This past Thursday, members of our pastoral staff had an opportunity to join 25-30 community leaders for a meeting with Senator John Ossoff at the Tubman Museum for African American Art, History, and Culture.
We gathered in the rotunda of the museum (an impressive space if you have not been inside), sitting in a large circle of chairs. Senator Ossoff opened the meeting with a few words of welcome and gratitude for us being there, along with a very clear and direct explanation of what our time together would be.
This was not a campaign stop, but one of many non-partisan listening sessions he is conducting around the state. We were assured the media was in a separate room behind closed doors, and so we were encouraged to speak freely. There were folks from across the political spectrum in attendance, a fact respected by the tone and tenor throughout the meeting.
Senator Ossoff updated us on some initiatives and bills he was sponsoring, all of which he noted were bi-partisan efforts. He said this was important to him not just because it is how anything can get done in the senate, but because he feels this is his mandate as a senator representing a state as diverse as Georgia.
Much of these initiatives had to do with addressing needs of those in service, particularly first responders and veterans. Others addressed concerns about the welfare of those incarcerated in federal and state prisons.
He also mentioned work on a high speed rail system from Atlanta to Savannah, which would include Macon—a project many of us have heard of for years.
I’ll confess I’m not exactly sure how we came to be on the guest list for this listening session—there were but a handful of clergy present. But I am grateful we were.
Not only was it an honor to have time with a sitting US Senator (who was joined by US Representative Sanford Bishop and State Representative Miriam Paris, as well as Mayor Miller and Mayor Pro Tem Seth Clark) but it was also supremely encouraging to be able to listen to so many incredible local community leaders.
The bulk of our time together was spent with Senator Ossoff going around the circle and asking each of us gathered, one by one, what questions, concerns, or even criticisms we might offer.
It was impressive to see the attention he gave each and every one of us, as well as his obvious grasp of so many of the issues raised.
But I am even more happy to report how encouraging and hopeful it was to hear from others in the circle and learn more about the good work that is being done locally to care for our community.
There were those championing mental health needs, which have increased exponentially since the start of the pandemic. Others raised concerns about education and the need for better funding of our public schools. Still others spoke of the need for equitable access to college and the need for trade school funding.
There was much discussion about the Ocmulgee National Historic Park and the tremendous work being done to elevate it to Georgia’s first national park.
Robins Air Force base was also a priority of several in attendance, and a concern that the Air Force keep its word on continuing to send new programs as the J-STARs are phased out.
All were well-spoken, informed, and insightful.
I’m happy to report our pastors made contributions as well, raising concerns about LGBTQ+ protections, echoing the concerns about mental health and the need for public school funding and college access, and asking about the state of gun safety legislation.
In short, it was a good day for our community. So much of what we hear and experience of politics, especially on the national level, is broken to the point of being enraging and even despairing.
But for a few hours last week I was reminded that when we talk of politics, we are really speaking of what we value as a community: how we will organize ourselves, care for each other, and ensure that everyone has what they need to live a happy, safe, and productive life of their choosing.
We have a long way to go to bring this vision closer to reality—as a nation and a local community.
Which is why it is all the more important to celebrate and share the moments when we catch a glimpse of what is possible.