Updated: Feb 6
Stop Cop City: Mourning the dead, and fighting for the living.
Last week, police officers with the Georgia state patrol assassinated an environmental activist and medic named Tortuguita (Little Turtle) or Manuel Esteban Paez Terán. Comrades remember Tort (they/them) as a kind but fierce member of their community, who assisted with mutual aid and direct action to protect the Weelaunee Forest of Atlanta in addition to making revolutionary memes.
Mallow Rose Cottage stands in solidarity with the family of Tortuguita and the Weelaunee forest defenders.
Fellow protestors to the development of a massive $90 million police training facility in Atlanta had collectively established a camp in the woods with tree sits and tents, scuffling with police and construction crews on several occasions. The movement to stop this so-called 'Cop City' in a protected nature park has attracted international attention since 2021, when the previous mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms first announced it, yet the death of Tortuguita brought even more light into the canopy.
After the widespread revolts in 2020 following the murder of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis, the City of Atlanta chose to double down on their support for the blue meanies instead of listening to concerns from the community. Even while those protests focused primarily on systemic racism, many also made connections between class and colonization.
Just four years earlier, the Dakota Access Pipeline riled up thousands of people to fight its construction across sacred Indigenous land. Police brought violence against water protectors there as well before the Army Corps of Engineers finished the project in 2017, and the pipeline has since leaked at several points. Just a day before the killing of Tort, police in Germany cleared out environmental protestors including Greta Thunberg from the abandoned village of Lützerath ahead of its demolition for an expanding coal mine.
Instead of healing the environment or helping people impacted by climate change, governments around the world have made the choice to bolster police forces and throw exorbitant sums of money at the military in legitimate fear of a revolution against them—one that could spread globally.
Long before the City in a Forest called Atlanta, there lived the Muskogee Creek people farming and foraging the vast Southern wilderness beneath the Appalachian Mountains. European colonizers brought an apocalypse to this world, with disease, death, and unquenchable greed. In the early 19th century, the fertile land around Intrenchment Creek and the South River Forest housed a plantation with slaves working the fields and tending to domestic work. After the US Civil War and the abolition of slavery, the city converted the property into a prison farm. Colonization of the Weelaunee Forest never ceased, even when the prison closed in 1990 and the city converted the land into a public park for people to enjoy nature. Plans to designate the disparate woodlands of Atlanta as a national park remain ongoing.
Environmental activists like those defending the Atlanta forest have long been labelled by the state as so-called 'domestic terrorists' for their various methods of resistance. Looking back at groups like Earth First! and the literary works of Edward Abbey, the diversity of tactics used by protestors in Atlanta has a long history behind it. Despite the perception of anarchists in corporate media sources, anarchism has a strong philosophical foundation. When democratic institutions fail to address critical issues in society because of the obvious corruption of elected officials and the power of propaganda on the majority of the population, people must take direct action to combat these oppressive forces.
Police are quick to accuse protestors of terrorism because the police are themselves the very definition of terrorists, instilling fear in the communities they claim to protect and serve. People in the United States and many countries around the world live under regimes of state terror enforced by the police.
No amount of vandalism or property damage compares to the violence committed by the US and its capitalist economy, responsible for the genocide of countless Indigenous cultures across Turtle Island and the brutal enslavement of Black Africans for more than two hundred years. Just in 2022, police in the US slaughtered over a thousand people (almost twice the number of people killed in mass shootings committed by other civilians the same year).
We see, therefore, that the colonized people, caught in a web of a three-dimensional violence, a meeting point of multiple, diverse, repeated, cumulative violences, are soon logically confronted by the problem of ending the colonial regime by any means necessary.
— Frantz Fanon, Alienation and Freedom: Part 3, Chapter 22, 'Why we use violence.' 1960.
Environmental activism in Appalachia
North America has endured much environmental devastation over the last few centuries. In the Appalachian Mountains and surrounding states, the Tennessee Valley Authority drowned villages and valleys under the alluring guise of hydroelectric power during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Industrial energy production destroys the environment in various ways, beginning with its infrastructure.
In more recent years, plans to construct the Mountain Valley Pipeline to transfer fossil fuels through North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia have sparked opposition. Natural gas fracking underground has already polluted the groundwater and stirred up earthquakes throughout the region. Building a pipeline not only disregards the urgent need to move towards using clean and sustainable energy, it directly threatens the environment and endangers the population.
Just outside of Asheville, aerospace conglomerate and defense contractor Raytheon recently razed over a hundred acres of woodland for a new Pratt & Whitney facility to produce their killing machines in the ecologically diverse Blue Ridge Mountains. On another front, the US Forest Service made plans last year to allow logging companies to harvest some of the last remaining old growth forests in Appalachia despite widespread opposition from the local population. Big Ivy and other sections of the Pisgah and Nantahala Forests could soon face an environmental battle like Weelaunee.
Communities cannot afford to give up when democratic institutions fail to deliver protections for the environment. In the wake of such tragedies, we must come together to take back control of the future from those in power and build a better world by any means necessary.
Tortuguita did not die in vain—their martyrdom crystalized the international movement against imperialism, capitalism, racism, and climate change, and it brought activists further together with an intersectional vision.
Below are just a few of the organizations on the front lines of Weelaunee Forest.