It’s the beginning of the month. Do you know your neighbors?
I have several questions for you. Can you imagine a society where the prospect of a forced eviction is considered completely barbaric, and is virtually or entirely unheard of in practice? Can you imagine the United States becoming one of those societies? And have you joined a local community group that is considering these questions where you live?
I’m a founding member of a new network I and others are working on expanding here in Portland, called Portland Emergency Eviction Response, which is basically a rapid response team to go participate in eviction defense actions, activated by text message, in the tradition of the telephone trees of the twentieth century, or the tin horns of the nineteenth century.
I’d like to give you my answers to the questions I posed above.
Can I imagine a society where the class war is not carried out in such vicious ways, with millions of renters across the country getting evicted every year, with the disruption, dislocation, destruction and chaos that ensues in community after community, year in and year out?
Yes, that’s easy. Many countries in the world already don’t allow this feudal practice. I travel in them and perform in them regularly, and have done so for most of my adult life. There are many ways landlords can seek restitution aside from the forced eviction of tenants.
Can I imagine the US becoming one of those societies, where eviction doesn’t happen?
Although it is currently a more unequal place than it has been since the Age of the Robber Barons, this fact is not only a curse for so many struggling in poverty, but it’s also an opportunity. As bad as the housing crisis was for both homeowners and renters before the pandemic hit, it is exponentially worse now, particularly since the federal government has been unable to take any meaningful action since the end of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance — although the new move by the Centers for Disease Control to ban evictions for anyone making less than $99,000 until the end of the year at least kicks the can down the road until then, when the past rent will suddenly come due for tens of millions of people who will have avoided eviction until then. The patchwork of state and local eviction suspensions is now, finally, largely supplanted by a nationwide ban. But one which, like almost all the other temporary eviction bans, does nothing to address the underlying problems that existed prior to the pandemic, or the divisions that have been exacerbated by the pandemic. So unless further, major action is taken, everything now comes crashing down at the beginning of 2021, instead of this month.
With the situation being as bad as it is, a lot of people are realizing that the capitalist system and the ever-increasing cost of housing that has been the situation for a long time now, but much more so since the last financial crisis, is untenable. People are no longer going along with the program. Landlords seeking to evict tenants, from New York to California, have faced spontaneous and angry gatherings of their neighbors, that have caused them to back off and go away. This is how it starts.
Even a criminally unequal society still requires a certain degree of the consent of the governed in order to function. Police brutality alone won’t work – not when the people being evicted increasingly include members of the extended families of cops across the country, just as they increasingly includes so many other segments of society, with Black and brown people being disproportionately impacted everywhere. People are spontaneously reacting against this madness when they’re confronted by it. Increasingly, clearly, the consent of the governed is being withdrawn.
This is why the time is now. This is why people who have been involved with every other political movement that has ever existed in my lifetime are back out in the streets today. All those folks involved with the global justice movement, Occupy Wall Street, the climate justice movement, and so on, also believe that Black lives matter, and that now is the time to fight back against institutional racism, and all the other institutions that perpetuate it, such as the police, and also the venture capitalists and their facilitators in the state legislatures across the country that allow for the kind of ethnic cleansing that has taken place in cities like Portland, where more than half of the Black population here has been priced out of the city since I moved into it.
I have seen the same thing happen in every city I have lived in in this country, and I’m not the only one who is sick and tired of it. Being sick and tired is becoming widespread. There are only so many times one can experience this pattern before you’ve had enough – moving into a diverse neighborhood, only to see it get whiter and whiter, until only the most recent newcomers with six-figure incomes can afford to live in it anymore, and the vast majority of Black and brown residents, along with the vast majority of professional artists and so many others, are once again forced out. The ranks of those who are fed up with this shit is growing fast.
Which brings me to my third question – have you joined a neighborhood network of some kind?
Spontaneous outpourings by neighbors are essential, but we can’t depend on that alone to end something like the phenomenon of forced eviction. Forced eviction was banned in Chicago during the last Great Depression in no small part because people organized eviction defense squads. Somewhat more recently in New York City, many squats and other buildings were saved through similar kinds of mobilizing – even during the very authoritarian Giuliani administration in that city. In the UK, eviction defense actions in Glasgow were essential to fueling a successful rent strike and ultimately a nationwide rent freeze, a century ago.
History is full of such examples. Although for the bigger ones you sometimes have to go back a ways to find them, this is because of the confluence of circumstances people were facing at those times – which bear so much similarity to today. Sudden economic crashes on top of an already terribly divided, stratified society, met by incompetent political leadership.
Changing the world always seems impossible at first, I hear. The obstacles always seem insurmountable at the outset. Getting started is the hardest part. But once one eviction has been prevented, and then another, momentum can build very quickly.
Those of us who are working on the initiative we’re calling Portland Emergency Eviction Response are looking at this basic approach: if you are facing eviction in the city of Portland and for whatever reason(s) you have decided you want to try to stay in your home and resist this eviction order, contact us, so we can be in touch well before the cops actually show up. When the police do eventually show up, which they tend to do on their own time, you tell us, and we activate the text mob. But first, if you’re in Portland, you need to sign up, to this or another such initiative. If you do, you’ll meet some of the best people you’ve ever met, while you’re defending someone’s home together.
Go to artistsforrentcontrol.org and scroll down to the bottom of the screen to sign up. Another world is possible, and another Portland is possible.