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From Tampa Bay, Florida, to Portland, Oregon, from Los Angeles to Boston, people took to the streets Jan.30-Feb 1. They organized car caravans, speakouts and dropped banners demanding that the government immediately cancel the rents and mortgages, house the homeless and stop evictions.
Actions took place in 30 cities as national and local eviction moratoriums have only paused millions of evictions, and a third of the population can’t pay their bills and are unable to catch up with the rent. An eviction crisis looms that will hit oppressed communities, already especially affected by the pandemic, the hardest. Meanwhile, big landlords are abusing loopholes and filing eviction lawsuits against families regardless of the moratoriums.
The protests pointing out the need for working people to fight for their rights were coordinated by Cancel the Rents and the Party for Socialism and Liberation. Here is a sampling.
Bay Area, California. Twenty-four cars and six bikes took to the streets of Oakland and San Francisco calling in Spanish and English for a cancellation of rents and mortgages, an end to evictions and foreclosures, and housing the homeless in vacant housing. Both Bay Area caravans received support from the community.
In Oakland, they lined up at San Leandro BART station behind a sound truck, then made their way to the Alameda County Courthouse for a rally. Nathalie Hrizi, a San Francisco public school teacher, union organizer said, “In Alameda County there are 37,000 empty, vacant units and 8,000 people living on the streets…. This contradiction, that housing is not a human right, but housing is only for profit, is what defines this entire system.”
In San Francisco a caravan begun in the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood went through the Mission, ending near Mayor London Breed’s home. Yasmine said she joined the action “because housing is a human right— landlords have profited off of people’s need for shelter for a long time and enough is enough.”
San Diego, California: After a news conference, some 40 cars circled working class neighborhoods. Participants included Anak Bayan SD and San Diego’s Cancel the Rent Coalition. San Diego has almost no tenant protections, and the caravan’s call to cancel the rents was enthusiastically supported by pedestrians, drivers, and workers throughout. Jane Chippendale explained, “We need to confront the problem at it’s root. The housing crisis is a byproduct of capitalism.”
In Spokane, Washington: a banner dropped at the South Regal St. footbridge over I-90 met with quite a few approving honks from cars passing below.
In Tri-cities, Washington, ten cars drove through Kennewick, Pasco and West Richland. People who were outside their homes, especially in Pasco, were excited to see the caravan, and waved and cheered.
In Portland, Oregon. Portland Tenants United and Community Alliance of Tenants, joined the rally in SE Portland at Colonel Summers Park, and a caravan that followed. Leeor Schweizer from PTU, stated that Portland underscored the dire need for rent cancellations nationwide. Coya Crespin of CAT, made a land acknowledgement and highlighted the injustices of forcing people to pay rent on stolen Indigenous land. A recently homeless woman joined the rally and shared her struggle living out of her car. The caravan on Belmont, Hawthorne, and Salmon and through popular neighborhoods, was greeted with raised fists, waves and cheers
In St. Louis, Missouri, food and necessities were handed out at a speak-out and rally near the McGuire building, just off the riverfront of downtown St. Louis, where redevelopment threatens mass evictions from a homeless tent city. The rally supported this homeless community. “For Wall Street there have been bailouts and a massive infusion of cash into the financial system—but what has the government done to address the crisis for the working people?” said Scott.
Springfield, Missouri: A caravan of 13 cars rolled from Brand Beach Park, with Springfield Tenants United and Food Not Bombs taking part. PSL Presidential Candidate Gloria La Riva was present at the action and was interviewed by the Springfield News-Leader newspaper. Despite rain, passerbys came out from under shelter to take leaflets from cars. Participant Seth Goodwin said, “Our message is if our government can bail out banks, they can bail out the people.”
In Central New York the Geneva Women’s Assembly, the People’s Peaceful Protest and the Geneva PSL organized a rally demanding safe, secure housing along with canceling rents and mortgages. A multinational group of fifty people from the Finger Lakes region came to Geneva, New York, to protest racism and disrespect of Black women by the Geneva Housing Authority (GHA). Three women had filed complaints of discrimination – including threatening their Section 8 housing – from a GHA employee. More women have since come forward and the GHA is being investigated.
Melinda Robinson, a victim of GHA’s racism, said “Since 2017, nothing has been done at all. Nothing. There are so many more women like me who are afraid they’re going to lose their Section 8 voucher, lose their housing.” Geneva City Councilor and PSL member Laura Salamendra explained, “The very agency entrusted to help her, to keep her in safe housing, was determined to have her homeless and criminalized.” Iesiah Harris said “Geneva’s big slumlords have to understand right now that we’re not giving up and that we’re going to continue to fight harder and harder.”
Four actions were held in New York City. At a Bedford Stuyvesant street meeting in Brooklyn, Roland Lane from the Taaffe Tenants’ Association, noted that demands for heat, locks and other basic necessities were ignored until tenants began to organize, “People power is what forces corporations and billionaires to bend to our will,” he said. Neimra Coulibaly intersected the housing struggle with the special oppression of Black women. Under under capitalism Black women are “disproportionately impacted…and Black families are overwhelmingly displaced by gentrification all over the country.”
Bronx activists passed out educational flyers, and conversed with the community at a street rally. Eugene Puryear connected controlling the COVID-19 pandemic to housing. “There is no other way to stop the spread of the virus except to make sure people can stay home unless it’s absolutely critical. In a capitalist society there’s no way you can stay home if you have to pay rent and the cost of everyday life.”
Driving through Queens, a car caravan brought together supporter from New Jersey and Long Island. Queens was an early hotspot for COVID-19 and working-class communities of color remain hard-hit.
Near the PSL’s community office in East Harlem, Party members provided free PPE and refreshments, and helped neighbors fill out a hardship declaration form to stave off eviction. New York State’s moratorium on eviction is set to expire in April. “My landlord has been harassing me for months claiming I didn’t pay rent — and I live in a brownstone,” said Miguel, a Harlem resident.
In Milwaukee, WI, PSL joined the Milwaukee Autonomous Tenants Union (MATU) in picketing the office of S2 Real Estate, the largest evictor in Milwaukee, to demand a self-imposed eviction moratorium and cancellation of back rent for all tenants who are behind. S2 employees quickly locked the doors and left the office for the day. S2 tenants came by to drop off rent, they were frustrated by the locked office, but stopped and talked with MATU members about what they can do to stand up to this infamous slumlord. Some tenants stayed for the picket and shared horror stories of their experience renting from S2.
One tenant, Marlene, said (S2) “is afraid to open their doors due to the fact that they’re slumlords and not taking care of their property. There’s roaches, rats, bad plumbing… They don’t even do their part but they’re ready to evict people. People pay their rent, find out the plumbing doesn’t work, but they don’t get that rent back. “
Sam Stair, the owner of S2, complained about the picket over social media, claiming that landlords have a right to evict people during the pandemic due to their loss in profits. Stair made these posts from a resort in Cancun, where he is currently on vacation.
In Urbana , Illinois, a 10-car caravan bookended by speeches, started at the Urbana Lincoln Square Mall and ended at the Campus Oaks Apartments. The event was also the campaign launch event for PSL member Colin Dodson’s election campaign for Urbana City Council Ward 2. “Socialism works, we can build it, and ‘we’ means YOU,” said Hrant.
A speakout at McKinley Park, on the Southwest Side of Chicago, defied freezing cold after a winter storm blanketed Chicago in nearly a foot of snow. The weather highlighted the fact that so many homeless people are forced to be out in these potentially deadly conditions, and how with the upcoming rent crisis millions more will face being put on the streets. “A $600 check is not enough. A $1,400 check is not enough. We demand full cancellation of all rents and mortgages!” said Shabbir Manjee.
In Cedar City, Utah, organizes braved the beginnings of a winter storm to hold a socially distanced speakout outside the Southern Utah University Library. Mentioned were the countless college students who didn’t even receive a stimulus check because they are considered dependent on their parents for taxes and are struggling to make ends meet between tuition, rent, and the growing amount of student debt that continues. “All our lives, we have been told we live in the greatest country on Earth,” said Landon Yates. “Why is it then, that over half a million of us live homeless while 17 million homes are unoccupied? Why is it that almost two in every three Americans lives paycheck to paycheck, struggling to make rent? Why is it that one in every three of us will never own our own home?…To cancel the rents is the least we can do to protect the livelihoods of our neighbors who have fallen victim to our unforgiving economy.” To those who did not come due to the storm, PSL provided a Facebook live stream of the protest on the group’s campus club, Students for Socialism.
In Boston, 50 people came together for a socially distanced rally at Nubian Square in the historically Black neighborhood of Roxbury. Speakers from Boston Teachers Union, Unite Here Local 26 and I Am Harriet Boston joined Cancel the Rents Boston to address a crowd in front of Citizens Bank. They highlighted how the current system is failing working class people in the Covid-19 pandemic–failing to stop evictions, failing to provide safe working conditions for workers, and failing to provide free testing and healthcare statewide during an international health crisis and looming financial downturn. Unite Here, Local 26 Union Representative Mike Kramer declared, “When the work comes back, we all come back. And the only way we’re going to get it is if we go out fighting in the streets.”
In Atlanta, activists held a protest, banner drop, socially distanced picket in Vine City and English Avenue neighborhoods which are under heavy pressure from real estate profiteers. One woman explained that she gets a letter, email or phone call at least three times a day from developers asking to buy her home which is not even for sale—land developers are hunting all over Atlanta for homes to take over and gentrify.
In Pensacola, Florida, a Cancel the Rent action at the Fricker Community Center drew supportive waves from passerbys. “The only way we can win our demands is if we all fight together.” emphasized Rosa Blackbird.
After rallying in Tampa Bay, Florida, a car caravan gathered in South St. Petersburg and rolled, through historically marginalized communities of color, zip codes 33705 and 33712. People waved and smiled from their sidewalks, lawns, and front doors. “Theres a billion dollar event about to be here next week with the Super Bowl…and people are still out on the streets when there are houses available for them. Said Devonte Sullivan. There’s a “multimillion dollar police department that’s ready to arrest them. So I really think we need to take the time to emphasize housing as a human right.”