Last weekend, across more than 20 cities in the so-called United States, hundreds of people took to the streets, holding vigils, protests, and rallies in solidarity with the ongoing fight against ‘Cop City’ in Atlanta and to remember Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, also known as Tortuguita, a 26 year-old anarchist who was shot and killed by law enforcement during a raid on the Weelaunee forest on August 18th.
Sunday marked the fourth straight day of vigils, protests, and rallies in solidarity with the struggle in Atlanta, following the police murder of Tortuguita, with more scheduled throughout the coming week.
The movement to oppose Cop City, a massive corporate backedcounter-insurgency police training center, it notable in that it has built a bridge between the George Floyd rebellion of 2020 and the fight against climate change, while organizing itself largely outside of the established Left. The movement has been marked by a wide diversity of tactics; from mutual aid programs, nature walks, and large outdoor concerts—to tree-sits, mass marches, and the sabotaging of machinery.
While attacked by the state’s governor as “criminal” and decried as terrorists by the police, the movement in recent days has gotten support from everything from 350.org to the leadership of the DSA (Democratic Socialist of America). On Twitter, former Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson stated, “If I was in Atlanta, I would be there.” But what’s built this large coalition of support and solidarity has been a grassroots autonomous movement, not the top-down non-profits and political parties which suddenly, are rushing to catch-up.
The struggle against Cop City has also been building against the backdrop of growing anger at the Biden administration’s failure to deliver basic reforms and protect essential rights. In the past two years since Biden has taken office, police killings have increased along with funding for police departments; which has done nothing to impact crime. And while the Democrats have presented themselves as the only alternative to a rising fascist threat from within the Republican party, it has done little to reign in the GOP and curtail fascist sympathies within law enforcement and the security state. This is to say nothing about its handling of the ongoing pandemic, housing crisis, and attacks on reproductive autonomy.
As Hugh Farrell wrote on Ill Will Editions:
We are living through a moment of terrifying social reflux. The minimal state protections put in place at the beginning of COVID have given way to renewed evictions and a broad political consensus in favor of interest rate hikes intended to tame inflation and rebuild market stability. However, since, much of this inflationary instability is driven by new working class purchasing power, this means that renewed market stability is tied inexorably to restoring the precarity of the poor, to reducing their share of consumption and breaking the job-seeking confidence that fed the Great Resignation, itself produced by the exceptionally taut COVID labor market.
Just as the crisis-bred confidence of the poor must be tamed, so the recent memory of vast anti-police struggles led by Black youth must be painted over with delirious panics over Critical Race Theory and Defund the Police, both as phantasmic as a mythical crime wave. Defund the Police, which appeared irrelevantly moderate during the George Floyd Uprising, now appears intolerably extremist thanks to the collusion of 10,000 talking heads who chattered their way through the entirety of 2022, even as U.S. police continued to kill people at an increased rate. 1 Since one good panic begets another, these then fed a renewed hysteria about grooming, which offers the barest fig leaf for a renewed exterminationist drive directed against LGBT–especially trans–people. Propelled by figures like Elon Musk (himself working precisely to restore conditions of profitable speculation), this drive has been so shameless that it barely missed a beat when one of its foot soldiers murdered five people in Club Q, a Colorado gay bar.
Amid this period of fear and reflux, the movement to defend the Atlanta forest–alongside recent efforts to defend the village of Lützerath against its destruction by mining giant RWE (from which the accompanying images here are taken)–stand out as bright exceptions. While the ostensible aim of both struggles lies in protecting specific territories, they have also succeeded in challenging the more general terms of our current period of reaction. While my focus here will be on the struggle in Atlanta, the logic of composition outlined below may also help to illuminate other ecologically-minded insurgencies across the globe.
One of the things that has allowed the struggle against Cop City in Atlanta to grow, is that people recognize its importance as a local struggle, aimed at stopping the destruction of the Weelaunee forest, and as a global one, as Cop City pushes to become a one-stop shop for counter-insurgency training across the U.S. and beyond. Atlanta police already train in counter-insurgency techniques alongside Israeli forces, as American police seek to implement strategies used by Israel in repressing the Palestinian population on people here in the U.S. Building ‘Cop City’ will only further accelerate a counter-insurgency ‘arms race’ within American law enforcement that so far, has received bipartisan support.
As one forest defender stated in a recent documentary:
This strategy [to defend the forest] emerges as a natural phenomenon, just directly from the intransigence and immovability of the electoral system; of the political system.
Either we will be goosestepped into the apocalypse, or we will fight outside of the institutions.
This is not a local struggle. This movement has stakes for the entire county and how it deals with safety. As long as we invest in more police infrastructure, the more violence will be the only tool that society has…They’re going to prop up their dying system…with tear gas.
Below is a roundup of solidarity marches, vigils, and actions that took place this weekend. For a more extensive roundup, see here.
In Portland, OR, anarchists vandalized a UPS store, breaking out windows of the corporate giant over its financial ties to the ‘Cop City’ project. Independent journalist Alissa Azar posted an anonymous communique they received from the action, seen below.
In Oakland, CA, a communique posted to Scenes from the Atlanta Forest wrote:
Bank of America is an enemy of the people and life itself. They currently fund the construction of cop city in Atlanta, the same project that threatens the forest that Tortuguita died defending. They deserve no place in our landscape. We destroyed quickly but tirelessly. Like the peasants in the Jacquerie, the Luddite wreckers, or the Haitian revolutionaries, we seek liberation in the most obvious way: the destruction of what we know is the cause of our suffering. And if we destroy much, it is because we have suffered much. “Vengeance! Vengeance!” is our war-cry.
In Austin, Texas, over one hundred people come out to a vigil that remembered the life of Tortuiguita and pledged to carry on the fight against Cop City.
In Richmond, VA, over 100 people held a vigil to remember Tortuguita and to denounce the Cop City project.
In Chicago, IL, a communique posted to Scenes from the Atlanta Forest read:
Friday night, January 20th, Chicago abolitionists in solidarity with the movement to Stop Cop City and Defend the Atlanta Forest glued shut the card reader and keyhole at a Bank of America ATM and “Virtual Banking” facility in Chicago’s affluent Lincoln Park neighborhood (2428 N Lincoln Ave). They also left messages, including STOP COP CITY, DEFEND THE ATLANTA FOREST, and ACAB on the ATM windows and door. The incident was in response to the murder of a forest defender by police in Atlanta on January 18th, 2023.
Bank of America is a top funder of police foundations across the U.S., in particular the Atlanta Police Foundation, which is funding the destruction of Weelaunee Forest in “Atlanta” to build “Cop City.” The intended facility would be a militarized police training compound, including a mock city for cops to practice urban warfare on Atlanta’s residents, particularly the Black and Brown and poor communities adjacent to the forest. In 2020, BOA gave at least $50,000 to the foundation; tax data from 2021-22 is not yet available.
Bank of America also bankrolls the Chicago Police Foundation, with BoA Senior Vice President Patricia Provenzano sitting on its board.
In Minneapolis, MN, as Unicorn Riot reported:
On Saturday, Jan. 21, a couple hundred community members gathered in Uptown Minneapolis for a protest that started outside the library and ended at Bank of America. The bank was spray painted with messages to stop ‘Cop City’ and about the bank’s funding of the police training facility.
Two of the signs in the protest read, “Our revenge will be a world with no police and no prisons” and “Trees gives us life, police take it.”
Speakers again shared some memories they had of Tort and also made mention that they were seeking bail money for the forest defenders in jail in Atlanta and calling for more people to pick up the mutual aid efforts that Tort devoted their time to.
A large banner led the march that said, “We fight like hell for the dead and living. Stop Cop City.” One of the many chants that rang through the streets was “TC, Memphis, ATL, all you cops can go to hell,” ringing in solidarity from Minneapolis to Memphis, where Tyre Nichols was recently beat to death by police.
The crowd stopped in front of ‘Wince Way’ where Winston Smith was killed to pay respects to him and Deona Marie. Marie was killed by Nicholas David Kraus when he drove his vehicle into her when she was protesting in response to Smith’s killing by police. Kraus was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
In Lansing, MI, a bank of America was vandalized following a vigil in solidarity with the fight against Cop City.
Over 50 people gathered in West Philadelphia to mourn the death of Tortuguita and to later march through the streets. Reports from Philly Anti-Capitalist stated:
…[A]dults and children placed candles and homemade signs by the turtle in Clark Park. People spontaneously made speeches about Tortuguita’s death. The speeches touched on people’s experience of them, grief, martyrdom, and continuing to struggle. People called on each other to target cop city’s sponsors and the contractors responsible for building.
After people had been speaking for a while a small group broke off from the vigil. They took the street with banners. Barricades from a nearby construction site were pulled into the street to block cops and traffic. As the march moved graffiti memorializing Tortuguita and against police was tagged. A realty office had its windows smashed.
The rowdy vigil is the first time things have popped off from Clark Park in a while. A few years ago Cark Park was a regular spot for mid-sized black bloc demos to start from. We think that this is worthwhile to revisit because it’s a traditionally anarchist neighborhood and there are lots of alleys nearby to easily change in. It’s exciting to see this kind of energy re-emerge in Philly.
In Atlanta, GA, around 500 people gathered for a rally, speak-out, and rebellious march, during which, individuals broke out windows of a Wells Fargo, which is directly funding the Cop City project, as well as the Police Association building. Upwards of 10 people were arrested and now face extreme “terrorism charges.” For a full report, see here.
In New York City, a large vigil was organized and an anonymous group claimed credit for busting out the widows to Atlas, one of the subcontractors involved in the Cop City project, according to a communique posted to Scenes from the Atlanta Forest.