Nearly every day for over two months, AFSC staff and volunteers collected signatures to put a referendum on the ballot in Atlanta. We’re part of a coalition of community members and organizations working to stop “Cop City.”
If constructed, Cop City would be one of the largest militarized police training centers in the United States. Plans include military-grade training facilities, a mock city in which to practice urban warfare, and dozens of shooting ranges. The project has also clearcut much of the Weelaunee Forest, Atlanta’s largest green space. The environmental damage could cause the surrounding neighborhoods—which are majority Black—to warm by as much as 10 degrees.
We’re grateful to everyone in the AFSC community who donated to our coalition. Your support has been critical to our efforts to gather enough signatures to put Cop City to a vote—and ensure Atlantans have a say on how their tax dollars are spent.
Over two months, we knocked on countless doors in neighborhoods across the city. We canvassed at parks, shopping centers, community events, and school car lines. We also trained dozens of volunteers to collect signatures and engaged more than 200 local businesses in our campaign.
Our efforts have been more successful than we could have imagined. Our Stop Cop City coalition gathered more than 116,000 voter signatures! That’s nearly double the number required by the city to put a referendum on the ballot. It’s also more than the number of people who voted in Atlanta’s last mayoral election.
"Atlanta cannot be a city that closes its ears to its most vulnerable residents."
People across Atlanta are making clear that they oppose Cop City. But instead of upholding the right of voters to have their say at the ballot box, the city is doing everything possible to silence us. Last month, the city announced it would use a burdensome signature verification process. This process is regarded by many as a tactic of voter suppression to disenfranchise Black, Brown, and low-income people. In 2019, many of the city’s own Democratic Party leaders argued against such signature requirements in a lawsuit against the state over the results of its 2018 election.
Law enforcement in Atlanta has also taken unprecedented legal action against those who oppose the facility. During protests, police have targeted peaceful organizers and arrested them on trumped-up charges of domestic terrorism. In early September, the state attorney general indicted 61 movement activists on racketeering charges. Those charged include three organizers with the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, which has helped protesters secure legal counsel and bail money since 2020.
Now, the city is refusing to count the 116,000 voter signatures our coalition collected. When organizers arrived at the city clerk’s office on Sept. 11 to turn in petitions, government officials falsely claimed they couldn’t begin verifying signatures because we had missed the submission deadline. That’s even though a federal court had extended the deadline to late September.
The city’s efforts to suppress our votes are deeply troubling. But it’s also a sign that officials recognize the strength of the movement we have built—and that our coalition has the power to win. No matter what hurdles are imposed, our coalition is ready to defend the signatures we have collected and to hold the city to a fair process.
Many activists and community leaders have shown solidarity with our efforts and are urging the city to put Cop City to a democratic vote. Bernice King—CEO of The King Center and daughter of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.—issued a statement along with Latosha Brown of Black Voters Matter, Helen Butler of the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda, and Rohit Malhotra, Center for Civic Innovation. They wrote:
“The system of democracy was designed so that every person, regardless of class, creed or race, would have an objective and unchallenged opportunity to meaningfully participate in the building of their community. Everyone has a responsibility and a right to contribute their voice to discussions and decisions on city governance. The participation of the people must be welcome. Atlanta cannot be a city that closes its ears to its most vulnerable residents, who have been made so by historically discriminatory, destructive and undemocratic policies and practices.”
In talking with voters in recent months, I know that an overwhelming number of us don’t want more militarized policing in our city. We want to preserve our urban forest and natural resources. And we want our tax dollars to go toward schools, affordable housing, health care, and other programs that promote safety and well-being for all our community members.
Today, I am optimistic that our movement will prevail. In my decades of organizing in Atlanta, I have never seen anything like the momentum we have built in just the past few months.
Thank you for supporting our efforts in this struggle.