We find ourselves interested in the ways that collective joy and celebration can be a means for expressing resistance, struggle, and solidarity. Since the beginning, collective joy has been a central aspect of the fight against Cop City. Participants in the movement have frequently found themselves in and around the Weelaunee forest not only as partisans of an active conflict, but also as celebrants of the beauty of this place, of this world, and of life itself. Parties, raves, music festivals, community dinners, movie screenings, group discussions, and full-moon viewings have all occurred alongside blockades, occupations, demonstrations, and sabotage. Subversion and play are not held as distinct and separate, but as one and the same. The joy and beauty experienced within Weelaunee and the shared memories made amongst the trees are the very things that ground the stakes of this struggle. In this forest, the veil is thin between the old world and the new.
During this time of year, Halloween echoes this thinning of the veil. In its pagan origins as Samhain, it was understood to be the time in which the door was open between the Land of Summer and the material realm; it was a time in which even our wildest dreams could influence reality and anything was possible. Through the millennia, this subversive attitude has remained at the heart of contemporary understandings of Halloween. Thus, we see parallels around these events happening locally beyond the material need to fundraise for legal costs; we see more than a simple holiday fully subsumed within capitalist hegemony. In a world that presents misery and isolation as the only reality that can exist, the experience of collective joy is a necessary act of subversion that becomes an affirmation of life and an invitation to the impossible.
The following is an interview with two organizers of a series of events happening at the Blacklidge Community Collective on Friday, October 27th, 2023. These events are Halloween fundraisers for those facing RICO and domestic terrorism charges in relation to the struggle against Cop City. Through the course of this interview, we discuss the logistics of planning these events, their relationship to the broader movement to defend the Atlanta forest and the history of Halloween as a night of subversion, rebellion, and play.
L&F: Can you both briefly introduce yourselves?
Lo: I'm Lo. I use they/them pronouns and I am a local community organizer in Tucson.
Wren: My name is Wren. I use they/them pronouns and I'm a collective member here at the BCC.
L&F: On Friday, there’s a Halloween party and a haunted house planned to fundraise for forest defenders facing RICO and domestic terrorism charges in relation to Stop Cop City. I’ve never been part of putting together a haunted house and I’m sure many of the people reading this haven’t either, so I’m curious: what has the process looked like for this, especially in such a DIY context?
Lo: A story is key when you're planning a haunted house— a story and a theme. And so, we had a meeting with around six of us and we ran through all of it. Then, I took everybody's ideas, cobbled it together into a storyline and script and from there, it’s just been about networking and finding set pieces. We also had an actors workshop to get actors for our haunted house. Haunted houses generally plan months and months and months in advance. Most big budget haunted houses will start preparing at least the year before or six months before and we are literally doing this in three weeks.
L&F: Yeah, tough deadline! Without spoiling it, of course, is there anything you can tease about what you have planned for the plot of the haunted house itself?
Lo: Sure! So, one of the reasons I’m super excited to work on this fundraiser is that it’s a haunted house, but it’s also an educational, immersive experience about what is happening in the Weelaunee forest, and it starts out front where members of the public — which is the point of view through which you will go through the haunted house — are confronted by protesters. They are passing out literature for the Block Cop City event that's coming up in November. And then, the participants are taken on this tour through the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center — the planned “Cop City”. So, you embark on this tour with the project manager. It has some very well-placed political commentary and… I don’t want to spoil anything! You’ll just have to see! Think of it as like… a scary version of FernGully. FernGully: the Haunted House. That’s the project we’re working on!
L&F: Great! That's an excellent teaser, I'm already like, “wait tell me more!” So, of course, this is also happening alongside a party. Is there anything you want to share about that and what you have planned?
Wren: Yes! There are a lot of different components to the party. One of the things that I'm most excited about is that from 6pm to 8pm, we're gonna do some children's games and activities. There's gonna be pumpkin painting and some other stuff. Of course, all ages are welcome, but I'm really looking forward to having a space that's intentionally kid friendly because that's something that's often lacking in the stuff that happens at the BCC. There’s going to be so much to do. There's going to be a “creepy foods” potluck, which I think is going to be really fun. There's going to be costume contests. There's going to be different games and activities. I think there might be some themed treats and beverages. And then we'll end the night with some DJs and the DJs are specifically crafting sets that draw in the Halloween spirit. So they all have their own different styles, but they're all going to be Halloween themed sets. I think it's so cool that this is happening at the same time as the haunted house because I think they will complement each other.
L&F: There’s also a bike race ending at the party, right?
Wren: Yes! There’s an alley cat race that will be ending here at 8:30pm.
L&F: Are there any other connections that you’re making between this practice of collective joy and celebration and the struggle against Cop City?
Lo: Yeah, the connection for me is that Cop City is coming to a city near you and it's going to happen really quick and for me, Halloween especially has this direct correlation with subversion. It breaks binaries and it's in line with my praxis as an abolitionist. It's safe for people to unmask (no pun intended). It's all the things that are the antithesis of white supremacist culture and colonialism. It builds community, it incites play. It's a reminder of all of these things that we tend to forget about, especially in our work as activists and in the community and in mutual aid.
Wren: Yeah, Halloween has this very long deep history of different moments of subversion and rebellion. I'm really obsessed with this zine called The Devil's Night: On the Ungovernable Spirit of Halloween. I recommend people read it. Also, there are these ties to thinking about and honoring the dead that kind of get lost and I think that celebration can be a way to honor the dead, right? There are moments of grief that are very solemn and sad and that's important. But also these moments of celebration, these moments of recognizing that we live in a world with tremendous loss and that loss is happening all the time and we're coming together as a community to both remember that and to also be here with each other while we're here. And so, that might not be the most obvious at an event that is primarily just a fun goofy Halloween party, but those connections are also always a part of it for me when I'm thinking about this holiday.
L&F: Yeah, absolutely. One of the things I was personally most interested in about these events is this idea of collective joy and celebration as a mode of solidarity and resistance. Having myself experienced firsthand the Atlanta forest and the struggle to defend it, it’s difficult to understate how central this practice of collective joy has been to that struggle since the beginning.
Lo: Joy is— I mean, it’s revolutionary, you know? These systems of repression, the powers that be: they want us to feel helpless, but we're not helpless. We have all the power and community. So it's a really important reminder of that.
Wren: If I have a little bit of an ulterior motive besides fundraising and having a good time, then I hope that the profusion of Halloween events that are happening will inspire folks to think more deeply about Halloween as a site of rebellion, as a sight of dissent and also as part of this network of many holidays that happen from October 31st to November 2nd that have to do with honoring the dead. In some ways, it’s far-fetched, but I hope that the more present Halloween is, the more we're thinking about these things and imagining different ways we could celebrate the holiday that are more directly related to resisting these oppressive powers.
Plus, rightwing Christians really hate Halloween. Which, in my opinion, is in-and-of-itself a really good reason to celebrate it.
L&F: Both of you have kind of touched on more abstractly this idea of Halloween as a place of subversion that invites in play, so I'm curious if you could share more about this specific understanding and history of Halloween?
Lo: Sure, I mean Halloween having its roots in Samhain… it's a celebration of the land. It's now a radical revolutionary act, you know, to grow your own food. To me, that’s just kind of a mind-fuck. So thinking of the pagan origins, the earth-related origins, I think is really important too to keep in mind. To me, that’s one of the most important pieces of history about this holiday.
Wren: Halloween arrived in the U.S. in the 19th century, during Irish immigration that followed the Great Hunger. It took root here and has become, in many ways, part of U.S. culture. And of course—the U.S. is a capitalist, imperialist, settler-colonial state, after all—there are plenty of not-so-great aspects to Halloween, like rampant consumerism and people wearing deeply offensive and appropriative costumes. But also, time and again, the holiday has been used to push back at state control and “polite society.” You can think about how Halloween costumes allow folks, especially queer folks, to experiment with how we present ourselves and our identities, or the absolute ruckus caused by celebrants—mostly young people!—in the streets of 20th century towns and cities, including Toronto and Detroit, despite repeated attempts by authorities to defang Halloween. For example, I can't remember exactly when or where this was at the moment, but there was one time where they tried to throw these Halloween parties — this is probably like in the early 1900s, maybe the 1920s or 1930s — they threw Halloween parties for all the kids hoping to keep them away from trouble, but all the kids ignored it and they built burning barricades in the streets instead.
So, I think that there is this throughline, right? Once Halloween crosses the ocean and comes here, it becomes all of these other things for all of these different people.
L&F: One of the things that came up while I was discussing this interview with the editorial collective was the ways that social movements are often vehicles of cultural production and expression. During moments of social struggle, there is often a proliferation of music, art, poetry, film, theater, etc. borne directly from within that struggle. To us, it seemed that in a way, this profusion of Halloween events was itself a type of cultural production borne from the struggle against Cop City.
Wren: I haven’t been super involved in the forest struggle except for supporting friends, so it’s hard for me to draw that specific connection, especially because I haven’t been present there [in the forest] and so, I don’t have that deep knowledge. Maybe what I can say, though, is that Halloween is a liminal time—it’s a time when society-as-usual can be interrupted. This seems to be what the Defend the Weelaunee Forest movement is also trying to do: to resist, in part, through celebration, and to take advantage of the liminality of the forest to experiment with better ways of living and struggling together.
This interview has been edited for clarity.