Cop City is Bad News for Working People

Kamau Franklin and Mariah Parker on the fight to stop Cop City in Atlanta.

Maximillian Alvarez

Environmental activists rallying through the Atlanta Forest on March 4, 2023. ANDREW LICHTENSTEIN/CORBIS

Read the full transcript below.

The 2020 protests that took place in the immediate wake of Minneapolis police murdering George Floyd were a historic call for America to reckon with its racist, oppressive system of state-sanctioned police violence. Three years later, rather than a reckoning, that same system, along with the political and business elites propping it up, are giving us Cop City” (ie, the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, the Atlanta Police Foundation’s 85-acre, $90-million police militarization and training complex where law enforcement from around the US and beyond will, among other things, train for urban warfare scenarios). Plans to build Cop City have been mired in controversy and civil rights violations from the beginning — from the city government’s attempts to ignore residents’ and activists’ objections and force through the construction of Cop City in Atlanta’s ecologically vital Weelaunee Forest, to police raiding an encampment of peaceful protestors and murdering one of them, Manuel (“Tortuguita”) Esteban Paez Terán, who was shot 57 times, to the truly Orwellian crackdown on protestors and advocates, dozens of whom are being arrested and charged with domestic terrorism.”

As Micah Herskind writes, The struggle to Stop Cop City is not just a battle over the creation of a $90 million police urban warfare center. It’s not just a fight to protect the 381 acres of forest land, known as one of the four lungs” of Atlanta, currently under threat of destruction. It’s not just a conflict over how the city invests the over $30 million it has pledged to the project, to be supplemented by at least $60 million in private funding. The movement is all of those things. But even more fundamentally, the struggle to Stop Cop City is a battle for the future of Atlanta. It’s a struggle over who the city is for: the city’s corporate and state ruling class actors who have demanded that Cop City be built, or the people of Atlanta who have consistently voiced their opposition and demanded a different vision for the city.” Make no mistake, though, the fight to Stop Cop City is all of our fight, and that very much includes the labor movement. In this mini-cast, we speak with Kamau Franklin and Mariah Parker about Cop City, the fight to stop it, and why labor needs to get off the sidelines and join that fight.

Kamau Franklin has been a dedicated community organizer for over thirty years, beginning in New York City and now based in Atlanta. He is also a lawyer, writer, and the founder of Community Movement Builders, Inc. Mariah Parker is labor and community organizer, a rapper (known by the stage name Linqua Franqa), and recently served as District 2 County Commissioner for Athens-Clarke County in Athens, Georgia, from 2018 – 2022.


This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Kamau Franklin: Hi, my name is Kamau Franklin. I am the founder of a new grassroots organization called Community Movement Builders, where we do a combination of the things organizing against the issue of gentrification, and we also do a lot of organizing against police violence, which is what led us into the struggle against Cop City. We also do what we call sustainable development, which is to provide resources to people in southwest Atlanta, a working class, a poor black community, one of the last of such communities still intact. But we also do cooperatives, mutual aid, so forth. So we’re a power building organization that’s meant to support building institutions that black community controls and fighting against institutions that we feel oppress and control our community to its detriment.

Mariah Parker: My name is Mariah Parker. I’m an alumni of the United Campus Workers of Georgia 3265 at the University of Georgia where I was a PhD student. I also, from 2018 to 2022, served as an Athens-Clarke County commissioner and was very focused on worker empowerment from living wages for city employees to developing worker ownership models that we could back with public funds and things of that sort. But these days I am down in Atlanta organizing low wage workers in the fast food industry and stopping Cop City.

Maximillian Alvarez: All right, well welcome everyone to another episode of Working People, a podcast about the lives, jobs, dreams, and struggles of the working class today. Brought to you in partnership with In These Times magazine and the Real News Network produced by Jules Taylor and made possible by the support of listeners like you. Working People is a proud member of the Labor Radio Podcast Network. So if you’re hungry for more worker and labor focus shows like ours, go check out the other great shows in our network. And of course, please support the work that we are doing here on Working People by sharing these episodes with your friends, your coworkers, and your family members, please leave us positive reviews on Spotify and Apple Podcasts. And of course, the single best thing you can do to support our work is become a paid monthly subscriber on Patreon. Just go to patre​on​.com/​w​o​r​k​i​n​g​p​eople.

Smash that subscribe button and you’ll immediately get access to all of our great bonus episodes. We’ve published some really great ones of late, including most recently an interview that I got to do with the industrial correspondent Taj Ali at the Tribune in the United Kingdom. Taj is doing great work covering the strike wave going on across the UK so you guys don’t want to miss that great conversation. So my name is Maximilian Alvarez, and as y’all heard, we’ve got a really special and urgent episode for y’all today. This is an episode that we’ve been wanting to record for a while. It’s one that touches on a subject that folks have been asking us about, especially after we posted the recording of our live show that we recorded down in Atlanta, which I started by mentioning like the issue of Cop City and the draconian repression of all those who are standing up and fighting against it.

And we wanted to kind of bring Mariah and Kamau on the show, two true working class warriors, folks fighting the good fight in their communities, standing up for poor black working people, oppressed people all across the south and beyond. And they are really on the front lines along with others in this incredible and necessary fight against Cop City. And so we wanted to bring them on to sort of answer our listeners’ questions about what the fuck is Cop City? Why is this massive thing called Cop City being rammed through against the wishes of working communities in the area? Who is supporting this move to build Cop City and especially what the hell is going on with these really Orwellian draconian crackdowns on protestors charging them with terrorism for standing up against Cop City?

I’m sure you guys have been seeing the headlines about this and we’re going to link to more coverage about it, but things are getting really, really dark down there in Atlanta and we ultimately want to make sure that people know about this struggle, why they should care about it, how they can get involved in the fight against it.

And also given that we’re having this conversation on this show, Mariah and I were talking about this in Atlanta, we need to also have a serious conversation about why labor needs to get its ass off the sideline and get involved in this fight and what that could look like, right? We’ve seen occasional hopeful signs with workers and union members kind of joining the protest against Cop City. We’ve even seen occasionally statements from union leadership like Jimmy Williams of the painters union speaking out against the crackdown on protestors against Cop City. But so much more is needed and that’s really where we are. That’s why we wanted to bring Kamau and Mariah on the show today because as I said, they’re right there on the front lines. I know that they got answers to all of your guys’ questions.

And so without further ado, let’s dig into this because I know you guys are super busy and I don’t want to keep you for too long. So I was wondering if we could just go around the table and just sort of give each of your takes on, if you’re sitting down across from someone who just heard about Cop City and the crackdown against protestors, what do you think they most need to know about what Cop City is, where it’s come from and what’s been going on down there in Atlanta these past few months? So Kamau, why don’t I turn it back over to you?

A sign at the site of the police mega-development in Atlanta, GA. PHOTO BY CHENEY ORR/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Kamau Franklin: When I talk about Cop City, I try to make sure that folks understand that this is not just some benign police training center that’s being built up because the police’s current training center is dilapidated or they just need a new area to train in. I think it’s really important to situate the idea of Cop City within the 2020 uprisings against the police murders of people like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and here in Atlanta, Rayshard Brooks, that it was after these uprisings that took place across the country that Atlanta in particular felt flatfooted, like it didn’t have a proper response to the organizing that was happening across the city.

And as part of that response, they decided to initiate the idea of a 265 acre training center, what we call Cop City, basically a militarized slash paramilitary training center where they practice such things as urban warfare where they’re going to have over a dozen firing ranges where they’re going to have, well, at least originally in their plans, they’re claiming they took this out, but we shall soon see a station for a Black hawk helicopter to land where they’re going to be doing training with dozens of forces across the country, including internationally training with Israeli police.

And for us, this was a clear sign that the building of this training center via the Atlanta Police Foundation with funds from private corporations over 60 million dollars was pledged from private corporations, 30 million dollars at the very least, numbers are starting to tick up as we speak, that the city was supposed to give. And so we see this as a response to when people were calling for the abolition of the police or defunding the police or finding alternatives to public safety. Atlanta, the corporate class and the Atlanta Police Foundation decided to double down on militarized policing, which would be targeted not only towards movements and organizing, but continue the over-policing of black communities. Here in Atlanta, 90% of the arrests that take place in Atlanta slash Fulton County are of black people, even though black folks now represent less than 50% of the proper population of Atlanta.

So it’s really important for folks to understand that, again, in response to or organizing against Cop City, what the city of Atlanta decided to do was to double down on the militarized police and to continue with the over-policing which caused the uprisings in the first place in response to the police killing innocent people.

A photo of Manuel Teran, who was shot and killed by a Georgia State Trooper earlier in the week, is seen on a makeshift memorial in Weelaunee People's park on Saturday, January 21, 2022 in Atlanta, GA. GETTY IMAGES

Mariah Parker: To that I would add — and I think that’s a perfect explanation of how we got here and what we’re dealing with — this facility is set to replace large swaths of the largest urban forest in North America, what they call one of the four lungs of Atlanta. So when you’re walking down the street every day, that air you breathe in, you have the Weelaunee forest. As you know, the Muscogee people originally named the river along which the forest sort of runs, the Weelaunee river, now that we call it the Weelaunee forest in their honor, that the air we breathe is cleaned by the trees that are currently being cut down in the forest. So this is not only an issue of police brutality, of honestly the rise of fascism as Kamau said, this is going to be training a paramilitary force that will be able to put down uprisings and control black neighborhoods.

But this is also an environmental justice issue, an environmental racism issue. This area surrounding the forests are overwhelmingly neighborhoods of color. Black people are the ones that are living near the aquifer that’s being poisoned by the lead in the soil from the bullets that the police are shooting already, have been shooting already at this site. Already environmental protections have been neglected along this aquifer. And even in the construction of this site, the Atlanta Police Foundation and others who are conspiring with them have been able to get away with getting around standards for construction and anyone else would have to follow to ensure that the environment is being minimally disrupted. And so what’s one thing that’s very interesting about this movement that has brought together police abolitionists, prison abolitionists, folks that just are not about the cops generally, as well as folks from the environmental movement who see this as a climate change issue, who see this as an issue of environmental degradation.

Another thing I would add about how we got here is that in response to the uprisings that’s come out, liberals were able to co-opt the demand to defund the police and things like that and argue for more training, even though studies have found that more training does not decrease police violence. In fact, officers that killed Rayshard Brooks had recently been involved in advanced training, it doesn’t actually help anything. But they’ve then used that argument to push through this facility because they’re aiming to train officers better. And I bring this up because we want to talk about fascism, we want to talk about repression, government repression. These are Democrats, these are liberals that are standing behind this project trying to push this project forward who have co-opted the movement to say that training’s what we need when we know that we need affordable housing.

We know that we need better access to healthcare. We know we need access to healthy food systems in order to keep our community safe. Now, the last thing I want to say on this, bringing it back around to why this is important to labor as Kamau also brought up, the Atlanta Police Foundation had pledged 60 million to help fund this project. Now, where is that money coming from? That money is coming from the corporate elite across the city of Atlanta and across the south. Talking about Delta, we’re talking about Waffle House, chick-Fil-A, talking about Inspire Brands. That is the parent company of Dunkin’ Donuts. We’re talking about the who’s who of the corporate elite in the city and across the south. Now, where are they getting their money from? They’re getting money from, if it’s Chick-Fil-A, they’re getting that money from wage theft and abusing child labor, if they’re getting it from Waffle House, they have wage theft written into their employee handbook.

They’re taking that money from the workers that are creating all this profit and they’re reinvesting it into their oppression. And so even Delta, which right now they’re having a big union fight with the Delta workers here in Atlanta, they just recently fought for three years to get cost of living increases in their contract. Now, Delta doesn’t have money for that and wants to fight all day about that, but somehow they have all this cash with which they can lavish the Atlanta Police Foundation in order to build this facility. And so that to me is part of why this project is really nefarious and unites labor as well as folks that are liberation minded and want to get people free from cops. It’s that a lot of the money that’s been promised to put into this paramilitary facility is just coming straight out of the pockets of working people through these corporations that are funding the Atlanta Police Foundation and funding this facility.

A mourner holds a painting of environmental activist Manuel Teran, who was killed by law enforcement during a raid to clear the construction site for Cop City. CHENEY ORR/AFP via Getty Images

Maximillian Alvarez: I want to circle back to kind of the point that Kamau, you started with because this was not lost on me and it’s so indicative of this perverse American psychosis when it comes to policing. The three of us are recording this episode on Friday, May 26th. Yesterday was the three year anniversary of Minneapolis Police murdering George Floyd. And at the Real News Network we released an interview that I was honored to do with George’s brother Philonise and his wife Keeta, talking about that horrific event that changed their family and in many ways changed the country forever. We talked about how they wanted George to be remembered, what they hoped change would look like, so that what happened to George would never happen to another person again. And we saw the uprisings that hit all 50 states in the wake of George Floyd’s murder three years ago.

We saw how much that movement spread even around the world. And for a moment it did feel like we were at the brink of a reckoning in this country. And here we fucking are three years later and saying, okay, the institutions, the establishment’s response is to construct an 85 acre, 9000 million dollar facility where militarized police can come and train and do sort of training operations, simulating urban warfare with the very same people who were protesting against their abuse just three years later. That’s where we are. We’re in America, of course that’s where we are. But I don’t want that ridiculousness and Orwellian nature of the situation to be lost on people because I think it does really highlight, as you were both saying, that there is a fundamental class warfare component to all of this. There is a sort of top-down pressure to stamp out the resistance that scared the establishment three years ago.

There is, the capital always does. It relies on this increasingly militarized arm of the police to push poor and working people back into subservience, to push us into jails and prisons to kill us as the kind of surplus of the system that they categorize us to be. So even just from the fundamental beginnings, we can see how and why working class people have a stake in this fight because this is a fight that is being directed back at us. That’s what’s going to be happening not just with the construction of Cop City, with the crackdown on protestors, but ultimately what is going to be produced at this fucking massive facility. Pardon my language.

And to build on what you were saying, Mariah, I want to sort of talk about that element of the forces that are arraying here to push this Cop City into reality, even if it means bulldozing this massive necessary forest, even if it means bulldozing the people trying to stand in the way of it. Can we talk a bit about, I guess, maybe over the past year, what that fight has looked like on the ground to you all? What sort of forces are involved here and what the resistance has looked like to the construction of Cop City?

Kamau Franklin: Sure. I mean, I think when we go back, this fight has been going on for now over two years. When we heard about Cop City again after the uprisings, organizers, activists, environmentalists, other folks understood again right away what this meant. And at first, the organizing was what you would consider standard campaign politics where we were doing everything from petition drives to demonstrations to call your city council person, call the mayor, town halls. This was before the city council took a vote, and we were doing those things to try to pressure the city council and the mayor who thought that this was a done deal. They didn’t think that they would have to do any explaining to the public, that they were just going to push this through. And even at that time, the police were violent in their tactics in terms of targeting organizers and activists.

So even in the early parts of the fight against Cop City, the police would come to the demonstrations. They would make arrests, people who were just standing on sidewalks. People would get pepper sprayed, they’d get thrown to the ground after they were arrested, they’d have their paperwork threatened to be lost if they complained about the food and the conditions. So that was happening early on. At that time, they weren’t charging people with domestic terrorism. They were charging people with things like disorderly conduct, obstruction of governmental administration. As we moved past the vote, when the city council decided to give the Atlanta Police Foundation basically this gift of over 265 acres of land for approximately, if I’m not mistaken, $10 a year in terms of a lease payment, part of the movement broke off and started doing forest defense particularly, and I think we should always call out and compliment young anarchist kids who decided that part of the struggle was to actually go in the forest, as Mariah mentioned earlier, with the Weelaunee forest and take up camp there.

And they packed up in trees, they created tree huts. They did everything they could to stop the forest, to put this into a space where you could see that the force needed to be defended and where you can see that people needed to understand what was happening in terms of the reaction to these young people doing it. It was shortly after that, and some of the tactics and tactics that we accept as tactics of fighting back to make sure that the trees weren’t burnt down, that basically the Atlanta Police Department joined in a task force with the county Police Department, with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, with the Federal Bureau of Investigation with Homeland Security to form a task force. And they began discussing the idea of charging organizers and activists and forced offenders with domestic terrorism.

And so last year in December, the first raid in the force, which resulted in approximately six people being charged with domestic terrorism, then we had another raid in the force, and not only another six people was charged, but that is when for the first time in American history, an overt environmental activist was killed by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and various SWAT teams in Atlanta, the Atlanta police, that young activist Tortuguita was murdered by the police, shot 57 times or having 57 bullet holes we should say, which include entrance and exit holes. That was as much as they could count. And then after that, there was another six or seven folks arrested in a demonstration downtown.

And then later on doing a music festival, doing a week of action, another 23 organizers who are arrested and charged with domestic terrorism. And so basically, the tactics of the state have been to intimidate, to criminalize and to scare people out of being supportive of this movement. But during that time, this movement has only grown. This movement has grown from one of a local issue to one where people were coming from outside and joining with those local protestors to one which took on a national significance. One that’s now taken on an international significance and one that now at this time is probably the preeminent issue amongst folks who are fighting against police terror and violence in this country.

And so that struggle continues. It’s been a long struggle. Many different factions, as Mariah has mentioned earlier, have come into this struggle and played a great role in forwarding, adding resources, adding nuance to it, putting word out to their particular constituencies that has kept this movement building and going, even as the city continues to push to build this, the movement is pushing back. And I think that’s one of the things that we have to remember again, particularly over the last year that this movement has not basically been run down under the heel of oppressive corporate interlockers, the city government, the state government, again, with federal helpers of all political stripes themselves, both Democrats and Republicans joining together to fight this fight against organizers and activists who are fighting against police violence. As that’s been happening, folks have continued to fight back and to try to stop Cop City from being built.

If they had a magic wand and could spend $30 million of taxpayer money anywhere they wanted, nobody you meet at a McDonald’s, an Arby’s at a Dollar General is going to say, we should have a small army here in the city of Atlanta.

Mariah Parker: To that I would add, I’m really glad that Kamau spoke to the nature of movement building — in its early years, it’s a ton of canvassing, community outreach, and to this day, it’s a very important part of that as well as forest events. People actually taking up space in the forest to physically stop the construction from happening. But in this iteration of the movement with the forest now cleared under the violence of police that have taken the life of a protestor, folks have been leaning back upon typical civic engagement strategies like showing up to City Hall. And most recently when the legislation was first introduced to give 30 million dollars of taxpayer money to support this project, there was a record breaking seven hours of public comment of Atlantan’s who came out. And unanimously. 300 people came out and unanimously spoke against this project, folks who have been lobbying their city council people, trying to use these formal legal organs and political organs to ensure that their voices are heard by their supposed representatives.

So we have a ton of, I say this because we have ton of folks trying to do this, quote on quote, the right way, but ultimately if folks are unheard through these channels where we are supposed to have a voice, where we are told that these folks are supposed to represent the public, people have become really frustrated.

And that’s when we see things like folks taking to the streets, an extra legal means of making sure that they are heard and that the construction and the forces that are coming together to destroy this forest are stops.

Maximillian Alvarez: I mean, it’s just, they’re just so upfront with their bare contempt for what the public wants, what people say they want. I mean, they just want to squash us into silence or comfortably put us in those little protest zones where they can comfortably ignore us. I mean, it’s just so obvious what they’re doing and it’s so infuriating, which is why we need increasing kind of public pressure around the country and beyond to make sure that they know that this is not an issue that is just going to go away. And I’m going to circle back in a second to that kind of crackdown on free speech, on dissent, on the draconian use of anti-terrorism laws to silence people standing up against Cop City. But I guess I wanted to just hover really quick since I’ve got two seasoned community and labor organizers on the call right now.

And this is a show where we talk to workers every single week about their lives, jobs, dreams and struggles where we try to hear out what they are going through in their workplaces and make the connections with them between their lives, their struggles, and the struggles that we talk about with other workers around the country and beyond.

I wanted to just ask in the sort of day-to-day conversations that y’all have been getting into with other folks down there, I guess could you maybe share a little bit of that with our listeners?

I guess, how are people talking about this? How are working people sort of talking about this and seeing this as an issue that concerns them? What can those of us who are organizing in our workplaces in other parts of the country, what can we do better to talk to our coworkers about why this is such an important issue that all of us should care about?

Mariah Parker: I mean, one thing I’ll say from being out in the streets talking to a lot of fast food workers, retail workers, folks in low wage jobs, it is, first of all, not everyone has heard that this is going on, which I think speaks to a failure of public engagement on the part of the government that wants to see this happen. And I think that is partially by design. You want to have a city council meeting in the middle of the day when people are either picking their kids up from school or they’re themselves working, and so they can’t come and be part of that public comment. The fact that the paper of record for the city of Atlanta, state of Georgia is also owned by folks that are fundraising for Cop City. And so it’s very hard to get messages out about what the public is saying, that the public that is engaged in this project.

I am finding that a lot of the initial conversations we’re having with people is introducing the idea that this is happening in the first place, but you know what people do bring up and what people do know about and know needs to change? The fact that so many of the workers I talked to are living out of their cars or in hotels because they can’t afford housing in the city of Atlanta right now, folks that have experienced premature deaths of people in their family because they don’t have access to healthcare. And I bring this up because folks recognize that these needs, housing, healthcare, et cetera, are not being invested in. They live that day in and day out firsthand. And so when you bring up the fact that they don’t have money to make sure that you have affordable housing, well, I’m sorry I don’t have money so that your friend that passed away suddenly from a stroke in his thirties, sorry, that he didn’t have any healthcare, but they do have.

They did somehow find 90 million dollars to fund this facility. It really, really strikes people in a way that it’s easy is get as infuriated as I am pretty quickly to know that if they had a magic wand and could spend 30 million dollars anywhere they wanted, 30 million of taxpayer money anywhere they wanted, nobody you meet at a McDonald’s, an Arby’s at a Dollar General is going to say, we should have a small army here in the city of Atlanta. That’s now what I would pay for. So that’s what I would really notice in conversation with people. Not everybody is like we’re still doing a ton of outreach to get people involved and get people up to speed on this issue, but if you approach a conversation from like, yo, what’s going on in your life and learn about the issues people are facing, nobody wants Cop City, people want housing. People want the things that actually make communities safe, and that starts with investing in the neighborhoods where these people live.

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Mariah Parker: Look, just a couple months ago I was helping organize a labor action downtown Atlanta. They actually haven’t even started yet when the police rolled up and told us to leave. And when we got to the target location, somehow there’s just people. So it was like some security there waiting for us when we got there. But we have to plan how we’re going to go about actions. It’s a huge factor in it that we’re not just dealing with the police, that we’re dealing with the Atlanta Police Department because we know what frenzy they’re in right now because I think they fear progressive social movements of all kinds rising up against them as even some liberal orgs have joined in the chorus of folks saying, stop Cop City. I’ve seen firsthand that they are here to break up any kind of working class movement. Labor isn’t excluded.

In fact, just yesterday the Atlanta Police Department moved into the building across the street from where all the major labor unions in the state of Georgia are headquartered. And that to me is not any kind of like, oh, coincidence and nothing like that. It’s keeping an eye on the folks that could be the missing piece to the movement puzzle of really stopping this. If labor unions came out in support of the movement, if they were leveraging their power within institutions like Southern Company, like some of these businesses that are giving money to cop city like Delta to make this demand on the bosses, these people, these employees who are stakeholders in these companies, that would be their worst nightmare. And so I mean we are already seeing even intimidation, I think, taking place. Not only out on the strike line, but in the very physical proximity of police departments to try to keep an eye on actors like this.

That could be very game changing in the movement. So yeah, there’s a long robust history all over and including in Atlanta, there’s a robust history being made now of police repression, of labor movements as well, which is why this is also an issue that labor units have a personal stake in. That, in order to have those robust rights to withhold our labor and to disrupt these businesses, to get what we are owed, we have to be a part of this movement to fight back on the people that would put down our movements as well. In my opinion.

Kamau Franklin: I mean, and I’ll only add, you mentioned what’s happening now around the police in the intimidation tactics, and I’ve already talked about the fact that over 40 folks have domestic terrorism charges. There has been well over 70 or 80 arrests in a total movement against Cop City by the police. And again, this is being done in conjunction or together with folks who could have right wing white conservatives. i.e the governor of Georgia with folks who claim to be moderate and or progressives i.e talking about the democratic black mayor of Atlanta. And so it doesn’t matter what their so-called political stripes are in terms of these elected officials, they are all about having a strong police force, a militarized police force that they can call out at a moment’s notice to protect property, to stop movements and to over police communities. They know what they want, they know how they want to deploy them.

The idea of Cop City is an idea that lets them have other police forces, as mentioned earlier, come down and train with them, basically having common tactics and strategies as if it was a national police force as well as international players who are coming in and training on tactics that they use to oppress their own or people or land that they stole from. Those tactics are being imported here. i.e the Israelis in terms of their work, their tactics and strategies oppressing Palestinians, that’s all being brought here. So we understand that the policing that’s happening is something that’s controlled by the elites for the purposes of supporting corporations, supporting developers in Atlanta.

This is around pushing out poor working class people, particularly poor working class black people, and turning Atlanta further into a playground of the rich, making Atlanta akin to a San Francisco in terms of a city where all you see is a vast amount of differences in wealth from the most poor to the richest, who are the only ones who can afford to live here.

And the poor folks are the homeless ones that people are trying to kick out and continue to criminalize. This is the city that they’re creating, the so-called black Mecca that they’re creating as they empty out black people from the actual city and they’re using the police as the tip of the spear, as their forward force in which they are going to push people out, control movements and stop Atlanta from having any sense of having a working class population here that can afford to live here and prosper here.

And they’re doing it knowingly, no matter what they say. You can’t have 40 years of gentrification under, again, majority black city councils and under black leadership and suggest that somehow it’s a fluke, it’s a mistake. We don’t know how we got here. It is under this leadership that we’ve got here because in the terms of the class issue, the black bourgeois leadership has sided with the corporations and the developers again to empty out the city of working class and poor people, particularly working class and poor black people.

Maximillian Alvarez: Man, again, it’s like so powerfully put by both of you and I’m just so grateful for you for the time that you’ve given us to kind of break this all down. And I want to kind of round things out. I’m going to ask y’all both in a second if you just have any final words about how people listening can get involved in this struggle or where they can find you all and the work that you and your orgs are doing, and then we’ll round out there. But I guess by way of getting there, I just wanted to read for folks listening, like I said, there has been some support from the organized labor movement, not nearly an enough, but it was encouraging to see Jimmy Williams, the general president of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades make a statement which we will link to so y’all can check it out.

It was short, but Jimmy did say, and I quote, the right to speak up and peacefully protest is fundamental to our union and to all working people. Since the protest began, we’ve seen violence including the death of one protestor as well as dozens of arrests and incredulous charges of domestic terrorism in some cases stemming from the Defend the Atlanta Forest movement. I believe that these tactics are designed more to quell dissent and to dissuade working people from exercising their rights to protest and demonstrate than they are to legitimately uphold the law. It has to stop. Our rights as working people must be upheld, and we deserve to live in a society free from police violence.” End quote. So shout out to Jimmy, shout out to the painters, but again, we need more. And in that note, Kamau, Mariah, I wanted to thank you both once again for joining me and ask if you could close us out with any final words that you have to working people out there listening to the labor movement in general and where can folks find you and what can they do to get involved in this struggle?

Activists participate in a protest against the proposed Cop City being built in an Atlanta forest on March 09, 2023 in New York City. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Kamau Franklin: I’ll go really quickly. So to find us. Our organization is Community Movement Builders, the website, com​mu​ni​ty​move​ment​builders​.org. We have a Stop Cop City page there where folks can learn a whole bunch of different ways in which they can be involved. Very important coming up is June 5th, which is going to be another day of action at City Hall where they’re actually going to take the vote to allocate the over 33 million dollars to the Atlanta Police Foundation. So we definitely want people to call in if they’re not in Atlanta. If they are in Atlanta, we want people to come down to City Hall from 11 o’clock eastern time on to protest, to organize, to speak out.

And my message to working class people is that we won’t win until we continue to get out into these streets, organize, push back and fight back. This is not a time period where we’re going to be able to bargain our way out of fascism, where you can only win against fascism if we fight back. If a large part of that fight back is organizing, being involved in the struggle, fighting in the streets, and winning victories for our people and challenging the oligarchs and the corporations which are trying to divide and conquer us.

Mariah Parker: Hallelujah. Amen. Only thing that I would add is that I mentioned earlier that stakeholders in some of these companies that are funding this project, Delta, Southern Company, a lot of these fast food restaurants, Inspire Brands. You can find out who is giving money to or somehow financially implicated in Cop City by going to stop​copc​i​tysol​i​dar​i​ty​.org. And if you live in a city, no matter where you live, you might be able to find a target, someone like a bank that’s giving the insurance for the project.

You maybe find a Wells Fargo, maybe you work at a Wells Fargo and you and a couple clerks behind the window want to have an action to demonstrate to the overlords that y’all not happy with the complicity in this project. Anyone anywhere can take these kinds of actions. They’ve been very helpful for us for helping erode the power of capital and supporting this project for yanking some of this corporate support away from the project and ultimately undermining their ability to put that private money into Cop City. So if you go to copc​i​tysol​i​dar​i​ty​.org, you can look up somewhere near you that is financially tied to this project and mobilize some folks, take some kind of action to let them know that their actions to support Cop City will not stand, not in your community, not anywhere.

Additional information

Kamau Franklin: I’ll back that up completely. I think Mariah’s completely correct. When we speak to folks in the community, there are folks who are informed, but there are a good amount of people who don’t know about it. And there are other folks who are carrying on with their day-to-day lives trying to survive, trying to make it out of here. But once you start talking about it, the innate reaction based on the conditions that people live in is like, well, why do we need that? We know that that means they’re going to just be in our neighborhoods and communities, arresting more people, taking away our young people that instead of providing centers for our folks to go to, providing other things and activities or improving the education system that they would rather spend again, not only just the 30 million that the city is supposed to be giving. And that number, again, is increasingly going higher once we do further investigation into how the money is actually getting to the Atlanta Police Foundation.

But the same corporations who several years ago were saying that they were on the side of Black Lives Matter, have now given 60 million dollars or close to 60 million dollars to fund a project like this. People see it on their face that these same corporations which underpay us or have enough money like Mariah mentioned earlier, to give to a project like this. So it’s not hard to convince people or it’s not hard to make it clear for folks what the purpose of a Cop City is and what the role is of police in their lives. And so when folks understand that and hear that, for the most part they have questions and they are opposed to the idea that this is the way the city should spend its money.

I will also say for the people who are working class, people who live adjacent to the forest, and it is mostly a working class black community that lives adjacent to the work to the Weelaunee forest, those folks were promised that the forest would stay intact and that it would be used for nature trails, for parks, for places for their kids to enjoy and understand nature and again, to continue to serve as a preventer of climate change.

That area’s prone to flooding. Clear cutting that’s already happening in that forest will only add to the flooding in that neighborhood which will impact working class black communities. Those communities overwhelmingly have said that they are opposed to the building of Cop City. That that was not what the promise was. The promise was for them to have an area where they can bring their kids to, where they can have a park and so forth. It was not to build a militarized training center, which is going to have shooting ranges where cops are practicing how to shoot day and night in that forest next to this working class community, that people understand that this is a targeted approach to dealing with working class communities as opposed to giving resources to these communities. They’re going to flood these communities with more cops.

Maximillian Alvarez: I’m going to lose my shit, man.

Mariah Parker: Does it not make you feel insane? It makes me feel so insane.

Maximillian Alvarez: I’m losing it.

Mariah Parker: It makes you feel so insane. And particularly they started clear cutting the forest a little bit earlier this year. And so photography and drone footage is coming out where there’s this scar on the earth where this beautiful forest used to be. Where I was at a music festival. There are people out there just vibing, enjoying music. There’s folks camping out, there are families, there’s children. They used to take children here to do field trips, to study the ecology of the forest. And now there is this, you see footage come out, they’re giving some journalists a tour of the forest today or what used to be the forest. And it drives me totally insane to see this. And I feel like speaking of common reactions of working class folks, that same shit of just being mind boggled and infuriated instantly is something I get all the time when I’m talking to people about this who haven’t heard about it before.

Maximillian Alvarez: And I know our task is to turn that into action, which again is why I’m so grateful to folks like yourselves and everyone else out there doing that unsung work, everyone listening to this who is also doing that work day in, day out. We need you guys always, and we need more folks doing that work even just to make sure that people know that this is happening in the first place, let alone building on that and talking about why we should be invested in the fight against it, what the future looks like if we don’t fight. And I think, yeah, it’s the point you both made is just so poignant and I really want folks listening to sit with it because in many ways you guys know this, but it does really bear repeating. The safest communities are not the ones with the most police.

They’re the ones with the most resources and the most kind of shared wealth access to things like drinkable water and a bed to sleep in, a house to live in, schools to send your kids to, grocery stores, not just dollar stores, so on and so forth. It’s not throwing more police at poor and working class neighborhoods, is not going to somehow magically make those neighborhoods safer. How do I know that? Because that’s what we’ve been fucking doing for the past half century or more. And it hasn’t worked, at least by the supposed goals of that approach to policing. But anyway, I digress. So because I know I only have you guys for about 10 more minutes, so I wanted to bring things back to, I think we’ve done a great job of communicating to people why the push to build Cop City, the construction thereof, the sort of shadowy government and industry forces behind it, why all of those are already an issue for working people that we should care about.

But then there’s also the draconian crackdown on the protestors against Cop City and it’s a fundamentally connected issue, but it is almost sort of an issue within itself that we and that the labor movement needs to have a serious discussion about, because that is also going to directly impact us. It’s not just that they’re all the other kind of aspects to labor, workers’ relationship to the police that we already know about when we’re on strike. Who are the ones beating picketers and clearing way for scabs to come through the picket lines? It’s the cops, right? So when coal miners in Brookwood, Alabama at Warrior Met Coal were on strike for two years, who was it who was escorting scabs past their picket lines? Who was it who was enforcing these business friendly rulings by local judges, these injunctions limiting the amount of people who could picket, how far away from the entrance they could picket?

It was the police. And so we already know that in terms of limiting workers’ ability to exercise their right to free speech, their right to assemble, their right to go on strike and to withhold their labor, the quote on quote, criminal justice system has a historically antagonistic relationship to working people expressing those rights. But it goes even deeper than that. And I hope that folks listening to this can sort of hear the resonances with the interviews that we’ve done with workers in different industries over the past six seasons. Just think about the railroad workers. They had their right to strike, stripped from them by the most, quote on quote, pro-labor union president that the US has ever seen, and a congress that happily went with that decision and they gave the bosses, the rail carriers, everything that they wanted. And so when workers have our rights to withhold our labor to speak up and to exercise those basic fundamental rights, the bosses win.

And also most people in this country can be fired without just cause. So it’s not even a question of do I have these rights at work? Most people fucking don’t. We already know that they don’t, you can’t speak up for shit without losing your job and potentially thus losing your home and if you lose your home and we live in a society that criminalizes poverty, so you’re going to get beat up by the police and shuttled into prison. So are you guys seeing the connections here?

Permanent links below…

Featured Music (all songs sourced from the Free Music Archive: freemu​si​carchive​.org)

  • Jules Taylor, Working People” Theme Song

Post-production: Jules Taylor

Maximillian Alvarez is editor-in-chief at the Real News Network and host of the podcast Working People, available at InThe​se​Times​.com. He is also the author of The Work of Living: Working People Talk About Their Lives and the Year the World Broke.

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