The fight against Cop City in Atlanta is one with a history across the so-called United States. Mariame Kaba speaks in her much-loved book We Do this ‘Til We Free Us of the fight against a “training” facility in the West Side of Chicago, a campaign initiated in 2017 known as “No Cop Academy.” 1Mariame Kaba, We Do This Til’ We Free Us, p. 127 Despite the eventual erection of the facility (in large part through the support of infamous Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot), Kaba emphasizes the lessons of the struggle, including how to engage with zoning laws, litigation, political education, and development of youth of color leadership.2Kaba p. 128 Foreshadowing the continued fight against cop cities across the US, Kaba recognizes how the fight in Chicago will continue to inform the movement, noting that “[y]our protest, your refusal to be run over, your local actions, added to those of others the world over, will slowly tilt this world toward more justice.”3Kaba p. 129). One of those tilting axes continues now in Atlanta, where the Atlanta Police Department (APD) and Mayor Andre Dickens (Atlanta’s own personal Lori Lightfoot) conspire with companies like Bank of America and Home Depot to destroy the largest canopied urban forest on Turtle Island. In place of the eighty-five-acre forest, they seek to build a $90 million faux-city where violent terrorists (Atlanta Police and DeKalb County Sheriff’s office) would practice continued violence and suppression (what they call “urban control”) against Atlanta’s majority-Black residents. Stop Cop City is the conglomerate of wide-ranging approaches and non-hierarchical efforts of anarchists, Indigenous leaders, HBCU students and faculty, and resistance builders of all stripes to occupy the forest and decimate APD’s murderous efforts.
In the wake of the latest week of action in Atlanta, I foreground here the experience on the ground, as other writers like Nisha Atalie have done great work providing a foundational background. Activists have had to make a myriad of difficult choices these past few weeks. While specific analysis of efficacy and tactics are sure to come when we have more hindsight, I want to express here something well captured in the fight to protect Weelaunee—mainly, the inseparable nature of abolition, Land Back, and community care. I’ll walk us through the forest with three main orienting threads: the larger contexts of Black and Native stewardship against this capitalist hellscape that is settler-colonial “America”; the role of responsibility and risk within our commitments to each other; and Mvskoke leaders’ eviction notice to APD and the traitorous mayor of Atlanta, Andre Dickens. Three questions arose in discussions with a friend on our tour of Weelaunee forest: 1. What makes a species invasive? 2. Why Indigenous and Black feminisms? and 3. Why is Andre Dickens running from his constituents?
Black and Native Stewardship
After the raid, my comrades and I make our way back to Weelaunee. Violets are sprinkled across pine floors and birch trees drinks thirstily from their neighboring swamps. White tail deer bound across our periphery, at home and at ease. The first thing my friend B— tells us as we enter is that trees grow out of their tops; they take in the carbon dioxide of those around them and use it to stretch further into the canopies. “These trees are made,” says B—, “from the breath of every being who has ever been here.” I hear in the echoes of their passion for this forest many Native studies scholars’ calls about how breath relates us all as well as the Black feminist tradition which seeks to restore breath where so many cannot breathe. Anishinaabe activist Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, in a collection of letters between she and Black feminist radical Robyn Maynard, writes that “[a]nti-Blackness and colonialism are different and multiple modes of violent severing—bodies from land and bodies from will, desire, self; bodies from each other. A severing of ourselves from . . . breath.”4Robyn Maynard and Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Rehearsals for Living, p. 146-147 While recognizing specific contexts, Simpson and Maynard know that both anti-Blackness and settler-colonialism—staples of capital—seek to suffocate Black and Native cosmologies by cutting off connections to land and each other. These are the connections comrade B—felt it necessary to highlight at the onset of our collective stepping into the forest.
By the morning of our walk in the forest, APD and SWAT have spent all night since 6pm pushing forest defenders and random concert-attendees alike into either hiding or custody. Some rest in the red mud, trying to stay grounded in the forest’s reciprocated protection while others walk familiar paths lined with royal wisteria looking for their friends. B— is leading us on an impromptu version of the forest tour they’ve been giving all week because we’re sick of turning our wheels around who is still hiding out from SWAT and analyzing a still-evolving movement. We had wanted to go to the People’s Park–the name given for a central area just past where activists hang out amongst herbal apothecaries, barbecue, and the lovingly maintained memorial to Tortuguita, an Indigenous eco-anarchist whose presence is very much still felt on the ground. We can’t go further into the main hangout area (dubbed the living room) because APD is still there taking down car plates and waiting to ruin the life of some delayed festivalgoer. On a trail path not too far away, B— and I have discussions instead about what constitutes an invasive species. In her book on healing through Indigenous science, Jessica Hernandez (Zapotec and Ch’orti’) discusses how bananas are not native to the Caribbean. Yet, she emphasizes that they are not invasive species. Rather, they are considered “displaced relatives” that were forced to adapt and are now incorporated into the local diet.5Jessica Hernandez, Fresh Banana Leaves, p. 24 Even though they have been utilized in colonial efforts (think here of banana plantations), the banana also went on to be a main food source for guerilla warfare groups fighting for independence.6Hernandez p. 24-25
B— talks about the stickie willie in Weelaunee as a plant that can be considered invasive (though they are sure to state the stakes of defining invasiveness, since both migrant relatives and settler replacement can exist within the term). The stickie willie, in some parts of the forest, offers no issue because it does not crowd or choose a space it is unwelcome in. But sometimes the stickie willie grows in more insidious spots, where it crowds out the native violets and starts to overtake the area. B—‘s invocations of where and how we belong in the forest, Hernandez’s reminders that we “must pay . . . respect and build relationships with the land and the people to be welcomed,” and the stickie willie’s shifting circumstances, all remind us that the fight against Cop City—and against white supremacist, settler-colonial capitalism more largely—requires us to consider what our solidarities look like and what kind of communities we are building as we (un)make the world. A post-capital world which does not center being responsible relatives in the midst of Native and Black stewardship is a world in which policing and theft will still reign.
History points us to a myriad of ways we can be good relatives and co-conspirators. Fresh in my mind at the time of the week of action was the Algerian revolution. On the flight down to Atlanta from Chicago, I listened to podcasters Derek, Mylan, Yahmo, Victor, and Rick from Decolonized Buffalo consider the role of settlers within decolonization. During this episode, they discuss how the primary contradiction in the Americas is colonialism—which includes the trafficking of African peoples during its violent encroachments. When asking each other what role settlers would have in revolution, they expressed how this contradiction needs to be the central point, how the struggle in the Americas is also a question of self-determination for Native nations, and how settlers must be prepared to take both risk and direction from Black and Native comrades to seek liberation from a system which utilizes whiteness to create unsustainable, greed-based existences for everyone.
At Decolonized Buffalo’s mention of Frantz Fanon’s A Dying Colonialism, I packed my copy and started reading it on the flight down. In it, Fanon outlines the cultural shifts brought about in the midst of the anti-colonial struggle to push out French control in Algeria. The book focuses in part on the historical role of the European settler population in the fight for a free Algeria. Fanon describes such a role as inherently conspiratorial in nature and the first time he mentions it specifically is in regard to settler comrades accepting risk. Discussing the cultural shift which occurred post-1955, Fanon explains that the increased involvement of European folks in the struggle “marks a turning point in the Algerian Revolution” as French colonial authorities began to “challeng[e] every person… [and] Europeans and Algerians were equally suspect.”7Frantz Fanon, A Dying Colonialism, p. 61 Solidarity, then, requires risk; settlers must be willing to sacrifice their relative safety within the colonial infrastructure.
What we sacrifice in our relative individual safety, we gain tenfold in collective safety. When we say that we keep us safe, we mean that our collaboration is a critical tactical advantage in the face of state violence. In the case of Atlanta, we saw success in our capacities to respond to police terror with community resiliency. Upon hearing about the raid, medics in a stable location prepared to receive an influx of people in states of mental and physical distress. Led by a longstanding AIM comrade, we quickly broke into groups according to everyone’s skillsets, ordered food, and put on pots of tea. Not without a hint of irony, I pulled out of Fanon’s experiences as a nurse in the Algerian Revolution and prepared to tend to comrades in the belly of the beast. What followed involved large basins of pasta, sections of sleeping bags for children and adults alike, and regular search groups to collect stranded comrades. As more and more people piled in, you could overhear calculated clasping, jumping, and hollering as we tried to help shake out the shock.
For these commitments to work at the level of structure, it is key that solidarity include material shifts in relationships. In the Algerian Revolution, the socio-political identity of European settlers allowed unique tactics which rested on being an active source for subterfuge. Fanon writes of how the resistance would utilize European settler farms as strategic outposts, including as grain reserves for the Algerian Liberation Network.8Fanon p. 159 Indeed, such a cultural shift toward responsible co-conspiracy at a mass level provides greater safety for collective resistance. Fanon highlights commitment and responsibility as key to group safety, stating that “[n]ot a single Frenchman has revealed to the colonialist police information vital to the Revolution. On the contrary, the arrested Europeans have resisted long enough to enable the other members of the network to disappear. The tortured European has behaved like an authentic militant in the national fight for independence.”9Fanon p. 150 Back in the forest, this looks like the range of ways peoples have accepted potential harm to body and life as well as the fear-mongering threats of domestic terrorism charges.
Demanding Abolition and Land Back
Our capacity to respond with courage and clarity—as informed community members—reveals the ineptitude of state power. A comrade Marquis Bey reminds me when in midst of existential dread that “power consolidates itself by telling you it is consolidated.” At no point is this clearer than when engaging with the incompetency of the police. Back at the welcoming spot for incoming Stop Cop City comrades, this was proven hilariously when a couple of cops attempted to follow folks into a building. Seeing the pigs slink along as if they weren’t wearing clown costumes and deadly weapons, a comrade simply said, “you can’t go in there.” Baffled at being told a simple no and utterly too inept to know whether the person was even “correct” in the eyes of the law (spoiler, they were), the cops froze in confusion. The comrade firmly repeated themselves—“you can’t go in there.” The police tried to ask more questions to no avail, looking for someone when another comrade added “they’re not here” before one last refrain of “you can’t go in there.” Other comrades locked and secured the building while the charade continued. Confused and reminiscent of a looney toon skit, the cops piled back into their cars and left, thwarted again by those dastardly kids. When comrades like Tortuguita risk and lose their lives, it is essential that we do not let fear overcome what we owe them and each other; we must remember that we are the only ones who keep us safe and also find joy in that amazing feat.
Solidarity without shared stakes is flimsy at best and leads to the wide-ranging performativity and paper-thin allyship neoliberalism thrives off of. The integral relationship between Black and Native struggles in particular within the Stop Cop City movement highlights that the severing of one hydra head cannot work if the body is left intact. This is perhaps expressed most clearly in Mvskoke ceremonial leader Mekko Chebon’s letter to Andre Dickens evicting APD and co. from their land and drawing astute attention to the intimacies of settler land theft/destruction and the policing of Black lives. Chebon draws lineage through the removal of Mvskoke and Cherokee people via “the tyrant Andrew Jackson” as well as the genocidal Trail of Tears and African enslavement, ultimately reminding the city that the “massively oppressive militarized policing facility” follows a trajectory hellbent on Black and Native death.10Mekko Chebon in ICT News, “Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens flees from Msvkoke Ceremonial leaders trying to deliver eviction notice, call for end to Cop City project on Msvkoke land.” The Mvskoke leader astutely connects Land Back to abolition by refusing the building of Cop City in “Weelaunee forest, in the city of Atlanta, in the state of Georgia or anywhere in the Mvskoke homelands. Cop city cannot be built at all.” 11Chebon in ICT News n.p. By expanding to outright refusal of Cop City’s existence anywhere, Chebon reminds us that Land Back—the rightful return of Weelaunee to Mvskoke peoples—cannot exist without abolition—the refusal of policing everywhere. He echoes Simpson’s astute analysis that
[t]here is no justice in Land Back if it is not in concert with the destruction of racial capitalism, and if Black people remain landless. There is no justice in Land Back if we are silent with regard to the radical imaginings of Black futures and Black struggles for freedom, just as there is no justice if Black liberation is framed through the ongoing dispossession of Indigenous peoples.12Simpson p. 94
Abolition in the absence of Land Back refuses to address how property is intimately tied to the policing of both peoples and place. Land Back without abolition removes its own teeth in the face of extreme state violence and unfreedom. In Weelaunee, the marriage of these fights demonstrates clearly what kind of world we could have, a world desperately needed for the forest and for us all. When B— asks how I started studying Black and Native ecological scholarship, I spoke to how these traditions offer our only chances for living differently with each other and our environments. B— echoes back the same, talking about how the only ecological relationships which made sense to them were the ones myriads of Indigenous scholars have been sharing since time immemorial. But also key to these histories—from Sitting Bull to Standing Rock, from Algerian liberation to the 2020 George Floyd uprisings—is the combined importance of collective and individual commitment. It is in this dialectic where “[c]ollectivity is continually generated from individual self-determination and self-actualization based on political processes that allow divergent and minority voices not only to be heard but, when it is beneficial to the communal, to have profound influence.”13Simpson p. 137 Cop City cannot be built because so many have materially, painstakingly, joyously declared that it simply will not. Solidarity is an act of both material connection and willed (re)imagination. As Maynard writes, “Abolition is world-building. It is building the worlds we want and need. I know that we are not yet there, and that so much can still happen to undo this moment of possibility. But I am savouring it, still. Because I don’t know what lies ahead, I want to commit to memory what it feels like to be sitting so close to the possibility, at least, of such large-scale transformation.”14Maynard p. 124 We will continue to win because we will continue to learn together, to build already present worlds against abject atrocities. But to do so, we need to continue investing in solidarity as both risk and responsibility. Such a solidarity requires a materially rooted analysis of how those threads of individual and collective wellbeing, of Land Back and abolition, and of care and safety exist expansively and rhizomatically, like the roots of a Weelaunee Birch or the breath that draws the Muscodine vine up slowly to the sun.