Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Halloween Street Scene

Posted by Deirdre Oakley, ATLANTA, GA – Sometimes you just come across things on the street that make you stop. Late last week I was walking up Marietta Street in downtown Atlanta, not far from the Georgia State University campus, when I came across this scene. What juxtaposition: an empty mini of Tanqueray gin next to a soda cup on top of GSU stickered Police Call Box Number 13. Who knows what the story behind this was – perhaps just a random collection of items --but the Number 13 seemed especially timely and even a little spooky since Halloween is tomorrow. Boo!

Deirdre Oakley is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Georgia State University and the Editor of Social Shutter. She can be contacted at

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Write What's On Your Mind at Occupy Atlanta

Posted by Deirdre Oakley, WOODRUFF PARK, ATLANTA, GA – Occupy Atlanta just finished up an usually cold, windy, and wet second week of peaceful occupation, and with it came a collection of written stories from participants and passersby. The stories are on a six-by-six feet section of wooden fence posts erected by the organizers against a tree in the middle of the encampment. Different colors of Sharpies are neatly placed at the top of the fence so people without such writing material on hand get a chance to pen what’s on their mind. And given the spirit of the movement, it shouldn’t be surprising that no one is putting the Sharpies in their pocket. The fence has filled up quickly with an eclectic mix of heart wrenching stories, various symbols, political and “I am here” statements, as well as a few entries that really aren’t very serious. But there is a common thread throughout the writings of dissatisfaction and disillusionment with our economic and political systems, sentiments that are certainly legitimate. Atlanta’s Mayor Kasim Reed recently announced that he would not seek to remove participants until November 7, so Occupy Atlanta organizers will probably need more fence posts to accommodate all the stories to come. While I haven’t written mine yet, I took pictures of others...

And then there's the future stories of the Occupy participants -- some of whom are homeless, some without jobs, some in high school whose parents can no longer afford to send them to college, and some currently in college without much hope for getting a decent paying job upon graduation. So something really does have to change for these and other futures to turn out better.

Deirdre Oakley is the Editor of Social Shutter and an Associate Professor of Sociology at Georgia State University. She can be contacted at For more on Occupy Atlanta, log on to our Facebook page.

Update – 10/22/2011 – 11pm: Earlier this afternoon an Atlanta Mobile Police Command unit showed up at Woodruff Park with Mayor Kasim Reed in it. Apparently this was in response to a Hip Hop concert being held in the park near the Occupy Atlanta encampment whose organizers had not obtained the proper permit from the city. News reports say that a meeting between the Mayor and Occupy Atlanta’s leader,Tim Franzen, was held in the mobile unit where the Mayor demanded that both the Hip Hop and Occupy Atlanta participants vacate the park. The Hip Hop concert abruptly ended and the audience left. Then Occupy Atlanta organizers announced that the Mayor had rescinded his Nov 7 deadline. No one left and nothing happened. Well, except that city workers removed the porta potties installed by direction of the Mayor two weeks ago. Much later this evening an announcement came from the Mayor’s office stating that the Nov 7 deadline had not changed. However, there is currently a much heavier police presence in and around the park than before.

Update -- 10/24/11 -- 11:37pm: Mayor Reed just revoked the Nov 7 deadline citing the illegal Hip Hop concert held in the park on Saturday. He said that Occupy participants would be forced out 'at the time of his choosing'. Police barricades have now been put up, but passersby can still walk through the park. We can't get there until tomorrow with our cameras. But we will give our 'cameras blogging community' update when we get there. Hopefully we will not be too late...

Update – 10/26/2011 – 11am: The Occupy participants were reluctantly but peacefully removed from the park around 1:30am. About 50 participants were arrested and are currently being arraigned in court. The police build up yesterday was slow, meticulous, and very professional. It began around 4pm. The military-grade helicopter constantly circling over head was really unnecessary and very loud. By 8pm it was clear that something was going to happen because the police began blocking off one of the streets by the park and telling the media to move their vans. Then people just waited until an order to vacate the park was announced over an official city PA system around 11pm and the police moved in. We'll devote this week's post to the last day of Occupy Atlanta.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Who Would Hear Me Scream?

Posted by Sarah Jacobson, PHILADELPHIA, PA -- Riding the train through Philadelphia (and in most American cities) I am often transfixed by the presence of neighborhoods with dilapidated and vacant structures.  I grew up in (and have returned to live in) a mid-sized urban area (now the poorest city in America), so I am no stranger to living in or traveling through such neighborhoods.  In fact, the juxtaposition of areas like this with the presence of homelessness was one of the first issues that sparked my interest in urban sociology.  Upon my entry into a PhD program, I decided to spend more time in these neighborhoods.  I became interested in documenting how residents incorporated abandoned buildings into their everyday routines of living, and I’ve found the stories about how women navigate these spaces particularly interesting.

The 'stray' chairs are one place men gather and accost women passing by.  Women express anger at how the chairs seem to mark the men’s “ownership” of that space.
 Women have told me stories about their increased fear of sexual violence around these areas – fears ranging from sexual harassment to assault – and about their strategies for dealing with these threats.  For example, they have described vacant land and abandoned properties as areas where men are likely to congregate and “shout out” at women passing by.  One woman told me that “It doesn’t even matter what season it is.  They’ll have coats out there chillin'and drinking.   A lot of their friends, they just get belligerent.  And you’re walking this way – you’re across the street and they’ll shout out at you.  They’re like ‘Yo, look at that ass’ or something.”  Another, responding to her, says “Right.  It’s always something.  It’s always something.  And they know I hate them, so they say it more.  And it’s like, you know, yeah, I could go a different way, but you know, it’s like this is the fastest way!” 

There is trash everywhere, and who knows what's in it.
These constant “shout outs” contribute to women’s increased fear of being physically or sexually assaulted by men in these areas.  In addition to hanging out on sidewalks near abandoned buildings or vacant lots, men gather on the stoops of vacant buildings, and some may also be involved in black market economic activities such as drug dealing or pimping.  The abandoned buildings and lots provide an available space for these activities.  Women are especially wary of large stretches of abandonment, whether a heavy concentration of vacant houses in a block or a vacant lot.  They fear that the decreased presence of residents and businesses with their accompanying foot traffic marks these areas as places of increased vulnerability for them.  As one woman told me, “If I was getting attacked, I would scream and nobody would hear me.  It’s just so vacant and vast.”

The vast stretches of abandonment make women feel especially vulnerable.

I was very interested to learn about the safety strategies of these women.  Many told me about some very remarkable approaches.  In particular, the adoption of a hardened attitude and appearance is crucial, they say, for their feelings of safety:
Lauren:  …sometimes I have to put the bus face on. 
Me:  What’s the bus face?
Lauren:  The bus face is like when you’re on SEPTA and you just don’t want to be bothered.  And you don’t want no one to sit next to you.  And you have a straight face, which is like dead serious.  Stone-cold, I’m so angry right now, please don’t sit here.  And they won’t even bother, cuz it’s like, teeth are clenched together, eyes are looking straight ahead.  Or looking the person up and down with a solid, you know, expression face.  Sometimes, mostly at night, I put that face on.  I put the bus face on.  I have to put Lauren away for a minute.  In my pocket.  It’s kinda hard to smile sometimes too… Sometimes there’s not a whole lot down there to make you smile.  You’re like ‘Ugh.  Same motherfuckers as yesterday.’
In addition to facial expressions, this woman told me that she mumbles poetry in an effort to appear to be mentally ill while another woman, a graffiti artist, reported even walking with a limp and mumbling to herself in an effort to appear less attractive when she does her art in areas with lots of abandonment “where I really do not belong.”
You just never know what's going to come out of there.

Finally, women with children are very concerned about how the physical space their children are growing up in is affecting them.  In particular, mothers know that these areas put their children in a state of hypervigilance that is “not normal” or healthy.  “If you’re coming home and you’re walking past an abandoned house, especially a child, your antennas go up.  You have to be aware all the time.  You’re not really relaxed… you don’t know if dogs are gonna come out the house, cats, raccoons, or who’s gonna come out that house.  So you have to be…  Anything could come outside that house.  From humans to animals."

Sarah Jacobson is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Sociology Department at Temple University. You can learn more about her research at Sarah can be contacted at 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

A Bus Tour? No Thanks, I’ll Take the Walking One…

Posted by Jonathan Wynn, NEW YORK, NY -- This is perhaps my favorite image of New York City’s rich walking tourism culture. In this picture is Jeffrey Trask, a tour guide from Big Onion Walking Tours, giving a tour called ‘Before Stonewall,’ in June, 2009. At the time he was a graduate student in the History Department at Columbia University. We were at the end of a fantastic tour of Greenwich Village gay history and culture --  a few blocks away from Sheridan Square and the legendary Stonewall Inn . In the foreground you see how tightly packed the group is, gathered around the Jeffrey as to not block foot traffic, and to listen to him talk as cars, busses, and delivery trucks rumble by. Flipping through his Moleskine notebook, he has the attention of the 12-person group as he references specific facts he’d jotted down. One tourist is aiming his camera up Seventh Avenue, and the man in the foreground is taking notes. Ironically, in the background of this picture is a Gray Line tour bus approaching the intersection, on its way from Midtown down to the tip of Manhattan. It is en route, having briskly driven by Times Square , Rockefeller Center, the Empire State Building and is on its way to Soho, Union Square, Little Italy, the World Trade Center site, and the tip of Manhattan for a view of the Statue of Liberty.

The Gray Line tour stands in sharp contrast to the intimate craft of storytelling Jeffrey represents. Instead of breezing by whole neighborhoods, walking tours are a different kind of media. They are slow strolls, with a chance for conversation and nuance. Bus tours are measured by hitting all the big sites and sights, whereas the walking tour is measured in stories and sidewalks. Rather than the quickest route, here’s a scene from this tour, from my fieldnotes, that shows how the spatial narrative of a walking tour works:

After our fourth stop, on MacDougal Street, Jeffrey tells the group, “I want to let you know that the geography of this tour mirrors the chronology of how gay culture in New York moved through the Village—from its early beginnings at Bleeker, up MacDougal—where Bohemians settled at the turn of the century holding and challenging new categories of sexual identity—to here on Eighth Street, which would become the gay and lesbian drag, to Christopher Street and the conclusion of our tour at Stonewall.” The group emits an audible “Oh” sound of appreciation for the tip. There are nods, and the man next to me says “Wow, that’s great,” to his wife as we all walk up MacDougal.

This moment, a half hour before the above picture was taken, should give you a sense of the social context that makes the juxtaposition of the walking guide and the tour bus. When we sat down for an interview, Jeffrey told me that he sees this aspect of his life as “public education,” whereas the work in the classroom as more conventional education. Like many academically-trained guides, he sees walking tours as history-in-practice.

In the time since I took this picture, Jeffrey has earned his doctorate and has become one of my colleagues across campus, at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Jonathan Wynn is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He is also the author of  The Tour Guide: Walking and Talking New York, recently published by the University of Chicago Press. You can learn more about Jon’s work, as well as contact him at

Saturday, October 1, 2011

My Black Girl Skater Dream

Posted by Chandra Ward, ATLANTA, GA -- Like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I too had dreams.  When I was a kid I had a dream that one day I would have other Black females to skate with -- that I wouldn't be the only female surrounded by a motley crew of boys. Hell, I had a dream that one day I would have other females of any race to skate with.   I started skating when I was about 11. What I mean by that is that  I had a skateboard and skated with it.   

I had that skateboard until 10th grade.   I was fascinated with skate culture and skateboarding as a sport. I wasn’t hardcore -- I only managed to learn simple beginner tricks such as the manual, the tic tac, crab walking and 360 turns.  Still, it was obvious to me back then that I was breaking normative gender expectations and perhaps even racial ones.  I mean, skateboarding has traditionally been a white male sport.  I finally put my skateboard away because I didn’t want my behavior -- or anything else for that matter -- to be inconsistent with the normative expectations of how a “normal” 15 year old Black girl should act.   I saw no one around me or in the media to help validate my hobby or my invisible identity as a teenage Black female skater. Besides, by then my only skateboarding companions were two white boys in junior high school.

Though my dream was never realized for myself, fast forward 20 years and it has been for others.  Today I see kids of all ages and races descend onto Atlanta's first public skate park (read gentrified) Old Fourth Ward.  There are many occasions when I see a crew of all Black guy skaters pushing down the streets of my Inman Park neighborhood on their way to the skate park.  That makes me excited.  Twenty years ago, I think you only could have seen that in California.  Now, a city in the South with one of the Nation’s largest Black population has a free, public use skate park for any and every skill.   You can see in my pictures kids of all sizes enjoying the multi-skill level skate park unveiled by the legendary skater Tony Hawk last June.  With the opening of this public skate park, kids from all backgrounds have the opportunity to engage in and enjoy their passion for skateboarding without feeling self conscience and out of place like I did.

In fact, one day not long ago I was watching the Black guys skate up and down and around the skating bowl when I noticed a little Black girl.  She wore protective gear and was standing on her skateboard among the boys.  She then skated around the novice skilled area with her brother.  She seemed comfortable on the board.  Watching her skateboard, I marveled at how much younger she was than me when I started skating. I hope she doesn't give up skating like I did.  If she does, I hope it isn’t due to gendered and racialized boundaries erected by societal messages of what is normal and what is not.  I hope she is there for the sisters of the other skater boys who may just watch from the sidelines for now, but see that skateboarding can be for them too.

Chandra Ward is the Assistant Editor of Social Shutter and a Doctoral student in the Sociology Department at Georgia State University. You can contact her at