Turner Field activists were back at it again, this time briefly taking over Library Plaza to attract student attention – and consequently, attracted the Georgia State Police Department. On Nov. 17, United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) protested once again, against university president Mark Becker’s handling of the Turner Field sale agreement.
The protesters left Library Plaza and marched down Piedmont Avenue, where they held up traffic until turning towards Centennial Hall, under the president’s office. In 20 minutes, the group of 20 popped red balloons representing the communities which will be affected by the sale, and delivering a petition. The petition consisted of 700 signatures of students who support the protesters’ cause: getting Becker to sign an agreement which will prevent any Turner Field neighbors from getting displaced.
USAS has been fighting for a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) for a while now. But in an interview with The Signal Becker said there’s nothing he can do unless the city places anti-displacement policies and that that’s who the picketers need to target.
Oliver Flint, a Georgia State student and Turner Field activist, said while a big chunk of the responsibility is the city’s to create this policies, there are steps that can be taken to make sure Georgia State is not a part of the problem.
“Georgia State needs to take responsibility for the fact that its development will directly lead to the displacement of low-income residents,” he said. “We’re going to be picketing the City Council and talking to them about it, but that doesn’t mean that Georgia State needs to be a part of the problem.”
For Student Government Association (SGA) member Marco Palma, it’s the president’s job to stand up to the city on behalf of his students.
“He’s the one that’s supposed to lobby for us, it’s his responsibility, because we are his students,” Palma said. “He represents the fact of downtown Atlanta, and when he does things like this, he is showing off an image that is contrary to everything Georgia State stands for.”
Flint said he thought the historic examples of Atlanta’s gentrifying procedures are reason enough for the students to distrust both university and student officials. He said both the university and Carter, the university’s real-estate partner in the deal, have promised to do good things to the community, but the students don’t trust their word.
“We can look at the historical trends of development in Atlanta, developments that Carter had a part in like the Atlantic Station and how that affected the surrounding communities (…) and see that we have no reason to trust people like Carter, people like Mark Becker,” he said. “And we want a legally binding document that ensures there’s accountability and oversight to the development process.”
Asma Elhuni, USAS member, said the trick is to get the two partners to sign a binding agreement, to make sure those promises are kept.
“We can’t say we won’t displace residents and then have no way to ensure that doesn’t happen. Without a binding agreement there is no way to ensure that his promise of not displacing residents will actually happen,” she said.
Elhuni said that during their meeting with the president, Becker was informed by his lawyer that while a multi-year CBA is prohibited by Georgia law to be signed by a public institution, an annual-renewable one would be perfectly legal.
“[His] lawyer told him [about that possibility] and he acknowledged this is possible, but he just doesn’t want to do it,” she said.
“If it’s true that Mark Becker and Carter care about the community, and if it’s true that they want to help the community, then it should not hurt them to sign a binding benefits agreement. Because all the binding CBA does is ensure they are helping the community, the community is involved in that process,” Flint said.
But Becker’s pen won’t budge, and he said there’s no reason for it to, as most university students are pleased with the university’s actions pertaining to The Ted. Becker had stated that he thought some 90 percent of the student body was pleased and excited about the project.
But student Charlotte Cartagena doesn’t think so.
“They said 90 percent of students are ok with Turner Field, but none of us voted for it. He said 90 percent of students feel positive about it, but 90 percent of students don’t know about it,” she said.
Cartagena said that when they’ve gone to classrooms and presented the problem to the students, a lot of them weren’t aware.
“They know we bought Turner Field but they don’t conceptualize the gentrification, so I think that’s what the problem is,” she said.
“Our experience has been,” Flint added. “When we talk to students about the projected impact it will have on the community, eight out of ten students are on board with signing the petition and on board with being involved. I don’t know where this 90 percent statistic came from. I wasn’t pulled, none of us were pulled.”
Here’s what Becker said previously on his role in the sale agreement:
“The city of Atlanta does not have policies in place [to prevent displacement],” he said. “It’s a city government issue, not a Georgia State issue. [Activists] should be dealing with their elected representatives.”
“They’re protesting me and making demands. They’re not asking for my help.”
“[The Turner Field Community Benefits Coalition] hasn’t even submitted a list of demands. What they have is a laundry list of the sorts of things that are included in a wide range of Community Benefits Agreements that have been implemented in other parts of the country…There is not a structured agreement.”
#GSU, tell us what YOU think about the Turner Field sale on our Twitter poll!
I’m in the 90% that’s excited for the project. While there will definitely be some negatives for this community there will be a lot of positives as well. More importantly this will be great for the student body and we’re the ones that are footing the bill on this project.