Activists are calling for mass civil disobedience this month to “block Cop City” in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s the latest move in a years-long struggle against the planned construction of an extensive police and firefighter training facility in a forest on the city’s edge. Atlanta lawmakers approved the facility and the funding for it, and construction began in the spring. But activists are trying every tactic to stop it in its tracks.
The organizers’ website, BlockCopCity.org, calls for activists to gather in Atlanta from November 10, before marching to the site itself. “On the morning of November 13,” it states, “masses of people from across the city and country will gather in the Weelaunee Forest and bring construction to a halt.”
Time is short to do that. In October, Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens (D), stated that construction of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, as “Cop City” is formally known, was almost 40 percent complete, with sewage and water systems finished, and asphalt due to be poured by Thanksgiving. Construction of the buildings themselves is slated to begin in January. As Truthout reported, 33 acres of forest within the 85-acre site have already been cut down, with more to follow if construction continues.
Block Cop City organizers have traveled to 70 different cities, encouraging other activists to form “affinity groups” and join the upcoming actions in Atlanta.
The funding plan approved by the city would see it pay for about a third of the cost itself, with the rest funded by philanthropic sources and the nonprofit Atlanta Police Foundation.
Throughout the fall, Block Cop City organizers have traveled to 70 different cities to speak about their movement, the history of the forest and the next phase of their resistance. Sharing intelligence and tactics, they’ve been encouraging other activists to form “affinity groups” and join the upcoming actions in Atlanta. As Filter has reported, the diverse coalition against Cop City includes defund-the-police, environmental and Indigenous activists.
The activist group Defend the Atlanta Forest posted a video about the plans on X back in September: “We block Cop City. March on the construction site. Save Weelaunee. Tortuguita vive. La lucha sigue [Tortuguita lives on. The struggle continues].” Weelaunee is an Indigenous name for what’s also known as the South River Forest, where construction of the facility has begun. Tortuguita Terán was an activist who was killed by law enforcement in a raid on protesters’ forest encampment in January. A coroner’s report found Tortuguita was shot 57 times, and ruled the death a homicide.
Protesters previously occupied areas of the forest in a bid to prevent construction starting. “A protest encampment in the forest itself, sustained for over a year, has been key to the movement’s effectiveness,” states the website. “Forest defenders, sometimes dozens, at other times hundreds, sleeping in tents and treehouses, put their lives on hold and their bodies on the line.”
But they faced a series of law enforcement actions and, finally, the erection of high fences around the site to keep them out as construction began. In December 2022, several law enforcement agencies raided the forest and arrested five people on state charges of domestic terrorism. That was followed by the January 2023 raid where Tortuguita was killed, and then a March raid on a music festival in the forest, where 23 people were arrested and charged with domestic terrorism.
On September 5, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr (R) filed state RICO charges against 61 individuals in connection with protests against Cop City. Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act charges are used to go after defendants alleged to be involved in a criminal conspiracy. The indictment describes the defendants as an “enterprise of militant anarchists, eco-activists and community organizers.” It adds, “This self proclaimed ‘direct action’ has included vandalizing of private property, arson, destruction of government property, attacks on utility workers, attacks on law enforcement, attacks on private citizens, and gun violence.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Georgia condemned the indictments. “We are extremely concerned by this breathtakingly broad and unprecedented use of state terrorism, anti-racketeering, and money laundering laws against protesters,” stated Aamra Ahmad, senior staff attorney with ACLU’s National Security Project. “Georgia law enforcement officials are disproportionately wielding these overbroad laws to stigmatize and target those who disagree with the government.”
Yet direct actions have continued. In September, days after the indictments, Atlanta police arrested five people who chained themselves to a bulldozer at the construction site. A larger group of protesters gathered at a chain link fence, declaring they were delivering a “stop work order” on the build. And in October, a tractor owned by a construction company was reportedly torched at an offsite location.
Organizers have also worked to stop Cop City at the ballot box, but the city has erected a series of legal obstacles. Throughout the summer, the Stop Cop City Vote Coalition worked on gathering voter signatures to qualify a citywide ballot initiative on whether or not to build the facility for a vote in March. On September 11, they submitted 116,000 signatures, far above the required minimum of 70,000. But city officials refused to begin validating the signatures, essentially because of their interpretation of a court ruling.
“The people will have to enforce their own stop work order. This is the only way to honor the overwhelming popular sentiment in favor of ending this project.”
In July, a group of petitioners had sued in federal court to repeal the city’s requirement that only Atlanta residents could collect valid voter signatures. The city lost, but appealed to the higher 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which stayed the lower court’s decision pending its review. Atlanta officials argued that “Because the injunction is currently not in place, the City is required to apply its code and State law as it is written;” their interpretation meant that activists would have been required to turn in signatures by August 21, and so were late.
In September, the Atlanta City Council—with the blessing of Mayor Dickens—voted unanimously to unseal, digitize and count all voter signatures for the referendum, which they described as working to “advance the democratic process.” But what happened next outraged organizers: The city posted thousands of petition forms online, displaying voters’ full names, addresses and phone numbers. The move seems to have gone against City Council orders to redact identifying information, and may violate state open records laws.
The Vote to Stop Cop City Coalition responded by calling this “voter intimidation and suppression”, and accused the city of “doxxing” supporters of the petition, potentially putting them at risk of harassment or identity theft. It called on the city to immediately remove the unredacted signatures, remove the municipal clerk from the process entirely, and request outside legal assistance going forward.
As the ballot process remains mired in controversies and delays, activists fear that ongoing contstruction will allow Cop City to be presented as a done deal, with taxpayers’ money already spent.
“The people will have to enforce their own stop work order,” states the Block Cop City website. “This is the only way to honor the overwhelming popular sentiment in favor of ending this project. With our future on the line and the whole world watching, we’ll take a stand to bend the course of history.”
Photograph of Cop City message displayed in Tucson, Arizona, via Defend the Atlanta Forest