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Earth First! occupies Staples in Atlanta

On Saturday, Feb. 17, members of the environmental group Earth First! and other activists occupied the new Staples office supply store on Ponce de Leon Avenue to protest the company’s use of non-recycled paper. More than sixty individuals from around the Southeast came to participate in the action that resulted in 8 arrests.

Beth Lavoie, IMC/Atlanta
Atlanta, Saturday, Feb. 17th 2001

Saturday afternoon, members of the environmental group Earth First! and other activists occupied the new Staples office supply store on Ponce de Leon Avenue to protest the company’s sale of paper made from clearcut southern forests.More than sixty individuals from around the Southeast came to participate in the action that resulted in 8 arrests.

The event was part of a nationwide campaign, launched this past November, to raise consumer awareness and pressure Staples to use more recycled paper products. According to protest organizers, 97% of the paper products currently sold by Staples are made from virgin wood fiber, fiber that is primarily supplied from clear-cut southern forests. “This [Staples] is the largest corporate consumer of paper in the country”, says Scott Quaranda, “if we can get them to shift their practices, to start using more recycled paper, others in the industry will follow.” The community activist went on to explain the issue was particularly pertinent to the southeast where 75% of the forests are privately owned and therefore unprotected from clear-cutting.

At 12:30 pm, protestors gathered in the parking lot at Staples before entering the store chanting and carrying signs. 8 participants blocked the paper aisle with 4 on either end locking down using “bloody tree stumps” effigies. 2 police officers arrived on the scene shortly and told all protestors to vacate the premises. The majority of participants, minus those in lock down and several support people, moved outside to the sidewalk in front of the business. From there the rally, which included a banner drop from the store’s roof, continued with minimal police interference.

Throughout the action Staples management exhibited frustration while sales associates remained calm. The managers refused to comment and told their sales associates to do the same. However many expressed interest and sympathy to protestors. On the other hand one sales associate felt the action was off target. “They are in the wrong place. They should be at the White House protesting George Bush”, he said, suggesting that the issue should be handled legislatively by making the “proper law”.

A handful of customers continued to enter and leave despite the police line tape cordoning off the store entrance. Some were supportive but most seemed indifferent to the ongoing protest. A few even stepped nonchalantly over the people in lock down to peruse the paper aisle. Meanwhile, larger numbers of police streamed into the store. The individuals in lock down, who were informed several times by police that they risked arrest, received one final warning from the store manager before the law enforcers made their move. The officers, having dismantled the tree stump lock down boxes, appeared at a loss as to how they would de-link the arms of the protestors which were chained together inside of heavy gauge metal pipes. Eventually, the 8 protestors in lockdown were arrested and removed, (some walking, some being carried,) from the store with their arms still linked. Participants in the action voluntarily “unlocked” before entering the police van for transportation to the Atlanta City Jail. Contrary to assurances made by APD Deputy Chief Derrick, who told organizers and members of the media that the charge would be only misdemeanor criminal trespass, the arrested protesters were also charged with felony obstruction of justice. The felony charges have resulted in exorbitant bail being set for the eight nonviolent protestors. They are expected to remain in jail until Monday when they will face arraignment.
 
 

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