Perimeter Progressives, a local group formed in response to President Trump’s election, drew more than 60 residents and several elected officials to its debut meeting Feb. 28 in Dunwoody.
Joe Seconder, a well-known Dunwoody bicycling advocate who created the group, told the crowd that he intends to focus on local politics with an appeal to both Democrats like himself and disaffected centrists as well. He spoke of city-level organizing as a way to push changes up to the federal level, though he didn’t specify any agenda.
“We can meet in the middle,” Seconder said, kicking off the gathering at Café Intermezzo, a coffee house near Perimeter Mall. But he also joked, “This is the celebration party for Hillary [Clinton] winning Dunwoody” in liberal-rousing election results in the Republican-dominated area. State Rep. Sam Park (D-Lawrenceville) also spoke briefly, calling for making “Georgia blue from the statehouse to the White House.”
Other officials in attendance included Dunwoody City Councilmember Lynn Deutsch, who declined comment, and Chamblee City Councilmembers Thomas Hogan II and Brian Mock. Stumping for votes were Ron Slotin, a Democratic former state senator from Sandy Springs now running for the 6th Congressional District seat, and Keenan Pontoni, the campaign manager for Jon Ossoff, another Democratic candidate in that race. Sally Harrell, a Democratic former state representative who briefly joined the 6th District race, also attended.
Residents of such areas as Brookhaven, Sandy Springs and Gwinnett County made the trip for the event.
For longtime liberal activists like Keith and Nancy Kaylor of Dunwoody, the event was exciting. The Kaylors have both run for local and state offices and once formed a small Dunwoody chapter of the national political and socializing group Drinking Liberally.
“I’m totally awestruck at how many people are here,” said Keith Kaylor, explaining that his group used to be lucky to draw five people. With Trump’s election, he said, “A lot of people really were complacent and we got a big shock.”
Others were drawn by the group’s appeal to centrism and local politics. Robert Wittenstein, president of the Dunwoody Homeowners Association, noted that Seconder spoke of the group representing a spectrum of political opinions, and “I’m somewhere in the middle.”
Held on a covered patio with a buffet and bar, and only brief remarks from Seconder and Park, the low-key event was more cocktail party than political party. But where politics came up, they were decidedly left-wing.
Tamara Johnson-Shealey, a Democrat who has unsuccessfully challenged Dunwoody Republican Fran Millar for the local state Senate seat, worked a table at the door, signing up people to volunteer on “progressive campaigns.” And the guest speaker announced for the group’s next meeting heads an effort to elect candidates who support abortion rights.
The meeting opened with a Pledge of Allegiance playfully led by Carter Dyche, a Dunwoody Elementary School fifth-grader sporting a “John Lewis Speaks For Me” button, which he said he got from the congressman and Civil Rights leader during an office visit. When Seconder later mentioned Clinton’s strong showing locally, Dyche called out, “She’s the president of Dunwoody!”
At least 60 people attended the first hour, and organizers later said a total of 104 people signed in over the course of the evening. Seconder said the group raised more than $750 in donations at the door.
Several attendees noted that the group is part of a wave of new and revived grassroots liberal groups that has followed Trump’s election. A very similar group is the Roswell-based Needles in a Haystack, founded in 2012. Other such liberal groups mentioned by attendees were a Gwinnett area chapter of the “Indivisible” movement; the “Huddles” that have come from the Women’s March demonstrations in January; and “Team Seven,” a group of progressive activists that has quietly worked on Dunwoody and Sandy Springs elections for a few years.
“I’m seeing this all around the district,” said Slotin. “There are progressive groups popping up everywhere…It’s almost forming neighborhood by neighborhood.”
“This election cycle has more groups than usual,” said Pontoni, who also served as campaign manager for Michigan state Rep. Gretchen Driskell’s unsuccessful challenge of an incumbent GOP congressman in the November election.
“People are starting to pay attention, especially to local politics,” said Johnson-Shealey.
“Democracy is a muscle,” Park said in an interview before the meeting. “To see it beginning to flex and people beginning to wake up is very encouraging.”
Perimeter Progressives next will start monthly meetings at the Dunwoody Branch Library. The guest speaker at the March 8 meeting will be Melita Easters of Georgia’s WIN List, a political action committee aimed at electing Democratic women candidates who support abortion rights.
For more information, see perimeterprogressives.org.