The metro Atlanta region came to a standstill last week, its interstates, highways and side streets glazed over with ice after a sudden snowfall, and thousands of commuters left stranded. Children spent the night at school, and people bedded down in churches, restaurants, hotel lobbies and grocery stores.
The rest of America chuckled good-humoredly at those silly Atlantans who can’t even drive in a dusting of snow.
The fingerpointing and soul-searching began early. Whose fault? Why didn’t government learn from the last ice storm? What can policy-makers do better next time? What is wrong with motor-centric Atlanta that it won’t embrace mass transit? Why isn’t Georgia spending more on (fill in the blank)?
None of that matters. Although, tell those Northerners time and again that it’s not about the snow but about the ice that follows … they just won’t hear you.
What does matter is the mettle of Atlanta that was polished and shone through in the trying hours that followed. Every way you turned in Atlanta on Tuesday night, Jan. 28, 2014, the examples of kindness and character were heartwarming.
On an icy hill on Peachtree Battle Road, a young man stood guard, pushing sliding vehicles back on track. On West Wesley Road, as traffic inched forward, a family stood, bundled up, outside their home to offer passing motorists homemade chocolate chip cookies. Neighbors of I-75 and I-285 came out to serve hot cocoa and snacks to stranded motorists.
At the State Capitol, legislators offered their couches to stranded visitors; at schools, principals and teachers stayed late or overnight. At the Fairfield Inn in Alpharetta, cheerful staff fed all comers, including people camping in the lobby because no rooms were available. On the interstates, as cars crawled around trapped tractor-trailers and abandoned autos, drivers got out, unprompted, to help push sliding vehicles forward — and not just those in their lane. No horns honked.
Social media played a huge role. On Facebook and Twitter, people and business owners offered homes, offices, rides, food and information, reaching out to complete strangers. Chick-fil-A fed folks; Home Depot stores stayed open overnight to shelter the stranded; in Publix, Kroger, CVS and Walgreens stores, people dozed in the aisles. A transmission store manager walked slippery streets at dawn, checking on stranded motorists, inviting them — and people who’d given up and started walking — home, to the surprise of his wife.
On Facebook, one post read, “My husband just got back from the Kroger at 3595 Canton Road, Marietta. The deli was empty. The staff apologized for being out of everything saying that they had received the order to prepare all the food they had in stock and serve anyone who came to the store. I Love My Kroger!!”
What was the common thread? Individual responsibility and personal initiative. People acted without prompting from government. They didn’t wait to be told to help. They saw a need, they filled it. They were charitable in the truest sense of the word. People weren’t “giving back.” They were giving. Without expecting anything in return — not even a tax credit.
Todd Rehm of GaPundit.com distributes a daily news column. On Thursday, he wrote, “From the whole mess and the blamestorming that are following, here are two truths about Atlanta that I have been reminded of. (1) Our weakness is our reliance on government. This is true across the United States, but demonstrated nowhere more memorably than Atlanta’s roads beginning Tuesday afternoon. (2) Our strength is our community and the willingness of our friends, family, neighbors, churches, business owners and ourselves to lend a hand to someone in need without having to be told, asked or paid to do so.”
The “blamestorm” will continue. But there’s hope for America. “Greedy” businesses? “Selfish” wealthy? Efforts to instigate class and race warfare through allegations of income inequality faded away Tuesday night as Georgians stepped up to help fellow citizens. On the night of a State of the Union address that, according to the National Taxpayers Union Foundation, will cost $40 billion for government to “help” with jobs, housing, student loans, joblessness, retirement and more, there was no charge for individual initiative, personal responsibility and the kindness of strangers.
Benita M. Dodd is vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation an independent think tank that proposes market-oriented approaches to public policy to improve the lives of Georgians.