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'We are protesting both of them.' Presidential debate draws activists' ire

Jozsef Papp, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on

Published in News & Features

ATLANTA — With all eyes on Atlanta on Thursday as President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump meet for the first presidential debate of the campaign season, some activists plan to assemble in support of the cause they champion — and against both of the candidates.

Opponents of Atlanta’s planned public safety training center and the ongoing Israel-Hamas war have announced plans to protest ahead of the debate at CNN. The network once located in downtown Atlanta is now housed at the Techwood campus in Midtown, and there will be no live audience during the debate.

The Atlanta chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America plans to gather ahead of time to call for a cease fire in Gaza.

“Many of us have been in Atlanta and no matter how many people come out and say that they want this war to stop, they want a permanent cease fire in Palestine, the president is not really budging on it,” said Kelsea Bond, co-chair of the group’s Atlanta chapter. “We don’t think Trump would be any better so we are protesting both of them.”

Activists opposed to the training center also plan to gather before Biden and Trump take the stage at 9 p.m Thursday.

“From our perspective, these represent an important moral litmus tests, and both candidates fail both of them,” said Sam Beard, an organizer of the group “Stop Cop City,” which has protested the training center. “The debate between them is a farce, a media spectacle designed to confuse voters about the direction our society is heading in. However, we the people have the power to determine that direction, and we aim to do just that.”

The Atlanta Police Department is aware of the plans but wouldn’t discuss enforcement strategies due to “safety and security reasons.”

The debate is happening just over two months after 28 people were detained, 23 arrested after activists set up an encampment on the campus of Emory University on April 25 to protest the Israel-Hamas war. Charges remain pending as the DeKalb County Solicitor’s Office reviews the case.


At the University of Georgia, 16 people, including nine students, were arrested on April 29. Each student went through a code of conduct process; at least one graduating student was not allowed to attend commencement.

Protests at SCAD, Georgia State University and Kennesaw State University resulted in no arrests.

Last year, 61 people were indicted last year by the Attorney General’s Office, accused of violating the state’s RICO act while protesting the training center. Trials are expected to start in coming months.

Biden’s May 19 visit to Atlanta, to deliver the Morehouse College commencement address, drew a muted turnout of protesters. A lone demonstrator held a handwritten sign that read “Genocide Joe” as the presidential motorcade arrived at the campus.

During Biden’s remarks that day, demonstrators marched for about 10 minutes as Atlanta police followed along, asking them to stay on the sidewalk.

“Long live Palestine,” the group chanted. “Come November, we’ll remember.”

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