“My creed of nonviolence is an extremely active force. It has no room for cowardice or even weakness. There is hope for a violent man to be some day non-violent, but there is none for a coward. I have, therefore, said more than once….that, if we do not know how to defend ourselves, our women and our places of worship by the force of suffering, i.e., nonviolence, we must, if we are men, be at least able to defend all these by fighting.
“Though violence is not lawful, when it is offered in self-defence or for the defence of the defenceless, it is an act of bravery far better than cowardly submission.
“We do want to drive out the beast in the man, but we do not want on that account to emasculate him. And in the process of finding his own status, the beast in him is bound now and again to put up his ugly appearance.
“The world is not entirely governed by logic. Life itself involves some kind of violence and we have to choose the path of least violence.”
Mohandus K. Gandhi, Between Cowardice and Violence, https://www.mkgandhi.org/nonviolence/phil8.htm
Earlier this week I participated in several actions in Atlanta during a Week of Action in defense of the South River Forest, also known as the Weelaunee Forest “in honor of the Muscogee Creek people who lived there until they were departed in the Trail of Tears.” (1) The primary action which I helped to organize and participated in took place on March 6 when a group of mainly elders went to the Atlanta corporate headquarters and then five active construction worksites in Atlanta of the corporation Brasfield & Gorrie.
B & G is the company which, any day now, could begin construction of a $90 million, 85-or-more-acre concrete training complex for police in the Weelaunee Forest, which is adjacent to Black and brown residential neighborhoods. The intention is that it would become a major institution where police from around the country would come to be trained, leading to significant destruction of the several hundred acre forest and thousands of trees.
While at the Brasfield & Gorrie corporate headquarters where our group was demonstrating, a Cobb County police officer came by. As the designated police liaison I spoke to him. He initiated a conversation about Cop City and why it was so needed because, he said, the existing training police facility was so rundown, “with leaks and mold.” I responded, “Why seriously damage an important forest? Why not renovate or tear down the existing building and build a new one on the existing police site?” He didn’t have much of an answer to either question.
In the leaflet which we distributed throughout the day on March 6 we explained what is wrong with Cop City:
- It would increase the use of militarized policing.
- It would destroy thousands of trees which are needed to reduce flooding that already occurs in nearby neighborhoods, help clean the already over-polluted air and reduce the urban heat island effect.
- It would worsen climate change and increase noise and particulate pollution.
- It would violate Nature’s right to exist, which provides beauty and tranquility for humans and other living things.
- There are much better uses for the Atlanta city money planned for this project, like funding non-police responses to improve security and improve health care for at-risk residents.
On my first full day in Atlanta a week ago I went to the forest to learn more about it and the resistance to its destruction, as well as to enjoy a music festival being held there. After a couple of hours I left to attend a planning meeting for our Brasfield & Gorrie action the next day. Later that day, in the words of a press release put out at https://defendtheatlantaforest.com, “A separate protest group with hundreds of people marched to the site leased to the Atlanta Police Foundation for Cop City. The march was in response to the murder of activist Tortuguita and a move to reclaim the Weelaunee Forest as a public commons. There are reports of construction vehicles and surveillance equipment being set on fire. Sometime after this action, police retaliated viciously by raiding the entire forest, arresting at least 35 people at the nearby music festival, including people with no connection to or awareness of the action on the other side of the nearly 600 acre forest.”
This militant action of property destruction was not the first action of this kind in the two years that the fight against Cop City has been raging. While at the music festival I picked up a 60-page pamphlet, The Forest In The City, a report and analysis of those two years. If you want to have a deeper understanding of the resistance movement, it is an essential document.
What “The Forest In The City” makes clear is that there are a broad range of groups with a broad range of tactics who are fighting to save the forest and oppose police militarization.
As someone who believes that nonviolent tactics are ultimately the most effective tactics in the building of the kind of mass movements needed to effect the kind of social change the world desperately needs, what is described in this “Forest” pamphlet has challenged me. It appears from the outside of this battle that the mix of tactics, including property destruction, have had an impact. Without question all of the activist opposition, combined with the repressive and violent tactics of the police and prosecutors in Georgia, has brought major media attention to the issue of forest destruction and police militarization.
50-plus years ago I was part of a sector of the Vietnam war peace movement, the Catholic Left, which engaged in property destruction, primarily pieces of paper: 1-A draft files. These were the files used by the Selective Service System to send hundreds of thousands of young men, predominantly working class young men, to Indochina to kill over a million Vietnamese in an effort by the US government to replace French colonialism with US colonialism. In addition, in one action I helped to make happen, about 200 bomb casings for “seeing eye” bombs in a railroad car that would have gone to Vietnam were sabotaged by using a large bolt cutter to gash the metal threads on the top of the casing where an electronic camera was to have been installed.
Some in the broader peace movement, particularly at the beginnings of the Catholic Left movement, were critical of these kinds of actions, seeing them as “violence.” We didn’t think so. Our main response was to say that the careful destruction (we didn’t use bombs) of these pieces of paper, or bomb casings, used to prosecute an unjust, murderous and imperialist war, was not violence.
Gandhi’s views on the question of violence above seem relevant to our situation today, and to the Cop City struggle.
Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. are probably the most well-known practitioners of nonviolence. But it is clear from what Gandhi wrote that he was not an absolutist who condemned any and all violence no matter who engaged in it. Indeed, he supported the involvement of Indians in the British Army to fight Hitler and fascism. And King, as far as I know, was never critical of groups like the Deacons for Defense, organized and armed Black people in the deep South who played a behind the scenes but very real role in the ultimate successes of the Black Freedom Movement of the ‘50s and ‘60s.
Again, I continue to believe that nonviolent resistance when it comes to tactics is, definitely in the long run, the tactics which have been and will be most effective when it comes to transformative and revolutionary change. I also believe very strongly that it is essential that we develop a movement culture which opposes all the societal forms of violence like white supremacy, patriarchy, heterosexism and personal practices of domination.
I am glad that I took part in a small way this past week in the righteous battle to defeat Cop City and Defend the Forest in Atlanta.