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The Daily Northwestern

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Northwestern Accountability Alliance, Evanston residents rally against Ryan Field commercial rezoning

Sonya Dymova/The Daily Northwestern
Protestors opposing the new Ryan Field marched down half of Sheridan Road toward the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center. They began at Lighthouse Beach and were accompanied by a car caravan.

About 100 members of the Northwestern Accountability Alliance and Evanston residents gathered to pressure Evanston city government to require NU to establish a community benefits agreement on the Ryan Field rebuild at a Tuesday evening march. 

The rally began near Lighthouse Beach and traveled down Central Street to stop in front of NU President Michael Schill’s residence.

Evanston resident and former Evanston Community Services Manager Kevin Brown (Weinberg ‘85) stood outside the house, announcing to the crowd that the University needs to “respect our community” as attendees cheered in agreement. 

“There’s so many different needs in this community,” Brown told The Daily. “For an institution to settle on building a stadium as a contribution to the community, it’s just not morally correct.”

NAA consists of both Evanston community organizations and NU student organizations. Community Alliance for Better Government, the Most Livable City Association, Reclaim Evanston, Northwestern University Graduate Workers, Fossil Free Northwestern and Students Organizing for Labor Rights were all in attendance. 

NAA’s principles statement states that the organization does not oppose the improvement of the football stadium, but instead is against the rezoning of the stadium and surrounding area for “commercial entertainment.” 

The University announced its plans to rebuild Ryan Field last September, after the Ryan family made a donation of $480 million and the NU Board of Trustees approved an approximately $800 million budget for the project. Since the announcement, these groups and others have called for NU to establish a community benefits agreement — a legally enforceable contract between community organizers and a developer of a project — that would codify community demands into the project.  

In a recent study on the rebuild commissioned by Evanston’s city government, consultants suggested a community benefits agreement should be reached. The University has not commented publicly on whether it intends to establish such an agreement.

As protesters continued their march, they exclaimed “One struggle, one fight, community benefits are our right” while walking down Sheridan Road.

Northwestern Graduate Worker Member Adam Goldsmith said he wants a community benefits agreement negotiated openly and equally between residents and city government. 

“I’ve attended different city and Northwestern meetings, and a lot of the communication to me has been top down,” Goldsmith said. “All of these forms of communication should all be done publicly and out in the open.”

Goldsmith added that negotiations need to be a two-way street, and trust needs to be established between the two parties. 

Earlier this month, the University announced a partnership with nonprofit organization Rebuilding Exchange, which it says will ensure 35% of all construction jobs in the rebuilding project will go to “minority- and women-owned businesses.” 

Lesley Williams, president of the Community Alliance for Better Government, said she does not believe the University will truly commit to this goal and called into question its commitment to helping BIPOC Evanston residents. She said a community benefits agreement with specific goals needs to be drafted in order for the community to be able to legally hold NU and the city accountable. 

“This is truly a community-wide movement and it’s not just going to affect the 7th ward,” Williams said. 

In May, an updated zoning request from the University included a commitment to including a memorandum of understanding ― which Williams says is not legally enforceable in the same way a community benefits agreement is. 

Evanston resident and artist Diane Thodos created a political cartoon displayed on a few signs at the rally. It depicted a person operating a steamroller with the phrase “NU Zoning Change” written on it rolling over Evanston residents, representing how she says residents are being “steamrolled by Northwestern.”

“I’m mad as hell,” she said. “We’re mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it anymore. Northwestern has really transformed from an institution of higher education to an institution of corporate greed. It’s extracting so much wealth from our community.”

Protesters continued to march and eventually made their final stop outside of the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center and later entered council chambers during a City Council meeting, chanting for several minutes before being asked to leave. Evanston police blocked off sections of Sheridan Road, Central Street and Ridge Avenue throughout the peaceful protest. 

Communication senior and Fossil Fuel Northwestern member Jordan Muhammad said they were excited to see people from NU student organizations engaging with the Evanston community and hope in the future, more students will rally for change in Evanston and at the university. 

“I think it’s really important that as undergrad students we engage with the Evanston community around us and really connect with each other so that we can work together to make the university listen and to build our power,” Muhammad said. 

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Twitter: @selenakuznikov

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