The Georgia Attorney General is taking a page out of the Philippines’ playbook
By: Malaya Georgia
Luke “Lucky” Harper was arrested on March 5 and endured 90 days in Dekalb County Jail on accusations of domestic terrorism—the longest period of time the state may hold someone without indicting them. A Filipino-American born in the motherland, Lucky passed their time in jail by reading books about U.S. imperialism. The state offered to proffer an agreement to Lucky in exchange for their release, but Lucky declined each time until they were released on June 3.
On Aug. 29, Georgia’s Attorney General’s Office named 61 activists in an unprecedented indictment for movement activity. The indictment accused all 61 individuals, including Lucky, of racketeering (RICO) conspiracy, and declared the Defend the Atlanta Forest movement a criminal enterprise. The state has accused Lucky of criminal trespass and joining an organized mob in furtherance of the conspiracy.
Before Lucky was arrested in March, they volunteered at mutual aid events like food distribution and clothing drives, but they did not identify as an activist. When they heard the Weelaunee Forest Music Festival needed volunteers, they drove from Florida to Atlanta for the weekend. They operated a “free tent” where visitors exchanged clothing and camping supplies before the police raided the forest and effected dragnet arrests.
“I went through the trouble of being adopted as a baby only to face the same fate as activists in the Philippines,” Lucky quipped. “What was the point of being adopted by a nice white couple in the suburbs of Connecticut when this happened to me anyway?”
October is Filipino American History Month. Filipinos in America have a rich history of labor organizing—from the Filipino fish cannery workers unions in Washington and Alaska beginning in the 1930s, to the Delano Grape Boycott of the 1960s and 1970s in California when Filipino activist Larry Itliong joined forces with Cesar Chavez.
But the story of Filipino American history reaches beyond the story of Filipinos in America. It begins in 1898 with the end of the Spanish-American War, when Spain “sold” the country it had colonized for over 300 years to the United States, subjecting the Philippines to a new colonial occupier. Americans forced Filipinos into concentration camps on their own soil and committed horrific acts of violence against them. Over time, the U.S. military built bases in the Philippines. Those military bases have displaced locals, inflicted environmental harm and led to U.S. service members committing sexual assault and other acts of violence against Filipino women.
And while the United States’s official occupation of the Philippines ended in 1946, the U.S. maintains a stronghold in the Philippines today. Malaya spoke with David Vine, author of Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World, earlier this year about the harmful effects of military bases.
The police killing of Weelaunee Forest defender Tortuguita and the Georgia Attorney General’s RICO indictment of Stop Cop City activists bear remarkable similarity to the political repression of activists in the Philippines today, where land defenders are labeled as terrorists and laws are weaponized to silence activists. Most notable among the land defenders are the indigenous Lumad people, who have been one of the most targeted groups of advocates for environmental justice. In September 2023, Global Witness reported that the Philippines is the most dangerous country to be an environmental activist.
In 2018, nine sugarcane farmers in Sagay City were killed after they set up camp on a portion of farmland which was earmarked for redistribution from landlords to farmers under the government’s land reform program. A fact-finding mission by human rights and civil society groups determined that the “Sagay 9” were killed by a government-backed paramilitary group at the request of a landlord. In 2022, over 90 farmers, activists, and journalists in Tarlac were arrested for advocating for genuine land reform.
For decades, one of the biggest causes of inequality in the Philippines has been the unequal distribution of land, which leaves peasant farmers in the Filipino countryside poor and subject to the whims of their employer-landowners, who frequently use the violent police power of the state to enforce their land ownership against workers who advocate for their economic rights, as in the case of the Sagay 9.
Despite state violence committed against Filipinos everywhere, the Filipino American story is one of organized struggle, strength, and resilience. During this Filipino American History Month, we honor the organizers who have come before us and paved the way for more unified solidarity.
Malaya Movement has launched its Palayain campaign in support of political prisoners in the Philippines. Malaya Georgia stands with each of the 61 individuals named in the Stop Cop City RICO indictment, and all political prisoners facing state repression. From Atlanta to the Philippines, we must stop the U.S. war machine.
Malaya Georgia is the Georgia chapter of Malaya Movement USA, an organization that fights for human rights, democracy, and sovereignty in the Philippines and advocates for the rights of Filipino people throughout the diaspora.