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R.I.P. Dave Walker, citizen activist who raised the bar for City Hall rabble-rousing

For three decades, military vet and street vendor Dave Walker held city officials' feet to the fire

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Dave Walker never shied away from speaking his mind. The 69-year-old activist, a longtime fixture of City Hall life, brought his fervent advocacy to public meetings for the past three decades.

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Earlier this week Walker died after growing ill over the past couple of years. In his absence, he leaves behind a legacy that includes zealous participation, blunt remarks, and fierce criticism — all of which have slowly dwindled inside Atlanta City Council’s chambers in recent years.

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“Nothing was beyond his scrutiny,” says Councilman Michael Julian Bond. “If he felt you were not being considerate of the public on a small issue, like the order of speakers in a meeting, he would call you out on that.”

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In the mid-1980s, the Vietnam War vet first became a frequent face at 55 Trinity Avenue. During the height of his advocacy, the one-time Five Points vendor claimed to attend most public meetings. Often clad in hospital scrubs, he saw himself as a “doctor” of the political process, passionately fighting for the rights of veterans, vendors, and the greater public.

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“He brought a combination of spiritual and philosophical to meetings,” Councilman C.T. Martin says. “He could engage you in deep conversations. He was much brighter than a lot of people thought. Some people thought he had other motives. He was trying to be a teacher.”

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Ron Shakir, a fellow citizen activist, didn’t always see eye-to-eye with Walker, who described himself as the "only black conservative Republican in Atlanta.” Walker was also known for his polarizing viewpoints, like the time he told CL that the Atlanta Beltline was a “noose around the necks of all of Atlanta.” But Shakir says Walker often helped City Hall newcomers uncertain of how to navigate the political process find their way.

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“Dave helped anybody who had the courage to speak in City Hall,” Shakir says. “Citizens have fainted at that podium. Dave made it easier. If he felt like someone was being bullied, he wouldn’t shy away from bullying back for them.”

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Atlanta Vendors Association President Larry Miller first met the “fiery, strong willed, and never mild-mannered” Walker through the vending community. Miller recently remembers receiving a rare compliment from Walker as he fought for the rights of vendors to hawk umbrellas and incense outside the Five Points MARTA station and Turner Field.

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“Dave never gave anyone compliments unless they deserved it,” Miller says. “That was the most touching thing I could remember.”

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Walker’s name could be found on the public comment sign-up sheet and the ballot. He ran unsuccessfully against Mayor Shirley Franklin during her 2005 re-election campaign. In 2009, he ran for Council president. The activist’s grassroots campaign received 5,759 votes in that election — nearly 10 percent of the total ballots cast — and forced current Council President Ceasar Mitchell and then-Councilwoman Clair Muller into a runoff.

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“I think I have accomplished a great deal,” he told CL in a 2009 interview before the election. “If not in actual legislation, then in letting the government understand that there is someone out there who is not afraid of them.

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Walker, who claimed to have influenced “hundreds of pieces of legislation,” stepped away from his rabble-rousing role in early 2014. Between then and his death, Bond says, his absence felt as if a fellow elected official was missing from public meetings.

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“To not have him there is strange,” Bond says. “He was that much a part of everything.”

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In Walker’s honor, councilmembers started this week’s meeting with a moment of silence. The tribute was followed with nearly two-dozen residents airing their grievances regarding bad contracts, unfair laws, and other questionable policies. All of them, whether they knew it or not when they stood in front of Council, paid homage to Walker.

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Visitation
Friday, July 10, 8 a.m. — 10 p.m. (Family will receive visitors from 6 p.m. — 7 p.m.)
''Gus Thornhill Funeral Home, 1315 Gus Thornhill, East Point, GA 30344?
Celebration of Life
Saturday, July 11, 1:30 p.m.
Gus Thornhill Chapel, 1315 Gus Thornhill, East Point, GA 30344

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Interment (immediately following service)
Forest Lawn Memorial Gardens, 5755 Mallory Road, College Park, GA 30349

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Repast
Saturday, July 11, 4 p.m.
City Hall, Old Council Chambers, 68 Mitchell Street SW, Atlanta, GA 30303''




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