Take Action

The multiple converging emergencies that threaten to overwhelm our world are not your fault or mine. But if we don’t take responsibility, who will?

Thankfully, more and more people around the world are waking from the trance of “business as usual” and finding ways to speak out and work for change. It turns out that regardless of success or failure, working together in a worthy cause is inspiring, invigorating, and deeply fulfilling. And there are literally millions of ways to plug in, from small groups to large organizations.

In this space I will offer a sampling of options for contributing your time and energy where it is needed most – or at least dipping your toe into the current of change. I concentrate my own efforts on three particular areas (listed below), but I contribute to many others by signing a petition, showing up at a rally, making a donation . . .

Every issue is vitally important, and for each, one or more citizen groups has formed to work for fairness and sanity. Pick the one that calls to you and give what you can. Time, money, energy, creativity – it all counts.

To learn more, read my essay “The Community of Hope” here.

To plunge right in without further ado, check out the suggestions on the right-hand side of this page. Below you’ll find links to my own particular issues of priority concern.


Save Weelaunee Forest!

UPDATE: On June 5, the Atlanta City Council voted 11-4 to approve funding for the police training center known as “Cop City.” Community activists immediately launched a campaign to gather 75,000 signatures to qualify for a voter referendum on their proposal to cancel the construction contract. Bulldozers are already at work clearing trees for the project. Meanwhile, 42 activists and innocent bystanders have been charged with “domestic terrorism” and three activists who helped raise their bail have been charged with money-laundering. Please read on for some links to learn more and take action, followed by a summary of the issue and my thoughts on what lies behind it.

Timeline of the story so far: StreetsOfAtlanta.blog

For more information and to register your support: DefendTheAtlantaForest.org

What you can do to help: CommunityMovementBuilders.org (scroll down)

To help gather signatures for the referendum: CopCityVote.com

For updates on the latest developments: AtlPressCollective.com

Overview of national implications: TheIntercept.com

The Story:

The 3,500-acre South River Forest is the largest urban forest in the U.S., located within the I-285 perimeter southeast of Atlanta. Known as Weelaunee Forest to its original inhabitants, the Muskogee Nation, it includes Dekalb County’s Intrenchment Creek Park, Gresham Park and Constitution Lakes Park, and a historic tract known as the Old Prison Farm, a former slave plantation and convict-labor site. The Nature Conservancy of Georgia and the Atlanta Regional Commission have been working with local residents to develop a shared vision to protect the South River watershed and provide rich opportunities for hiking, biking, and eco-tourism for south Dekalb County.

Then came two back-room deals between local politicians and private developers to trade Intrenchment Creek Park for a movie studio and the Old Prison Farm for a 300-acre, $90 million police training center – dubbed “Copy City” by its opponents. A community of activists took up residence in the trees to raise public awareness and defend the forest, and a broad coalition of environmental groups and community activists has coalesced locally, nationally, and internationally to support them.

The issue exploded into international news when a multi-agency police raid took two dozen protesters into custody and shot one dead – the first environmental activist martyred by police violence in U.S. history. 26-year-old activist Manuel Teran, a.k.a. Tortuguita, suffered a shocking 57 bullet wounds while their hands were raised, according to an independent autopsy. The police claim Teran fired first, but have provided no bodycam footage or other evidence.

Those arrested are charged with “domestic terrorism” – a total of 42 at this writing. All have been released on bail raised by a local nonprofit, the Atlanta Solidarity Fund. Now the Fund itself has been targeted by a SWAT raid in which three respected activists involved in raising bail money were arrested on a charge of money-laundering.

At this writing, bulldozers have entered the Old Prison Farm to clear 85 acres of the 171 total acres planned for Cop City, but Intrenchment Creek Park, the movie studio site, is still intact. Of the hundreds who have signed up to speak at public hearings, almost all oppose cutting down the forest, including nearby neighbors who have been promised “jobs.” The deal is being pushed – and partially financed – by some of Atlanta’s wealthiest corporations, along with the privately funded Atlanta Police Foundation. But the amount to be covered by taxpayers has now ballooned to more than twice the amount originally announced by the City.


How I See It:

The confrontation over Weelaunee Forest and “Cop City” connects the dots between the most urgent issues facing us today, revealing the fundamental links between police violence, official corruption, corporate dominance, deforestation, environmental racism, gentrification, and climate change.

The actions of the police make the case against Cop City better than any newspaper op-ed or protest rally speaker. Unfortunately, some of the protesters have returned the favor by sabotaging construction equipment, attacking police cars and breaking windows during marches downtown. It is certainly possible that these are the acts of paid police provocateurs, but those who argue that destruction of property is not violence are splitting philosophical hairs. From the standpoint of the average viewer of TV news, such tactics will only reinforce the authoritarian claim that Cop City is needed to keep the peace.

What almost every media commentator misses is the wider context and deeper substrate of the conflict – climate change. The young people defending the forest are not stupid: they see clearly that their future has been sold out for obscene amounts of short-term profit, enforced by police repression, and they are understandably pissed. To them, cutting down a forest to build a police training center is more than symbolic of the ecological ignorance and political arrogance that are driving our society over one tipping point after another on the road to planetary collapse.

The police and the wealthy masters they serve are not stupid either. They can see what lies ahead on that road when the vast majority wakes up to realize their future has also been sacrificed. Atlanta’s Cop City is only one of a new crop of “training centers” under construction around the country. Rather than preserving forest canopies to sequester carbon, protect watersheds, and preserve clean air, the One Percent’s answer to climate change is a militarized police force to prepare for mass civil unrest.

Between the two extremes are millions who continue going to work, getting an education, binge-watching sports and entertainment under the blithe delusion that the world they grew up in still exists . . .  at least until the moment their lives are consumed by wildfire, flood, storm surge, or the shortages of food and water that must inevitably follow.

The situation playing out in Weelaunee Forest is tragic on many levels. It is tragic that a forest we thought was protected by an elected government must now be defended against that same government. It is tragic that 26-year-old activist Manuel Teran, known as “Tortuguita,” had to die in its defense. It is tragic that our long history of abusive policing in Atlanta and across the nation makes the official story that Tortuguita fired first automatically suspect – along with the official rationale for building Cop City in the first place. Above all, it is tragic that our society has abandoned its young to a futureless existence and can only imprison or shoot down those intelligent enough to protest.

Forty-two activists have now been charged with “domestic terrorism.” I wish their outrage had been channeled more strategically, but given the backdrop of what is happening to the planet they will inherit, and who profits, I certainly understand it. Does that make me a “terrorist sympathizer”? The severity of the charge is clearly intended to chill my right to freely speak my views on the matter – and yours. Yet if we do not speak up, worse is sure to follow. Please follow the links below to learn more and add your voice to the call to save Weelaunee Forest.

(Photos of Intrenchment Creek Park by Luz Wright, from our book Wild Atlanta.)

Take Action and Learn More

Our political, social, and environmental concerns are all connected at the root. I have concentrated my own efforts on the three areas listed below,  Every issue is vitally important, and for each, one or more citizen groups has formed to work for fairness and sanity. Pick the one that calls to you and give what you can. Time, money, energy, creativity – it all counts.

Stephen Wing

Poet, activist and author Stephen Wing lives in Atlanta with his wife Dawn Aura and assorted pets. Read more about him here.

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