size—75 miles from north to south—and the task of serving a total of 787,000 voters, says Richard Barron, the county’s elections director. After poll workers break down hundreds of polling locations, they deliver cards with results to five “check-in” centers located around Fulton. Cards then are driven to the election division headquarters to be counted. In June, faulty machines and COVID-19 resulted in understaffed polls, thus the long lines—particularly in predominantly Black areas.

How will November 3 be different?
Barron says the failure of thousands of voters this summer to receive the mail-in absentee ballot they requested—he blames a convoluted email submission process and workers contracting COVID-19—has been addressed thanks to help from a $6.3 million grant from the Center for Tech and Civic Life, a Chicago-based nonprofit. By late September, his team had already processed more than 170,000 applications. Barron hopes mail-in ballots and early votes will make up 80 percent of the vote, which should help control lines on Election Day. (If you didn’t mail your absentee ballot in time, bring it to one of the 20 secure dropboxes that county election officials have placed around Fulton.) The county also bought two mobile-voting buses for $700,000 with nine voting stations. Eight hundred additional poll workers will be at more than 250 polling places.

And if I didn’t receive my absentee ballot?
Check your MyVoterPage online to find your polling place. (Poll locations have changed for roughly 170,000 Fulton voters.) Signs will indicate where you can cancel that ballot from the system and vote on site.

What role does Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger play?
Counties manage elections, but the secretary of state maintains voter rolls, oversees the election process, and certifies the results. Last year, Raffensperger removed roughly 310,000 voters from the rolls who had moved, died, or hadn’t cast a vote in recent elections. FairFight Action, the voter advocacy group organized by Stacey Abrams, responded with a federal lawsuit. A recent investigation by the Palast Investigative Fund found nearly 200,000 of those voters were still eligible to vote. (The lawsuit prompted the state last year to add 22,000 names back to the rolls.) He also signed off on new electronic voting machines, which are opposed by some fair-elections advocates like Marilyn Marks. She has sued the state to instead use handmarked paper ballots, which she calls “the gold standard.”

How can I be sure my vote gets counted?
Marks tells people, if they’re comfortable doing so during the pandemic, to request a mail-in absentee ballot and drop it off at a secure dropbox. Barron seems confident the process will run smoothly. Fingers crossed.

This article appears in our November 2020 issue.

How to volunteer on Election Day in metro Atlanta

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Where to volunteer on Election Day in Atlanta
Voters during the June 9 primary

Photograph by Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images

More than one million Georgia residents have requested absentee ballots for the upcoming general election, and more than 1.5 million have already voted early in person. With local companies like Mailchimp and SalesLoft giving their employees election day off, and so many Georgians voting early or by mail, many are looking to use their extra time on November 3 to help others stay in line and exercise their right to vote.

Here are a few nonpartisan opportunities for staying busy on Election Day and helping those waiting in line to vote across metro Atlanta.

Become a poll worker (in Gwinnett County)
As many traditional poll workers are older, and therefore in the high-risk group for COVID-19, many were concerned that we might face a shortage of poll workers this year. But counties like Fulton, DeKalb, and Cobb were overwhelmed with thousands of applications, and the spots quickly filled up. Gwinnett County, however, is still looking for poll workers, as long as you live within the county lines. You need to be at least 16 and a U.S. citizen, and it is paid.

Hand out snacks and water
During the June primary, as many voters stood in hours-long lines under the hot Atlanta sun at polling places, a few individuals mobilized to provide water and snacks to those in line for several hours, like the group #ProtestPizzaATL. Local nonprofit Feed the Revolution took sign-ups on Instagram, provided a pick-up location, and the volunteer could pick their snack loot to give away at a designated polling place.

For November 3, others are joining the food movement. Sign up to be part of the snack brigade with the Georgia 55 Project and help with “line-warming,” the act of feeding, hydrating, and providing support to voters waiting in line to vote, according to their form. You can sign up to organize supplies, drive supplies to specific hubs, or distribute supplies at a polling place to those waiting in line.

Podcaster and journalist King Williams has raised over $4,000 (and counting) to bring “Pizza to the Polls” across metro Atlanta, along with Georgia 55. The money raised will go to food, drinks, hand sanitizers, masks, gloves, flashlights, and portable chargers. He’s still recruiting volunteers to help out on the day of the election. You can sign up by sending him a message on Instagram.

Monitor at polling places
A poll monitor acts as a nonpartisan aid to ensure everyone gets a fair chance to cast their vote. You talk to voters in line as issues arise or if they need an interpreter. The Latino Community Fund is looking for bilingual Spanish speakers to be poll monitors in DeKalb, Gwinnett, Hall, and Cobb Counties. It is a paid opportunity at $20 an hour, and you can sign up for shifts here.

If you’re not bilingual, you can still sign up to be a volunteer poll monitor through legal nonprofit Advancing Justice Atlanta. Online training is scheduled on Thursdays and Saturdays. Masks, gloves, and signs are provided per shift, and if you sign up for two or more shifts, you’ll get paid $15 an hour.

Drive voters to the polls
The Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America (NACA) is sending out 15-passenger vans as part of their Poll-to-the-Polls campaign across nine counties in metro Atlanta. Voters can request a free ride via their site or by calling 1-888-495-6222.

You can volunteer to drive one of those vans by signing up here. The vans will be fully stocked with masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant wipes to protect voters and drivers.

Have an IT background? Become a Field Service Technician
Unfortunately, Georgia voters are very familiar with technical issues at their polling places—broken machines, interrupted Wi-Fi, etc. Several metro Atlanta counties are looking for Election Day field service technicians (via the Metro Atlanta Chamber) to alleviate that during election day.

Put your IT background to work during a half-day training to learn the setup and operation of polling place voting equipment. You need experience using tables, computers, printers, and scanners. Then, you’ll attend your 15-hour shift on Election Day to support poll workers at your designated location. Total compensation for this position is $400.

What is the future of Atlanta’s food halls?

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What is the future of Atlanta's food halls?
Ponce City Market’s Central Food Hall has adopted numerous COVID-19 precautions.

Photograph by Martha Williams

Over the past five years, food halls have become integral to the city’s dining scene, a place where a group of noncommittal eaters easily can gather regardless of where they fall on the picky-to-adventurous spectrum. At Ponce City Market, your options include tonkotsu ramen, a smoked-tofu Cubano, and bucatini carbonara. At Krog Street Market, you can graze on Zhong-style dumplings, a classic burger stack, or grilled-pork banh mi. At Marietta Square Market, you might vacillate between a Maine lobster roll, wood-fired Neapolitan pizza, and half-rack of baby back ribs. No reservation necessary.

Of course, when the pandemic hit, food halls were forced to rethink, at least temporarily, the viability of eating communally and congregating indoors. The transition to takeout hasn’t been easy. Even though each stall prepares food in a way that’s meant to be transported—typically, only from counter to food-court table—that hasn’t necessarily translated to brisk to-go business.

“These markets weren’t made for takeout,” says Grand Champion BBQ co-owner Robert Owens, who has a stall at Marietta Square Market in addition to four free-standing locations. “Marietta Square Market is more of a social hangout—not as much a place you think to pick up from.”

Owens started offering delivery via Postmates in April to help boost revenue. But the Marietta Square Market location, which only had been open about a year when the entire 18,500-square-foot facility temporarily closed for dine-in during the beginning of the pandemic, has seen the biggest decrease in sales of all his locations. “It gets a little better every week, but business is still way down, especially compared to what it was last summer,” he says.

What is the future of Atlanta's food halls?
Fred’s Meat & Bread at KSM.

Photograph by Martha Williams

“People are in their homes, tightening down and trying to get through this,” says Todd Ginsberg, who co-owns Fred’s Meat & Bread and Yalla stalls at Krog Street Market, as well as stand-alone restaurants the General Muir at Emory Point and Wood’s Chapel BBQ in Summerhill. “We run on such tight margins. A lot of restaurants are not going to make it.”

Ginsberg speaks from experience. His mini–food hall at Tech Square, the Canteen, which housed second locations of Fred’s and Yalla, closed in March due to stay-at-home orders and never reopened. “The consistent business there was from students, faculty, and nearby businesses,” he says. “When everyone went remote, we looked to assistance from our landlord.” When that assistance didn’t materialize, Ginsberg and his partners shuttered the Canteen.

At Krog Street Market, Ginsberg’s two stalls have seen a 70 percent decline in business compared to prepandemic, he says. “Krog had called to us because it was off the BeltLine—a place for people to walk around, shop, grab lunch and a beer in an air-conditioned space,” Ginsberg says. “A lot of those things were affected by COVID-19.” Despite the loss of walk-up customers at Krog, Ginsberg says he’s fortunate that online ordering, takeout, and delivery have kept Fred’s and Yalla afloat.

What is the future of Atlanta's food halls?
Salatim Bowl and a hibiscus soda from Yalla at Krog Street Market.

Photograph by Martha Williams

Asana Partners, which owns Krog Street Market, declined an interview request. Ed Lee, a principal at Capital Properties Group and partner in Marietta Square Market, says the food hall, which closed for a couple months, offered rent assistance to its vendors. “The landlord has been a help,” says Owens, who also was able to get a PPP loan for Grand Champion BBQ. “I have enough faith that we’ll find a solution to this.” Jamestown, the real estate and investment firm that launched Ponce City Market, offered its vendors resources to set up mobile ordering and contactless payment options and to increase social media reach. Jamestown also offered financial assistance to businesses on an as-needed basis. “Some is rent abatement, some is rent deferral, some is a loan to help people change their spaces while waiting on PPP dollars,” Jamestown president Michael Phillips says. By the time Ponce City Market’s food hall reopened to customers in late May, Jamestown had increased outdoor seating options and equipped many of its stalls with acrylic shields.

“Every day is a struggle,” says Tal Baum, owner of Bellina Alimentari at Ponce City Market. “But Jamestown has been an amazing partner through all of this.”

Baum says she’s seen a major decrease in foot traffic at Ponce City Market, yet she says sales at Bellina are slightly higher than at her non–food hall restaurants, Rina (located in a commercial strip across the BeltLine from PCM) and Aziza (in Westside Provisions District).

What is the future of Atlanta's food halls?
Business at Ponce City Market’s food hall is slowly but steadily picking back up.

Photograph by Martha Williams

To cut labor costs at his Ponce City Market restaurant, El Super Pan, Hector Santiago trimmed his number of menu items by 40 percent. He says the cost of personal protective equipment and disposable containers and utensils has further cut into El Super Pan’s profits, at a time when revenue has been down 20 to 50 percent compared to before the pandemic.

But business at Ponce City Market is slowly picking up. “For us, being in a food hall helps,” Santiago says. “Ponce is a very popular place, and even when there is not a lot of [foot] traffic, there is more traffic than elsewhere.”

What is the future of Atlanta's food halls?
Hector Santiago at his Ponce City Market restaurant, El Super Pan. “For us, being in a food hall helps,” he says.

Photograph by Martha Williams

Santiago also owns a second El Super Pan location at the Battery (where business is down 50 percent) and El Burro Pollo in the new Collective food hall at Coda in Tech Square. The stall had only been open for a few weeks when it closed at the end of March. Coda and Santiago are planning to host Thursday pop-ups throughout the fall to bring customers back to the area. “We’re just trying to survive,” Santiago says.

Will food halls fully rebound? Andrew Zimmern, host of Bizarre Foods and What’s Eating America, and Robert Montwaid, of the Gansevoort Market food court in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, are betting on a full recovery. Their 22,000-square-foot Chattahoochee Food Works debuts this fall in northwest Atlanta, with the first nine of an eventual 31 stalls set to open soon, including vendors specializing in South African street food, Lebanese barbecue, and homestyle Thai. Zimmern said in an August interview that the food hall concept has taken on new urgency: “The events of the last six months have underscored the necessity to provide low-barrier entry to business for food entrepreneurs.”

Zimmern and Montwaid point out that, as they await an economic rebound from the pandemic, the flexible nature of a food hall allows reconfiguration for challenging times, with indoor and outdoor seating more spread out now—and, when the pandemic finally recedes, more packed-in later. (There are similar, adaptable plans for the revamped Colony Square food hall in Midtown, set to open next year with digital ordering, contactless pickup, and movable seating.)

“The great thing about the space and site is we could probably seat 1,000 people—the market is bordered on three sides with outside space,” Montwaid said in August. “We’ll be able to open safely and keep social distancing in place.”

This article appears in our November 2020 issue.

My quest for a safer massage during the pandemic

Massage in a pandemic
Monish Lahiry, of Blank Canvas Massage, gave me a masked backyard massage that felt safe.

Photograph courtesy of Christine Van Dusen

My mission seemed simple enough, but everywhere I turned, I hit brick walls—no, we don’t do that. It’s too hot. Try someone else. Then came a cagey Facebook reply: “I have a guy. DM me for his number.” I immediately followed her instructions, waited several days, followed up again, and then was given the contact information.

I was in need of someone with a particular set of skills, I told the guy, and a willingness to follow my rules. For $90, he was in.

This is the process I went through in order to schedule an hour-long massage that seemed safest during a pandemic: outdoors (to avoid contaminated air), in a massage chair (thus facing away from the therapist for the majority of the time), with both of us wearing masks (in case one of us was unknowingly infected).

These are strange times, times that have called for sacrifice, for isolation, and for hypervigilance about the spread of coronavirus. Meanwhile zippy listicles, pithy Instagram posts, and supposedly inspirational podcasts have repeatedly reminded—nay, commanded us—to practice self-care. But for many of us, this is fraught. We are afraid to go back inside gyms for endorphin-boosting exercise, and fear the germs that might reside inside even the swankiest of spas. We try to make the best of things, working out at home and breaking out the old foam roller for some approximation of a rubdown. But it’s not the same.

I was not on a massage schedule before the pandemic hit; I saw the service as a small luxury, and I’d just pop into my local place whenever I felt particularly tense, desperately needed a break, or had a gift card to cash in. When the pandemic took hold, I stopped going, and I didn’t return, even after the state said spas were permitted to reopen. We all saw the jokey videos, but yeah, I wasn’t interested in being massaged at a distance by a broom.

As the first day of all-virtual school approached for my eight- and 10-year-old sons, and I tried to keep up with the associated barrage of emails while also working full-time, I found myself daydreaming of simpler times, of strolling into I Love Massage and spending $40 (plus tip) for some serious muscle-kneading.

So I made it my mission to get a pandemic-appropriate massage.

Monish Lahiry, a therapist with Blank Canvas Massage in Kirkwood, drove to my house on a humid Tuesday evening. He rang the doorbell and was greeted, through a small crack in the door, by my loud and scrambling dog and by my somewhat-annoyed husband, who asked Lahiry to please go through our side gate to the backyard.

Lahiry, wearing a mask, waded through our knee-high grass to the back deck and set up his massage chair and a speaker playing soft trip-hop, then wiped everything down. I met him there in my own mask, then turned on a small fan and lit two candles, not for ambience but in a sorry attempt to keep the mosquitos at bay and drop the temperature a few degrees. For extra protection, I sprayed myself down with bug repellant—not Lahiry’s massage oil of choice, but it would have to do.

With my masked face in the cradle, it was at first difficult to unwind, what with the mosquitos biting my fingers and my worry that Lahiry might pass out from the summer heat. I also became keenly aware of the base level of stress I’d been feeling for the preceding months of the pandemic, how I was always pushing my limits and suffering sleeplessness and irritability as a result. I tried to focus on the feeling of the massage, which consisted mostly of pressure-point techniques and myofascial release, and the little hotdog men on Lahiry’s socks.

He eased the tension in my neck and lower back and relaxed my shoulders. I melted into the chair and underneath his hands, and then another thought popped into my head. The pandemic had put me into a constant state of wanting—wanting to go to house parties again, wanting to go to the gym again, wanting to perform with my band in a packed bar again—and in that state of wanting I had ascribed to these experiences an almost magical, transcendent quality. But could any of these experiences really match up to expectation, once I had the chance to participate in them again?

I realized that perhaps it was alright to miss things but that they shouldn’t be built up to mythic proportions, and that it was healthiest to stay in the moment, enjoying what I could have. So I closed my eyes, breathed through my mask, and let go.

Reminisce your days partying at Backstreet with this ultimate playlist

Cabaret performer Raven “The Goddess”
Cabaret performer Raven “The Goddess”

Photograph by Russ Bowen-Youngblood/ Eclipse & DAVID Magazine

“The DJs made us,” says Backstreet co-owner Vicki Vara, who along with her brother Henry managed the iconic Midtown gay disco for most of its nearly 30-year historic run from 1975 to 2004. “Everyone who came in the door knew these DJs were the best.”

With 10,000-square-feet of space, a massive dance floor and state of the art lighting (“there were so many glowing buttons on the light board it looked like the bridge of the starship Enterprise,” says DJ Bill Berdeaux, who spun at the club from 1997 to 2004) Backstreet’s turntables produced so much sound, each had to be insulated with large bags of ground coffee.

Says Berdeaux: “The best feeling in the world was arriving for work at 5 A.M. and standing out there on that DJ platform looking down on a packed dance floor and the other DJ said, “OK, it’s all you.” And then, playing your first song as that sea of people down there just screamed. When you got the music cranked during peak hours, the whole building shook. It was almost like the building was breathing.”

Backstreet debuted in 1975 at the dawn of disco and through the next 29 years, the venerable club’s DJ booth in the sky both kept up with and help to influence dance music trends as tastes shifted from the closed high-hat cymbals and wah-wah guitars of disco to House, Electronica, Trance and Techno.

Below, down on the dance floor, Backstreet regulars like Avedon Elliott were absorbing every new beat. “Before Backstreet, I was mostly a hip-hop girl,” recalls Elliott. “I wasn’t big into dance music until I went to Backstreet. And then, I was just all over it. I was buying remixes by Amber, Alice Deejay, you name it. You would get introduced to things at Backstreet and then fall in love with the artists.”

With the help of the nearly 10,000-person Facebook group I Partied at Backstreet who served as curators, as an accompanying soundtrack to our October Pride issue Oral History of Backstreet, we’ve assembled this massive three-decade, nearly 12-and-a-half-hour Backstreet playlist for Atlanta readers. (The first 100 songs are embedded below, but if you have a Spotify account, be sure to actually launch it there to see the full playlist.)

As you crank the volume on your favorite dance tracks, don’t forget to register to attend our final virtual Atlanta magazine Pride Conversation on Wednesday, October 21 at 7:30 P.M.—A Backstreet Reunion with Charlie Brown’s Cabaret emcee Charlie Brown, DJ Bill Berdeaux, co-owner Vicki Vara, and the club’s longtime technical director Fred Wise. RSVP for free here.

Are you a “monogramaniac”? A closer look at the timeless Southern fashion statement

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Proudly stitched, stamped, or stuck on tea towels and baby clothes, luggage and stationery, even the rear windows of cars, monograms are ubiquitous in the South. They date back to early Greece and Rome, when rulers used their initials to authenticate currency. So why are monograms regarded as a Southern staple? Many point to a regional emphasis on family tradition and a love of family names.

  • There is a right way to monogram. Beyond the traditional three-letter style, in which the initial for one’s surname is largest and centered, a host of etiquette rules govern the handling of hyphenated names, couples’ monograms, and other variations. (Who made these rules? Unclear. But like our names, we’re stuck with them.)
  • In the Middle Ages, embroidered monograms helped identify a family’s laundry, which was washed communally.
  • Monograms took off during the Victorian era as a symbol of wealth. An 1871 article in Appletons’ Journal referred to enthusiasts of the trend as “monogramaniacs.”
  • Elvis Presley adopted the monogram TCB for “Taking Care of Business.” (The wives and girlfriends in his entourage received pendants inscribed with TLC—“Tender Loving Care.”) Graceland still sells merch emblazoned with the King’s famous logo.
  • Proof that Southerners will monogram anything? Jon Grigsby, owner of 5 Flags Embroidery in Gulf Breeze, Florida, reports that he’s been asked to personalize bikinis, baseballs, yoga mats—even toilet paper.
  • In the words of Southern celebrity Reese Witherspoon: “My rule is, if it’s not moving—monogram it.”

This article appears in the Fall/Winter 2020 issue of Southbound.

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