Mobile billboards made their way around Atlanta for the fourth day in a row this week with the goal of putting pressure on Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed to remove the vending ban and other obstructions the Atlanta Vendors Association (AVA) says has kept its members from earning a living for more than seven months.
The billboards are the latest blow in a fight that AVA President Larry Miller and his members , say they are prepared to take all the way to the Supreme Court. Miller says they have been unable to legally sell food and merchandise at popular public areas around Atlanta like Turner Field and the Five Points MARTA station all year.
The mobile billboard features an AVA member and his grandchildren with the caption "Mayor Reed won't let our grandpa work" on one side and "Mayor Reed: The right to earn a living is a civil right" on the other. The billboard sits on top of a truck that has been running throughout Atlanta's Midtown and Buckhead neighborhoods and around City Hall from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. since Monday.
"I don't know where his moral consciousness is," Miller said of Reed in an interview with the Daily World. "When [the stoppage] started I tried five times to sit down with the mayor. He refused to even acknowledge me. I've been in the city for 30 years and I've met every mayor but him."
Neither Reed nor City Council members Kwanza Hall, Michael Julian Bond or Cleta Winslow immediately returned calls from the Atlanta Daily World seeking comment.
Reed has, however, responded to two separate editorials from the AJC in as many days about the subject. On Monday, the mayor rebutted claims that he had "wrongly keeping street vendors from working" in a Letter to the Editor that the paper chose not to print.
Reed also pointed to the Five Points MARTA station as evidence that the program is working and suggested that many of the city's vendors operate businesses "which are more reminiscent of 'swap meets' than places for small business to thrive."
"My administration is committed to developing a best-in-class public vending program in the city of Atlanta that is fair to kiosk vendors, non-kiosk vendors and traditional brick and mortar small businesses in their vicinity," the mayor added.
Miller and fellow AVA vendor Stanley Hambrick have filed and won three separate court battles with the city of Atlanta – a December 2012 decision to strike down the vending agreement the city signed with Chicago-based General Growth Properties that gave the company exclusive vending rights in the city, a July clarification of that court order and an Oct. 8 writ of mandamus from Fulton County Superior Court. A writ of mandamus is an order from a Superior Court to a government official ordering the official to properly fulfill their duties or correct an abuse of discretion.
Despite the judicial victories, Miller and Hambrick say court appeals from Reed and the City of Atlanta and the use of the Atlanta Police Department have continued to keep the vendors off of public streets and out of business. Hambrick said the association attempted to file a restraining order against the police and against Reed, but that was denied.
No court date has yet been set for the city's appeal of the Oct. 8 writ of mandamus, but Reed appears poised to meet the association's challenge to take the case to the Supreme Court.
"The bottom line is I'm not going to allow Atlanta to be turned into a swap meet," Reed said in response to the writ of mandamus. "If you go to five points right now and look at it, it is a night and day difference than the way that it had looked for the last 20 years. We're not going back there."
The city council this summer also shelved a proposal that would have allowed the vendors to temporarily return to work throughout the city, except in the area surrounding Five Points MARTA Station, which would have remained off limits.
"You don't shut down the whole industry because a few people are operating out of the ordinary," he said. "What we tend to see [under Reed] is that big businesses get everything and we get nothing."
For now, Miller, Hambrick and other AVA members say they are selling merchandise at flea markets, private businesses and "doing whatever is necessary to stay alive."
(Photos: The mobile billboard dispatched by the AVA; AVA members (left to right) Hosea Williams, Stannley Hambrick, President Larry Miller)