As millions remain unable to pay rents and mortgages because of the COVID recession, the possibility of mass evictions still looms. At a time like this, it’s worth remembering that people have fought evictions in the past, and can still do so today.
For an example of large scale and organized struggles against landlords and evictions, we could go back to The Great Rent Strike War of 1932 in New York City. People facing eviction fought back and forced the government to provide relief to unemployed renters. But we don’t need to go back that far. Today, we find smaller yet still inspiring examples of people coming together, building solidarity, and fighting big landlords, banks, and possible homelessness. In a working-class Los Angeles neighborhood, residents have reopened emptied apartments and “reinstalled” evicted tenants immediately after evictions took place. In New Orleans, tenant organizations barricaded the city courthouse so that eviction cases could not be heard. In Oakland last year, a group of women took over a vacant house and started living in it. After a struggle in which the community stood fully behind them, they won a deal to buy the house and move back in. And tenants in five run-down apartment building in Minneapolis organized over the course of a few years, took their wealthy landlord to court, went on a rent strike, held demonstrations, and eventually forced their landlord to sell the buildings to them. You could say they evicted their own landlord!
What all this tells us is that we can come together and organize to protect our right to live. These examples are small, mostly local fights. But we could organize and do the same thing on a much larger scale.
How do we do it? One of the leaders of the Minneapolis rent strikers had a very simple explanation for how it started. She visited an immigrant neighbor’s apartment and saw terrible conditions. “I felt so bad…These are people who didn’t know English, and I felt like this man [the landlord] was taking advantage of them.” They recognized their common plight, organized, and took action!
Every human being deserves decent housing! If we work together and use our creativity, we can build our power and make decent housing for all a reality. Let’s get organized!