By Jenny Alpaugh
When Tim Denson gave his concession speech on May 20, 2014 after the Athens-Clarke County mayoral election, it didn’t signify defeat, but instead, a new beginning.
“That concession speech doubled as the announcement speech that Athens for Everyone was forming,” Denson said.
Athens for Everyone is a 501(c)(4) non-profit organization that grew out of Denson’s 2014 campaign for mayor. Many non-profit organizations are 501(c)(3), but having the status of a 501(c)(4) allows A4E to lobby and be involved in politics.
“We’re an organization that’s trying to make sure the policies and the laws that are coming out of our county government and also our state government, that they work for everyone,” said Denson, president of the organization. “Not just the most privileged, the most well connected, the most well-off people here in Athens.”
As soon as Denson’s campaign ended, planning began for A4E. They spent the summer deciding how the logistical details of the organization would work.
“The one thing we knew is that we had to keep the ball moving, we couldn’t lose momentum,” Denson said. “That was the whole thing, building momentum for this campaign. We needed to keep the momentum going right into Athens for Everyone.”
As a part of his campaign, Denson, along with other campaign volunteers, went door to door to find out what issues are important to Athenians. This was how Denson’s platform was created. He said a downside was that this led to an expansive platform. However, the research was important in choosing what A4E would focus on improving.
“They decided that those were just too important to just set aside,” Drew Hooks said.
Hooks is on the board of A4E and is the point person for the worker’s rights campaign. Currently this campaign is working toward attaining a living wage for all Athens-Clarke County local government employees. The goal is $10.17 per hour.
“That’s from research done by MIT where they take the cost of living across different cities across the country,” Hooks said. “You can actually just go in and type in your city and they tell you what the living wage is.”
Workers rights is one of the many issues A4E is working toward improving. They also have public transportation, sexual assault prevention, Medicaid expansion and criminal justice reform campaigns.
“I think everyone was passionate about different aspects of the campaign and what it stood for, so we decided to have separate issues that we want to tackle all at once,” said Vice-President of A4E Laura Briggs said. “Basically our goal was to just make Athens more all-inclusive.”
According to the 2014 census, the poverty rate in Athens is almost 37 percent. Hooks says the campaigns A4E is working on can play a role in decreasing this percentage.
“We have a lot of social service organizations in Clarke County but yet our poverty rates persist,” Hooks said. “That leads me to see what needs to change are structural issues in our local, state and federal governments. And in order to get that to happen, people have to organize.”
Chris Dowd was Denson’s campaign manager and is now the secretary of A4E. He facilitated surveys about public transportation in Athens that showed the need for Sunday bus service. With the combined efforts of A4E and Athens transit, Sunday bus service made it into the 2015-16 budget proposal, which was then passed. He believes the work A4E is doing is beneficial on a personal level as well.
“It’s almost like a form of therapy, I think, and it’s empowering too,” Dowd said. “You can actually do things if you speak up. You can get things like Sunday Bus Service in place which make a difference for people and that feels good.”