NOTES FROM THE FOREST: DAY 5
This is the fifth entry in a series of daily dispatches from a comrade who is attending the Weelaunee Summer Week of Action (June 24-July 1) in Atlanta, Georgia:
The march begins at Gresham Park, a DeKalb County Park within walking distance of the Weelaunee Forest. People start to trickle in shortly before 6 p.m., coming together collectively to demand the reopening of Weelaunee. Nervousness and anticipation abound, and quiet conversations speculate on what will unfold. Will the police attempt to attack the march? They arrested one person and detained another over relatively little just this morning, so it seems likely. On the other hand, will collective power accumulate here such that we'll be able to march straight into the forest itself? After all, what the movement has desired above all else this week is to return home to Weelaunee. Beneath a ramada next to where we gather, a birthday party carries on unbothered by our trepidation. Friends and family soak each other with water guns, and share food and drinks in the Georgia summer sun.
As I wait, my own uncertainties gnawing at my stomach, I see two white-tail deer—a buck and a doe—passing along the periphery of the park. I think of home and of one of my closest friends, for whom the mule deer of their ancestral homeland in the Southwest hold a place of deep spiritual and cultural importance. I think of our long desert hikes together where we'd see deer and they'd say with a smile that their relatives had come to check on us. I wish I could call them. A police helicopter circles overhead and I'm told to be mindful of an unmarked car spotted in the area. My thoughts drift to the scale and stakes of this struggle, that the outcome of this moment in space and time will determine the trajectory of policing everywhere for the decades to come. Cop City in Atlanta would mean police terror in the borderlands. The deer disappear into the woods.
The mobile altar for Tortuguita arrives and, quickly after, the march begins. Around 200 people converge and walk together up the bike path toward Intrenchment Creek Park. Music and chanting ring in the air. Some dance as they go, others hold hands, but everyone holds Weelaunee in their hearts.
"Tortuguita vive! La lucha sigue!"
A mobile altar pulled during the march honors Tortuguita, a forest defender who was murdered by police during a raid on the Weelaunee Forest on January 18, 2023 (Photo: Atlanta Community Press Collective).
As the march continues, my anxieties fall away and build into confidence. This is a movement of remembering how to move together, remembering how powerful it is and has been. This is a movement gliding across the shores of struggle, holding tightly to one another as the kinetic energy of the tremendous wave we created disperses. As we march, we are trying to pull each other back toward the ocean from which we derive our strength, growing toward the next wave. We feel so strained right now. There is so much uncertainty about what might happen, about what is truly possible in this moment. We feel vulnerable because of how spread out we are along this shore, but this is still the same water that crested with such terrifying beauty only a few months ago; this is only the rhythm of water.
The march stops along the bike path some distance from the tunnel that would bring us back home. Two police cruisers idle a few hundred feet away. Beyond them, a bend before the tunnel. Past that, Weelaunee. But it isn't time yet, the circumstances aren't correct. The energy and numbers aren't there to handle a possible confrontation on the way in. So, just outside the forest's front door, we share in collective mourning once again. I look upon the same mobile altar that was present Saturday night. Again, Tortuguita's mother, Belkis Terán, speaks about her child and the legacy and struggle that we've inherited. I can still smell on my skin the rose tincture she'd given me, and others, before the march. After her, another person—anonymous in a mask and gloves—speaks of the necessity of struggle, of risk, of eschewing the illusion of safety. But, the speaker continues, the acceptance of risk and the willingness to act does not mean that we have a death-drive, a desire for martyrdom. It means choosing when we fight, when we attack, and "abandoning the idea of looking good losing."
"We are not willing to sacrifice ourselves."
And so we walk back together toward Gresham Park. The time to reoccupy Weelaunee was not today, but that does not mean that day won't come. As we walk, we remember how to move together and the strength we carry together: a movement after the crest and into the next wave.