The challenges to the already precarious state of our democracy continue. Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr resorted to extreme measures of political repression in September, targeting 61 activists and organizers of the Stop Cop City Movement with Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) indictments.
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 critical time for philanthropy to stand with movements and protect democracy.
This move is an abuse of power. The indictments undermine the freedom of organizations and attack the driving principles of social movements such as collectivism and solidarity. These approaches to power building are rooted in love and community care, which have long been a lifeline for those most impacted 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 critical time for philanthropy to stand with movements and protect democracy.
The Obstruction of Democracy
Carr’s RICO indictments—along with money laundering charges for three bail fund organizers and dozens of domestic terrorism charges —are a direct assault on the foundational principles of our democracy—with the goal of eroding public and philanthropic trust in critical social movements.
In the indictments, Attorney General Carr twists RICO statutes created in the 1970s to more easily target the Mafia by “tying together apparently unrelated crimes with a common objective into a prosecutable pattern of racketeering.” Members of the Stop Cop City movement are accused of being part of a vast criminal conspiracy whose actions, such as distributing flyers in a grocery store parking lot, attending a concert in the park, or participating in mutual aid programs, are, as the indictments put it, “overt acts in furtherance of the racketeering conspiracy.”
With the push for this indictment, Carr conflates dissent against the state as violence toward the state—an egregious overreach. The use of RICO indictments as a tool to stifle dissent is not just a violation of Constitutional rights, such as the freedom of speech, the freedom to assemble, and the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances. It is also meant to have a chilling effect on everyone who works toward justice—including you.
Chris Carr wants you to think twice before you attend a protest, join a meeting of like-minded individuals, or contribute to causes you believe in. He isn’t alone in this endeavor, either. This is part of a disturbing trend among law enforcement, reactionary prosecutors, and far-right politicians. But the RICO indictments and similar suppression efforts began not with the protests of Cop City in 2021, but rather on May 25, 2020—the day George Floyd was killed by police and the largest protests in the nation’s history began.
After the murder of George Floyd, the FBI and local prosecutors in Phoenix attempted to define the protests as gang activity. In 2021, Ron DeSantis championed HB 1, an “anti-riot” law in Florida that allows for bystanders to be prosecuted for acts of property destruction. A federal district judge has temporarily blocked this part of the law.
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Other influential ultraconservative voices applaud Carr’s actions as a blueprint for suppressing movements advocating for change across the country. But it is not just conservatives obstructing core principles of democracy. The Democratic mayor of Atlanta, Andre Dickens—a strong supporter of Cop City—has been emboldened by the Republican attorney general’s actions and has refused to count and verify the more than 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.
When the engine of our democracy fails, there will be no one left to bend the long arc of history toward justice.
Bending History Toward Justice
This effort to silence protestors and attack democratic principles is a threat to all of us, no matter our area of focus: climate, economic, health, or racial justice. If attempts by Carr and others are successful, then our social movements grind to a halt. And when the engine of our democracy fails, there will be no one left to bend the long arc of history toward justice.
As the growing shadows of authoritarian oppression loom large, we are compelled to confront the ominous, mounting threats against democracy in this country and take a stand now. Time and again, we ask ourselves: What can we as advocates for justice and democracy do in the face of such alarming developments?
The answers are clear.
- Stand in solidarity with those facing unjust persecution and support organizations on the frontlines defending our democracy. Several groups are actively providing legal support to those targeted by RICO indictments. Organizations like the Community Justice Exchange and the 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 safety and security support to feel protected from harm. We encourage philanthropists to pledge their support and commit to the safety and security of frontline organizations and activists through foundations such as the Funders for Justice Safety and Security Pledge.
- Support the free press to counter disinformation and the abuse of power. Fund local investigative journalism outlets like the Atlanta Community Press Collective (ACPC) that have been critical in shining a light on the political motivations and corruption surrounding the prosecutions of the Stop Cop City activists. The work of ACPC feeds into hundreds of regional and national media stories, often without attribution. Independent investigative media must raise the money necessary to ensure the stability and growth of their critical work, and they can’t do that without funder support.
- Be proactive in building the infrastructure necessary to counter emerging attacks against social movements. Movement scaffolding and infrastructure development efforts led by the Communities Transforming Policing Fund at Borealis Philanthropy and the Democratizing Justice Initiative are crucial in turning the tide of political prosecutions against people participating in social movements. Contributing to these funds can help strengthen the national support network that defends our movements against unjust state threats.
- In the face of adversity, our commitment to justice and democracy must be unwavering. There is no turning back; the only way is forward.Be loud and bold in calling this injustice what it is: political repression. One thing all Americans can agree on is the idea of freedom. Our politics may skew how we see freedom and who we believe deserves access to it but opening the doors to wholesale political persecution of whoever opposes those who hold power only weakens freedom for all of us. Supporters of Attorney General Carr’s actions may relish the schadenfreude of their political opponents being jailed now. Still, we encourage them to look down the road and see how the destruction of liberty for some is the destruction of liberty for all. In other words, to quote the legendary Maya Angelou, “None of us are free until all of us are free.”
In the face of adversity, our commitment to justice and democracy must be unwavering. There is no turning back; the only way is forward.
We call upon all concerned philanthropists and advocates to stand with 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 generations to come.