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Unappeased by Friday's charade of a "public forum" with FAU President Mary Jane Saunders, students opposed to the school's pimping out naming rights to its athletics stadium to private prison operator GEO Group are using spring break to plan a spring offensive.
In an email to New Times
, members of the Stop Owlcatraz Coalition
described a wide menu of activities -- "the hard organizing work" -- designed to lay the foundation this week for their campaign against FAU's association with the company, notorious for human rights abuses
The coalition's plans include "research into Geo's abuses, its lobbying history, and the terms of the [FAU stadium] contract... trainings and strategy sessions... building a website and online organizing capacity... working closely with faculty... lobbying the [FAU] Board of Trustees... working with [FAU] student government" and "outreach to allies and potential allies across the country."
The coalition stated that "60 faculty members have signed on to a letter asking Saunders to reverse the [naming rights] decision" and reported that political science Professor Timothy Lenz
plans to introduce resolution against the GEO Group deal to the FAU Faculty Senate
(Lenz told New Times the measure was being drafted and would be presented to the Senate's steering committee March 12, to be heard when the full Senate meets March 22.)
Saying they're "outreaching to allies and potential allies around the country," the coalition claims to have "already gained the support" of the National Urban League, the ACLU, and the National Lawyers Guild. (In the run-up to last week's "open forum" the ACLU posted an open letter
to President Saunders, attempting to educate her on the GEO Group's dark history.)
Coalition members claim significant support within student government
, both on the substance and the process of the naming rights deal, and expect one or more resolutions will be introduced in the Student Senate.
Support for the GEO deal has been notably absent from that mainstay of the local establishment, the Palm Beach Post.
General assignment reporter John Lantigua's stories have been richly detailed on the Geo Group's dark history; editor Randy Schultz's commentary has been unsparing; reporter Jeff Ostrowski nimbly dissected
GEO CEO George Zoley's business methods -- the financial and political maneuvers by which he grew fat while his inmates suffered.
We were particularly struck by Ostrowski's explanation of a matter we found puzzling when we first saw it on GEO's website--the company's description of itself
as a "real estate investment trust." Turns out that, as of January 1, the company's legal status changed, resulting in tax breaks worth more than $6.4 million to Zoley. So in effect, the $6 million paid to FAU for the naming rights was underwritten by the American taxpayer
While FAU students are leading the opposition to the GEO deal, they have allies off-campus, particularly individuals and groups in the immigrant rights community, Latinos being disproportionately represented in GEO's facilities, suffering there
. If the resistance turns militant, groups like Dream Defenders, well-versed in direct action
, stand ready to join in.
(It will be interesting to see how FAU's campus police react if called on to break up anti-GEO deal sit-ins and similar actions, should they occur. Unionized, the campus cops are well aware that GEO Group and prison privatization generally represent a leading wedge in corporate America's relentless campaign of union-busting
, led here in Florida by Gov. Rick Scott and the state GOP. Will FAU's police show solidarity?)
FAU's leadership would be foolish to underestimate the depth and breadth of repugnance provoked by their complicity in GEO Group's effort to whitewash the abuses of the company's very profitable global gulag. For six million pieces of silver the university was greedy and stupid enough to stumble into this moral and public relations fiasco. Now they're going to pay the price.
The Stop Owlcatraz Coalition can be reached at 561-302-4906 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fire Ant -- an invasive species, tinged bright red, with an annoying, sometimes-fatal bite -- covers Palm Beach County. Got feedback or a tip? Contact Fire.Ant@BrowardPalmBeach.com.