Podcast / On The Nose
On the Nose is our biweekly podcast. The editorial staff discusses the politics, culture, and questions that animate today’s Jewish left.
The Struggle to Stop Cop City
Duration
0:00 / 38:01
Published
June 22, 2023

In September 2021, the Atlanta City Council approved a proposal to lease 381 acres of the Weelaunee Forest—stolen Muscogee land surrounded by majority-Black neighborhoods—to the Atlanta Police Foundation to build the largest militarized police training center in the US. In response, a decentralized movement has risen up to halt the destruction of the forest and the construction of what has come to be known as “Cop City.” As the Stop Cop City movement has grown, the state has employed increasingly draconian methods of repression. In January of this year, police killed Manuel “Tortuguita” Téran, a 26-year old Indigenous Venezuelan forest defender. Dozens of people have been arrested for protesting, including a legal observer with the Southern Poverty Law Center, and more than 40 have been charged with domestic terrorism. Last month, a heavily armed joint task force raided a community center and arrested three bail fund organizers living there under tenuous allegations of “money laundering” and “charity fraud.” And despite widespread opposition, the Atlanta City Council recently authorized an additional $30 million contribution to the construction of Cop City, bringing the city’s pledged total to $67 million. ​​On this week’s episode of On the Nose, culture editor Claire Schwartz is joined by three guests in Atlanta deeply engaged with Stop Cop City—Micah Herskind, a community organizer and writer; Keyanna Jones, a reverend and organizer; and Josie Duffy Rice, a writer who covers criminal justice—to discuss the movement’s roots and tactics, and what the militarization of Atlanta can teach us about the economic underpinnings of fascism.

Thanks to Jesse Brenneman for producing and to Nathan Salsburg for the use of his song “VIII (All That Were Calculated Have Passed).”

Transcript forthcoming.

Further Reading and Listening:

The Fight Against Cop City,” Amna Akbar, Dissent

Shmita Means Total Destroy,” Fayer Collective, Jewish Currents

This is the Atlanta Way: A Primer on Cop City,” Micah Herskind, Scalawag

Atlanta Is Trying to Crush the Opposition to ‘Cop City’ by Any Means Necessary,” Hannah Riley, The Nation

Targeting bail funds and Stop Cop City activists is an old tactic,” Say Burgin and Jeanne Theoharis, Washington Post

‘Multiple Grammars of Struggle’ – To Defend the Atlanta Forest and Stop Cop City,” Millennials are Killing Capitalism

“When protest is a crime,” Part 1 and Part 2, Outside In


Transcript

Claire Schwartz: Hi, welcome back to On the Nose, the Jewish Currents podcast. My name is Claire Schwartz and I’m the culture editor at Jewish Currents. Today we’re going to be talking about the Stop Cop City Defend the Atlanta Forest movement that has risen up in response to a collusion between the city of Atlanta, the Atlanta Police Foundation, and various corporate interests to destroy up to 381 acres of the Weelaunee forest and build a police military base there. The tremendous efforts of people mobilizing against the construction of the complex that has come to be known as Cop City have garnered global attention, sitting as they do at the intersection of environmental and labor movements and the entangled struggles against anti blackness and anti-indigeneity. I’m so happy to be joined for this conversation by Josie Duffy Rice, a writer based in Atlanta who covers criminal justice. Keyanna Jones, a reverend based in Atlanta, and Micah Herskind, a community organizer and writer, also in Atlanta. Thank you so much, Josie Keyanna and Micah, for being here. For someone entering the conversation now, how would you describe the movement? What feels important to know? And, also, I would love to hear a little from each of you about your own involvement.

Keyanna Jones: Before I go any further: Thank you, Claire, for having us on. What I would say is the main thing that people should understand about the movement to stop Cop City is that this is a decentralized movement. There are a lot of people, from a lot of places, doing a lot of things to stop Cop City from being built. And the other thing people should know is that those who have chosen to organize against Cop City are actively being targeted by the Atlanta Police Department, by Mayor Andre Dickens, by other law enforcement agencies like the GBI, in collusion with the Atlanta Police Department and the State’s Attorney General’s office. There have been a number of domestic terrorism charges that have been levied against people, and people have also been targeted for crimes like supposed charity fraud and money laundering when they are literally only being reimbursed for items that they have purchased in connection with their work to the bail fund. The further we go along in our fight to stop Cop City, the more the state is intent on repressing direct actions, civil disobedience, and peaceful protests. So I would tell people that this really is not a game. When it comes down to something like Cop City, we know that it won’t only affect the city of Atlanta and the state of Georgia, it’s definitely going to affect this nation. And the ripple effect will be felt around the world. This movement continues to grow. Don’t think for a second that because the Atlanta city council recently approved more funding for this project that we have stopped: We absolutely haven’t. I would just encourage people to plug into this movement wherever they can.

Micah Herskind: Yeah, I think we’re like in over two years now. Much of this started back in the spring of 2021, when organizers first heard about the plan to destroy hundreds of acres of forest and build this massive police compound. And people started just knocking doors, people started canvassing their neighborhoods, building the movement, and—as Keyanna was saying—since then, it’s grown into this national and international movement. I think that now most recently, we had this city council vote where the city council listened to about 15 hours of near-unanimous public comment against giving $67 million of public funding to Cop City, and they voted it through overwhelmingly anyway. And I think that the mask is really coming off of Atlanta in terms of the way that this city works, and it’s become clear in really devastating ways just how much our elected officials answer to organizations like the Atlanta Police Foundation, and the big corporations that really run Atlanta and how they are not accountable to people. And I think that, with every demonstration of just how anti-democratic this city is, like Keyanna was saying: the movement continues to grow. They murdered somebody in cold blood and the movement grew. You know, they’ve arrested 42 people with domestic terrorism and the movement has grown. They raided the bail fund, the movement has grown. With every violent act that they’ve taken, I think people are seeing more and more just how vital this struggle is, not only for Atlanta but for the rest of the country and the world.

Josie Duffy Rice: So, to answer your question about our roles: my role has not been organizing in the way that the Reverend and Micah have been doing; I mean, the effort and the time and the emotional and mental and physical expenditure that organizers on the ground have endured over the past few years to create this movement is so massive. My perspective and interest on Cop City has been informed by my work, which is covering criminal justice and covering the shifts in criminal justice that are happening across the country, seeing what happens when unaccountable institutions like the police decide to spend taxpayer dollars doing something like this. And this one just happened to be in my backyard, so it’s been kind of fascinating—and moving, really—to watch the swell over the past few years. Because at the beginning of this conversation, this was not something that most people in Atlanta knew about, much less people across the country.

CS: Yeah, thank you so much for that. I’m wondering if you could back up a little bit and talk about what, exactly, was being proposed in 2021, or the social context in which it was being developed.

KJ: So this project was conceived without one shred of input from the public that it affects. There were unprecedented numbers of people who showed up in the streets of Atlanta during 2020, when we had a lot of outrage about different social justice issues that were affecting us, many of those being the murder of black men by police. What we saw in 2020—not only in Atlanta, but all across this country—was something that had not been seen before, with people showing up and saying, “Hey, we are not going to allow this to happen. We are no longer going to just bow down to a police state where you continue to murder us with impunity.” As a response to that, there are some people in the city of Atlanta, and particularly in the more affluent, majority-white neighborhood of Buckhead, who said, “Hey, y’all gotta get those Negroes under control down there. They can’t be out in the streets of Buckhead, talking about ‘No justice, no peace.’ We can’t have this, and if this continues, if you don’t get a handle on that, then we’re going to secede from the city of Atlanta and take this 40% of your tax base.”

The city of Atlanta did not see where they could possibly sustain a hit like that, so Councilwoman Joyce Sheperd, in collusion with the Atlanta Police Foundation and whomever else that she spoke to—but certainly not residents of the city of Atlanta—introduced the proposal for Cop City. The mayor at the time was Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and the current mayor, Andre Dickens, was a member of the council. And at that time, I was living in Decatur, probably about 15 minutes away from the proposed location of Cop City and in an area, by the way, that has been neglected by the city of Atlanta since I was a little girl (and I’m 43 years old). The city of Atlanta has never cared about that part of Atlanta because it is actually unincorporated, DeKalb County. So the city of Atlanta put $0 into any type of infrastructure in that area, any type of resources for the community, anything to beautify the community, they have never done in that area until they saw an opportunity to get in bed with the APF and all their corporate donors, to take their kickbacks, to take the status that it affords them with their associations: they decided to take that in exchange for further disenfranchising that Black community in that area.

Then, when you think about Cop City in the larger context of what it is and what it represents, it makes total sense that a facility that will be for militarized training of police to further repress Black people would be in a Black neighborhood where there are schools, where Black children have to hear gunfire constantly. And at the time, I was like, “This is crazy. I don’t think that’s really going to happen.” I saw the way the community showed up, I thought “There’s no way that this is gonna go through because the public has spoken.” But that Atlanta city council at that time showed us, right then, who they were and who they were there to serve by voting to pass that legislation. And what I will say is that every council member who was a member of council at the time, who voted in favor, is no longer a council person. So I hope that this current council recognizes that: we saw what you did. But back to the more focused point of where this came from: What Cop City is, is really their answer to that unprecedented swell of public participation and peaceful protesting and marches and rallies. They saw the community speak up and use their voices like they never had before, and they decided that Cop City was going to be the way to shut us down.

JDR: One thing I think that’s really important about what the Reverend just said, is that there’s this idea nationally—and I think also in Atlanta, particularly in areas of Atlanta, like Buckhead, you know, majority white areas of the city that also get the most benefit from the city social services—that after 2020, or even after 2014, let’s say, police are constrained, they’re being forced to be too accountable, and the tables have turned, right? People think we’ve gone too far in the direction of police accountability, and we need to scale back. That is a relatively common perspective among some parts of this city. But I think the Cop City story is really evidence that the opposite is actually true. There is less accountability now than ever. We used to live in a time where we had more accountable media, we had better local news, we had more ability to do public comment. And we now live in an era where the city council is willing to say “Hey, we’re gonna put 10s and 10s of millions of dollars into this structure that we know very well, the people of the city are not comfortable with, because we saw them in the streets, we saw the march, we’re not going to ask your input,” and they thought they weren’t gonna pay a political price for it. So I just say that to say when people see the Cop City conversation, I think it’s important to remember that this is in the context of the entire population across the country being gaslit into being told, “Actually, we’ve gone too far in the direction of worrying about police harm and now we have to scale back,” because that’s so clearly not what’s happening.

CS: What are we actually talking about when we talk about a Police Military Training Complex? I mean, 381 Acres is just unimaginably huge. So what are we actually talking about?

MH: So part of the city’s strategy within this entire debacle has been to make it very hard to know what we are talking about, because they have continually changed the plan, and then whenever anybody is using old information, they say, “Oh, that’s misinformation.” But actually, everything about the Cop City plan has been changing continually, and that’s actually part of the strategy. So just to back up a little bit: September 2021, the city council voted 10 to 4 to lease around 380 acres of land that was city-owned land—outside of city limits, though. So like Keyanna was saying, that means that the people who are around this area have no representation on the city council, no ability to vote for the mayor or a councilmember or anyone who could represent their interests. And so they voted to lease this land to the Atlanta Police Foundation, for the Police Foundation to basically tear down the forest land that was there and build this massive police compound in its place.

Because of the movement surrounding this, there were various—you can call them concessions, changes to the plans, whatever—that were made, that have been made, over the past couple of years, where they’ve made various promises, saying, “Okay, now Cop City itself is only going to be on 85 acres.” But then the advocates have shown that actually, it’s going to be on 171 acres. They said originally there was going to be a Blackhawk helicopter landing pad, now they’re saying there’s not going to be. The shooting range has been moved all over the place. So again, the plan is constantly changing. The reason that it took on the name Cop City is because the plans did include, and still do include, plans to build a mock simulation city within the training center. And you know, they say “That’s to prepare for 21st century challenges to public safety,” and we all know that, in the wake of the uprisings, that’s to make sure that they can maintain control of urban spaces and essentially be able to be equipped in the tactic of urban warfare, social control and population repression more effectively. So that’s really what people are referring to when they call this a police militarization facility. I think Cop City is in part about the actual, physical space of, you know, “We want to have the space to train and prepare our cops in the ways of urban warfare and social control.” But I also think that, just as importantly, Atlanta is pursuing Cop City, because of what they want it to signal to the corporate capitalist class that, “We are building this thing because we recognize that police protect capital’s interests, and we are communicating to you that hey, Atlanta is a safe place for you to come bring your money, turn your money into more money, because we take this very seriously. You don’t need to worry about uprisings and protests that are going to threaten your ability to make money here.”

JDR: And I think the ideological point is particularly important, because we actually know that what’s being built at Cop City in the interest is public safety is not the stuff that actually makes public safety possible. I mean, if they’re trying to build a space where people are being trained to ensure public safety, there’s a whole list of things that they could build that the community would love to give input on, that are not just community proven, but statistically proven, demonstrably proven to improve public safety. There are ways to improve public safety, we know how to do it. This is not how you do it, you don’t build a big city and get the Hummers—public safety is not at all their interest here, because if public safety was their interest they’d use what we know to be true about public safety.

KJ: Absolutely, 100% agree with all of that, and that is the reason why we have a clergy coalition, because we had to make it clear that this is a moral issue. This is about right and wrong. This is about standing up for people who have been marginalized for too long. So as clergy, we invite other clergy members to come and learn about what it is that we do as clergy members, as a part of this movement. Because we believe that it’s really important for the faith community to stand up and stand in solidarity against Cop City also.

CS: Yeah, I’m wondering if we can get a little more precise about who actually wants this. We’ve mentioned the Atlanta Police Foundation,

JDR: I want to let you all answer this question. But I also really want to be clear about Atlanta Police Foundation, because you know, they’ve done great branding on using the word foundation. This is not a place where the community of people who love the police are putting in a ton of money separately from the police. This is an entity that serves and is driven by and incorporates Atlanta police, not one that’s really separate from it. So that’s crucial, because when we say Atlanta Police Foundation, we mean the police.

KJ: I’m gonna clarify just a little bit further, because police foundations are allowed to be nonprofit organizations; however, they are run by corporations. So they are the money behind police unions. Many times, they can be funded by individual donors, but by and large, they are run and made up of executives from the major corporations whom they serve; the people whose property they protect, the people who give them large sums of money to make sure that undesirables don’t come near their property, or that other such things don’t happen. Police Foundations are dangerous entities, because they are the ones who will put the money into a lot of the state repression that happens. They are the ones who will pressure the city council to say, “Hey, you better give these people a raise, or else they don’t want to come to work because all these riots are going on,” or whatever it is that’s happening at the time. But police foundations are allowed to be 501(c)(3)s—I don’t know how much they stay in compliance with that, but they are definitely made up of corporations and corporate donors. They do serve the interests of the police, they do work hand in hand with the unions, and they are, many times, the money and power behind the unions.

MH: I think that it’s interesting that there’s not a very strong police union in Atlanta, but there is a really strong Police Foundation. My, like, working theory is that having the Police Foundation is almost this, like, workaround to not have the drawbacks of police unions, which do sometimes go up against city leadership in ways that are combative. So it’s a way to still have the power of all of this corporate money that claims to represent police interests, and you know, marshals the police in favor of this plan. But they’re not actually even representing the police. They’re representing the corporations that fund them. And more than anything, they’re using police as sort of like pawns in the broader game of a corporate lockdown over the city.

JDR: There’s this weird illusion that I don’t even know if cops really believe, but they tell themselves, and you hear it all the time from police leadership, like “We have the support of the community,” and by “we have the support of the community,” what they mean is like “We have the support of these people who give us money to serve their own interests.” I think in terms of any indication of support from the real community, it’s the foundation or union, whatever—it doesn’t indicate that

MH: Totally agree. Claire, to answer your question: So, basically, 2020 uprisings; immediately, this backlash by the Atlanta power structure, there were these various moral panics, fabricated through the media, about water boys in the streets and street racing. And essentially, the police did this big blue flu sick-out, the corporations all started sending emails through the various vehicles that they organize themselves in. So there’s this Atlanta Committee for Progress, a public-private partnership of a bunch of corporate heads, university heads, other big players in the Atlanta power scene, basically all complaining, like “Things are getting out of hand, we demand a crackdown.” And so what you saw was essentially, this group of Atlanta power players that included the Police Foundation, police interests, all these corporations on their board, you have the Atlanta Committee for Progress, you have the media, which is owned by the corporations that are also part of these public-private partnerships. And then you have universities and a bunch of other important civic actors coming together and saying “We support this plan.” And so it’s really like the Atlanta power structure that coalesces around the idea of building Cop City. Meanwhile, you have residents of Atlanta knocking doors from the very beginning, sounding the alarm, talking about how dangerous this plan would be. And so it really is like a people versus the power situation happening here. And I think that every day that the fight goes on, it becomes clear how much that is true.

CS: I’m also wondering if you could say a little more about the land itself and what we’re talking about when we talk about a struggle over this forest. What exactly is being contested? What does this land mean ecologically, socially? What has it meant historically?

KJ: So this land, originally Muscogee Creek, indigenous peoples’ land, of course. Then, after they ran the Muskogee people out and sent them on the Trail of Tears, this land was a plantation. After it was a plantation, it became a prison farm. After that, it became a training facility for Atlanta police. All I hear, in all of that, is violence against black bodies. It’s 381 acres of forest land, one of the largest urban forests in the southeastern United States, the largest urban forest in the state of Georgia. It is known as one of the lungs of Atlanta; literally, we need it to breathe, because right now, when there is an air quality alert here in Georgia, and we’re at code orange, because we’re actually getting some of that residue from those wildfires up north: think about what it means if we did not have 381 acres of forest land to absorb some of that. You have the South River that runs through there, so that is a part of the South River watershed, which is vitally important. The South River is the main headwater of the Altamaha river, goes all the way down to South Georgia, toward Darien and even farther down. The South River watershed is vital to this community, as is Intrenchment Creek, which is also encompassed there. And the South River, known by indigenous people as the Weelaunee, is the second most polluted river in the United States. So remember: Black area severely neglected by the city of Atlanta for decades, most of the pollution goes there. And this is where I was born and raised, this is where I grew up. This is where I moved back to when I moved back to Georgia. This is where I’m raising my children. So when you ask about this land, what it means and how important it is: it is everything to us.

JDR: The only thing I want to point out here, is that this is yet another example of cities making decisions that are explicitly terrible in the long term, for short term benefit to whomever they’re trying to please at that moment. And so, that’s not new; I mean, every politician has been doing it since the beginning of time. But I think that being really explicit about this, right? I mean, when you see a line down the block of people saying “Please, don’t do this,” and minutes later, they vote overwhelmingly to do it.

CS: Yeah, it seems like there’s at least two watershed moments where the myth of representative democracy has been revealed as a myth: the first city council vote and then this most recent one, and I’m sure there are a number of others along the way. But I wanted to come back to the public-private partnerships that Micah you had mentioned several times.

MH: The way that I think about all of these partnerships are: these are all a formation through which capital is organizing itself, to advocate in and take control of Atlanta. And so you have Central Atlanta Progress, which is sort of like the downtown boostery business group; you have the Atlanta Committee for Progress, whose corporate membership mirrors so much of the Atlanta Police Foundation; there’s Delta, UPS, Home Depot, Waffle House, Wells Fargo, you know, basically, so many of the different major Atlanta-based corporations are organizing themselves in their power and their money through all of these different vehicles. And what the result ends up being, in all of these cases, is that more money gets channeled into policing, fewer dollars go into the government. Atlanta has been home to so much gentrification and rapid development, and one of the ways that that’s happened is through all of these massive subsidies, whether on the front end or on the back end. Through the ways that these developments are financed, what you have is less and less money going into the public coffers, and the money that does go in comes out to support policing—a third of our budget goes to policing. What isn’t being publicly spent on policing is being privately subsidized by the Atlanta Police Foundation. So, to take one example: The Atlanta Police Foundation run the network of surveillance cameras in Atlanta called Operation Shield. It’s a feed that allows any person with a Ring camera or any other personal security camera to incorporate their feed into that stream. And so all of this combined towards. You have a city that essentially works in total service to corporations by doling out a lot of public dollars in the form of subsidies, and then using the public money that they do collect as essentially a security force for capital.

KJ: Honestly, these public-private partnerships should be illegal. Because at the end of the day, what this allows for is for these foundations to write a check that the city of Atlanta has to cash—it makes no sense. Basically, these corporations will take out a loan, and the people of Atlanta are going to have to pay it back because it will be our money that will go into what the council agrees to pay in that public-private partnership. What it allows for is, like Micah said, for Chick-fil-A, Waffle House, Delta, Home Depot, Norfolk Southern, Truist Bank, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Cox Enterprises, to run the city of Atlanta and have police paid to protect their interests.

JDR: And it also allows state legislatures to continue to siphon money out of municipalities. It basically means government doesn’t have to fund government, right? And that is an illusion that is being perpetuated by a significant portion of our political class that is false. Actually, to have a strong, sustainable, healthy government, you have to be able to pay for that. And so what is happening is that we are seeing this cycle of the gospel of low taxes and disinvestment being hidden by these private interests that come in and do what they do to make things look better than they really are. But this, in some ways, is what we saw in Ferguson, right? Like we are seeing revenue-making efforts being put on the backs of the people struggling the most. And we are seeing people on the state level and the federal level coast to reelection and coast to office by saying we’re gonna make it even harder for localities to function.

MH: I think that’s such an important point. Because the other thing with these public-private partnerships is that one of their rhetorical strategies is that things are often framed as the direction the money is flowing, it’s from the private to the public. So with Cop City, it’s “Okay, this is going to be $60 million of private donations and $30 million from the city.” With the Olympics in 1996 in Atlanta, it was going to be “You know, for some cities, the Olympics have made them go bankrupt, because it’s publicly funded. But the way we’re going to do here is it’s going to be privately funded, and that’s going to allow it to actually be worth it for Atlanta.” And still, you ended up having a massive investment of both land and resources being transferred from public to private, of land and public dollars during the Olympics. Same thing that’s happening right now. Whereas, you know, in the beginning, this idea of public-private partnership of Cop City was $60 million private $30 million public. Now, the Atlanta Police Foundation has not been able to raise that full $60 million, and what they are demanding from the city, which the city just passed, is $67 million in funding. So the city’s contribution went from $30m to $67m, and it will surely go up. And the so-called “private donations”—which again, are just another form of stolen public wealth, because that is profit that corporations have that are not going into public hands—that hasn’t even been put up as promised.

CS: Yeah, thank you for that. One of the first things that Reverend Keyanna mentioned, when you were describing the movement, is that it’s a decentralized movement. I just wanted to go back to that, and to hear a little more about what that means and what that looks like, and what some of the sites and strategies of resistance have been.

KJ: Yeah. So decentralized means that there is no leadership structure. It means that there is no one saying, “Hey, this is the Movement to Stop Cop City, I’m in charge, and you got to do what I say or let me know what you want to do and I’ll see where I can fit you in.” There is a myriad of people and organizations that make up the movement to stop Cop City. They all come with their own reasons for wanting to stop Cop City, but they have all come together. And what they have agreed upon is that we will all communicate with each other and make sure that we can strategize as best we can to mobilize as many people for this movement. But we really were hoping to show the council—and I know that they noticed it, whether they acknowledged it or not—but what they saw was that the people whom they thought were very unlikely to stand shoulder to shoulder, were. There were people in this movement who are huge environmentalists, and it’s like, “Okay, just don’t touch my trees, I’m good.” There are people in this movement who are abolitionists and who are like, “We need to burn this whole system down and rebuild it, because this just ain’t it.” There are other people in this movement who are community organizers and activists and are like, “Hey, we just get people together and make sure that they can show up and stand up against injustice.” And then there are people who are just like, “You’re not going to make decisions without me. This is undemocratic.” They lean a lot into the politics of it and the miscarriage of democracy that it is, but we all come together to say, “All right, we’re on the same page, we’re on the same playing field. Now, what’s the play?”

We believe in a diversity of tactics, and we know that that is what has kept us strong and what’s kept us growing. Because, literally, however you feel that it is appropriate for you to resist, you are able to do that. There is no one policing anybody’s feelings and policing anybody’s behaviors. But what I do want to make very clear is that the law that was passed in Georgia surrounding domestic terrorism is now being used against the people in this movement because the city of Atlanta has no idea how to shut us down. Because every time they think they have crippled our infrastructure, they find out that it is not the truth. I mean, there are literally emails from executives at the Atlanta Police Foundation, to Mayor Andre Dickens saying “You must arrest the leaders of the Stop Cop City Movement before construction can take place.” So decentralization means that there are no defined leaders, and there is no one defined strategy, but that everybody gets them where they fit in and we make it work.

JDR: This is the main problem we’re talking about here, right? Instead of working to ensure that they are serving the community, that they are doing what the community wants, instead of communicating with them, instead of working with them, they criminalize you. The way that they are responding to the backlash against Cop City couldn’t prove our point more. It’s ironic to me, like the only solution that these people have is to criminalize. They don’t even see the irony in that.

MH: What I’ll say to give people an idea of what does it actually look like to have a decentralized movement. That means everything from right after the vote was passed in September 2021 to lease this land, there were folks who moved into that forest and said, “In the long tradition of land defense, we are going to live in this forest and defend it from the attempted onslaught.” And this is a fight for our lives. You know, there’s people on the ground doing direct action, doing direct land defense. It’s people going out and doing a ton of different pressure campaigns on the corporations and the financial backers of the Police Foundation. It’s doing call-ins to these various companies and saying, like, “Hey, we are watching. Drop this project, you need to let go of this.” It’s also preschoolers, the preschool network of Southeast Atlanta, who marched through the streets with signs that say “Don’t cut down the trees, I love you trees,” you know? It’s parents and it’s residents. It’s people talking to each other. It’s neighborhood associations who put out statements. It’s faculty at universities across Atlanta and students reviving and animating the student organizing tradition, taking action on and off their campuses. It’s indigenous Muscogee spiritual leaders who have traveled back to Atlanta, to the land that they were displaced from, to actually serve an eviction notice to the mayor and the Atlanta city council and say, like, “Hey, this is our land that was stolen from us.” It’s the faith coalition—I could go on and on and on. It is just so many different groups, groups and individuals and people, you know, just acting individually, who are really tackling this from every single angle. That, I think, is the beauty of the decentralized movement: It’s just seeing how many different reasons and different methods people find to take action.

And what I want to say, what I think the city of Atlanta and, I think, the broader ruling structure of the country did not bargain for, is that even though people have come to this for different reasons, those groups have increasingly coalesced and come together in the way they think about this. And so I think back to the summer of 2021, there was some more infighting between some of the different factions involved. Now I’m seeing the environmentalists be like, “Yeah, no Cop City anywhere.” It went from “No Cop City in the forest,” to “No Cop City anywhere.” And so I think that there are so many ways this attempt to build Cop City is backfiring, and is radicalizing the people of Atlanta.

CS: That’s really beautiful. I’m curious about what this referendum means for you. And we were talking about the sort of importance of a multi-sided movement and a polyvocal movement and a movement where people get in where they fit in. And I wonder if there’s any risk of something like legislative capture, or the ways that energy can kind of consolidate in these systems that we recognize are not accountable to people?

KJ: Oh, yeah. So what we’ve seen in this movement is that we haven’t seen those voting rights organizations come to bat for us about Cop City. But now this gives them an avenue to get involved also: because this is an issue of democracy, because we are literally making it so that the people of Atlanta will decide. They will have a vote and a voice, and that’s what they have never had, from the beginning of the inception of Cop City. So while we are definitely going to push the referendum petition efforts into high gear because we have to win this, there is nothing else in this movement that will stop because we are pushing this referendum. Everything that’s been going on will continue to go on, because we have so many people who are committed to making sure that we continue to raise awareness. There are still a lot of people in Atlanta who do not understand exactly what militarization of police means. There are still so many people who do not understand what it does to young children to constantly hear gunfire. So that’s why we will continue to knock doors—we won’t be knocking on doors just to say, “Sign this petition so that we can have this ballot initiative,” we will still be knocking on doors, educating people about what Cop City is, and why it’s a detriment to this community and to the nation. And everything else that we’ve been doing: having community hangouts, other info sessions, townhall meetings, all of that stuff will still continue. The referendum is just one more avenue of engagement.

MH: One thing that I think is really exciting about it is we’ve already heard from sources in city hall that the council is kind of freaking out about this referendum, because they know that they’ve acted against the will of the people. And this referendum is a direct ballot measure to cancel the lease. So, if and when this referendum passes, this is a direct repudiation of what the council have done, and we don’t need any more confirmation than the people of Atlanta are against this. We don’t need any more confirmation that this is an anti-democratic project. But you know, this puts them on record as directly opposing the interests of their residents in a much different way. And so I think it’s exactly like Keyanna says: the movement is really a constellation of so many different, determined people in organizations and formations, to stop Cop City, and I think that this is one new avenue of pressure. And I think that there’s reason to be wary of sort of like big nonprofit co-optation of the movement. But what I think is powerful about this is that, as Keyanna said, nothing is going to stop in terms of the way the movement has been unfolding. This is a new lane where we’re going to see new forms of pressure applied.

CS: Thank you so much for joining us, Keyanna, Josie, and Micah, and thank you to all of you for listening. This was another episode of On the Nose, the Jewish Currents podcast. Please rate us wherever you get your podcasts and of course, please visit JewishCurrents.org to subscribe and keep up with all of our coverage.

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