HOW ATLANTA RESIDENTS ARE FIGHTING BACK AGAINST GENTRIFICATION

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Written by Da'Shaun Harrison

On Thursday, January 5, 2017, Turner Field was sold to Georgia State University (GSU) in partnership with Carter and Oak Developments for $30 million. This sale transpired, in spite of all of the labor residents of the impacted communities put into requesting that there be no deal without an agreement, referred to as a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA), that mandated community investment from everyone involved with the sale. Before the deal was completed, residents from the Peoplestown, Mechanicsville, Summerhill, Pittsburgh, and Grant Park neighborhoods came together to create a document of what exactly they would like to see from this development, including: investment in local infrastructure, police accountability, employment opportunities, and education — all of which would cost less than $100,000.

Mark Becker, who is the sitting President of GSU, and Scott Taylor, the CEO of Carter and Oak Developments, refused to meet with residents, and the deal was finalized with no stipulation towards community investment. Keisha Lance Bottoms, who heads District 11 Atlanta and is the executive director of the Atlanta Fulton County Recreational Authority, and Carla Smith, who heads District 1 Atlanta, both supported the deal as was — void of any involvement with/from the community. It is confirmed in these actions that neither of these women are invested in the communities that they have been charged (and elected) to represent and with this, we understand that gentrification in Atlanta has not happened by chance. It has been institutionalized, racialized, and corporatized. Mark Becker and Scott Taylor are capitalizing off of this growing swing of gentrification in Atlanta at the cost of students and residents’ livelihoods, and the refusal to sign the residents’ CBA is a prime example.

The #TentCityATL occupation was born from strength, but it was also built out of necessity. On Saturday, April 1, 2017, residents of Atlanta’s last predominantly Black and Black-led neighborhoods took to the streets and held a March Against Gentrification. This served as an act of resistance against the displacement  from their homes due to the selling of Turner Field to GSU. However, residents have marched an innumerable amount of times before for their homes, as well as participated in Occupy Atlanta several years ago, and recognized that the response to respectable organizing was not going to help stop the gentrification of NPU-V. So immediately following this march, residents declared an indefinite sleep-out, what is now known as #TentCityATL, rendering up an impassioned and potent stance against the loss of their homes and the gentrification of their communities; for those who are oftentimes ignored to have their voices amplified and to ensure that they are not forced to join the ranks of the already-large number of homeless folks in Atlanta. It was understood that until a legally binding CBA was signed by Mark Becker and Scott Taylor, residents would be camping out and doing what Black Atlanta has consistently proven it is more than capable of doing: resisting.

On April 1, 2017, residents and members of the Turner Field Community Benefits Coalition (TFCBC) — the organizing body representing residents in this ongoing conflict — made a valiant and pivotal stance: #TentCityATL. #TentCityATL has been an ongoing occupation on the Turner Field property and serves as the community’s way of saying they will continue to fight against the gentrification of their neighborhoods, and will not let the city’s leadership sit idly by as they attempt to gradually remove them from their homes.

Elder black women have been the initiators and champions of the occupation, following in the tradition of Southern Black organizing, leading passionate students and residents by example with their willingness to put their bodies on the line as an attempt to save their homes. Beyond what it has done in terms of bringing awareness to Atlanta’s major investment in the gentrification of Black neighborhoods, 55 days in and it is evident that this sleep-out has served as one of the most intersectional spaces ever fostered in Atlanta. And it is the ability to create and maintain this all-encompassing space that allows us to understand how we must approach resistance.

Intersectionality, a term coined by Kimberle Crenshaw in a 1989 essay, is a word originally used to describe the experiences of people who meet at the crossroads of Black and woman. It is now understood as a theory which explains or describes overlapping identities and systems of domination. Within #TentCityATL, there are people who identify as Christian, as Muslim, and people who do not have any religious affiliation at all; people who are cisgender, trans, and people who do not conform to gender at all; people who are young and who are elder; people who are in or have graduated college and people who have never graduated high school, let alone gone to college. People who are non-disabled and people who are disabled. And it is a reminder that this is what community looks like.

Community looks like college students, mostly from Clark Atlanta University, Spelman College, Morehouse College, Georgia State, Agnes Scott, Georgia Tech, Emory, and Kennesaw State, supporting residents through marches, city council shut downs, rallies, and other escalation tactics to say: the money that they give to their respective institutions should not be used for the displacement of Black people. Community looks like all of the working class and poor residents switching out shifts at the Tent City after they have just gotten off of work. Community looks like folks with the privilege of not being Black or poor bringing food and supplies, and using their bodies to camp as a way to protect and uplift the residents of NPU-V.

It is from this interpretation of community that we have arrived at the understanding that benevolent activism, or activism that is palatable and appeals to those that invest in systemic oppression, does not usually work. The work that Black and other people of color residents, students, and organizers are putting in through the Turner Field Community Benefits Coalition and #TentCityATL is setting the precedence for fighting gentrification throughout the city. #TentCityATL is not just an occupation for the assurance of land. Through how well people with overlapping identities exist together in the space, with the central goal of defeating white supremacist policies, it is not only a model for how to combat displacement in the city, but for how to resist together with various communities in solidarity.