Person in foreground with fist raised in solidarity looking on at a children's march to Stop Cop City

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The struggle in Atlanta’s Weelaunee forest and against Cop City has been waged on many fronts: treesits, rallies, community meetings, targeted property destruction, lawsuits. Recently, police attacks and the assassination of Tortuguita dealt many of us a devastating blow. But the choice by Mayor Dickens to continue with Cop City in the face of mounting nationwide opposition also poses risks for the Atlanta ruling class. If we size up our enemy’s vulnerabilities, and strike effectively, we can win.

For the last two years, a diverse movement has defended the forested land in metro Atlanta and prevented the construction of “Cop City,” a massive police training complex slated to be built in a Black working class area of Dekalb county. The same movement is defending another part of the land threatened by real estate developer Ryan Milsap. The $90 million Cop City facility is bankrolled largely by donations to the APF from major area corporations. With it, the ruling class in Atlanta hopes to prevent something like the 2020 George Floyd Uprising from ever occurring again.

Protesting the assassination of Tortuguita, January 2023. Photo by Dean Hesse.

But controversy is now swirling around the state’s use of terrorism charges and its assassination of Tortuguita. Students from the Atlanta University Center colleges and Georgia State have marched, and outlets from Democracy Now to the Daily Show have tuned in. The movement has ricocheted into the state, with Governor Kemp backing his police as City Councilmember Liliana Bakhtiari and Congresswoman Cori Bush call for an independent investigation into their actions. Mayor Dickens has carted out a “compromise” that he claims will allow Cop City to move forward. But permits for the project are being challenged by its own advisory board member and local residents, and construction will be impeded on the ground by forest defenders. There is no resolution in sight.

The state and ruling class are trying to create the impression that they are beating our movement. In fact, they are running out of options, falling back on ever harsher methods of coercion and ever more transparent ploys for consent. If this line of effort fails, their only choice will be to double-down on repression and trigger a bigger political crisis – or to retreat.

With this new phase in the struggle, we should start thinking ahead. Now is the time to pause, breathe, and make plans. Far from being “extremist,” our movement has broad appeal because it touches on so many issues. We can continue to showcase our breadth and prevent any one section from getting isolated. We can stay flexible without getting stuck in a single approach. By growing a mass movement, we can bury Cop City for good.

What is your theory of victory?

Every struggle includes an implicit “theory of victory”: a guess about how your actions will lead to a desired outcome. Different parts of our movement have been using different theories, with different sets of associated tactics. These may sometimes be in tension, like when we try to win over casual supporters who are uncomfortable with the militant direct actions the movement has depended on. But our diversity is also a good thing, since some mix of approaches may ultimately prove correct. Here are three theories we see in the movement today. Which do you take as your guide?

Protesting the assassination of Tortuguita, January 2023. Photo by Dean Hesse.

1. Scare off the contractors

Forest defenders have won important victories using a combination of the “SHAC model,” and the “ZAD model.” The aim is to make construction economically untenable by maintaining a presence in the forest, sabotaging work, and targeting specific subcontractors locally and elsewhere. In the coming months, forest defenders could reassert a presence in the forest to raise costs for Milsap’s development and impede construction on the Cop City site.

At the same time, the SHAC model was designed to make it difficult for corporations to profit from their involvement in a harmful project. Cop City is a little different: it is the shared undertaking of a local ruling class leveraging the city government, to securitize the city and prevent uprisings. Since most of the actors involved aren’t expecting to see a profit in the first place, other strategies may be complementary.

Weelaunee forest, August 2022. Photo by Dean Hesse.

2. Fracture the funders

APF could be forced to abandon Cop City if its corporate funders are compelled to pull their money out. Comrades across the country have already started researching and targeting APF funders, a lineup of more than a dozen companies with hundreds of offices nationwide. Tactics here could include office protests, consumer boycotts, divestment campaigns, and job actions by workers in Cop City companies.

Because the number of corporations is so large, this strategy could benefit from being focused through analysis. In other campaigns, banks like Wells Fargo have been forced to divest from police and prison expansion, but these efforts often take years and lots of resources. APF supporters like universities (Georgia State, Georgia Tech, Emory, Morehouse and Spelman, for instance) could be lower hanging fruit. Comrades should identify which Cop City funders are most vulnerable to pressure, where potential allies like student groups and unions are positioned, and share this info and synchronize actions.

Protest in East Atlanta Village, December 2022. Photo by Dean Hesse.

3. Divide city politics

Cop City could also be defeated if the Atlanta city government is forced to cancel the lease for the site. This strategy does not mean meeting with politicians or electing new ones. Instead, it means exploiting tensions within the ruling class, and engaging communities opposed to Cop City through outreach and protests.

We can mobilize sympathizers who have not yet taken a public stand–in churches, non-profits, neighborhood organizations, progressive unions–and give them concrete ways to join the movement, such as emailing their members, releasing statements, and hosting teach-ins or letter writings. Cohering this base can divide city politics, for example by demanding the mayor cancel Cop City and resign for overseeing a political assassination, thereby forcing officials to pick sides. In 2021, four council members were pushed to vote against the APF lease, but all have since gone quiet behind the mayor claiming the issue is out of their hands. By broadening our base and splitting elites, we can divide the enemy camp and create possibilities for our movement.

This strategy could also draw upon existing research and analysis: Where do council members stand on Cop City and on the mayor? What kinds of community organizations already exist that might take a stand on this issue? Which constituencies, if they moved, would shake the fiction that the state “represents” Atlantans?Comrades can continue to share this info and coordinate efforts on the ground.

What you can do

  • Build an action committee where you are
  • Target contractors and donors in your area
  • Investigate whether your workplace or school has a relationship to Cop City, and pressure them to cut ties
  • Host events, write op-eds, and shift the national narrative about Cop City and Tort’s assassination
  • Link with groups in Atlanta to help them out with stuff they need done
  • Link with platforms where research is pooled, and conduct and contribute your own
  • Support continued land defense in Atlanta, and other creative efforts to impede construction and make it unprofitable.

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