Dozens of Cops Descend on a Peaceful Vigil as the Stop Cop City Week of Action BeginsJune 26, 2023
Organizing in the shadow of the surveillance stateJuly 5, 2023
Despite the arrests of protesters and their support network, or perhaps because of it, the Stop Cop City movement is everywhere. Driving through Atlanta, I see Stop Cop City wheatpaste posters pasted on abandoned buildings and at highway intersections. “Defend the Atlanta forest” is scrawled as bathroom graffiti and found on bumper stickers and yard signs. It’s hard for residents of Atlanta to be ignorant of the movement.
Defend the Atlanta Forest, once a small contingent of hardcore activists occupying the Weelaunee Forest in the dead of winter, has proliferated into a diverse movement. Aside from the activists converging on Atlanta for the week of action, an estimated 3,000 local volunteers have signed up to collect signatures to put the $90 million police training facility on the ballot. It’s a tough task. Activists will have to collect over 70,000 signatures before August 15, a daunting hurdle even before the consideration that many of those signatures might be challenged and thrown out. Activists had to sue to even get the petition approved, with the sticking point being a forgotten line placed at the bottom of the form for the canvasser to attest to the signatures.
But activists aren’t willing to throw all of their faith into the electoral process, especially given the early hurdles. At a panel Monday night, local organizers cautioned that “the Atlanta Way” had long been to co-opt more social movements into mainstream electoral politics, sapping movements’ strength along the way. “The Atlanta Way is a demobilizing mechanism,” said an organizer identified as Mango. Tokenism and the manufactured consent of advisory boards are used to undercut more radical organizing. After the police murder of Tortuguita, Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens convened a Public Safety Training Center Community Task Force, which met in secret and was widely seen by activists as a way to co-opt institutional supporters of the movement. The organizers on the panel pointed to an infamous incident in which civil rights leader Andrew Young termed young Black organizers “unlovable brats.” Longtime organizers and new arrivals alike pointed to the need for a nimble movement that engages a diversity of tactics.
And diverse indeed is the lineup of events for the sixth Stop Cop City week of action. A local bookstore hosted a talk by a member of the Mvskoke Nation about rematriating the Weelaunee forest land. Events in Brownwood Park range from academic discussions of transnational solidarity to rambunctious “riot tag.” Locals were encouraged to sign up for public comment about plans to reopen parts of the Weelaunee Forest as a public park, but were also invited to a noisy demonstration outside the DeKalb Board of Commissioner building once public comment concluded. The direct action component of the movement has grown more secretive, but continues to strike against Cop City contractors. Over the weekend, anonymous activists claimed credit for the sabotage of Brent Scarborough construction equipment with muriatic acid at company headquarters.
The Atlanta community organizers on the panel cautioned against artificially flattening a movement. Speaking on recent history, Mango said, “Black Lives Matter is a brand and an organization now, but in real time, Black Lives Matter was whoever showed up.”
Police repression of the Stop Cop City movement has sought to paint with a broad brush. Sleeping in a hammock was alone enough to declare association with the movement, and therefore association with every crime allegedly committed by anyone in the decentralized collective. Arresting people handing out flyers was an outgrowth of flattening, and of an attempt to discredit the entire movement. Misuse of DHS intelligence to smear the entire movement as “domestic violent extremists” is another example of a reliance on conspiracy theories and an assumption of a monolithic movement.
The Defend the Atlanta Forest movement is whoever shows up, some declaring their name and address to be eligible for DeKalb County public comment, others known only by ever-changing “forest names.” Stop Cop City is everywhere, and the multi-front tactics that police compress under the header of terrorism are exactly what has led the movement to thrive.