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COMMENTARY:

As the year dawned, “Tighten your belt” quickly became the official mantra of 2009, and non-profits felt the pinch. Atlanta Pride was no exception, calling all year for unprecedented help even as they roll up their own sleeves.

I got a unique opportunity this year to volunteer with the Atlanta Pride Committee for the first time. As Communications Chair, I see first-hand how hard these people work, how much they care, and how much thought goes into a festival many just expect to “always be there.”

All year, the Committee has made clear its financial bind—and its commitment to solving it. Many responded; many haven’t yet.

As recently as Tuesday, a newsletter hit thousands of e-mail inboxes with ways to help Atlanta Pride now and overcome 2008’s devastating losses after it was bumped out of Piedmont Park and moved to Fourth of July weekend.

VOLUNTEER:
It takes about 400 folks over the course of the weekend to get everything set up for the crowds, help set up tables and chairs, deal with gate security, usher people in and around the parade, staff the Pride booths and help with fundraising and crowd control in the park. PRIDE DOES BEGIN WITH YOU, and with your help, this year’s Atlanta Pride can be a great success.

GIVE A LITTLE:
If you can give to Pride now, you can make a difference!

• Become a FRIEND OF PRIDE, and help us not just keep Pride free but help Pride be here in 2010 and beyond. YES it’s that important.

• If each person who came to Pride reached down into their pocket, purse or back pack and pulled out ONE DOLLAR and put it in the DONATION BUCKETS, Pride could raise enough money to make sure that not only does Pride stay free and open for all, but that Pride continues to exist.

• We know that everyone is struggling to make ends meet. This year more than ever, the very survival of Pride in Atlanta is in your pocket. Reach down, Find A Buck, Find A Five, Find A Ten, and put it in the Bucket. When you see your friends, tell them to put a Buck in the Bucket.

After 10 months working with Atlanta Pride, I’m here to tell you that we can and should be proud of this group of tireless volunteers, who in the face of dissent, taught me a new mantra for 2009: “community, community, community.”

None of these folks – some of whom have pitched in for Pride 10, 15 and even 25 years – ever do it for praise. If they did, they’d be out of there faster than you can say Million Mo March.

In times of frustration from not making everybody happy every time despite poring over decisions, Pride Committee members reminded me why Pride must go on. That’s right, “community, community, community.”

That’s why the Committee held strong when the festival chalked up its first huge loss. As early as July 2008, a tiny handful of people literally saved Pride. They reached out through public and private letters, innumerable phone calls and personal conversations on behalf of the festival’s financial situation.

This, from an open letter to the community in January:

Is Atlanta Pride in financial trouble?
In short, yes. But don’t be alarmed. … We know that our renewed energy as Pride Committee Members, a revitalized commitment from our sponsors, and support from each and every lesbian, gay man, bisexual and transgender person in Atlanta, can turn it around.

We remain committed to the values of Pride. The perseverance of our community has proven itself throughout history, and we know that by pulling together, we can clear this hurdle.

An all-new lineup of Pride fundraising parties began in February, ran through Stonewall Week, and continues now. I asked Board Chair Deirdre Heffernan about the importance of Pride donations this year, and she is confident in the people who turn out for the festival each year.

“Last year, we lost $160,000 on the festival,” she says. “That wiped out all we had managed to save over 38 years, so we started 2009 from scratch. …  I really believe the community will rally around Atlanta Pride this year to ensure that our celebration continues. That is what we will be pushing for.”

As a journalist in Atlanta for many years, I’ve reported time and again about Pride’s “countless volunteer hours” and “year-round effort” without much extra thought. And I admit, I scoffed at and bitched about some of their decisions.

Now I suggest even a small Pride donation is like voting: you do it for your right to bitch. New mantra: “one bitch for each volunteer hour or buck in the bucket.”

imageMike Fleming is an equity partner in Project Q Atlanta. He is also a freelance publicist and the 2009 Communications Chair for the Atlanta Pride Committee. E-mail him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).