On this Episode
This episode we are joined by Britney Whaley, South East Regional Director of the Working Families Party. There’s a lot to unpack, just when we mention the Working Families Party and we will get there. But the reason Britney was invited to join us is because she is a core organizer in the struggle to stop Cop City in Atlanta, GA.
We need to understand what is happening in Atlanta and its implications for the world we are building for the next generations.
We’d love to hear your thoughts. Thread or Insta Lisa @lisasharper or to Freedom Road @freedomroad.us. We’re also on Substack! So be sure to subscribe to freedomroad.substack.com
And, keep sharing the podcast with your friends and networks and letting us know what you think!
www.copcityvote.com and @copcityvote on social
Lisa Sharon Harper: [00:00:00] Coming to you from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the city of brotherly love and sisterly affection. I’m Lisa Sharon Harper, president of Freedom Road, a consulting group dedicated to shrinking the narrative gap. Welcome to the Freedom Road podcast. Each episode, we speak with national faith leaders, advocates, and activists to have the kinds of conversations that we normally have on the front lines.
And it’s just that this time we’ve got microphones in our faces and you are listening in. This episode we are joined by Britney Whaley, Southeast Regional Director of the Working Families Party. Now, there’s a lot to unpack just when we mentioned the Working Families Party, and we will get there. But the reason that I invited Britney to join us today is because she is a core organizer in the struggle to stop cop city in Atlanta, Georgia.
And we need to understand what’s [00:01:00] happening in Atlanta and its implications for the whole world, let alone just for, for little old us, you know, on Turtle Island, in the US, it really does have implications in urban areas and just the way that we police around the country. And you know, also the world that we’re building for the next generations.
So Britney’s going to help us break that down. Now, we’d love to hear your thoughts. It’s Thread or Insta or Facebook me, you can Thread or Insta me at Lisa S. Harper or to Freedom Road at Freedom Road Us. Plus we’re on Substack and Patreon at Freedom Road and you know, we want you to keep sharing the podcast with your friends and networks and let us know what you think as well.
Okay. All right. Well, let’s dive in, Britney. So Britney, normally what we do when we, when we start, um, you know, we are, we are all about understanding the different layers of our stories. And we, we try to start with kind of like the core, the spirit, the soul. So I don’t [00:02:00] know if you are a person of faith, but if you are, would you mind sharing with us your story?
And if you aren’t, you know, where do you get your grounding?
Britney Whaley: Yeah, I would love to. Thank you, Lisa, for having me. I really appreciate it. So I was, I was born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada. And I start there and say, I was raised in a Southern Baptist church, which for some people they’re like, where do I place you?
Right? How does that happen?
Lisa Sharon Harper: That’s really true. Las Vegas and Southern Baptist doesn’t go together.
Britney Whaley: Yeah. So both my mom and dad are from Louisiana. And a lot of the black folks who moved to Vegas are from Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas. And so I grew up in what felt like, and I didn’t know it until I moved, a Southern Baptist church.
Um, so I grew up, my dad was a deacon. My dad baptized me. Grandmother had me in the choir like six, seven, you know, so like,
Lisa Sharon Harper: You know, was it a black Baptist church or, [00:03:00] you know, like your typical white Southern Baptist church? Cause those are two also two very different experiences.
Britney Whaley: It is. And I should, I should clarify.
So it was a black Baptist church.
Lisa Sharon Harper: that, yeah, you need to clarify
Britney Whaley: Definitely. Now that I, yeah. Um, No, I think about it. But yeah, it was a black Baptist church. And what I mean by Southern, I mean, geographically folks were from the South. And so they were the black people who moved West.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Yeah. And the great migration. Yeah.
Okay. That, can I just say very quickly when I lived out in Los Angeles, I had, I was new out there. I was, like I was raised in Philadelphia, grew up in Philly and then also was spent some time in New York as well. And those folks, when they trace their ancestry, generally speaking, um, in Philly, everybody in my, my grandmother’s neighborhood is all from the same community in Camden, South Carolina.
All the Camden folk literally moved into South Philly in the same blocks. Like literally [00:04:00] everybody’s from Camden, South Carolina. Um, and then you go out to other parts of Philadelphia and it’s other parts of South Carolina. So I was used to that. And then, you know, when you go up to Chicago, almost everybody’s from Mississippi because that was the one train.
That left from Mississippi, it went up to Chicago. And I was so, I was, I don’t know why I was shocked, but it just, you know, the pattern continued when I went out to LA, everybody was from Texas or Louisiana or Arkansas. Right. So then now I’m learning something new because it wasn’t just LA or California.
It’s also Vegas. Like I didn’t realize we went to Vegas too. Wow. All right.
Britney Whaley: Yeah, we’re there.
Lisa Sharon Harper: I didn’t know. Like I really literally learned something new right now. Okay, good. Thank you.
Britney Whaley: I was, I was going to say the only other thing I was going to say is, you know, when I came into what I feel like was my spiritual grounding was really in college.
So you grow up in the church and you learn the things. And again, it feels like home because of the community that’s there. [00:05:00] But when I went to Howard, I joined a gospel choir, and I joined the prayer ministry. And that really helped deepen my faith, especially when you’re praying for other people.
Right. So there’s like a power in that. And I think it really helped me on my journey, you know, like as a young adult and that’s, that’s what more so I think cemented it for me.
Lisa Sharon Harper: That is so cool. Thank you so much for that, Britney. I mean, I really do appreciate that. And it’s also pretty, I mean, I did college ministry for a long time, for 10 years and you know, we don’t really give prayer its due.
Just the act of praying actually leads to a deepening of faith. That’s pretty cool. So can I ask you, how did you come to work for the Working Families Party?
Britney Whaley: Yeah, so I started working for the Working Families Party in 2013, about 10 years ago, and I did all [00:06:00] the things in DC. So I was on Capitol Hill.
I went, I worked for a lobby shop and I’m like, I need to learn how, you know, how does our government work? Then I decided I wanted to be closer to people. I felt a little disconnected. So I quit my job and I applied for a position on the Obama campaign in Virginia. So I started as an organizer, and as an organizer, you had to build neighborhood teams.
You had to know people’s stories, why they actually cared. And during that time, it was a lot of bills that were being pushed in the house to repeal Obamacare, right? Because I was on the re-election campaign. So I really started to like connect different issues. So it was like the electoral lane, sure.
But it was also like, why people are doing this? Why do people care about our politics? What’s their skin in the game, right? So when I, when, when the Obama campaign, when we won and I was unemployed. Um… [00:07:00]
Lisa Sharon Harper: Isn’t that funny? Winning gets you unemployed. Well, losing would too actually, but yeah, that’s hilarious.
Britney Whaley: I was like, we did this awesome thing and I also need to explore some options.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Wow. Well, can I just say on behalf of the world, thank you so much for doing so well in your work.
Britney Whaley: Thank you.
Lisa Sharon Harper: With the campaign. Thank you.
Britney Whaley: But no, that really just opened up something for me. And so I had several conversations and had a conversation with someone at the New York working families party about getting into progressive politics and really wanting to do like local and state politics.
And She’s like, Oh, well, we may be hiring soon. And it’s a position that would, you know, it’s a political organizer and you would identify, recruit and train people to run for office. And in my mind, I have no idea. Like people are paid to do this thing. And so I signed up, I was like, okay, yes, [00:08:00] I want to put my hat in the ring.
And it was then that I, it was really in, in through New York Working Families party. And I. Spent some time doing some other positions and came back to Working Families party in 2019. But it was through that role that I was able to see that we can actually change the choices. And so I worked with, um, labor organizers and leaders who ran for office.
I was campaign manager and a political director, all the things. But what I also got to do was find people in the community who were doing, um, like they would have a nine to five and they will come home and organize in their communities around tenant rights, around things like stop signs and having safe communities.
Right. And like really train them and how to run for office, giving them the tools and skills because we know that they have the heart to do it. They have the heart to serve because they’re already doing it and they’re already in right relationship with their communities. We just have to give them the tools and the skills and prepare them and [00:09:00] really open up their minds to the idea that yes, you represent people in your community, but you can represent your districts and you can actually inform the policy making process.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Wow. Wow. So you did that work for how long?
Britney Whaley: So I did that work for about, three or four years, um, with New York work and families party. And then I went on to join an organization where I train organizers and leaders across the country to run for office, to run campaigns and really thinking about how we do it.
So it’s not just about like running a campaign and winning. It’s about building the infrastructure and the ecosystem that we need to not just win on election day, but to win on the issues and to continue winning with people who know, like they know it intrinsically, they know, because they live it, they know what is needed in community.
And so that ingenuity is there and we have to make sure that we are giving [00:10:00] people the tools and working. with them, learning from people because every community I enter and every community I organize in is different. And so acknowledging the richness, right. So yeah, I did that across the country for a while.
And then I came back to Working Families Party in 2019 to build our party in the Southeast. And so that’s what.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Oh, wow. So you’ve been with them, you’ve been with the Southeast region for, what is that now? Four years, for four years, four years. How about that? So can I ask you, what’s the history of the Working Families Party?
I mean, you know, I honestly wasn’t even aware it was a thing until maybe the Like around, maybe around 20, 2008, like, so 2008 in that election cycle, I started to hear that word more like, Oh, there are candidates in a Working Families. Before that, I always heard about the green party as a third party candidate or something like that, but not Working Families.
So [00:11:00] can you tell us a little bit about the party and how it came to be and what are the, what’s like, what’s the goal of the party? Or vision, the vision of the party.
Britney Whaley: Gladly. Okay. We founded in 1998 in New York. Oh. In order to really understand, you have to understand fusion voting. So election law is different in every single state in our country.
Okay. And so when people say we have a two party system. We mostly do, but there are a few states in our country where there’s something called fusion voting. And so fusion voting allows for you to, like Lisa, you can run on the democratic ballot line and the working families ballot line, and those votes will be tabulated.
And that will be your total number of votes. And so we were able to use fusion voting in a way that allowed us to show up as a progressive political party and not be a spoiler. And so that’s what you normally hear when people talk about third parties, their immediate responses. Oh, we can’t do that because you run spoiler candidates.
And we end up with, you [00:12:00] know, candidates we don’t want.
And so our approaches and our, our national director always says, like, we cook with what we have in the kitchen. Right. And so like, for the states where we have fusion voting, we use fusion voting. So in New York, Connecticut, I think it was in Oregon.
It was in South Carolina until they recently banned it. But in those States, we actually use a ballot line and that tells people that they have been vetted. These candidates have been vetted and that they are progressive candidates. In other States, we use the Democratic ballot line and we run progressive candidates.
Right. And what I mean by that is when we say party, we think of people organizing around shared platform to build governing power. Right? And so if you, if you look at that and look at the ways people are organizing and how we’ve created a political home and electoral vehicle, them having a space across movement and across different [00:13:00] organizations to really have an impact in our politics, then you’ll see that you start to shift away from our priorities being organized money and, um, you know, exploitation of workers to a platform that is for the many.
Not just the elite few. And so the issues…
Lisa Sharon Harper: No, no. Well, you know what? Just break that down for us. Cause I feel like, um, I mean, I’m barely getting it. I’m barely understanding. And so I can imagine that there are people out there who are listening and we’re going, uh, what like, you know, like it’s like, so like, you know, cause when you say it allows you to, I mean, I don’t doubt you.
I just want you to be a little more clear, like, like really break it down for us. Like we’re in third grade. You were going to explain this to a third grader. How would you explain it?
Britney Whaley: Yeah. I would say that there are people who are organizing around issues to impact. The way their policy, the way their government works to inform their policy and to make sure that their voices are heard.
And they [00:14:00] do this by electing candidates that fully represent the issues that they care about. And so whether they do it on the Democratic ballot line or Working Families Party ballot line, we are organizing people and we think about it in different… We talk about it as though it’s a stool, right? Like a sitting stool.
And we think about social movements. We think about, um, progressive labor. We think about member organizations or people’s organizations. Think about individuals and all of these folks across groups and across organizations and formations believe that our government should work for the many and not just the elite few.
So you don’t have to have money. You don’t have to be degreed. You don’t have to, you know, check certain boxes for you to see yourself in your government. And for your government to be informed by policies that are more intersectional as a framework
Lisa Sharon Harper:. So [00:15:00] what I hear you saying is that the Working Families Party is always going to coalesce around policies that prioritize.
Families like the working families, like people who are workers and people who are laborers, people who, who are close to the earth, you know, close to the ground, and therefore have a really good understanding of what, what bringing equity into the world would require of us. Is that right? And so, and what you, by, by getting as many people as possible to vote around those values, around… with those priorities, your goal is to shift the power.
From that dark money or from like electoral, like organizing money to organizing people because people have votes, money might have influence, but people have votes. And so, and the belief is that I got all this just from yours. [00:16:00] I mean I really have the belief is that. Um, because they’re, basically there’s more of us than there are of them.
Our votes can go a long way if we all voted together for these, for these priorities. Is that right? Did I get that right? Yes.
Britney Whaley: I will next time tell people that you can speak about Working families party.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Oh my God.
Britney Whaley: I think she has it.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Hey, that’s what I’m talking about. I really, I’ve literally never spoken ever to a working family’s party person.
So I’m like, let’s like, let’s dig into this. Let’s actually try to understand this thing because I’ve only understood it to be, Oh, you know, I think honestly, I think, I think I’m still scarred from 2020, right? Like from the spoiler candidate in the Green Party that happened there. Right.
So like, that’s just, it’s just, it’s scary. It’s a scary thing for me. So. Interesting. And because you’re coalescing around [00:17:00] issues, you’re able to have working family party people run on the Democratic ticket to move even the Democrats toward those issues. Is that right?
Britney Whaley: Yeah. And, you know, honestly, like at the core of this is also, um, you know, just us thinking about taking it from being so transactional, you know, where people just come and they ask us to vote for them, and then that’s it, you know? So taking it from that to a posture of co-governance, like what does it mean to have people’s voices represented, to have them as stakeholders and to engage them right around the issues because you’re not making decisions for people. You should be making decisions with people with your constituencies.
Lisa Sharon Harper: So can I ask you now, this is a really great way to segue into this. What is Cop City [00:18:00] and how did the working families party come to intersect with that struggle in Atlanta?
Britney Whaley: Yeah. So Cop City is a training facility for police officers and firefighters, and it was proposed under Keisha Lance Bottoms, our former mayor in 2021.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Wow.
Britney Whaley: Yeah, it was 2021.
Lisa Sharon Harper: No, no, I it’s not that I’m not surprised at 2021. I’m surprised that she is the one who proposed it.
Britney Whaley: Let me say this. It was proposed under… while she was mayor. Okay. So in the council, when it came to council for a vote in 2021, there were about 16 or 17 hours of public comment. 70 percent of those comments were in opposition to the project.
Britney Whaley: When you, when you ask what is the project, it’s 80 plus acres of [00:19:00] land that would be, that is currently a forest, the Weelaunee Forest.
One of the lungs of Atlanta and what’s happening is they’re tearing down all the, all the trees, cutting down all the trees, taking the forest land away to build this training facility in, um, in DeKalb County in a predominantly black. neighborhood.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Wow. What? So wait a minute. So there’s like all these intersecting issues that are like, I mean, like all my sirens are going off.
So not only do you have the issue of climate change, um, climate health, that is a major issue in communities of color. So it’s a rare thing actually to have communities of color that have significant green space. So now you have. this incredible forest that is right next to, adjacent to, or in a black community.
And now the cops are mowing down the trees. Like you can’t, you just can’t [00:20:00] get, you can’t get a worse picture, a worse look than that. What?
Britney Whaley: Yeah. I mean, and the other thing is it is… So it is a public private partnership. It is a contract between the city of Atlanta and the Atlanta police foundation supported by the Atlanta police foundation or all the corporations you can think of in Atlanta, Home Depot, UPS, Chick-fil-A, Delta, et cetera, et cetera.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Why? Like what is their interest in building a cop city? Like basically taking down all of this green space and having. What is like, is it, is it basically like they’re building like a military outpost for cops?
Britney Whaley: It is a state of the art. Lisa, I’m going to bring you down here.
Lisa Sharon Harper: I just, I just landed a gig y’all.
I mean, it’s clicking. I’m getting it. Like what? [00:21:00]
Britney Whaley: It is a militarized state-of-the-art training facility where the reason we We dubbed it as cop city is because there will be a mock city inside of this training facility where they have grocery stores, nightclubs, or, you know, all these, these scenarios that I’m assuming they create for the purpose of training.
And we are concerned that there is a militarization of police because in… as this process, the referendum campaign is one thing, but there have been a number of movements, organizations and formations that have been fighting against this. And I would be remiss if I didn’t honor them because they have occupied the forest to stop the construction.
There has been a protester who was killed, as they were trying to protect the land there have been legal observers who have been charged with domestic terrorism as they [00:22:00] are trying to, again, serve as legal observers. There have most recently been RICO charges against, racketeering charges against, 60 plus individuals connected to Cop City.
And so all these scare tactics. are being employed by the government. And on, you know, on top of that, folks are still saying, so, I guess I should say, you know, in spite of that, folks are still doubling down on our commitment to stop this project from happening, but there is no doubt that this is a way to further militarize our police.
When we have protests in our cities, you see military tanks on our streets.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Yes.
Britney Whaley: That’s not an adequate response to people trying to express their first amendment rights.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Now, I, the funny thing is, is that I thought we kind of dealt with this, you know, militarization. of the police and like, like [00:23:00] basically talked it off the wall, like spoke it down, protested it down around Ferguson because I, I was there, you know, on, uh, Florissant Boulevard in Ferguson or Florissant Avenue.
And I saw the, I mean, I don’t know if they were tanks, but they were very close to tanks. I mean, they were, they were absolutely military grade, um, gear. Uh, vehicles and weapons that those, those cops, those like, like little, not even, you can’t even call that a city. It’s more like a town. Those little town cops were carrying around like weapons that literally were used in Iraq.
So I know that history. I know the history of the militarization of the police that began in the 1990s as literally as America’s military were trying to figure out what to do with all these weapons that were kind of left over from, from the Desert Storm. And they began to sell, bid these, um, these, uh, uh, military grade weapons to small town [00:24:00] Police departments that then began to eat them up. And that’s where we got Ferguson from. That’s where we got the militarization of the, and nobody can forget what happened there. Um, the, the shooting into the crowd, shooting flares into the, into the crowd. I mean, I had friends who were literally hit by rubber bullets there.
And, but I haven’t heard a whole lot about the militarization of the police since then because we spoke out against it so strong. I don’t know. I just, I thought, okay, we decided not to do that in America. Good. But what you’re telling me is that no, we actually didn’t decide not to do that. They kind of maybe just went underground and now they’re coming up and we can see it.
And it’s like full on military bases is what you’re really describing here is a military base. Like you would have boot camp for the military. This is like boot camp for cops. That’s [00:25:00] scary.
Britney Whaley: And it would be for cops in Atlanta, in the region, and it would be in our backyard. And so the other piece around this is, you know, this is the bedrock of civil rights movement, right?
Lisa Sharon Harper: Yes.
Britney Whaley: We’re very proud of that. So how do you pull that? Um, and, and really, I mean, it’s a wrestle at, at best, right? Like you’re, you’re holding that and you’re also contending with the fact that you want to have this, this militarized training facility to suppress voices. And it, you know, we think that there should be a public outcry.
That’s why we are still, you know, we’re still at it and have done everything that we can to, and we’ll continue to do everything that we can to stop it.
Lisa Sharon Harper: These are our stories. You’re listening to the Freedom Road Podcast where we bring you stories from the front lines [00:26:00] of the struggle for justice.
So Britney, let me ask you this. What is the goal of the movement that has been garnered against Cop City?
Britney Whaley: I think there are a few goals. One, obviously, we were inside of a conversation about how we reimagine public safety. We understand that our police and law enforcement, they don’t reduce crime.
They respond to it. And so if we really want to get at the crux of what is causing crime, then you would address poverty, you know, additional resources to communities, green space, the very thing you’re tearing down, all of these things… and in health, um, you know, affordable quality health, all of these factors are determinants, right?
And so we would address like root [00:27:00] causes. That’s one. Also within public safety and reimagining that we have to stop going to solutions that simply put more money into training, because we also understand that this is a cultural thing. There’s a reason why black residents in Atlanta are 14 times more likely Latino residents three times more likely to be arrested for low I’m saying low income, low level, nonviolent crimes, right?
There’s a reason that comes from Southern Center for Human Rights, and they have a lot of research on this.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Wow.
Britney Whaley: We cannot simply go to training solutions. We cannot double down on commitments to public safety by doing more of the same. And so we just, and I’m gonna say this last thing, I’ll go on to the next one.
We just had a presidential cycle in 2020, where we had candidates apologizing publicly. For [00:28:00] the war on drugs, the 1994 crime bill and all of these policies that led to mass incarceration, and were ultimately bad decisions, bad policy decisions, right? So it’s also, you know, to be in this moment, I feel like we in, in movement feels like we need to continue to advance those conversations and understand that more money and resources into, uh, into penalizing poverty, because that’s essentially what you’re doing in many cases, is not the solution.
So that’s one, public safety. The second is environmental concerns. We cannot tear down or cut down 80 plus acres of the Weelaunee forest, understanding the environmental impact that it will have on Atlanta and the region.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Yeah. Which also impacts public safety, actually. I mean, in major ways, you tear down all those trees and you’re not [00:29:00] going to have the trees that you need. You’re not going to have the air filters that you need. So more people are going to get cancers, are going to get, um, different…
They’re going to have more particulates in the air and there’ll be an, especially people of color, but that’s not like you can’t even just say it’s only people of color because that impacts the whole system. I get it. I absolutely get that. Wow. So it’s actually, you really can say all of this is about public safety, even the climate change, and the environmental factors.
Britney Whaley: Yeah. I think I agree with you and I feel like people from all walks of life and I really mean this, um, you know, are stepping up. To speak out. I think the other piece is our democracy and public resources.
So when this project was first introduced, they said it will cost $30 million of public funding and the Atlanta Police Foundation will raise the other $60 million.
Now we’re up to the project costing $60 million. $60 plus million dollars to [00:30:00] the public. And so there’s also a question about our public resources, and it’s connected to our democracy issues because we’re now, we have petitions. So we have 116,000 signatures that we have collected around the city of Atlanta.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Wow.
Britney Whaley: Saying that we want to call this to a question, or I’m sorry, we want to call this question and we want a direct vote on whether or not this project should advance. We’ve been met with resistance at every level. However, when we’re talking about this, we’re talking about letting the people of Atlanta decide whether this project moves forward.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Wow. Wow, folks. Listen, if you are, if you are listening and you are in Atlanta, this is about you and your life. This is about the quality of your life and your children’s lives going forward. This is not [00:31:00] just a head conversation. This is about right now. And by the time we get to this, in this conversation, we will be talking about things that you can do, but I’m just really struck by that, Britney, that this is practical, like we’re talking about, we’re talking about higher levels of cancer.
We’re talking about higher levels of asthma in the children. I know this because I got my start in organizing. in the environmental justice community in New York City, interestingly enough. Right. And we all know the South Bronx has, you know, has the highest rates of asthma, the highest rates of some cancers because of the fact that there’s very, or was very little green space.
And, you know, we say green space, that’s a very, um, that can be like a very movement-y kind of a word. I remember they were talking brown space and green space for a full-on year before I ever realized what they were talking about. Like they were literally like, you know, talking around me or at, you know, meetings or conferences.
[00:32:00] And somebody who was an environmental organizer would say, you know, we need more green space, all we have is brown space. And I literally. I literally thought they were talking about like a brown square on a map. I don’t even, and I thought maybe it was zoning or something. I have no idea. But what we mean by that is we literally mean parks.
We mean trees. We mean areas that don’t have trees. And when you don’t have trees or parks or plants, you know, in public spaces with large swaths of plants, you don’t have the filtering of the air that is a natural filter. And so those particulates go up there and they cause what they call heat islands, right?
They cause areas to kind of bake because the heat can’t get out, because it hasn’t been filtered. And on top of that, those particulates hang in the [00:33:00] air and we breathe them. And when we breathe them, we’re basically breathing in cancer, and things that cause asthma, and other things as well. Also, I mean, without parks, you don’t have very good walking space, right?
So people can… they tend to be less healthy because there’s not anywhere to go exercise, you know, those kinds of things. So, can I move us forward? I have another question for you. You know, there are all kinds of rumors right now. about the organizers of Cop City. You actually mentioned a couple of those people.
Like one of them, one died. Um, another one, many have been charged with RICO, right? So, and we all know RICO because of, because of the President’s case, but this is not Fani [Willis], you know, doing this case. She’s not the one who brought this RICO charge, although she’s RICO lady, right? No, this was your attorney general.
Am I right? Your attorney general of Georgia, [00:34:00] brought this Rico charge. If I’m wrong, just let me know.
Britney Whaley: No, that’s correct.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Wow. I got that right. So the attorney general of Georgia, of the state of Georgia decided to come in and actually charge these local organizers with RICO? I mean, isn’t RICO like racketeering?
Aren’t you supposed to be trying to make some money when you’re doing RICO or make some power or do something? You know what I mean? Like, how can you
Britney Whaley: Sophisticated organized crime.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Yeah. Crime. When is it a crime to organize? You know what I mean? Like to actually protest that, isn’t that like protected by our first amendment rights?
Britney Whaley: That is exactly our argument. Okay. I say the state is using all of the weight they have to come down on us, and all different facets. Right. And so you have the state attorney general who is a Republican and the [00:35:00] governor who is a Republican echoing some of the same sentiments in one way or another as the mayor, who is a Democrat.
And so I want people to also understand this is a nuance, right? Like it’s not a red or blue. I think that the way organized money has worked, I think the way the political class has worked in Atlanta. It is completely, you know, I assert that it is disenfranchising folks who are everyday people, working class people, working poor, right.
As opposed to thinking about solutions that could help people. It is doing more of the same.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Wow. More of the same. And you’re talking about Democratic, Republican alike are basically just, when you say more of the same, the picture that I get is people are just going about their business as if nothing’s happening.
Britney Whaley: Yeah. And I [00:36:00] also think specifically when I say that, I mean that there is a certain level of privilege that you must be able to have to ignore this and to see how dire this is. To working class folks in Atlanta. Right. And so when you talk about it, Atlanta, you have a political establishment that has aligned itself with.
Business with the city too busy to hate, et cetera. Right. But what you’re also doing in that, as you also know, we have displacement issues in Atlanta, a number of other issues: you’re leaving folks behind. So the more of the same is creating policy that is not inclusive of, or in the… I’m sorry, it’s not inclusive of the people who need it the most and it is not centering their needs.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Yeah. You know, and I mean, honestly, I would take it a step further. It’s not only not centering, you’re right, [00:37:00] it’s not centering their needs, but it’s actually, it’s instituting something that is going to be a detriment. to their bodies, their families. People will die. They will die from asthma.
They will die from cancer. They will die from over-policing and militarization. We are going to have more. It’s basically you’re setting up a world where we’re going to have more of what happened in Ferguson, not less. That’s deep, that’s some deep stuff right there. So let me ask you this. How does the question of race itself intersect with Cop City?
Britney Whaley: Yeah. So we talked about, you know, the statistic from Southern Center for Human Rights. Um, they also talk a lot about excessive use of force. When we talk about public safety, we think about those instances where [00:38:00] there have been, you know, um, an escalation, right? And there, and it has cost people lives.
So we’re in the city where Rashard Brooks was killed, right? Folks know that because it was, it was nationalized, but there are many different instances where black people are more likely to get pulled over for those nonviolent offenses or for traffic stops and what have you. And that escalates. It intersects with like the, you named this, right, and pulled it out so eloquently, but the environmental racism is another piece of this, right. The public resources piece, you have to also understand that we are making, this is a decision point. And so what we’re doing with that 60 million being spent on a training facility means it can’t go to poverty reduction.
It can’t go to other programs that will allow people to actually thrive and live there a lot, you know, food [00:39:00] deserts, et cetera. Right. And so that that’s a choice point. And it’s also what we’ve seen historic disinvestment in communities. And this is not an anomaly to Atlanta, right? When you look at poor cities, you can point to neighborhoods where there has been an intentional disinvestment.
And that is considered, in my opinion institutional racism and violence. Because it’s a decision point. You’re actively deciding not to invest in communities so they can thrive.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Walking Freedom Road from coast to coast and around the globe. This is the Freedom Road podcast.
So Britney, if not Cop City, then what is the alternative [00:40:00] to achieve public safety?
Britney Whaley: Well, I think we talked about this earlier. Um, when we talk about public safety, we should talk about who feels safe. Some people don’t feel safe with additional police, um, additional police presence, right? Because of those things that we outlined earlier.
And we also understand that public safety is best addressed, and this is from a number of studies, is best addressed when you connect to the root cause and start to really address those things. Right? And so what we fight for at Working Families Party are the things that would actually reduce crime. And promote public safety, right?
Right. There’s health care. So people have access to affordable health care and quality health care, quality schools, the green space that you’re talking about, not just for the environmental impacts, but also you want to take your children to the park. You want your children to roam free. That [00:41:00] is a part of how you feel safe, right?
To coexist with your neighbors in your community. All of these, you want to teach your kids the full and rich history of our country, right? Some of it is not good, but we need to make sure that we teach it and move past it. However, you reconcile. All of these things in our opinion. contribute to quality of life and to public safety.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Yeah. So what are the stakes? What’s at stake here?
Britney Whaley: Oh, you know, honestly, we are in a fight right now. We’re in a fight in our city. We’re in a fight in our state, which means we’re a fight. We’re in a fight in our country. And what do I mean by that? Right now, 116,000 people in Atlanta have said they want to see this on the ballot.
They want to decide. You may say, well, why does this impact me? One, it [00:42:00] impacts us because as we talk about public safety, we really should reimagine and we’ve already talked about that. But two, these are some of the same votes when Biden won Georgia, he won by 11, 000 votes. That’s right. So when we talk about you coming to us asking for a vote, regardless of who you are, what level of government, Working Families Party is saying, we need to start at the issues because people are engaged because they want to see… They want to change material conditions in their communities.
This is one of those issues.
Lisa Sharon Harper: It is!
Britney Whaley: And so we need our government to act. And we also need to understand, right, Georgia had the… Georgia had the runoff election that sent the two senators, Democratic senators to, to Congress, right? We were the difference between not having the majority… between having the majority and not, right?
We delivered it for Biden. It is a changing state. If you [00:43:00] want to keep the state. You have to really engage and it has to start with the issues. And so this is not just the Atlanta fight. It’s not a Georgia fight. It really is a fight that our country should be looking at.
Lisa Sharon Harper: So you made a jump there and I want to, I want to just pause here for a second and going to help us to connect these dots, but you made a jump from.
This is an Atlanta, this is an Atlanta fight, but it’s not just Atlanta. It is the nation and it is the national fight because Georgia is important in the election cycle. I want to be, I want to be clear that the reason why we are talking about cop city right now is not just so we can win in 2024.
Although, Hey, We need, we as in, as in people who love justice, who love, I believe, who love God and who follow brown, colonized, indigenous Jesus, who said, you must love the least of these. If you even think, if you even come close to loving me, think you’re loving me. Yeah, yeah, we actually really do [00:44:00] need that… those values to win in 2024. That said, I think there’s, there’s other reasons for us to care about cop city and we’ve talked about them. Um, I want to ask, I mean, what I, what I’m asking here is when you ask the question of. cop city, and the stakes, maybe let’s, let’s bring it even further out than even the, just the election.
Let’s talk about democracy itself. What are the stakes for democracy?
Britney Whaley: Yeah. And I appreciate you saying that. I mean, at core, at the core, this is a matter of life and death for somebody. Atlanta. Right. So we should, I should start there. That’s good. In terms of, um, in terms of the stakes and how it connects to our democracy.
We’re also in a time where our democracy is fragile. We want people to have faith in our democracy. They want to know that it works for them. [00:45:00] We’ve done everything that we can to make sure that people’s voices are heard. So they took time out to sign a petition and go through this process. What we want to see happen is We want them to decide, right?
But it’s not just about this one decision. So that’s what I was talking about when I talked briefly about co governance as well, right? We want people to feel like they are a part of their democratic process. We want elected officials who understand that to the extent they can engage, and that’s a continual engagement, not just around elections, since they can engage, it helps them because it’s informing your policymaking.
And then when we talk about our democratic institutions, we want them to be sound. We’re in a state where the, the secretary of state ran for governor and stole that election, if I’m being very candid, using the powers that he had as secretary of state to purge voters who organizations on the ground and others work [00:46:00] tirelessly to bring into the democratic process.
You should want people to be a part of the political process. Yeah. He did everything that he could to disenfranchise those folks. And we just, we just received another notification about a week ago that about a hundred and eighty thousand additional voters will be purged or have been purged.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Wait, wait. You can’t just blow a breeze past that. Wait a minute. Let me ask you this. How many people were purged in that election? Um, where earlier that you said we lost because of the purging.
Britney Whaley: You know, I don’t remember, I don’t, I don’t want to throw a number out that’s not accurate, but Stacey Abrams lost that race by about 50,000 votes.
It was well over that number. And so that I can say with all certainty.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Now, and now we have 180,000, that’s a city. That’s a city that has been disenfranchised that is not allowed [00:47:00] to exercise their rights of citizenship. Can I just say very quickly, like I want to get all theological on it. Okay. Cause that’s what, that’s what I do, right?
So democracy, like true democracy is at its very base. It’s about one person, one vote. Like the, at its purest level, it is about the individual having a say and every individual having a say. Now in our kind of democracy, the kind that we talk about, like American-grade democracy, we go further than that.
We talk about it: It’s institutional and the institutions exist and the systems exist in order to protect the minorities, believe it or not, that we are not just a majority rule nation. We have checks and balances by the rule of law that say the majority can’t just have everything at once because we need to protect the lives [00:48:00] of those that don’t have enough votes to protect themselves.
Right? So that’s the kind of democracy we say we have. And yet, we are allowing a state, and not just one state, because I know this is not just Georgia, right? This is also happening in Texas, it’s happening in Florida, it’s happening in Ohio, or, I mean, you know, in, in, in spaces, contested spaces like this, Tennessee, where, even Pennsylvania, actually, my state, right? So my state, we have legislators that are trying, trying to toss votes because they know that this is the only way they can win. They’re so focused on winning. They are literally trampling democracy. Now theologically, democracy is the closest thing that we have to answering the call on the first page of the Bible that [00:49:00] says that every human being is made in the image of God.
And what it means for them to be made in the image of God is that they are called and created with the capacity to exercise agency in the world. To make choices that impact the world, to steward the world. That’s what it means in the Bible to be human. And so democracy at its core is a system of governance that protects the human dignity of every person in its jurisdiction, fundamentally, first and foremost, by giving them the vote.
So what does it say now that we have a state that is allowed to purge 180,000 votes [00:50:00] from the rolls? 180,000 images of God just got squashed, covered over, silenced, like that, that makes me mad. That makes me incensed that we would even allow that as a society and still have the gall to call ourselves a democracy. So, so you said, you know, this next election. We have an election that’s at stake.
And some people would point like, it’s all about Trump. It isn’t just all about Trump. Yes, it is about Trump. We do not want, we do not want him back on that, on that, in that Oval Office, because he has actually vowed, he has vowed to dismantle democracy. But, you know, as one who is a person of color with black nephews and fathers, actually, you know, [00:51:00] stepdad and blood father and grandparents and aunties and uncles. I know that the rule of law, though it doesn’t always work for us, it’s our last hope without the rule of law. What do we have? We have Jim Crow.
Britney Whaley: I mean, it’s heavy. It’s heavy. And… They’re fighting because we’re doing something right. We are building power. We are, we do have agency and there is so much self determination that inspires me. Just, and not just, you know, there are folks who work alongside me and I just, I always feel so honored because of their indomitable spirits, you know, like there is no option.
We do this because we understand our obligation, not because it is a burden, but because it’s what [00:52:00] we deserve.
Lisa Sharon Harper: That’s right. Cause we have to, we do it because we have to, we have to. We were created to thrive. We were created to flourish. We were created to exercise agency in the world. And so when the powers and the forces amass against us and try to strip our votes, we have to fight back.
And that’s why, see, for me, I see this as connected to cop city because. The process that’s happening right now with cop city is a process that is silencing votes. It’s silencing the capacity of Atlanta’s citizens to exercise agency over their, their own space over their, their lives, their futures, their, the futures of their families.
And that is, um, that’s undemocracy. It’s not democracy. So democracy is at stake, even in this cop city struggle.
Britney Whaley: I couldn’t agree more [00:53:00] and people feel it. And again, it’s like one additional attack because to your point, it’s happening across the country. When we talk about democracy, we should be opening up democracy to people.
We should do everything we can to make it easy for people to participate and accessible. And so when, you know, whether it’s the purging or. We went through exact, exact, you know, signature match or exact match or signature match, which is actually signature match is something that city of Atlanta is pushing now, but all of these tools have been used to suppress our voices and votes.
And so again, it is the automatic voter registration. It is the mail in ballots. Making it as easy as possible.
Lisa Sharon Harper: And fun! We don’t, we don’t, we don’t want to just, I mean, right now they’ve made it so unfun, right? Like they’ve, [00:54:00] they’ve made it so people have to sit in line, you know, or stand in line for three hours and nobody’s allowed to give food and all of those things.
Remember, remember when they passed that law in Georgia, it made it illegal to give people food as they were standing on a line or water. I mean, now we want to have a party. Can we make it a party? I mean, like literally let’s have a party as people are standing in line and they shouldn’t have to stand in line that long.
Why are they having to stand in line that long? It’s because polling stations have been closed, is that right?
Britney Whaley: Yes. So it is that, after the, I think it was a 2018 election. They also found there were unused, voter machines in closets or somewhere in polling places. I can’t remember where. Um, but yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s a both and. Yeah.
Lisa Sharon Harper: So, Britney, okay. So take us home here. What can we do to aid the cop city struggle from where we are? In the world. I mean, we have folks who are literally, while listening to this, our conversation [00:55:00] from all over the world. There are folks in Australia, there are folks in Japan, there are folks in England, there are folks in New York, there are folks in Kansas.
Literally there are folks in Florida and Texas. Actually quite a few people in Texas. It always surprises me, because although Texas. Texas, y’all are struggling and so we give you, we give you, your Honor, yes. We do, um, people, a lot of folk in California. I mean, what can we do to aid this cop city struggle from where we are?
Britney Whaley: Yeah, I appreciate you more than, you know, folks can find us online at copcityvote. com. Right now we have a call to our leadership of Atlanta to verify our petitions. And we are sounding the alarm to move us forward in that process.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Okay.
Britney Whaley: We are, because of the ongoing fights with the city of Atlanta and our mayor, we have a legal battle that we have to fund because we’ve been [00:56:00] in court and there’s been a lot of back and forth with the city trying to invalidate this entire process.
So we’re asking people to make contributions if they can. And quite frankly, yeah. And quite frankly, like amplify what we are doing. Again, the referendum campaign is a part of a larger movement to stop cop city. And the more we can amplify the voices on the ground of like people who we, so some people took off from work, you know, to do volunteer shifts and, you know, when school went back, they said, well, I’m busy with my kids, but I’ll do the school pickup lines.
Like these are folks. alongside like our organization. So I was going to just amplify this and connect this to your local issues as well.
Lisa Sharon Harper: That’s right. Do the work, do your own homework. How is cop city or something close to it? How has, um, the ability. For people to exercise [00:57:00] agency, particularly poor people, particularly people who are brown and black, how has their ability to exercise agency in your town or city been diminished, been cordoned, been controlled or contained?
How has that, is that happening? What are the parallels? And then take action where you are. Um, and lift up cop city, the people who are struggling against it as, um, as examples of ways that we can struggle in our own, in our own local locations. That’s real. I love that. That’s really good. So you said, you said we can send money and I imagine that that money can take any form.
It can be like five bucks if that’s all we got, or it can be 500 or it could be 5,000 or 50,000 if that’s what we got. Um, but like, is there, is there a mount that you are. Is there like a number that you’re trying to hit that we can help you help you to raise?
Britney Whaley: Yeah, so I don’t have that number offhand.
What I’ll say is that [00:58:00] we understand more that there will be a legal challenge. And so we do think that there is going to be, you know, north of six figures that we’ll now have to spend in a legal battle, and that was not anticipated because we didn’t, we didn’t anticipate this level of resistance from the city and from the state.
And so, when folks contribute $5, thank you. If you contribute $500, thank you. You know, whatever you can contribute, we are deeply, you know, um, grateful for it.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Wonderful. So can I ask you, how would you like to see the church engage in issues like Cop City?
Britney Whaley: Yeah. You know, as people of faith, I think that we have a commitment to justice that we don’t… we don’t all the time talk about in those four walls and I think it’s an injustice what’s happening to our people as a result of this facility being built. And so I really want to [00:59:00] encourage, um, people of faith and, and faith communities to lean in and have the hard conversation and not just have the conversation for the sake of having a conversation, but pick a side.
Because your silence suggests to us that you have chosen a side and that inaction is read as, as opposition. If I’m being honest, you know, I, I just, I know that it’s hard to have courageous conversations. And so I acknowledge that. They tell you don’t talk about three things, God, politics, and money. And so, you know, it’s like you’re in a faith community.
And so we’re talking about God, we’re talking about our spiritual connections. So check that off, get into the political, not because it’s political, but because people’s lives are at risk. And so. If they can lean into it and move people to take action, you know, I think that that would be, that would be a great start.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Can I just, I want to interject here real quickly because I know that a lot of people, a lot of people in [01:00:00] churches shy away from talking about quote, politics, because my God, like, you know, to talk politics in church, people are like, Oh, but this is going to make the faith feel political. And then, but that is actually not what we’re talking about right now.
Politics in its purest form is simply the conversations that people have and the decisions that we make about how the polis, the people will live together. That’s all. That’s what, that is what politics is supposed to be. It’s the conversations we have and the decisions that we make about how we’re going to live together.
And Cop City is a decision about how we’re going to live together. So who, if not the church, should be speaking into this question of how we should be living together. I mean, when Jesus did the Sermon on the Mount, And said, blessed are the [01:01:00] peacemakers. What he was not saying was blessed are those who keep silent in the face of oppression.
What Jesus was saying was blessed are those who stand up to the powers that are trying to crush the image of God, and draw down the power of God to confront them, to confront those that are trying to crush the image of God on earth. Blessed are them. Blessed are they for they will be called children of God.
So how can church communities increase public safety? So besides cop city, obviously they can protest cop city. They can begin to have the conversations, but do you have a sense of what these church communities, what can they do that could actually, or do differently maybe it was a better way to put it [01:02:00] that can help increase public safety in our communities?
Britney Whaley: Yeah, Lisa, when you say that, I just think of all the props that I need to give churches because there are already so many gaps that churches fill. And so we’re mutual aid, you know, churches that go beyond the four walls, they feed people, they close the gap when people can’t make their, make ends meet from month to month, they provide programs for our children, sometimes summers, you know, summer schools and camps, so it’s already so much that I think churches are doing.
One thing that I’ll say is sometimes churches are acting when government doesn’t.
Lisa Sharon Harper: That’s right.
Britney Whaley: Well, that’s also a, you know, just a consideration, but I, I, I think in terms of what, what could be done differently, it’s more of lean in more, you know? Yeah. Because I, I [01:03:00] honestly, I, I think of, you know, my church, we started talking about talking about my church and it was always a safe haven.
And if we think about the history of churches and our communities in particular, how intrinsically linked to mutual aid and making sure that we sometimes, right, fight together.
Lisa Sharon Harper: That’s right.
Britney Whaley: For our rights and our freedom. Right. I think we lean into that.
Lisa Sharon Harper: That is so good. That is so good. Okay, last set of questions.
What is your hope for Atlanta?
Britney Whaley: Yeah. I know that Atlanta is great for people. I want it to, for some people, I want it to be great for all people. So I want folks to be able to afford to live in Atlanta, to feel good or better about raising their families in Atlanta, to be a part of their own communities and, and feel like they’re making decisions, you know, in their [01:04:00] cities.
I also, I think, you know, I go back to the core is people love Atlanta, right? They’re like, no, I love Atlanta.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Yeah they do! You know, it’s so true.
Britney Whaley: So I say that as somebody I moved here five years ago. And the community that I found, both the people who have moved here over the past decade or so, and people who were raised here, it’s just a sense of pride when you talk about Atlanta.
More of that, but more of that for everyone, not connected to a struggle, but connected to the joy, to the arts, to the culture, you know, all the things that Atlanta is known for without having to leave people behind who live in the city of Atlanta.
Lisa Sharon Harper: That is so good. More green space in Atlanta, more parties, you know, more, fun, uh, you know, festivals on the street and lots of great food, more of this, [01:05:00] more safety, um, for Atlanta, not less of it.
I love that. What is your hope for our nation?
Britney Whaley: Candidly, get it together.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Mike drop. Yes. Get it together. Get it together, people.
Britney Whaley: Working families and what we always say, for the many. When you think about who deserves it and you think, who deserves a quality of life. When you think about who deserves to, um, to be at the decision making table, right? Or informing these decisions.
For the many, everyday people, right? So I, if we could be grounded and always look, you talked about the least among us, right? But if we think about folks who need it most, I don’t come from a political family. Some people say I’m not supposed to be here, but I’m here and I represent my [01:06:00] story and the stories of countless others who didn’t have everything, made ends meet. And I think I have the foresight, you know, to help inform the direction of this country. And so with all of our intricacies, all of our different backgrounds, ethnicities, you know, demographics, et cetera, like America needs to fully appreciate and understand that what we have on paper: is not what we have in practice. So we need to continue to fight to move towards that, including everyone.
Lisa Sharon Harper: The conversations leaders have on the road to justice. This is the Freedom Road podcast. Thank you for joining us today. The Freedom Road podcast is recorded in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and wherever our guests lay their head that night. This episode was engineered, edited, and [01:07:00] produced by Corey Nathan of Scan Media. And Freedom Road podcast is executive produced by Freedom Road LLC.
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