Who Cares: Hop on the Health Care and Voting Rights Bus

Who Cares: Hop on the Health Care and Voting Rights Bus

Why you should care

Because she represents the energy driving new voters into the 2020 elections.

In this occasional series, OZY takes to streets and neighborhoods across the globe to ask a simple question: “How was your day?”

Liliana Bakhtiari

Atlanta

Let me start by saying that I was already planning on getting the bus. After running for Atlanta city council and knocking on thousands and thousands of doors, I saw the number of people who were dying in their homes, who had issues that were fixable, but just didn’t know about the treatment or fixes they could get. People in poverty are isolated. We don’t tend to inconvenience ourselves with the problems of others.

So the concept came out of this question: What if I could take those services to them? Taking a bus and turning it into an advocacy center on wheels is what I came up with.

I saw that a Republican candidate for governor in 2018 — Michael Williams, who recently pleaded guilty to insurance fraud — was selling his anti-immigrant “Deportation Bus” on Facebook. Some friends and I were on the back porch, having a glass of wine talking about it, and I was like, “Whoa, let’s make our version a symbol of hope.” I didn’t buy his; that would mean giving him my money. Plus, he didn’t properly vet his bus, so it broke down multiple times.

I was frustrated, I was angry and — I don’t like to say this — I did feel helpless about voter suppression.

Instead, I bought “Hope” for a little over $4,000 of my own money. She has a great engine and a little over 180,000 miles on her, which isn’t bad for a school bus. We then raised money from the community — $5,000 over GoFundMe — to design the bus and buy the materials we needed. We got the bus, teamed up with an arts collective made up entirely of women and came up with a slogan: “A Georgia for all Georgians.”

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Liliana Bakhtiari in front of her painted bus.

Source Nick Fouriezos/OZY

We wanted to have a mural covering it, which shows the history of voting in the United States, from the beginning until now. To start, you have people physically filling out a sheet of paper for a ballot. You’ll notice that the hands are white. Then you have women, once the 19th Amendment was passed. It then shifts to Votomatic, the punch-card system, and then this is when it switches to when Black men and women were able to vote. And finally to today, where you see you can also vote digitally. We show the evolution of people voting over the years, but also the evolution of who was allowed to vote.

We plan to have this ready as a full-fledged health clinic and voter registration center by January 2020. The idea is to go to places like Randolph County, where people were purged in the 2018 election, and make sure they can vote this time. Rather than expecting them, after having their rights taken away, to come back out and trust the system again, we’re going to them. We will take these to the areas that were hit the hardest by Brian Kemp’s voter purging, which he did as a secretary of state overseeing his own election. I was frustrated, I was angry and — I don’t like to say this — I did feel helpless about voter suppression last year.

I remember canvassing for Stacey Abrams, the Democratic candidate for governor, during that election. There was an older Black woman, in her late 60s or early 70s, sitting on her porch. She said, “Why are you trying to get people to register to vote? You know it doesn’t make a difference. They are being blatant about cheating. Me going and feeding into a broken system that doesn’t care about me, what is the point of that? All I can do is ensure I pray every day, that I look out for my family and raise them right to provide for themselves.” The points she made were not ones I could refute. Who am I tell somebody who has been around so much longer than I, fought things that I only learned about, suffered through so many years of oppression and racism in the South, that her vote was still important?

For those groups, voting does not solve everything. What feels different about 2020 is that people got complacent under Barack Obama, because they thought there was no way to turn back the clock. But it turns out that it’s a lot easier to tear things down than to build them up. The Donald Trump election was a shock to the system for a lot of folks. But what we’re seeing now … I have never seen so many people ask how to get involved. Calling me, emailing me every day asking what they can do to make a difference.

The shock to the system has worn off, and now people are looking to really effect change. They know it won’t happen overnight, and that it doesn’t just happen with the presidency. It begins with building a stronger bench, from the bottom up.

At the very least, I want to reach within the first six months the main four counties that were hit the hardest by voter purging. But even more, I want to bring humanity into politics. We have this habit of just reinforcing the silos that social media already creates, not talking across the divide with people. We don’t talk to people who think differently than us, and that’s not how you affect change. Growth happens when you are uncomfortable. And that’s what I’m hoping this bus can help foster, that type of communication and figuring out how to talk across those divides.

OZYTrue Story

Good stories from around the globe. Essays and immersion, into the harrowing, the sweet, the surprising — the human.