The Defend the Forest movement, an autonomous coalition of individuals and organizations across a growing swath of ideological positions, plans to launch off its fifth week of action at 11:00am on Saturday, March 4 at Gresham Park with a protest and rally, followed by a two day music festival. From March 4 – 11, the activists plan a, “a week of protests and festivities including collective meals, forest tours, live music, movie screenings, and the Weelaunee Food Autonomy Festival,” according to a website associated with the movement.
Activists say this week of action will honor the life of Manuel “Tortuguita” Paez Terán, a forest defender killed by a Georgia State Patrol SWAT team Jan. 18 during a raid of the Weelaunee Forest that also saw seven others arrested and charged with domestic terrorism. The combination of the heavy-handed charges and the death of Tortuguita created an uproar amongst activists both in the United States and internationally.
Activists previously called for a “Week of Solidarity” Feb. 19 – 26, which saw groups from across the country show their support of the movement through street marches, banner drops, and protests at the businesses of both funders and contractors involved with the public safety training center, more commonly known as Cop City.
The coalition operating under the Defend the Forest banner grew following the killing of Tortuguita. According to a movement website, groups of “students, faith leaders, environmentalists (including People vs. Fossil Fuels and the Sierra Club), preschoolers, teachers, doctors, and activists have all expressed support for the movement.”
Earlier this year, a group of doctors supporting the movement wrote an open-letter to former Emory President Claire Sterk, who sat on the Atlanta Police Foundation’s (APF) Board of Trustees. Two days later Sterk announced her resignation from APFs Board, though declined to comment if the open letter led to her decision.
Earlier this month, a group of clergy released an open-letter calling fellow religious leaders to use their moral power in support of the movement. The faith coalition plans to hold a 12:00pm press conference at Atlanta City Hall Monday, March 6 and then read their letter, now signed by over 200 faith leaders, to the city council meeting later that afternoon.
Even as support for the movement swells, government repression of it continues. Earlier this week, the Atlanta Solidarity Fund issued a statement indicating they had reason to believe that in addition to the current domestic terrorism charges, activists may face RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) indictments in the coming weeks. Originally intended for use against the mafia, RICO treats individual defendants as members of the same alleged criminal enterprise and carries penalties similar to those of domestic terrorism. Recently and controversially, Georgia also used its RICO law against YSL and a group of Atlanta Public Schools teachers caught up in a cheating scandal.
Activists say the charges, which are meant to have a chilling effect on the movement, only increased support within the general public. “The rapid spread of the movement following Tortuguita’s death–despite baseless domestic terrorism charges and pending RICO charges against forest defenders–suggests that police violence and repression against the movement has ultimately led to more, rather than less, support for its demands,” the website states.
See below for the full press release.