Keisha Lance Bottoms, Atlanta's mayor, is the leader America needs

Keisha Lance Bottoms, Atlanta’s mayor, is the leader America needs

Keisha Lance Bottoms

‘Look for the helpers.’

It’s the famous advice that children’s TV host Fred Rogers’ mother shared with him as a boy that routinely goes viral in times of crises as we grasp for something – anything – comforting.

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers—so many caring people in this world,” is how Fred Rogers explained it.  

In times of disaster looking for the helpers can offer hope and reassurance and comfort – to children and adults alike.

But the further the helpers are from power, the less influential they can be. When those in power are not just unequivocally not helping but are making things far worse it’s cold comfort.  

A definitive helper in the United States – who is gathering power with every passing day – right now is Atlanta’s mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who CNN has described as ‘the face and the voice’ of the Democrats.

Of the Atlanta-born lawyer and judge who has been the mayor since 2018, CNN’s Chris Cillizza wrote:

“The mayor of Atlanta, has emerged more so than any other Democratic politician — including the party’s presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden — as the sort of leader the party (and the country) needs amid ongoing protests and violence across the country following the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, at the hands of Minneapolis police last week. When violence raged in Atlanta on Friday night, Bottoms delivered remarks that were breathtaking in their candour and ferocity.” 

She is the leader the US needs right now: an incredibly powerful force willing and able to offer strength and unity.

“I am a mother to four black children in America, one of whom is 18 years old,” Bottoms said on Friday night in response to reports protests in Atlanta had become violent. “And when I saw the murder of George Floyd, I hurt like a mother would hurt. And yesterday when I heard there were rumours about violent protests in Atlanta, I did what a mother would do, I called my son and I said, ‘Where are you?’ I said, ‘I cannot protect you, and black boys shouldn’t be out today.'”

“So, you’re not going to out-concern me and out-care about where we are in America,” Bottoms said. “I wear this each and every day, and I pray over my children, each and every day.”

But she was unequivocal that Floyd’s death would not be served by chaos.

“If you want change in America, go and register to vote. Show up at the polls on June 9. Do it in November. That is the change we need in this country. You are disgracing our city; you are disgracing the life of George Floyd and every other person who has been killed in this country. We are better than this. We’re better than this as a city. We are better than this as a country. Go home. Go home.

“This is not the legacy of civil rights in America. This is chaos and we’re buying into it. This won’t change anything. We’re no longer talking about the murder of an innocent man. We’re talking about how you’re burning police cars on the streets of Atlanta, Georgia. Go home.”

The New York Times published a blistering op-ed from Bottoms on Wednesday in which she urges Americans to use their vote to protest for a better future. The headline alone is devastating: “The Police Report to Me, but I Knew I Couldn’t Protect My Son.”

She describes calling her son frantically when news of the violent protests spread and begging him to come straight home.

“Although as mayor, the chief of police reports to me, in that moment, I knew what every other parent to a black child in America knows: I could not protect my son. To anyone who saw him, he was simply who he is, a black man-child in the promised land that we all know as America.”

Despite wanting a better solution than getting her son straight home because it wasn’t “safe for black boys to be out” Bottoms knew it was the safest option. Changing that is a gigantic task but it is one Bottoms refuses to believe is beyond Americans.

“We are better than the hatred and anger that consumes so many of us. We are better than this deplorable disease called racism that remains so rampant,” she wrote.

To say America is in a state of chaos right now is an understatement; it is terrifying and heartbreaking to watch.

We are not immune from the unrest or the deplorable disease of racism. Systemic racism is as rampant here in Australia as it is in the US. There is palpable, warranted anger among First Nations people right now at Australians having the audacity to wring their hands at police brutality in the US while overlooking the very same shame in our own backyard.

And, as Bottoms has so powerfully argued, we are better than this. We have to be. It is unconscionable.

Keisha Lance Bottoms had been touted as a potential Vice-President for Joe Biden even before the past six days have thrust her into the national spotlight. Frankly a shot at VP seems almost a travesty. Keisha Lance Bottoms deserves the presidential ticket.

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