Monday, September 7, 2009

Update on the Campaign to Stop the Baywalk Bailout!

Report from the Uhuru Movement weekly community meeting held on Sunday, September 6th.

InPDUM organizer Kobina Bantushango led a report and summation on the campaign to stop the $700,000 bailout of Baywalk entertainment complex in downtown St. Pete. He thought the demonstration last week before the public hearing and the speak out at the public hearing itself were both successful. About 15 people came out to participate in the demonstration even though it had to be held in the middle of a workday (which the City Council plans to limit participation from African working class!) InPDUM has been doing regular outreach in the African community as well and the sentiment is overwhelmingly against a bailout of Baywalk. People do not think that another failing mall should get $700,000 when the African community suffers in such incredible poverty!

Chimurenga Waller, International President of InPDUM, reported that the bailout is clearly extortion. Wells Fargo (who owns Baywalk) has said that they will be willing to consider investing $6 million in Baywalk IF the City Council gives them control over the sidewalk (for more background information on this struggle, see previous posts below!). But if the City refuses to give them the sidewalk, there will be no $6 million investment.

The City's Attorney clearly stated in the public hearing, regardless of free speech issues and the fact that the City will most likely face a lawsuit for denying free speech, that the deal should be done anyway.

Chimurenga also made it very clear that they only way that they are able to justify throwing away $700,000 on this already failing economic project is by blaming the African community for its failure. The City contends that the Uhuru Movement protests keep people away from Baywalk and that the young Africans working as ushers in the movie theater are the problem. Nevermind the complete economic meltdown!! We know that malls around the country are foreclosing as part of the same economic crisis that has resulted in all the foreclosures of African homes. Yet, the City contends it is the African community and therefore, the sidewalk must be privatized so that protests can be eliminated.

The plain truth, however, is that the City wants the $6 million. The other plain truth is that it was the African youth that had kept Baywalk in business for as long as it has been. African young people came out to Baywalk weekly and spent their money but eventually stopped coming because of the police containment that they faced there.

Also, in this meeting, people from the community testified about the conditions in the African community in St. Petersburg. Dr. Aisha Fields, director of the All African People's Development and Empowerment Project, said that she has never seen such stark poverty in the African community as she has seen right here in St. Pete. A young African man talked about the trouble that he has finding a job in this city and how there are no jobs in the community - he has to travel out of St. Pete just to work!

InPDUM is calling on people to attend a demonstration and speak out at the next meeting of City Council to be held on Thursday, September 17th. At this meeting City Council will vote on the Baywalk issue. This is not the final vote however. On Thursday, October 1st, there will also be the second of three public hearings where InPDUM is calling on everyone to come and speak out! More info on these actions to come!

Uhuru Solidarity Movement unites with InPDUM's struggle to stop the bailout of Baywalk and that the core issue is not just free speech or whether or not a sidewalk should be private or public. The core issue is that economic development in the city of St. Petersburg has ALWAYS come at the EXPENSE of African people. This time it is a criminalization of the African community to justify this bailout and privatizing the sidewalk. It is also the city's continued policy to put resources into more and more police for the African community and no resources for economic development that would provide jobs, loans for small businesses, commerce in the community that benefits the community. Take a stand for economic development in the African community - don't accept another bailout for the white minority developers!

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