South Fulton City Councilmember Khalid Kamau said it was “amazing” to give the opening and closing address at the Democratic Socialists of America convention.
The event drew some 1,000 delegates to the Westin Peachtree Plaza on Aug. 2-4. Kamau (photo), the South Fulton council’s first and only LGBTQ member, told the delegates that while U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders lost the Democratic presidential primary in 2016, he won the party.
“Almost all of the 20 [presidential] candidates that are running for office have picked up his proposals of free public college or healthcare for all,” Kamau told Project Q Atlanta. “So my address was that the best way to help promote those ideas was to run for office and enact them at the local level.”
“A lot of these times there’s these big ideas and it’s about how do we pay for it and how will it work, and a lot of times it’s easier to implement that on a local level. It’s easier to have a national conversation when people see it on the ground,” he added.
Kamau, who was a delegate to the 2016 Democratic National Convention, said that Democratic presidential candidates worried that being associated with socialism will turn people off are “out of touch with their own voters.”
“Democratic socialism is really a simple idea, that people are more important than profits, and that people’s values are not connected to how much wealth they can produce for themselves and their employer — that people are intrinsically valuable,” he said.
Kamau, who was an organizer for the Atlanta chapter of Black Lives Matter, never thought he would become an elected official. He didn’t go to an Ivy League school, he dropped out of law school and he didn’t think he could raise enough money, he said.
“For me, I also thought because I’m gay I didn’t think that I was eligible particularly in a place like South Fulton that is the blackest city in America,” Kamau said. “It’s overwhelmingly black, which sometimes translates to being more socially conservative.”
But he said his sexuality was not an issue during the campaign.
“People just wanted to know how I or any other candidate were going to make their community better,” Kamau said. “How we would keep their kids out of the school-to-prison pipeline. And how we would have economic development in this city.”
“That was one of my biggest concerns about running for office, and it ended up being the smallest concern. So I just really encourage people to run for office and not let their fears stop them from doing that,” he added.
Kamau beat civic activist Charlean Parks by over 30 points in the April 2018 race — the city’s first elections since incorporating in May 2017.
As a city councilmember, he’s sponsored legislation making Election Day a paid holiday, created an event called the Electoral College to teach citizens how government works, co-sponsored legislation raising the minimum wage to $15 and voted to decriminalize marijuana. Next, he wants to lead the charge for economic development on Old National Highway.
Kamau said he is open to considering a broad LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance like the ones recently passed in several metro Atlanta cities. South Fulton currently has nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ city employees only.
Photo by David Brand