If youve attended or watched an Atlanta City Council committee meeting, youve witnessed the blunt opinions and insight of Dave Walker, a 63-year-old Vietnam veteran and street vendor who says hes attended nearly every meeting since 1984.
How did you end up in Atlanta?
I was hitchhiking around the country back in the '70s and I went to Los Angeles. And then I went from LA to New York. And I was standing in my sister's front yard in New York, and I asked the almighty God "Where do I go now?" And clearly he said to me, "Atlanta." And thats how I got here. I came hitchhiking with two pennies.
How does God manifest himself to you?
He can talk. God talks to mans conscience.
Do you still hitchhike?
No, I am afraid now. And a little too old. (laughs).
Do you like Atlanta?
The thing that I used to like about Atlanta is that Atlanta was a wholesome town. But it's no longer wholesome. If I left Atlanta, I would starve to death. So I stay here. No other city could I have gone to and become famous. I am famous now, so I like it.
When you say that you are famous, what do you think you are famous for?
I am famous for my quick wit. I am famous for my knowledge of world events, etc. I dont think there is no council member, no government official, in this state or in this country, who is as qualified to talk about government as I am.
Why do you wear hospital scrubs? [Ed. Walker often wears scrubs to meetings.]
Every great man has to have their notch in history, their notch in the community; the scrubs are part of my notch, part of my identity. Most doctors, nurses, they have on scrubs and I view myself as somewhat of a doctor. And scrubs secondarily are very comfortable. They are versatile and you can wear them anywhere, anytime. And the reason I dont have them on now is it's too damn cold. But I tell you, I miss them. (laughs)
How would you describe yourself?
I would describe myself as smart, as articulate, as a lover of books, and one who believes that government ought to operate for the people. It should be a referee. It shouldnt be in the way. I would regard myself as the ultimate watchdog in that I have been to almost every council meeting in the last 25 years and almost every committee meeting almost in the last 25 years. If you call me to the front you better be mindful of what you just done, 'cause I am going to give my candid opinion about what I think is going on. And at 63, almost 64, I dont know what can be done to harm me now.
Do you ever feel you are disruptive at city council meetings with your questions and statements?
Any agitator that does not do his job is not worth his salt. I try to disrupt them, I try to agitate them. I am not doing it just to do it I am doing it 'cause I have a point of view.
Do you ever feel like you come on too strong?
I dont give a royal damn how I come across. I just want to come across and make as strong of a point as I can. And do I feel like I want to apologize? Not really, because if I didnt believe it, I would not say it. Now, I am human. I make mistakes and the first thing I do if I do make a mistake is go back and apologize. It's rare but I have. (laughs) I cant worry about what somebody thinks. I would say this to you: If you walked in the community with me, you would see the people I represent. The downtrodden. They think I am effective. I dont run around and worry about whether I am effective or not, I just offer my honest opinion and let it go as it will. I see myself as an individual who is well read and who has seen how history has brutalized the poor and people who can't and won't represent themselves. The government is too busy listening to the business interests. Business in Atlanta is a powerful tool. Councilmembers get very nervous when the business community come down here and talk about an issue. And the people are ultimately going to lose.
What do you think you have accomplished in all your 25 years of going to city council meetings?
I think I have accomplished a great deal. If not in actual legislation, then in letting the government understand that there is someone out there who is not afraid of them. There is someone out there who is going to articulate the issues. There are hundreds of pieces of legislation that I think I have influenced.
How much time do you spend at City Hall?
A lot. It's funny I am as impatient an individual as you will ever meet but I can come to City Hall hours on hours and sit here and listen to government mess it up. I try, me and some other citizens, to come down and try to push the city council and the mayor in a direction that does not harm the people.
How are you able to spend so much time at City Hall? How do you make a living?
I am a vendor. I am a street vendor. I have a location at Five Points and I have been there since March of 1981. I sell drinks, chips, fruit, t-shirts. Thats how I make my living. Also, I should say I am a disabled veteran and I collect disability.
What war did you serve in?
I was in Vietnam twice. You cannot imagine how it feels for individuals to be coming at you to kill you. And then you are 10,000 miles away from home, you cant run, you have to stand there and face it. It is the most horrible feeling that I can describe. I went over the first time in December 67 and came back home in December 68. I went back again and did 12 more months. I did two tours in Vietnam. Vietnam was an adventure, just like hitchhiking. I saw it on television. I saw all the killing. I wanted to go and see it first hand. I wanted to be part of history.
Are their any politicians that you respect?
I respect Councilmember C.T. Martin and Councilwoman Felicia Moore. Because they speak up for what they believe and they believe in speaking for the people.
What do you think is the best thing Mayor Shirley Franklin has done?
I cant think of a damn thing that the mayor has done that is best. I can't.
Not one thing?
I can't think of one thing (voice raising) that this mayor has done thats best. I can't. I can't. It would take me some time. She has a little less then 300 days left. It will take me that long.
Who do you think was a good mayor in your eyes?
There is no question in my mind that Bill Campbell cared for the downtrodden. I know because there was folk who made some false charges against me some years back and Campbell took care of it. Maynard would not let me get close to him. I think he thought I was like an explosive.
What is the specific aspect of city government that you think should be changed?
City government ought to work for everybody equally. It does not. That needs to change. We need a government that cares for everybody, that make the rules for everybody. We dont need a government that bends over for the wealthy and then stands rigid for the not so fortunate.
What do you think about the Civil Rights museum and its relationship with Coca Cola?
I think it's ridiculous. I think, again, business and civic leaders and elected people have gotten a deal. This is a pay-to-play kind of thing. It's just not right. It is unthinkable, unheard of, and I hate it to the bone.
What do you think of the Beltline?
I think the Beltline is a noose around the necks of all of Atlanta. I said at the time, This to me is a ridiculous idea. I hope that Gena Evans and Amtrak dont surrender and give in an inch. I hope they stick to their guns. And I hope they dont let Congressman [John] Lewis agitate them or fight them. I hope they stick to their guns.
Who would make a good mayor in Atlanta?
Me, myself. I would.
C.T. Martin. Hmmm. I cant think of anyone else.
What do you think of Martin Luther King, Jr?
Dr. King did not fulfill the mission that he was given. He was given the job by the almighty God to tell the world that Jesus is, in fact, God. What Dr. King did was get sidetracked by the glory and began to do civil rights, rather then tell how people ought to be to know how to get into the kingdom of God. Dr. King got sidetracked.
What is the most memorable moment you had at City Hall?
The most memorable moment that I had at City Hall was when I was sitting in one of the seats and there is a rule that says if elected officials are in a meeting, they get to speak even if they did not sign up. The late mayor Maynard Jackson was sitting on one of the seats. Mr. Lee Morris, who was representing the 7th district at the time, was the chair of [the finance committee]. Mr. Morris called Maynard, the late mayor, up to speak. And I interrupted and said, "He is not on the list to speak, it's my go." And after I refused [to let the mayor speak before him], the chair of finance said, "OK, Mr. Walker, come on up and the mayor will follow you." And that was the most memorable day I have had at City Hall.
Because never in my life would I think that I would go before the mayor.
How would you characterize yourself in terms of the political spectrum?
Let me put it this way I am a conservative Republican. Maybe the only black conservative Republican in Atlanta that I know of. In Georgia, really.
What makes you a conservative Republican?
Well, because first it was Abraham Lincoln who started the process, the Emancipation Proclamation. It was Richard Nixon who did affirmative action. It was white Democrats who would not let blacks into the University of Alabama and the University of Mississippi. It was white Democrats that have done more damage to black people in America then did Republicans.
Did you vote for George W. Bush?
I voted for Bush twice. I think that when the terrorists ran into the towers, I think President Bush did the right thing. "Let's go find who did this, let's go and kill them." I am for that. I dont like war, but I believe in defending myself. I believe the national interest ought to be one of the foremost things in Americas thoughts.
Were you for the Iraq war?
I was for defending ourselves if that took war in Iraq. You have to remember that 18 of the 19 United Nations resolutions were violated by Iraq. 18 of 19, and they were violated time and time again. I believe that the freeing of 50 million people in Iraq was the right thing to do.
What do you think of President Obama?
I think Obama is a socialist. I dont think much of him and I have made that clear.
Anything else you would like to say?
I would like to say to Atlanta and to the American people: I am as afraid for the country then I have ever been in my life. I go to bed at night worrying about what kind of decisions this president is going to make. I am worried about this country's fiscal stability because in the history that I have read over the years, civilizations rise and fall, cities rise and fall. I am afraid that America has come to its end as we know it. I dont see that America can get back to the fiscal prominence it's had over the years. I just dont see it. Thats what worries me the most.
(Photo by Joeff Davis)
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