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Friday, May 27, 2011

AN INTERVIEW WITH ANGEL POVENTUD

Angel Poventud is one of Atlanta’s gay icons. Everyone knows who he is—some for very different reasons than others.  Some know him as “that Latin guy with the long hair that rides his roller blades while wearing a green dress and smiling a lot”.  Some know him as the guy who is making the Beltine happen.  Some even know him as the best option for the next mayor of Atlanta.

Angel is a very dear friend of mine—but if you have ever met him, even only once, would be inclined to say the same thing.  He has no capacity for ignorance, hate, or ill intentions.  He is the most loving and caring creature you could meet.  He lives for Atlanta, and the bettering of many aspects of the city.  Without people like Angel, my faith in humanity would take a sore beating.

No matter what, people know Angel as prominent member of the gay community and the Atlanta community alike.  He is wonderfully optimistic and naturally progressive, and he lives to invoke positive change in individuals, communities, local politics, and Atlanta as a whole.

As I conduct this interview, he is cooking lunch for a slew of visitors headed to his home.  This weekend is Mondo Homo—an annual queer arts and music festival of gigantic independent proportions.  This festival draws lots of Radical Faeries from around the country—and most of them end up at Angel’s to eat at least once during their stay.  Angel is preparing a three-course meal.  Everything is entirely vegan, ridiculously healthy, and undeniably better than anything you can find in an Atlanta restaurant— R. Thomas: eat your heart out.

Have you ever heard of the rail transit system that Atlanta is building, the Beltline?  You probably wouldn’t have heard about it if it weren’t for Angel.  Since the idea was put out there, Angel has made it his mission to increase awareness, raise money, and hassle the local politicians to not let such an amazing idea slip through their fingers.  Angel has organized the art efforts on the beltline, taken several thousand people on tours of the beltline, and even had 500 people walk the beltline from Freedom Park to Piedmont Park holding homemade Chinese lanterns.  Angel believes, as do most that know anything about the Beltline, that this transit system would be the biggest and most beneficial transportation developments since Marta.

I started off the interview with the basics.

How long have you lived in Atlanta?

13 years. April of 98. Before there, Miami for 26 years.

Why do you love Atlanta so much—what keeps you here, and makes you need to make it a better place?

I think its got to be the trees.  HAHA.  It’s really a couple of things that most people don’t know about Atlanta.  We are the most forested urban environment in the country, and the least dense in population.  We just have a lot of space—and a lot of that space is green.


Because people want to know—and because so far there have been several obstacles along the way--when is the first operating station on the Beltline going to open?

Best case scenario: January 2015.  If the one penny transportation sales tax goes through next year, funding for the Beltline begins immediately.

How tough will it be to get this tax hike through the books?

No city votes yes on this tax the first time--anywhere.  However, we just had a bunch of people here from Denver, holding a symposium for us on this subject, and they believe we have a 55% chance that it will pass on the first try.

Toll roads on I-20 (on both ends of 285) are another option that has been discussed as a method of raising money for transportation and the beltline—as well as regulating traffic.  Would you think this would work well?

Yes, except we would have to have toll roads on 75/85.  London is doing it, New York is doing it—these congestion alleviation efforts.  That’s the only way to reduce traffic: charge people for the specific use of the highway while regulating the flow of traffic.  If you build more roads, you don’t decrease traffic—you increase mobility.  You should never do any project--whether it’s a road, or transit, or trails—and say, “if we do this, it will alleviate congestions”.  By providing more options more people use more options.  The Dutch figured out that the more transit you make available traffic would increase.  The infrastructure is so that having mobility increases more mobility.

But if we get this Beltline up and running, wouldn’t the goal be to reduce traffic?

It will INCREASE traffic across the board.  More people will be coming to the city—in their cars—because they will have more options.  Right now it’s the car, or MARTA—but even with those two, there aren’t a lot of options.
           
When the streetcar funding came through, experts insisted that nothing is going to alleviate traffic on the highway—unless you tax the highway usage.  That’s the only thing that would.  No transit project outside of the highway is going to affect the use of the highways until to start doing congestion taxing.   It’s a specific cause and effect.

People think that the fourteen cents a gallon transportation tax should cover all the cost needed to make the changes need to deal with transportation issues.  The average car will get you twenty miles with one gallon of gas.  Fourteen cents does not cover 20 miles of highways, roads, and transit projects.  Its silly that these people argue “I pay my taxes, I shouldn’t have to pay more…I don’t want to support transit, because you want to tax me on it”.  Transit is never paid for—but we continue to build roads.

There is also a stigma applied to new transit systems: new transit will bring more poor people to the areas it is offered.  That is a ridiculous way to think about it, but the people that are needed to make these changes believe it.

Beyond the transportation tax, another simple way of raising money for transportation needs would be to tax people based on the mileage of their car when getting their tags renewed—you use the highway this much, then you pay this much.  It seems like this would work, but something tells me that it wouldn’t be hard to pull off.

We are in the South, so it takes a little longer for progressiveness to happen.  But we have to talk about it; you have to put these ideas out there.  If you just throw your hands up and say, “Oh, that will never happen here”, then you can’t expect it to happen.  You just have to get the ideas out there, have to start talking about it, get people excited and involved—you HAVE to get people involved, get them behind it.  That’s the only way things change.  Rather than staying home and watching TV, thinking your government isn’t doing these things for you.

I am sure you get this one a lot: why the green dress?

Instead of answering my question, Angel linked me to a written response he gave to that question.  To sum it up:  For costume purposes, Angel developed an affinity for wearing a dress.  Only under specific weather conditions and a certain mood.  He likes to gently push the societal norms, feel the freeness of form that comes with wearing the dress, and rollerblading all day long.

I really wanted to hear what Angel had to say about the Eagle Raid—specifically, the implications behind a large cash settlement for the individuals involved in the lawsuit.

Do you think the settlement made in the Eagle case showed an admittance of guilt—or at least an apology to the victims—from the city of Atlanta, the Mayor, the Chief of the Police and the APD?

Neither.  The judge decided that settlement—not the City of Atlanta.  To the point that the victims that were not included in the lawsuit:  when the city issued an apology, they intentionally left out the other people who were victimized at that raid because they would then be liable to those people.

There were 70 people in that bar that night—and the only people that were issued an apology were those that filed a lawsuit.  That is fucked up.

Its obvious at that point that there was no real admittance of guilt—merely a legal settlement made to prevent an admittance of guilt from being necessary.  I think what happened was the city paid X amount of money to each person and a whole lot more to the lawyers.

Would you consider the settlement made to be “hush money”?

No, because they should be paying us hush money NOW.  They should be paying each and every individual that was there that night the same amount of money for having to go through what they went through.  Instead they pay out about a million dollars—say half of it goes to the lawyers, and the rest is split between 30 or so people.  If that is the way the city apologizes, then pay the other 40 people who were there that night to make those people whole.  But that would be an admittance of guilt, and a proper apology, after the fact.

My research shows that the efforts made by city sense them have been valid and honest efforts to better the relationship between the City of Atlanta and the gay community.

Regardless of whether or not they are making such efforts, they HAD TO.  According to the courts, these measures were mandatory.  If the courts had not decided this, who knows what the City of Atlanta would have done to improve this relationship.

At this moment, his home became flooded with gay hippies, laughter, and feast.  If you ever want to know more about Angel, just ask him.  He is an open book—and a wealth of useful information, inspiration, and insight.

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