GSU Student Meeting Taken Over by Protesters Seeking CBA for Turner Field
With additional reporting by Matthew Charles Cardinale
(APN) ATLANTA — A tidal wave of resistance swept over the Student Government Association (SGA) at Georgia State University (GSU) on Thursday, February 02, 2016, as a group of students and community members took over a SGA meeting, convincing six SGA Senators to agree to help draft a resolution supporting a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) for the Turner Field redevelopment.
Most of the SGA students sat there looking highly annoyed as the student activists took them to school regarding the realities of GSU’s failure to embrace a CBA.
It all came to a boiling point last week when a Muslim student, Asma Elhuni, was violently removed from a SGA meeting by GSU police for asking GSU President Mark Becker why he would not sign a Turner Field CBA.
Elhuni, a graduate student at the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, was initially banned from GSU for two years, but the next day, the University–known for its long history of oppressing students and attempting to stifle dissent–dropped the ridiculous ban.
This type of intimidation of Elhuni, on the part of GSU, for exercising her free speech has upset a lot of students and community members.
As previously reported by APN, GSU now owns some thirty acres of the former Turner Field, but the sale agreement, reached in August 2016 and finalized in January 2017, included little in the way of community benefits such as meaningful affordable housing. Carter, a private developer, owns the other thirty acres.
The Community Benefit Agreement (CBA) sought by community members, among other things, would help make sure that residents living in neighborhoods close to Turner Field–including Peoplestown, Mechanicsville, Summerhill, Pittsburgh, and Adair Park–would not be displaced.
The CBA is a proposed agreement drafted by the neighborhoods around Turner Field to not displace the residents; and to provide jobs, educational opportunities, a cleaner environment, community oversight, infrastructure, and development.
This week Elhuni came back to an SGA meeting with over fifty GSU students and a few residents from the Turner Field neighborhoods.
They entered chanting, “No CBA, no deal!”
SGA Vice President Shamari Southwell began to parrot President Becker’s “alternate facts” regarding the CBA.
The students yelled “Lies, Lies!” and refused to be ignored.
“You are supposed to be student representatives, but you are reading lies that Dr. Becker gave you,” one student said.
SGA finally allowed the GSU students and residents time to speak.
Elhuni was the first to speak.
“We are here today to demand that SGA acknowledge the mistreatment of your fellow students and for you to write a resolution in support of a negotiable binding Community Benefits Agreement that all parties–GSU, Turner Field Community Benefits Coalition–could negotiate and agree to. We demand a fair meeting with President Becker,” Elhuni said.
Sherise Brown, a resident of Atlanta’s Peoplestown neighborhood for some 25 years, spoke next, holding up a copy of the sale agreement that had nothing in it to benefit the community or to guarantee that residents won’t be displaced.
APN obtained a copy of the agreement from Atlanta Fulton County Recreation Authority, which negotiated the sale, by way of open records request, after the Authority had failed to make the documents public or distribute them to stakeholders.
Brown had accompanied APN to the AFCRA office in January, and made her own request under the Georgia Open Records Act.
“It only benefits GSU and the developers,” Brown said.
“All we ask for was a seat at the table and not to be the meal,” Brown concluded.
Allison Johnson, another Peoplestown resident, said her family has been displaced by the City’s development for seven generations: First in Buttermilk Bottoms for the Civil Center, then in Summerhill for the original Fulton County Stadium.
“Now we are threatened with displacement in Peoplestown,” Johnson said.
GSU recently released a propaganda video, in which President Becker states why it has refused to enter into a CBA with the Community Benefits Coalition.
“The Turner Field Community Benefits Coalition seeks for the University to sign a Community Benefits Agreement or CBA. A CBA is a legally binding agreement between a developer and community groups, and typically includes financial inducements to the developer from another entity,” Becker said, as Chandler Brown, Manager of Senior Administration Communications, nodded his head solemnly.
It is unclear why GSU would require financial inducements and why doing right by working class families is not an inducement enough.
“We’ve explained to this group we cannot sign their CBA. Georgia State is not a developer, we will develop the property, the 38 acres we own, for the University’s purposes and not for a profit motive,” Becker said.
“In addition, we are Constitutionally prohibited from some of the terms they seek in this CBA, such as cash payments,” Becker said.
However, that is a mischaracterization of what the agreement is asking for.
The Coalition insists they have never asked for direct cash payments – merely for programs that would support the community that would entail financial costs.
“I don’t know what he talking about – he need to break that down, like first of all we want money from you… When you propose something, you propose what it would cost to make it happen,” Brown said.
To be sure, when Turner Field was first agreed to, the community negotiated with the Atlanta Braves for a revenue stream, the SMP Fund, to go to the neighborhood associations for Summerhill, Mechanicsville, and Peoplestown, from the proceeds of parking sales. That was a direct revenue stream, and the Coalition has not even asked for anything like that.
President Becker has also stated that no tuition dollars will be used in the purchase of Turner Field; however, most of the funds are coming from various fees or other payments from students.
Here is how the funding is broke down from an informational leaflet: 15.5 million dollars from payments from the bookstore operation; 12 million from rental payments from film productions; 10.3 million from student housing payments; four million from parking permit fees; and two million from current students.
GSU has been meeting with hand-picked community representatives, such as Suzanne Mitchell, the sister-in-law of Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell, who has said she does not think the communities need any more affordable housing.
Becker says that GSU has been supporting various programs that benefit the neighborhoods associations, such as after school tutoring programs and Project Healthy Grandparents. It is unclear why GSU is able to provide financial support to these programs, but not the programs sought by the Coalition.
“Urban development is like colonialism,” Avery Jackson, a Morehouse student and firebrand, said.
He explained that gentrification and displacement are built into every major development going on in the City of Atlanta.
Jackson blasted the mostly Black SGA for being more concerned about their meeting being disrupted than the Black people who are being displaced and pushed into homelessness.
“You have a choice to either be like the other Black politicians in Atlanta or stand up for the community,” Tiaza Troutman, a GSU alumnus, warned the SGA.
Even though the contract between GSU, Carter, and the AFCRA has been closed, the CBA can still be signed; the leverage is in the students and the people, and is growing larger every week.
The organizations supporting CBA include 44 organizations and businesses, such as United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), Housing Justice League, Progressive Student Alliance (PSA), Student Environmental Team (SET), #ATLisReady, and Atlanta Black Students United (ATLBSU).