Submitted to It’s Going Down
After the murders of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minneapolis, protests of different kinds have erupted across the US. Some of the biggest and most confrontational events during the past couple of days have occurred in Atlanta, where large demonstrations blocked the streets of downtown, occupied the interstate highway and scuffled with police on Thursday and Friday. What follows is a breakdown of activities on both days.
The evening of the 7th a demonstration was called for by Rise Up, a multi-ŕacial leftist organization born out of the Ferguson struggle. The general plan was to gather downtown and march to Piedmont Park , where a black man was found hung in a tree earlier that morning, for a speak out. As night fell and the speak out came to a close, the general departure from the park spontaneously turned into another march that zigzagged through the city towards the interstate highway. Police vehicles mostly kept their distance from the march but when they got close they were surrounded each time and made to retreat.
When we reached the highway on-ramp we were several hundred strong. A small number of state troopers stood on the on-ramp trying to block the demonstration from reaching the interstate. The demo locked arms and started pushing forward through the state troopers down the ramp. The cops began pushing and shoving the crowd trying to hold them back but we were too strong and too determined. The cops were pushed back, surrounded and threatened and the whole of the march made its way around them and began to move into the 6 lanes of traffic. The troopers regrouped and again began to assault the crowd, throwing several to the ground and trying to arrest them but each time they were freed. The entire march was together and determined to shut down the interstate.
Unfortunately, this strategic unity came to an end after only a few minutes, when the police drove down with several cars, including an arrest van. The majority of the crowd panicked, scrambling back towards the ramp allowing the police to clear the highway without any real effort, though some protestors took this time to attack one of the police cars arriving at the scene. No one was arrested at this point either and the march proceeded to Woodruff Park. Here a small group of masked protesters attempted to build barricades out of riot fences, but their efforts were thwarted by overenthusiastic pacifists, who cleared up the barricades.
In total, the day was an immense success. Never has such a massive crowd taken the highway in Atlanta in such a determined fashion. The demonstration was clearly unified in its goal to take the highway and at the few times when officers attempted arrests, they were pushed back by the crowd.
The demonstration the next day was called for by the NAACP and started around 4PM. Before the protest started, concerns on how the Dallas shootings would effect the demonstration were exchanged among many. The event consisted of a speak out that went on for hours before people expressed their desire to march. The march was highly coordinated at first and went in a circle around the park time and time again. Eventually there was a point at which the crowd almost universally decided it was time to break out of the sandbox and determine for itself where it would go and what it would do. It was at this point that the organisers officially deemed their event over.
Almost immediately the crowd headed towards the interstate. Most of the onramps in the city were policed to some degree already, presumably because of the events the night before. As the crowd approached the interstate onramp they were met by a line of police, determined to not make the same mistake twice. The crowd remained on the onramp in a standoff with Georgia State Patrol for hours. A first scuffle with law enforcement resulted from people jumping on police cars and soon a large crowd that was partly masked, mounted the carriage of a truck on the onramp. Throughout the night, dozens of demonstrators donned masks. Police pushed into the demonstration, forcing people to climb down. At this point the crowd started to split into three groups: one maintaining the standoff with the police as the other two groups started moving in different directions across the city.
After the demonstration split into smaller groups, two hours of confusion followed. One the one hand the smaller groups were able to paralyse the city by the cat and mouse game between protestors and police, but on the other hand, the small size of the mobile groups decreased the ability of the majority of the crowds to think about anything other than reuniting with each other. During this time, the police were attacked on different occasions with light projectiles like water bottles and racists shouting slurs at the demonstration were beaten up and chased away. Around 11PM the groups finally reunited, still including thousands of people in total, at the spot were they originally split up. At this moment the entire crowd started to move quickly and in a unified fashion towards another highway ramp, attempting to outmanoeuvre the police.
Once the crowd reached a bridge leading up to the ramp, police tried to block its way, moving several cars and officers onto the bridge. This time the line was not solid enough to prevent the crowd from moving and the majority of the demonstration moved through it, despite imminent threat of arrest. When the demonstrators made it to Spring St., things really started to escalate. When a single police car with one officer tried to block the demonstrators from getting onto the highway, several people attacked the car, throwing stones, glass and plastic bottles. One protestor immediately started jumping on the vehicle. The officer responded by tasing one protestor and then pulled out a shotgun, causing the crowd to panic and run. No one was arrested, despite a large group of plain clothes police briefly entering the protest.
During this confusion, police managed to pull up and block the path of the demonstration, effectively preventing it from entering the highway. Another standoff ensued, with demonstrators retreating in the end.
At this point it was past 12 AM and the protest had split once again, with a large amount of people leaving the demonstration for good. The remaining groups managed to reunite within an hour after the incident with the taser and in a surprising move finally entered the highway, using a ramp that the police had failed to secure, apparently due to the large amount of smaller groups forcing them to spread their resources. As on Thursday, the highway was taken only briefly, with the crowd panicking as soon as the police made their spectacular entrance, driving in with sirens shouting and several cars. This happened despite the terrain being exceptionally open, with open grounds to run into in case the police had decided to start arresting people. The panic was further increased by a blast going off, the source of which is still unknown to us. These last events highlight how the highway is an extremely undesirable terrain to fight own, making any crowd without real strategic unity unable to fend for itself unless very determined efforts to calm people down and fight the police are made. After the last highway occupation, the demonstration was more or less over, but small groups continued to circulate in the downtown area until three or four in the morning.
As a whole, Friday was a mixed experience compared to Thursday. The events were much more chaotic and lacking in coordination, but the crowd participating in actions that in the Atlanta context are fairly confrontative numbered in the thousands, making the day very significant for the forces of destitution in Atlanta. The turnout and the militancy of the crowd is especially significant considering the possible backlash from the shootings in Dallas. On a more critical note, there was a lack of coordination between the people who wanted the event to escalate out of control. These people were spread out through the crowd which made it difficult to support each others gestures. This could be due to racial divisions, but the fact is that both black and non-black people expressing their desire for something more seemed equally uncoordinated in the actions. As long time participant in Atlanta demonstrations I’ve never seen this many people this close to boiling over. The number of those really ready to set shit off last night was huge, and with more actions going on this weekend it remains to be seen where we are headed.