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Coalition continues with demands for benefits agreement for library
Crusader staff report
One week after former President Barack Obama returned to Chicago for his global summit and presidential library, dozens of activists took to the streets Tuesday, November 7, demanding a community benefits agreement despite being told that one isn’t necessary.
About 100 demonstrators were led by the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO), and the Obama CBA Coalition during a rally and march across from Hyde Park Academy, the proposed site of the $500 million presidential library. Last week, Michelle Obama and Britain’s Prince Harry visited the school before Obama held his two-day leadership summit at the Marriott Marquis Hotel.
With A-list celebrities and entertainers Chance the Rapper, Common and Andrea Day, the summit was a boost for the Obama Foundation, which activists say lacks transparency as it moves forward with plans to secure wealthy donors for the massive library that will be built in Jackson Park.
Since Jackson Park was selected as the site for the library, Obama Foundation officials have been silent about demands for a community benefits agreement. But when one activist pressed Obama for one at a town hall meeting in August, he said that an agreement isn’t necessary because neighborhoods would automatically benefit from the proposed library. Instead, Obama told residents in Woodlawn and South Shore to simply “trust” him.
“I say give him his words back,” said Michele Williams, 75, a Woodlawn resident. “We want a community benefits agreement because we don’t want to be pushed out. I’m not against the library, but don’t forget about us. We just want our fair share.” Williams is among many residents and activists who are sticking to their demands. On October 11, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and the Service Employees International Union Healthcare Illinois (SEIU) announced they had joined the coalition, hoping their large memberships will add more firepower to the movement.
During the protest, activists marched around the block after holding a rally along Stony Island and 62nd Street. With many jobs and the potential impact of the library on surrounding neighborhoods, activists are stepping up their demands of a community benefits agreement. Some expressed concern that the library and the proposed $30 million golf course in Jackson Park will accelerate gentrification of Woodlawn and South Shore, which are predominately Black. For these reasons, activists say the Obama Foundation should sign a community benefits agreement.
“We don’t want displacement in the community. We don’t want jobs to go to outsiders,” said Charles Perry, Director of Community Organizing at the Westside Health Authority, a non-profit organization in the Austin community. We’re here to let the president know we need to have a community benefits agreement.”
At the march on Tuesday, many area residents expressed their anger and resentment towards Obama, whom some say has turned his back on them electing him as America’s first Black president. Ernest Radcliffe said he has coached little league football for 20 years on a field where the Obama Library will sit. With some of his football players in the background, Radcliffe said he is concerned about whether the foundation will replace park space that has been in the community for years. “We use it as a sanctuary, “he said. “It’s up to us and it’s our responsibility to fight for a community benefits agreement. Our biggest concern is whether they’ll replace our fields.”