Atlanta DSA works to “Stop Cop City”

Since 2021, working people in Atlanta have been fighting against the mayor’s plans to build Cop City, a $90 million militarized police training center. Atlanta city government aims to demolish large parts of the South River Forest, land from which the Muscogee Creek people were forcibly displaced, and build the new cop fortress on the ruins of the Old Atlanta Prison Farm, a former forced-labor camp and slave plantation home to countless atrocities. In the past year, the movement to “Stop Cop City” has grown exponentially through a novel referendum strategy rooted in nonviolent, mass working-class politics — a strategy in part developed and executed by Atlanta DSA.

Over 1,000 Atlanta residents gave 17 hours of public comment opposing the plans when the project was first voted on at a September 2021 City Council meeting. The corporate-sponsored council members approved them anyway. For the next year and a half, environmental activists occupied the forest and held sporadic protests. In January 2023, Georgia State Patrol officers murdered one of these Forest Defenders, Tortuguita, leading to an explosion of public outrage against the project. Then, on June 5, 2023, thousands of protestors again convened at Atlanta City Hall to testify against allocating $67 million for Cop City’s construction. Atlanta DSA members were among the over 200 people who spoke. After 15 hours of public comment urging the City Council to vote “no”, the council again chose to advance the project. 

That City Council meeting was not an end for the movement, but rather a crucial turning point. A few months earlier, Atlanta DSA electoral organizers had begun drafting plans for a referendum campaign against Cop City and reaching out to allied organizations and City Council members about the idea. A formal referendum coalition came together during the spring campaign against Cop City funding, so once the funding was approved, the “Vote to Stop Cop City” campaign was ready to spring into action with a petition drive. Forming a coalition with local, statewide, and regional organizations — including the Working Families Party, Southerners for New Ground, New Disabled South Rising, Black Male Initiative, Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, and American Friends Service Committee — strengthened the impact of the campaign through increased capacity, reach, and resources. 

The Stop Cop City campaign emphasizes that the resources used to build the $90 million training center could be repurposed to meet the pressing needs of working people.

Atlanta’s City Charter requires the collection of about 60,000 signatures within a 60-day period to put an issue on the ballot. Atlanta DSA played a unique role in reaching that threshold with our active member base and extensive canvassing experience. Thanks to support from DSA’s Green New Deal Campaign and National Electoral Committee, we held phone banks with DSA members from across the country who made roughly 20,000 phone calls to Atlanta voters. We also saw support from DSA congress members, with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez promoting phone banks to her campaign volunteers and Rashida Tlaib and Cori Bush authoring an op-ed in The Nation in support of the #StopCopCity movement. On September 11, 2023, the coalition submitted over 110,000 petition signatures from Atlanta residents. Atlanta DSA members collected 2,606 of those signatures, more than any other volunteer organization in the city.

Atlanta residents have never before exercised this element of their charter. As of this writing, the Atlanta City Council is continuing to work to delay or disqualify the referendum. In January, councilmember Liliana Bakhtiari put forth a coalition-endorsed bill that would formalize a clear, transparent, and fair referendum process in Atlanta, but on February 5, the City Council sided with voter suppression by passing a stripped-down version of the bill that includes signature matching — a controversial process of discarding signatures that a reviewer decides do not match the signature on the signer’s voter registration. So, once again, the movement is pivoting. 

Huge turnout at City Council meetings, like this one in June, put pressure on Cop City backers in the Atlanta establishment.

Atlanta DSA is now focused on our nationally endorsed campaign to elect Gabriel Sanchez to the Georgia state legislature. Sanchez is a chapter leader who also served as an organizer in the Cop City Vote coalition, so we’re leveraging that alignment in the campaign. In addition to Sanchez’s campaign, we’re looking forward to future City Council elections. In these races, we plan to work with others in Atlanta’s newly ascendant Left to wrestle power back from the city’s ruling class.

The Stop Cop City movement has never been just about one training center: it’s about creating an Atlanta for working-class people instead of corporate elites. This campaign has been pushed forward by a mass movement of ordinary working people fighting to radically democratize our city’s society and economy. Throughout the campaign, our main messaging has focused on how we could collectively use that $67 million in public funds for Cop City to instead fund housing, healthcare, education, and public transit for all. The people of Atlanta want a real voice in how our tax money is spent and a city government that puts our communities first before the interests of corporations, politicians, and the police. The fight over this public forest land is just one part of the larger class struggle over control of wealth and political power. The Stop Cop City referendum drive is a real class-struggle campaign that has drawn in tens of thousands of working people to identify with an independent political project aimed at challenging the corporate city establishment, spreading class consciousness, and uniting a new Left in Atlanta. 

Those involved in the Stop Cop City movement since its start in 2021 have been propelled by the knowledge that the militarized police training facility, funded by corporate donations and the City of Atlanta, and constructed on a site of both extreme environmental and historical significance is a reactionary attempt to repress dissent following the 2020 uprisings against police violence ignited by the murders of George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, and countless others. The recent RICO charges brought against Forest Defenders, community organizers, and innocent bystanders reaffirm as much by citing the day of George Floyd’s murder as the beginning of the so-called conspiracy. This year’s referendum campaign has equipped the movement with an accessible central structure and a unifying political goal, transforming the disparate Atlanta Left into a credible threat to city elites. 

 

The Democratic Left welcomes pitches about chapter campaigns across the country at [email protected].