by Dianne Mathiowetz, published on Workers World, September 12, 2023
Bulletin: As of Sept. 11, Atlanta City officials refused to verify signatures in time for the November election in a memo issued by the City Clerk office. This development followed a dramatic and exuberant delivery of 16 cardboard boxes holding petitions of 116,000 registered Atlanta voters to have the issue of stopping the construction on the upcoming ballot.
Despite days of discussion over the verification method, the Clerk’s office would use with the hiring of staff, the City now claims nothing could happen until a final decision comes from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, not expected at the earliest until October. Mass pressure was applied immediately on the City Council which could decide to accept that the required number of signatures had been met and placed on the ballot. The struggle continues!
The office of Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr held a news conference on Sept. 5, announcing that 61 people, previously arrested for activities opposing the construction of a massive militarized police training facility known as “Cop City,” have been charged with violating the state’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).
People may be more familiar with the federal RICO Act which originally targeted the Mafia and other organized crime enterprises. Georgia passed a more far-reaching version in 1980, which most recently has been employed by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis to indict former President Donald Trump and 18 others for illegally attempting to overturn Georgia’s 2020 presidential election results.
Carr, a Trump supporter who has said he would seek the governorship in 2024, had previously charged some of the same defendants with “domestic terrorism.” Among those charged with terrorism are three people who distributed a leaflet that named the Georgia State Patrol officer involved in the killing of Forest Defender Manuel “Tortuguita” Teran in January.
Another 23 activists were arrested on the grounds of a family-friendly music concert on March 5, far from the site where construction equipment was damaged. The 23 were terrorized by heavily-armed police and then selectively arrested, especially targeted if they were from out of state. Organizers of a bail fund, whose home was raided in May by a SWAT team, were arrested around that time for “money laundering.”
People who received reimbursements of $11.91 for glue and other office supplies are facing a mandatory five years in prison if convicted on the RICO charges.
Statements of solidarity and outrage at the threat to civil liberties — including the right to protest and free speech — have poured in from across the country. Lawyers are volunteering to defend those indicted. Other bail funds are stepping up to secure the release of protesters, including five faith leaders and community members who chained themselves to construction equipment at the contested training site on Sept. 7. They were arrested with supporters surrounding them, chanting “Cop City will never be built!” and carrying signs saying “We are not afraid!”
The spirit of resistance to this attack on the right to dissent was evidenced again Sept. 8, as a multinational, multigenerational demonstration gathered outside Carr’s office across the street from the State Capitol.
The Movement to Stop Cop City is fueled by the unabated deaths at the hands of police, including 62-year-old church deacon John Hollman, who was tased to death following a minor traffic accident on Aug. 11, and six deaths in six weeks at the Fulton County Detention Center, the latest being 24-year-old Shawndre Delmore from cardiac arrest (!) on Sept. 3.
These tragedies converged with the continuing pollution of the South River by the clearing of thousands of trees at the Cop City site and the ongoing media lies and political attacks from the Atlanta Police Foundation, intended to whitewash the reactionary and racist purpose of the police-training facility.
On another front in the Stop Cop City campaign, on Sept. 11 petitions containing over 120,000 signatures of registered Atlanta voters to put canceling the lease and all agreements concerning Cop City on the ballot were delivered to the Atlanta City Clerk’s office. There were more than twice the number of signatures required to get the ballot initiative approved, leaving no question of the people’s opposition to Cop City.
However, the method of verifying the signatures as those of valid voters has come under scrutiny as the term “exact match” has been raised by city officials. Handwriting can change as people age or under varying conditions. For example, most signatures were gotten in outdoor settings on a clipboard during some of the hottest days of the summer.
CopCityVote.com will be monitoring the signature checking closely, given the history of this method being used to deny the right to vote to communities of color and in poor and working-class neighborhoods.
This remarkable, sustained opposition to Cop City over more than two years reflects the capacity of a broad-based, politically defined grassroots movement to alter the relations of power between the elite and the people.
*Featured Image: Kamau Franklin from Community Movement Builders speaks in front of Atlanta City Hall, Sept. 11, 2023.