Community Response - Case Study: Dahlonega, Georgia (May 2020)

The Bridging Divides team conducted interviews in Dahlonega, Georgia with the goal of helping community members tell their own stories of resilience. Toward that goal, BDI outlined four broad observations of local community response to two events from 2017-2019 in an initial Case Study focusing on the community response in Dahlonega, Georgia.

In the first event in 2017, a local developer posted signs on a downtown building with KKK symbolism, in an effort to pressure the town council on prior zoning decisions. In a second event in 2019, a local resident with long ties to white nationalist organizations organized a Pro-Trump branded rally, ultimately attracting less than 50 rally attendees, two to three as many counter-protestors, and 600+ law enforcement in response to the event. While certainly not the only points of tension or unity, these events offer a snapshot of community response and an opportunity to highlight the complexities of a specific local context

The following observations are based on in-person and phone interviews, desk research, including on social media, and other reporting or documents provided in the course of discussions. These observations are not a comprehensive after-action review or an assessment of right and wrong action. Instead, we hope the details below will help other communities consider their own context and even take steps to address tensions. We also believe highlighting concrete community actions around challenge events can help to make other guidance and resources more relatable, thus serving as essential tools to other localities.

BDI is incredibly grateful for the local leaders, citizens, and students in the Dahlonega community who gave generously of their time to make this project possible. 

Four Key Observations: Community Response

  1. Key actors were identified as a deciding factor, via locally-focused, early, and personal actions.
  2. Information sharing and consistent communication seemed to build trust, help with planning, and address challenges as they arose.
  3. Alternative, creative approaches to rejecting and minimizing hateful rhetoric were seen as  effective, while still protecting free speech.
  4. Communities appeared to successfully mobilize around indirect concerns to build a broader coalition, yet underlying disagreements persisted when not addressed.

For the full case study, download the PDF here.