By: Priscilla Grim
I first learned about the fight to stop cop city this time last year while I was laid up for a month and a half from a bad leg injury. I read online about how the people of Atlanta had made several hours of public comments to the City Council, only to be ignored and for the funding to be voted through. The total failure of democratic process reminded me of the fight to close Rikers in New York City and how the fight to close one of the most notorious city jails in the United States turned into a plan to build four new city jails, including an aspiration to build the tallest jail in the world.
I was (remotely) working as an email marketing specialist for Fordham University. I sent over 13 million emails, worked with dozens of people, and for over a year coordinated writing, content, and art for outward communications without a single mistake. My life was as normal as possible for year three of the pandemic. In February 2023, a month before I flew to Atlanta, walking again, I had a hybrid schedule, commuting a few days a week into the midtown university office a few blocks from Central Park. During the weeks my daughter spent at my house, we spent our off-time cooking, watching trashy TV together, and occasionally going to saunas and steam rooms in the spas of NYC. On and offline, I attended demonstrations and blogged about various political imaginations and campaigns.
I travel to write about protests on social media in other areas of the United States. I understood the fight to Stop Cop City to be wholly intersectional, and led by local Black and Indigenous organizers. The people of Atlanta had taken their Stop Cop City demand to City Hall and had been ignored. Despite many hours of public testimony, the leaders of the City of Atlanta had decided to build a militarized police training facility in the Weelaunee Forest. Activists had started camping amongst the trees. Supporting the fight to Stop Cop City with the simple act of camping in an urban wooded area seemed righteous and filled with a possible win.
On my second day in Weelaunee, I was arrested and booked into DeKalb County Jail. I was arrested with 40 other people. We were separated into two groups. A police officer told my group we were in the “go to jail crowd.” I didn’t expect to be incarcerated for over a week, let alone a month. I remember being surprised by the bright, light beige paint of the building. It seemed like a hospital, but instead of health being the focus, harm and humiliation were centered.
I realized quickly that the others I was arrested with were close to the age of my daughter (if not younger), and all I could think about was our collective safety. I defaulted to my mother self, the skin in which I have lived for the past two decades. I strived to be the person I hoped would be in jail with my daughter if she were ever to find herself locked up.
Like my daughter and her friends, the other activist forest defenders, or “tree huggers” as the other podcage mates would call us, were remarkable. Gen Z holds the possibility of a future of kindness and compassion. They taught classes on outdoor survival, massage, and first aid, lessons needed by all of us, especially since we did not have books, games, or even pens and paper the first week inside.
The 31 days I spent In Dekalb County Jail were some of the most traumatic days of my life. But those were also days when I saw some of the best of humanity in the most inhumane environment. Despite the state of Georgia trying to kill our spirits through ever-present lights, constant slamming steel doors, starvation, and black mold-filled rooms, we found ways to care for and protect each other’s emotional well-being through mutual aid efforts and with the simple acts of listening and being present.
Returning to life after jail was brutal. The first few hours of being out, I had a moment in which I thought I would be taken back. I had a physical disbelief in my reality of freedom. My daughter had to tell me, “you are not going back to jail.” The next day, while eating lunch with her and an old friend, I almost passed out from a PTSD episode. Later, accustomed to eating with cardboard spoons, I almost cracked a tooth using a metal fork. After I returned home to Brooklyn, I kept getting lost in my neighborhood and forgetting the routes I had walked for years. I felt brain-damaged.
That being said, sleeping in the hotel room bed with my daughter the night I was released was the purest moment filled with gratitude, unconditional love, and safety. When I returned home, I looked at my computer and thought, “What am I supposed to do with that?” My relationship with technology was ruptured. But this is what I do, so I gave myself daily assignments to begin using the tools of my trade again. It has taken me many months, but I am finally fully employed, working movement jobs I would have been afraid to take in the past. They are now the only ones who will hire me.
Now that I am pushed out of mainstream career possibilities, I am finally working to my potential. The State of Georgia forced me to commit to the life of an activist fully. The charges I am facing are both frightening and googleable. At least I now know my work environment is solidly committed to supporting me through this terrible process of political persecution. The jails and courts are being used in a show trial for a man who wants to run for Governor. I and my 60 comrades are playthings for the large political ambitions of a very small man. A man without imagination outside of the profits found in the prison industrial complex. A man wishing to serve further a local government system shaped by corporations, not community. The outside agitators are in board rooms worldwide, signing checks to the Atlanta Police Foundation.
As I sit here, a few days away from being booked back into Fulton County Jail, where ten people have died this year, I am filled with panic and flashbacks. The sleeplessness started last night. My ancestors are trying to prepare me for something. Whatever happens next, I know that the world is watching. Whatever happens next, the future will change. I hope for there to be more freedom and less fascism. I hope the fight to stop cop city is victorious. I hope for the people of Atlanta to win.
For more about Priscilla or to financially support her, see her featured links:
Weelaunee arrestees: https://linktr.ee/weelauneearresteefundraisers
In Their Words is an exclusive series from the Atlanta Community Press Collective.