Next to Stone Mountain Park, the site of the KKK’s refoundation in 1916, and where a beautiful and sacred mountain lies vandalized with carvings of white supremacists, is the town of Stone Mountain, a small, working class, largely black suburb of Atlanta, in DeKalb county. On February 2, when there was supposed to be a white supremacist rally in the park, that rally did not happen. Instead there was a well-organized, rowdy, and joyful anti-fascist victory parade in the town. Town residents were overwhelmingly supportive. The white supremacists were a complete no-show. We held our parade, and left with no arrests or other repression.
Our primary goal was to stop the Klan from marching on Stone Mountain, which was completely successful. This strategy of preventing fascists from being able to organize or act openly is called ‘deplatforming’ because we are denying them a platform. It has been a goal for most militant anti-fascist mobilizations in the past three years to do this, and some of them have been pretty successful as confronting fascists to the point where they have to retreat, but as far as we know, this is the first case where the pressure on the fascists has been big enough to prevent them from even showing up in the first place. This is a huge success, and it is going to have significant ramifications on the confidence of any far-right groups to try to organize openly in the South. We’re also not aware of many times recently where we’ve been able to have open, organized, and rowdy anti-fascist victory parades in isolated suburbs. (One notable exception was the failed Klan rally in Danville, Virginia in December 2016, where anti-fascists did hold a victory parade in Danville after the collapse of the planned Klan rally.) Our mass anti-fascism was joyful, exciting, and we were clearly and visibly the winning side, the side that has momentum. This was all quite different from recent anti-fascists mobilizations in Georgia (Newnan last year and Stone Mountain the year before), which we will get into.
Of course, none of this happened in a larger social vacuum. Notably, the actions by TSA workers and air traffic controllers just a week before the rally were a very public and forceful rebuke of Trumpism, and likely contributed to the demoralization of the right. Additionally, with the government still recovering from the shut down, and Georgia already stretched thin with preparations for the Super Bowl the next day, this may have contributed to the decision to close the park altogether; it could also have led to a level of disorganization or lack of confidence on the part of the state that made them less ready to engage in the forceful repression that they had used in Newnan last year.
If we compare “Rock Stone Mountain 2” with the original, we can see that we’ve made a lot of progress. Our mobilization in 2016 was overwhelmingly successful, so the differences will be illuminating about how much more successful we were in 2019.
In 2016, the fascists had a permit and police protection. They were considered ‘legitimate’. One of the goals of the All Out Atlanta coalition at that time was to force a crisis in that ‘legitimacy’ so that they would not be able to organize so openly in the future. We did successfully create that crisis in legitimacy, although it was a hard fight. In 2019, one of our first victories happened when the Park denied a permit to the fascists for their rally. That wouldn’t have happened without the militancy and rowdiness of the 2016 mobilization.
In 2016, the police aggressively targeted and attacked anyone wearing a mask, as well as many others. We were not organized to make this difficult for them, or to defend ourselves. In 2019, we held an unpermitted march at which many people wore masks, and we faced no repression. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen something like that.
One of the visible differences is that we can see a huge uptick in radical organizing in the South over the last 3 years, which includes much stronger regional coordination, networking, and mutual support. Although the turnout in 2019 was not noticeably larger than in 2016, a lot of people ended up not coming due to the cancellation by the white supremacists, as well as the last minute decision to close the park. If either or both of those had not happened, there would have been a much, much larger turnout. Given the confusion over the announced park closure the nigh before the event, we are very happy with the large turnout that we still saw.
With regards to the growth of the left that we have seen across the South, we can speak best to the growth of the IWW and the General Defense Committee. Other groups or milieus will have to speak for themselves, although we think growth has been across the board, whether looking at autonomous or anarchist milieus on the one hand, or groups like the Democratic Socialists of America and Redneck Revolt on the other.
In 2016, we had a tiny IWW group in Atlanta, and maybe 2-3 similarly tiny groups across the entire South, with no regional coordination. We don’t think there were IWW’s from other cities at the mobilization in 2016 (and the fact that we don’t even know also says a lot!).
In 2019, we have a vibrant branch in Atlanta, we have very active branches and groups in over a dozen other Southern cities, and we are very tightly coordinated across the region. We had a visible IWW bloc in the march with members from multiple states. Many of these members (in Atlanta and elsewhere) are also actively participating in workplace organizing campaigns – contrary to those who say that these things contradict each other, we see a clear reinforcement in practice. We also think that our participation in organizing around this has energized our branch as well as others from the region who participated. In the aftermath of this, we organized a very successful workplace Organizer Training (much of the organizing for which was done by people who joined in the process of the Stone Mountain organizing) which gave a boost to a new workplace committee; as well as a large and rowdy “Midnight March to End Rape Culture” for International Women’s Day on March 8. The energy and momentum coming out of February 2nd directly contributed to both of these things.
Although we are very happy overall with how everything went, we believe there are some things that could be improved for next time. FLOWER was intended to function as a coalition, but more could have been done to broaden that coalition. There are at least two gaps here:
- Stronger intentional efforts should have been made to build ties with Black-led organizations and movements in Atlanta and suburban DeKalb county. This would have meant not just asking these movements and organizations to show up for Stone Mountain, but also showing up for existing struggles, such as the efforts to hold the police accountable for the 2015 murder of Anthony Hill in Chamblee (another city in DeKalb County). Of course, a lot of this development of trust through solidarity is something that is developed slowly and over time, and can’t be rushed through the period of months that we had to organize around Stone Mountain. Nevertheless, there could have been more intentional efforts in this direction.
- As the IWW in particular,
we also should have done more to try to involve union members in
Atlanta. We should have gone to meetings of union locals to talk about
the importance of strong community organizing against fascism and white
supremacy. Beyond the primary goal of involving more people in the
mobilization, this would have had at least two other goals:
- It also could have contributed towards developing a trend that members of different unions should organize together for things such as confronting white supremacy. This seems to have had some success in the Pacific Northwest that we think is worth emulating. One of the pillars of the existing labor bureaucracy is the separation of members of different unions so that they do not participate in the same struggles. If rank and file union members in a city develop a culture of organizing together against fascism, it is a natural step from there to organize to support each other, and to see working class struggles in general as being linked together, rather than separated.
- It would have helped identify more militant members of those unions and possibly heightened contradictions between them and the entrenched bureaucracies who likely would have been skeptical of the anti-fascist mobilization. Finding those members who did want to participate, we could have continued to work with them and help them to articulate a different vision for the labor movement, in the context of their union local.
So, what do we do now that Stone Mountain is over? The answer is of course that we keep doing the work that we’ve been doing all along anyways, but with more momentum, energy, sense of possibility, and deeper ties to local allies. As we mentioned, we’ve already seen this happen with the Organizer Training and the International Women’s Day march. Some of this organizing is of course subterranean and takes time to bear visible fruit, but a lot of it will continue be very visible and vibrant. We’re confident that this is just the first of many exciting things which will shake up Atlanta in the coming years, and that we’re putting down the roots to build a resilient and joyfully militant movement here.