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The challenges to the already precarious state of our democracy remain. Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr resorted to extreme political repression in September, targeting 61 activists and organizers of the Stop Cop City movement Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) indictment..
The ongoing attacks on organizers in Georgia are part of a concerted effort to suppress community voices and the right to protest. This is a crucial time for philanthropy to stand with movements and protect democracy.
This move is an abuse of power. The charges undermine the freedom of organizations and attack the driving principles of social movements such as collectivism and solidarity. These approaches to building power are based on love and community care, which have long been a lifeline for those most affected by unjust systems.
As we shared in June, the ongoing attacks on organizers in Georgia are part of a concerted effort to suppress community voices and the right to protest. This is a crucial time for philanthropy to stand with movements and protect democracy.
The obstruction of democracy
Carr’s RICO charges – along with money laundering charges against three bail fund organizers and domestic terrorism charges against five others – represent a direct attack on the founding principles of our democracy – aimed at undermining public and philanthropic trust in critical social movements undermine.
In the indictments, Attorney General Carr twists the RICO statutes created in the 1970s to make it easier to target the Mafia “seemingly unrelated crimes with a common goal merge into a criminal pattern of extortion.” The members of the Stop Cop City movement are accused of being part of a vast criminal conspiracy whose acts, such as handing out leaflets in a grocery store parking lot, attending a concert in the park and participating in mutual aid programs, are leg it, “Overt acts in furtherance of the extortion conspiracy.”
In calling for this charge, Carr conflates dissent against the state with violence against the state—an egregious exaggeration. The use of RICO charges as a tool to suppress dissent is not only a violation of constitutional rights, such as freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and the right to petition the government for redress of grievances. It is also intended to have a chilling effect on anyone who advocates for justice – including you.
Chris Carr wants you to think twice before attending a protest, joining a gathering of like-minded people, or advocating for causes you believe in. He is not alone in this endeavor either. This is part of one worrying trend among law enforcement authorities, reactionary prosecutors and right-wing extremist politicians. But the RICO charges and similar suppression efforts began not with the Cop City protests of 2021, but rather on May 25, 2020 — the day George Floyd was killed by police and the largest protests in the country’s history began.
After the killing of George Floyd, the FBI and local prosecutors in Phoenix attempted to frame the protests as gang activity. In 2021, Ron DeSantis championed HB 1, an “anti-riot” law in Florida that would allow bystanders to be prosecuted for property damage. A federal district judge temporarily blocked that part of the law.
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Other influential ultra-conservative voices applaud Carr’s actions as a blueprint for suppressing movements pushing for change across the country. But it’s not just conservatives who are obstructing basic principles of democracy. Atlanta’s Democratic Mayor Andre Dickens – a strong supporter of Cop City – was emboldened by the Republican attorney general’s actions and refused to do more than count and verify them 116,000 signatures collected by Stop Cop City organizers in a referendum that would put the issue on the ballot for Atlanta voters in 2024.
If the engine of our democracy fails, there will be no one left to guide the long arc of history toward justice.
Bending history toward justice
This attempt to silence protesters and attack democratic principles poses a threat to all of us, regardless of our focus: climate, economy, health or racial justice. If the attempts of Carr and others are successful, our social movements will falter. And if the engine of our democracy fails, there will be no one left to guide the long arc of history toward justice.
As the growing shadows of Authoritarian oppression is widespread, we are forced to confront the ominous, growing threats to democracy in this country and take a stand now. We continually ask ourselves: What can we as advocates of justice and democracy do in the face of such alarming developments?
The answers are clear.
- Stand in solidarity with those facing unjustified persecution and support frontline organizations defending our democracy. Several groups actively provide legal assistance to those facing RICO charges. Organizations like that Community Justice Exchange and that Southern Center for Human Rights work tirelessly to ensure that people facing these charges receive the legal representation they need. Frontline activists and organizations need not only legal support, but also security support to feel protected from harm. We encourage philanthropists to pledge their support and commit to the safety of frontline organizations and activists through foundations like the Promises from donors for security and protection of the judiciary.
- Support the free press to counter disinformation and abuse of power. Fund local investigative journalism outlets like this Atlanta Community Press Collective (ACPC), who have been instrumental in shedding light on the political motivations and corruption surrounding the prosecution of the Stop Cop City activists. ACPC’s work is featured in hundreds of regional and national media reports, often without attribution. Independent investigative media must raise the money necessary to ensure the stability and growth of their critical work, and they cannot do that without the support of donors.
- Be proactive in building the necessary infrastructure to counter emerging attacks on social movements. Movement frameworks and infrastructure development efforts led by the Communities Transforming Policing Fund at Borealis Philanthropy and the Democratizing Justice Initiative are crucial to turning the tide of political prosecution against people participating in social movements. Contributing to these funds can help strengthen the national support network that defends our movements against unwarranted state threats.
- In the face of adversity, our commitment to justice and democracy must be unwavering. There is no going back; The only way is forward.Call this injustice loudly and boldly for what it is: political oppression. One thing all Americans agree on is the idea of freedom. Our politics may distort our view of freedom and who we believe deserves access to it, but opening the doors to wholesale political persecution of those who oppose those in power only weakens freedom for all of us. Supporters of Attorney General Carr’s actions may rejoice at the glee of their political opponents, now in prison. Yet we encourage them to look to the future and recognize that the destruction of freedom for some means the destruction of freedom for all. In other words, to quote the legendary Maya Angelou: “None of us is free until we are all free.”
In the face of adversity, our commitment to justice and democracy must be unwavering. There is no going back; The only way is forward.
We call on all concerned philanthropists and advocates to join us in defending the principles that define our great nation. Together we can ensure that justice prevails and that democracy remains a beacon of hope for future generations.