Cobb stadium opponents: always opposed, always right

They gathered outside the Cobb County Commission meeting room, the glum, motley collection of activists who failed to slow down the speeding train that is the Atlanta Braves’ new ballpark.

They fight many battles, harbor many theories, some considered aberrant, countercultural or even just plain hare-brained. They always know they are right, forging through indifference, hostility or rolled eyeballs. Sometimes, they capture the mood of the public. Sometimes they win a battle. Tuesday night was by no means one of those nights.

Stadium supporters gleefully spilled from the building dressed in “Cobb, Home of the Braves” T-shirts or in their other uniform — business suits. Many couldn’t help tweaking the losing side, letting them know how excited they were that Cobb was spending more than $300 million in public money to bring the Atlanta Nine north to the ‘burbs and prime the pump for anticipated business.

One supporter tomahawk chopped, another arranged a group photo shoot with a backdrop of opponents still grumbling about a process they called secret, fixed and inevitable. A supporter disputed the activists’ contention that corruption was involved. “Prove it,” he spit out before stomping off.

“We will!” promised Rich Pellegrino, a New York native who fought for immigrant rights before starting Citizens or Governmental Transparency, a group based on the premise that Cobb is inherently opaque.

If this was high school, it would be the seniors in letter jackets preening past the nerd table in the cafeteria.

Earlier, three opponents were hustled from the meeting by cops after raising a fuss when they were not allowed to speak to the commission. Supporters had come hours earlier to lock down the 12 official speaking spots.

Those removed from the meeting might even be considered the usual suspects in a such a protest: Pellegrino, a self-described lefty “radical”; the local head of the Southern Christian Leadership Council; and a defense lawyer who ran unsuccessfully for office as a Dem and who, again unsuccessfully, sued Cobb over the practice of reciting prayers before county meetings.

But the striking thing about this gathering was the odd stew of activists who coalesced for this fight. Alongside the three mentioned above, people firmly on the left, were members of Glenn Beck’s 9/12 Project, a member of the Conservative Leadership Coalition and Field Searcy, an early member of the Tea Party who was kicked out for being too rambunctious, if one can imagine that.

Pellegrino thinks these ad-hoc coalitions are cool. The Cobb/Braves alliance in particular has forged unusual friendships with long-term, human benefits.

“When people meet each other, when they know each other, it’s hard to demonize each other,” Pellegrino said. “We’re definitely going to stay together after this.”

The next day, my colleague Ariel Hart was covering an Atlanta Regional Commission meeting when in walked Searcy and a few others. Searcy was part of the political gumbo that two years ago killed off the T-SPLOST, the referendum that would have raised a 1-cent tax to build roads.

On Wednesday, the activists complained that the “citizen members” the ARC often select have ties to the real estate industry and become unelected bureaucrats whose mission is to curtail their neighbors’ freedoms.

“This is a form of government that’s unaccountable to the people,” said Searcy, who in recent years has been at the ramparts in the battle against Agenda 21, an alleged United Nations-driven conspiracy to take over private property through rezoning and planned-use ordinance.

Viewed through this lens, the Braves’ public-private coalition is enough to make any freedom fighter grind his teeth.

Hearing that Searcy went to the ARC meeting, Pellegrino chuckled. “The ARC is like the U.N. to them, like the Great Satan. They’re the New World Order, conspiracy agenda.”

He added Searcy is “really far right” but is “a good friend of mine.”

Searcy likes Pellegrino, too. “But I reject the whole left-right paradigm,” he said. “They like to divide us into left and right or into racial issues. They want us divided.”

Who is “they?”

If you want to know, then sit back and Searcy, an intelligent and engaging fellow, will tell you all about it.

Justin O’Dell, a Cobb attorney, was one of the 12 pro-ballpark speakers. After the meeting, he debated Pellegrino outside. The exchange was long and intense but cordial.

“It’s a group of people who continually oppose something,” O’Dell said, adding the opposition should have asked the 12 speakers for a couple of their slots. “We might have said yes.”

Gary Pelphrey, the lawyer escorted from the meeting, said the activists have agreed not to talk about a lot of subjects — Barack Obama for one — because “there’s a lot of issues where we disagree.”

Ballpark supporters, he said, like to paint the opponents as anti-baseball, which is almost un-American. Pelphrey wore a T-shirt from one of the Braves World Series campaigns of the 1990s to let supporters know that he backs the Atlanta Braves, too, emphasis on Atlanta. Just one more subtle protest.

Staff writer Bill Torpy, who hails from Chicago, has covered murder, mayhem and politics for 32 years, 24 of them at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.