Atlanta activists announce ballot referendum to Stop Cop City


“The Earth will still be here when Cop City falls.” — The Rev. Chebon Kernell

Atlanta residents of all backgrounds once again made their voices heard, with over 280 people speaking against Cop City. Starting around 1 p.m. on June 5 and not ending until almost 6 a.m. the next morning, Atlanta City Council chambers opened for public comment on a resolution that would portion city funds to the proposed Atlanta “Public Safety” training facility, more well known as Cop City.

Despite intimidation and confusion from the city, including a false report that in-person public comment would be closed and broken elevators in City Hall, hundreds of Atlanta and nearby residents showed up to speak against Cop City. These included people well identified with the movement—such as Jaqueline Echols, Rukia Rogers, Micah Herskind, and the Rev. Keyanna Jones—as well as activists from different fights against state violence.

There were at least 350 comments; over 14 hours of public commentary was opposed to Cop City. Only four people spoke in favor of funding for Cop City, all at the beginning and using the Atlanta Police Foundation’s vague and baseless accusations of “outside agitators” and movement “hijacking” by Stop Cop City/Defend Atlanta Forest activists. The great diversity, commitment, and singularity of vision shown by people participating in the public commentary showed that all of these accusations are complete lies. Workers’ Voice covered the meeting with a live Twitter feed (@WorkersVoice_US) from inside the chambers.

Speakers included students, non-police first responders; health care, social workers, and autoworkers; and anti-police brutality and civil liberties activists, including Susi Durán, director of National Lawyer Guild’s Atlanta chapter. Also present were organizers from many different social struggles, including immigrant rights, environmental justice, and the housing/anti-gentrification movement.

Many commentators, who waited until the wee hours of the morning for a chance to speak, have been Atlanta residents for decades. One first-time speaker and Southwest Atlanta resident explained how he was speaking out against Cop City because of his two-year-old  daughter and that Cop city is the most anti-Black thing proposed in his life. The basic points made by all were that the Atlanta Police Foundation is bypassing any semblance of democratic processes, that the money proposed to be spent on Cop City could be used to actually help the people in Metro Atlanta who are facing gentrification and a cost of living crisis, and that the movement is only getting strengthened by the open corruption of City Council.

The official narrative backing the Cop City project has been fraught with falsehoods since its inception, but over the last month, multiple examples of outright lying, police corruption, and the heinously anti-democratic nature of the city’s pro-Cop City position have been exposed. This marks at least the third time that a historic amount of public opposition has been mobilized through “democratic” channels against the project. Despite the outpouring of opposition to Cop City, City Council voted 11-4 in favor of the blank-check funding proposed by the Atlanta Police Foundation and Mayor Dickens.

Solidarity activists arrested

Less than a week before the City Council meeting, Atlanta and Georgia cops conducted a paramilitary SWAT raid on a private residence/community space and arrested three local activists associated with the Atlanta Solidarity Fund. The ASF3, as they are known, were held for days in DeKalb County Jail before being granted bond on June 2. While in jail, Adele Maclean was denied necessary mobility devices and medication and forced into solitary confinement. Solitary confinement is considered a form of psychological torture by the vast majority of human rights and psychological organizations.

After hearing the prosecutor’s “evidence,” Judge Altman stated that he didn’t “find it very impressive.” He continued, “There’s not a lot of meat on the bones of the allegations that thousands of dollars are going to fund illegal activities.”

As Workers’ Voice reported after the arrests two weeks ago, “Police appear to be attempting to intimidate community members from participating in the public comment and demonstrating around City Hall. The Atlanta Community Press Collective also recently uncovered documents that show the price Atlanta residents would pay for the facility is over $50 million instead of the often publicized number of $30 million.”

Referendum campaign announced

On June 7, one day after the City Council meeting had concluded, Atlanta organizers announced a new campaign to get a referendum on Cop City on the ballot in November. The campaign will involve the goal of soliciting over 75,000 petition signatures over 60 days from Atlanta residents. Getting Cop City funding on the ballot will be an uphill battle, but, if successful, building out the infrastructure and organizing capacity to carry out a grassroots petition campaign on this scale will be a huge step forward for the movement in Atlanta.

Speaking on the popularity of the movement to Stop Cop City, Kamau Franklin, of Community Movement Builders, stated during a discussion on Black Power Media’s RemiX Morning Show that within five hours of the press conference over 1000 people signed up to volunteer for petitioning.

A constant hurdle faced by people fighting against Cop City, inside and outside of Atlanta, is the typically unfavorable, one-sided, or complete lack of coverage in the bourgeois press. Many in the United States, including Atlanta residents, either are completely unaware of the proposed training facility or have been temporarily turned against the movement due to the lies spread by mainstream media. This massive petition campaign provides an important and potentially dynamic opportunity to speak directly to people to change the narrative and give a concrete initiative to draw new forces into the movement.

The force of sentiment and organizing against Cop City is shaking up more institutional organizations to concretely take sides. There are benefits to this but also potential dangers. Most notable in this instance is the emergence of Working Families Power (WFP) as a key endorser and coalition member of the Cop City Vote campaign. While its support for the campaign is positive, it must be noted that the WFP is largely focused on electoral turnout for “progressive” Democratic candidates and has the potential to be more open to making deals than groups that have been organizing against Cop City in the longer term. Its sister grouping in the Northeast, the Working Families’ Party, has functioned as nothing more than a wing of the Democratic Party for years, endorsing mainstream candidates and even organizing against progressives in Democratic Primaries—for example, Alicia Strong, an activist who ran for mayor of New Britain, Conn.

There can be no faith put in the institutions of the capitalist state. However, this campaign has the potential to use the nominally democratic channels of mass participation, themselves won through popular struggles, to expose the state and potentially mobilize thousands of Atlantans. All maneuvers and attempts at backroom negotiations by city, state, and federal politicians—and these will happen—must be rejected and exposed.

As Kamau Franklin said on June 7, the petition for a referendum is an avenue to either directly Stop Cop City or it’s for “delegitimizing the state, because they are going to put up everything they can to stop this referendum from happening. … This for me still works within the strategy of exposing the state for what it is but also giving people the opportunity who would otherwise not get involved. … It’s incumbent on organizers to get on the ground… en masse.”

The campaign will open many new avenues of struggle as activists continue to build out the networks already developed over the three years of the Stop Cop City movement and decades of grassroots movements around Atlanta.

Photo: Kamau Franklin, of the Community Movement Builders, speaks at the June 7 news conference in front of Atlanta’s City Hall announcing the referendum on Cop City. (R.J. Rico / AP)

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