Surprise attendance from United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) members in tonight’s Student Government Association (SGA) meeting had senators yelling and trying to maintain order in the Urban Life building. Frustrated with Georgia State University President Mark Becker’s refusal to sign a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA), USAS members, students, and Turner Field residents along with Sen. Vincent Fort broke into the meeting with chants of “No CBA, No Deal”. But this time, students expressed their disappointment in SGA as well, for failing to represent them at a time they deemed crucial.
The confrontation came a day after the Georgia State administration released a “Conversation with the President” video segment in which Becker said he is “constitutionally prohibited from signing the CBA”, because of demands like cash payments. A point which USAS argues, is not on their agreement document.
Asma Elhuni, who was arrested in last Thursday’s meeting for asking Becker a question despite not given permission to do so, said the senators’ individual reactions were inadequate.
“All of you were there the day I was violently removed by police officers for asking a question. I am here today because I want to voice my disappointment as SGA sat quietly during and after my removal,” Elhuni said, emphasizing that senators had the opportunity to address questions to the president after she was removed, but didn’t. “What matters is that no one should ever be treated the way I was, simply for asking a question and posing no physical harm for anyone in the room.”
“What matters is that I received no statement from this board in writing that said banning me from this school is excessive and unwarranted,” she said, adding that senators had privately talked to her and expressed concern, but, she said, “ private convos aren’t enough”.
Elhuni said that she had received an email from Douglas Covey, Vice President for Student Affairs, saying that Becker would agree to meet with her if she brought along two people, while he would be allowed to bring six. Something that Elhuni found unfair and, and requested 10 students, 10 residents, and 10 people that Becker chose, but the administration refused.
“The treatment of Dr. Becker towards his students is just a reflection of the way he has been towards the majority of the residents around Turner Field, while talking to [certain] residents and insisting he’s done his part.”
“I’m a 39-year-old woman, mother of four, and I understand that many of you are very young and try to figure out an impact in the world. I am trying to tell you that you can have an impact. Do the right thing and tell Becker to sign a CBA. Please hear these people out,” she said.
Sen. Fort took the floor standing behind the CBA once again, in response to Sen. Joy Nwoke’s question to the group, ‘what is your senator doing to advocate for y’all?’.
“You wanna know what I’m doing? What I’ve been doing for the past 25 years in this neighborhood is fighting for this community” Fort answered, while Nwoke insisted on examples of his work. “This neighborhood has been attacked for the last 60 years and I’m really disappointed that when Asma was mistreated the way she was, that nobody spoke up, but that happened, and you all need to apologize. But beyond that, you have a chance,” he said, interrupted once again by Nwoke who said that wasn’t her question. “I’m going to answer your question the way I see fit.”
“We will shut down everything GSU,” Sherise Brown said, a Turner Field resident who led the protest to the meeting, vowing to do so if the university doesn’t sign a CBA. She held up the sale agreement document, saying it contained nothing that benefited the community, but only Georgia State and the developers.
“We don’t see anything about jobs, education, or anything that benefits the community. We’re not standing for it, we’ve seen that happen too many times. We say no CBA, no deal, we will continue interrupting. Every time we come, it will be more and more and more. We will disrupt your year, your meetings, your weddings,” Brown said. “All we asked for was a seat at the table, not to be the meal, and nobody did that.”
Vice President Shamari Southwell was specifically addressing facts about the Turner Field acquisition when the students arrived, and with protesters disrupting his remarks, he expressed frustration along with the organization’s president.
“You will get your turn to speak,” SGA president Fortune Onwuzurike told students multiple times, while they were attempting to address the Senate.
Southwell mentioned that none of the students’ tuition money was used for the sale to which USAS members and residents responded saying that wasn’t true, with Sen. Fort claiming that those were ‘lies’ fed to SGA by Becker.
Idil Hussein, USAS member and CBA advocate, addressed Southwell asking him who the SGA body serves.
“Because you guys are sitting here, defending an institution that’s displacing people. You’re supposed to be student representatives, instead, you’re sitting here and you’re reading off lies that Dr. Becker gave you,” she said.
But according to Southwell, they’ve vouched for USAS in the past.
“You gave us a CBA, and I gave that copy to president Becker and said ‘these are the students’ concerns. So I don’t want y’all to come in here and act like we’re not serving the student body. All that I’m saying right now, is public information, there is not one lie. We’ve done our research and you should do yours,” Southwell said.
Leaving peacefully, the protest ended after a round of speakers who touched on their experience with the surrounding Turner Field communities, and urged senators to “do the right thing”. For more on the speakers, check out The Signal’s live twitter feed.
Sen. Nwoke, who challenged the Sen. Fort multiple times, apologized for any rude behaviour and broke down in front of the Senate, saying she had felt disrespected, and that the protest “was not okay”.
“They’re coming here saying, ‘listen to us speak’ but when it came our turn, we were interrupted? No. You can’t answer my question straight-forward? I can’t side with that. For you to be so prideful (..),” she said.
Bringing up Martin Luther King as an example, Nwoke said, “he was passionate about fighting for civil rights, but the way that he protested wasn’t disrespectful, you can’t say what he did – he offended somebody, he hit somebody, he cursed at somebody, he threatened somebody- no, that’s not okay, and I will not stand with it”.
“They’re not the only ones with a background, they’re not the only ones who had troubles growing up or have been displaced, they don’t know the stories of each and every one of us here. So they can’t say we don’t understand, that we’re not fighting for black people,” she said.
And Nwoke wasn’t the only one that expressed concern. College of Law liaison Julie Lavelle said she felt ‘threatened’ by the speakers’ remarks.
While senators exchanged remarks after the protest, Sen. Corey Gray apologized to the group for the ‘disrespect’ they all received and said that ‘nobody deserves to be treated that way’.
“Nobody deserves to feel in the state that you feel Sen. Nwoke,” but he said that these meetings are included in their job description, and that the senators represent those constituents and their concerns, “and you have to understand that first before you sit at this table,” Gray said.
“If you’re not passionate about it, do your research on it, because these are your constituents. If you don’t care about it, do your research on it, because these are still your constituents,” he said.