“Come with your vestments, robes, and shawls. Come with your sacred texts and teachings. Come with your spiritual power to protect this sacred place,” says a letter by a coalition of clergy and faith leaders who are calling for fellow religious leaders to support forest defenders and join the upcoming Defend the Forest Week of Action March 4-11.
The coalition plans to meet at 11:00 AM March 4 at Gresham Park (3113 Gresham Road) to help launch the week of action and “celebrate the diligent work that has happened already for two years in the South [River] Forest.” The following Monday the coalition plans to host a press conference at Park Avenue Baptist Church in Grant Park and then deliver the letter during the public comment portion of the Atlanta City Council Meeting scheduled later that day.
Individual faith leaders are no strangers to the Defend the Forest cause. Throughout the last two years religious meetings such as a weekly Shabbat service, meditations, and nature rituals, saw consistent turnout by forest defenders and local movement supporters. One long time faith leader ally, Atlanta Minister Matthew Johnson, Interim Executive Director of Beloved Commune, provided counselling services, spoke at press conferences in defense of the movement, and held public input and education sessions with other organizations.
Johnson helped organize the coalition, which grew after the January 18th killing of protestor Manuel “Tortuguita” Esteban Paez Terán by a Georgia State Patrol SWAT team. “We are horrified,” the coalition said of the killing, for which they demand an independent investigation. “We are profoundly troubled by the use of military tactics and escalated legal charges on members of our community,” the letter continues, calling for prosecutors to drop all charges against protestors and forest defenders.
The coalition also demands that the Cop City project cease construction efforts, the city cancel Atlanta Police Foundation’s lease on the property, City Council and Mayor Andre Dickens rescind their support for the project, and that the Forest is allowed to be the “heart and lungs of community wellness and healing.”
When asked what he expected of fellow faith leaders, Johnson said, “Stand with us and witness. I know that folks may be scared, but we cannot allow such injustices to stand. If we believe that we stand in the lineage of folks like Martin Luther King Jr., then we must stand up now.”
The letter is available for fellow clergy to sign, and encourages faith leaders to use their moral power to support the Defend the Forest movement if they are unable to attend in person.
To clergy who are able to attend but hesitate to do so, Johnson asks, “If not now, when?”