If all goes according to plan, the local group ‘Savannahians Against Ticketing for Jaywalking' will deliver several thousand signatures to City Hall this Friday, the day before Independence Day.
The Facebook-organized group met this past Thursday night at Loco's downtown. I sat down with organizer Michael Gaster to get a snapshot of where the group's efforts stand right now.
"This is just an opportunity to give people a chance to get together and put faces with names," Gaster said. "We can discuss things in a casual atmosphere together, not just going back and forth online. And to show a sense of unity."
Unity is a particularly thorny aspect of this, and pretty much every other bit of local activism. Specifically, getting local small businesses onboard in the face of possible retaliation.
"What I've heard from business owners is they don't want to be shut down," says Gaster. "They want to know, if they speak up are they going to have their business taken away, their home taken away, have an inspector come in? We're talking about people's livelihoods here."
Gaster cites Ruel Joyner, owner of the Broughton Street store 24e, as one downtown businessperson taking a proactive stance.
"Ruel is stepping up and saying, I'll be as vocal as I can be," says Gaster. "Other business owners, I can tell, are on the verge of being ready to say something. If we can see some results I think more people would be more vocal."
Gaster says the fear of reprisal from the city isn't necessarily delusional, but based in reality.
"I know a particular business owner who had a lot of trouble with the city, and told an alderman, ‘I will go out of business. You'll run me out,'" Gaster relates. "The alderman's response was, ‘That's OK, we've got it made down here, somebody else will come in.' What kind of attitude is that? Especially in this economy!"
The jaywalking controversy seems to have struck a chord in Savannah, I think because it calls into question two things we take particular pride in: Hospitality towards visitors, and the unique fabric of downtown life. Both are threatened by the city's continuing overregulation.
I asked Gaster, half-jokingly, if the group was planning a display of civil disobedience by jaywalking across Bay Street to City Hall to present the petition.
"We'll just cross the street safely," he laughed.
In other business: Our market research - a Twitter poll administered by Community Editor Patrick Rodgers - indicates our readers are 100 percent against any Miley Cyrus coverage. That said, we would be remiss not to mention her at all - the first major film here since 2000 is quite newsworthy indeed.
On that note, I'd like to direct you to the first article by our new intern, Amy Rhodin, who's in town between semesters at George Washington University. She joins A&E Editor Bill DeYoung this issue in getting us aboard the all-important Miley bandwagon.
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Thanks, Jim, for my new campaign slogan.