Come One, Come All
It looks as if the GOP-backed decision to designate March 12 as the first-ever "Family Day at the Capitol" and throw open the doors of the Statehouse to average Georgians could turn out to be more successful than anyone had imagined. Several groups are seizing the opportunity to spur hundreds, if not thousands, of their supporters to the Capitol to show opposition to certain conservative legislation.
Gays, Latinos, the working poor and union members are among the hordes planning to descend on the Capitol for an event originally billed as a family-friendly picnic. Some Family Day attendees will be bussed in from as far away as Brunswick.
Tasso Knight, political coordinator for the Georgia AFL-CIO, says his group is teaming up with the Atlanta Labor Council to bring as many as 2,000 union members and their families from across the state.
"We thought [lawmakers] should become acquainted with Georgia's working families," he says. He adds that some pro-business legislators may have lost sight of their constituents when they voted for a Senate bill that would create a new "training wage," allowing young workers to be paid less than the federal minimum wage.
Many Latinos are equally upset with a proposed state constitutional amendment to prohibit undocumented aliens from attending Georgia's public schools - universities included - or from receiving social services, says Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials.
By contrast, Chuck Bowen, executive director of Georgia Equality, which lobbies for gay and lesbian issues, says he isn't urging gay couples to bring their children to the Capitol out of a desire to get in lawmakers' faces.
"We don't want this to be a demonstration or march," Bowen explains. "This is really a chance for people to get to know their representatives."
The labor unions, Latino organization and other groups are planning to meet in the Gold parking lot near Turner Field at 9 a.m. and march to the Capitol in time for the opening gavel at 10. The legislative day is scheduled to wrap up by noon, with a free barbecue lunch served outside, along with face-painting, a children's space walk, full-size cartoon mascots and a display of Georgia birds by the state Department of Natural Resources.
"I don't think anyone would be turned away because of the size of the crowd," says Michelle Hitt, spokesperson for House Speaker Glenn Richardson, R-Hiram. "We're very excited that people seem to be interested."