What if we collectively organized as a class against those rich men north of Richmond, in defense of our mutual class interests, like guaranteed, actually affordable housing for everyone?
The movement began with successful housing takeovers in Philadelphia by the Poor People’s Army. Next came successful eviction defense actions in Portland, Oregon.
Every time the police came to try to enforce eviction orders, dozens and soon hundreds of people would quickly materialize to defend those facing eviction, and the police would leave.
The mainstream press had largely ignored the anti-eviction movement until it became too popular to respond to by simply failing to cover major news developments. They then went on the assault, vilifying the anti-eviction movement in all the usual ways.
They said the movement’s leadership included CIS white men who were not sufficiently sensitive to the particular ways BIPOC and LGBTQI+ people were affected by evictions, as opposed to other people who get evicted.
They accused the movement of being a racist movement, for not prioritizing which people facing eviction get defended, because the movement had a policy of defending anyone who asked for help, regardless of the color of their skin, or their political beliefs, or anything else, other than that they were tenants facing eviction because they couldn’t pay their rent.
They accused the movement of dogwhistle antisemitism, for providing too much space for criticism of Jewish billionaire real estate capitalists, rather than Christian billionaire real estate capitalists.
When these forms of slander weren’t having the desired effect, the press, their allied intelligence agencies, police undercover units, and brainwashed followers among the Twitterati began to identify as many individual members of the anti-eviction squads as they could, researching their social media history, and calling them out for any supposedly racist, sexist, transphobic, and/or antisemitic posts they ever liked or shared since 2006 or so.
But by this time, most people had wised up to this kind of divide-and-conquer fake wokery, and they rejected the accusations without even needing to think much about them, because everyone had Facebook accounts and they had all lived through 2020, and seen it all before.
The people persisted, and the movement grew. Soon, the state of Oregon instituted a temporary ban on evictions. The landlord lobby was outraged, and poured money into electoral campaigns, to find as many pro-landlord BIPOC LGBTQI+ politicians to represent the interests of the ruling class that they could.
But the movement by this time was not impressed with the skin color, national origin, or sexual orientation of their politicians, since most people by then had figured out that this was all a bunch of tokenistic nonsense that had nothing to do with defeating the real estate-driven capitalist insanity that was rapidly impoverishing most of the nation.
So, despite the constant attacks from the press, from the landlord lobby, and from the pro-landlord liberal homeowners pretending to be motivated by antiracism or trans liberation, the movement to abolish evictions persisted, and grew.
Out of the temporary ban on evictions came a statewide referendum on guaranteeing housing for all residents, introducing a policy modeled after Portugal’s Basic Housing Law that landlords who wanted to evict a tenant had to work that out with the state, which was now responsible for either covering the rent, working with the landlord to set a more reasonable charge for rent, or finding comparable alternative housing for any tenant facing eviction.
Despite the ongoing, constant barrage of negative press and efforts at character assassination of everyone involved with the movement, the movement that had so much success in tackling the housing crisis in Oregon began to catch on across the USA, and in other countries as well. Soon, tens of millions of households that had been living in poverty, existing hand-to-mouth, and constantly facing the prospect of imminent homelessness, could collectively breath deeply for the first time, and sleep well through the night, as could their children, confident they’d still have a home in the morning.
* * *
This is all a fantasy, of course (at least after the first sentence). But it’s a potentially realistic one, given the actual history of human civilization. Scenarios like the one I’ve described above have happened before, very much like the way I describe it.
Though mostly in times prior to the existence of Facebook or terms like BIPOC or LGBTQI+, there were other institutions that played the role Facebook and its algorithms do (like tabloid media and the FBI), and other accusations to be made to sully someone’s character — with acronyms once as familiar as BIPOC and LGBTQI+ are today, such as COMINTERN or HUAC.
The promotion of culture war issues and political polarization, along with social media algorithms and the well-documented, widespread activities of undercover police provocateurs have succeeded in undermining many social movements as well as schools of thought. The role of these forces has often been to nip such movements in the bud, before ever needing to step up their game to attack a movement that has gotten big.
The atmosphere created by our new media/social media landscape is a tremendously stifling one. But now is not a time to be stifled, as the Earth burns and the capitalists’ solution to the housing crisis is cutting down forests and building more unaffordable mansions in the suburbs, while millions more people are evicted with each passing year, and forced to live in vehicles or tents, in Portland and other cities across the country.
There are many “unprecedented” things happening these days. A former president got a mug shot, that’s unprecedented, and it’s all over the news. The heat wave we’re experiencing and the fires burning up Canada and so many other parts of the world are unprecedented, and big news as well.
Also unprecedented are the numbers of people living on the streets, the numbers of households being evicted, and the rise in the cost of housing, but these things get very little press. Even more so with demonstrations or other actions having to do with the movement for housing as a guaranteed right. Where’s the press?
They’re not being assigned by the big businesses that own their publications and TV outlets to cover these things. It’s not in the interests of whichever of the two parties whose capitalist propaganda they are amplifying.
Much better to cover the latest pro- or anti-abortion protest, the latest protest for or against drag shows at libraries, or the latest protest for or against banning a celebrity from Twitter. Keep the focus on the culture wars, not on the fact that 1% of the population owns the overwhelming majority of the wealth and the land in our country. Don’t look at the wizard behind the curtain, don’t talk about the elephant in the living room — or the elephant squeezing into the front seat of the car your neighbor is living in. Focus on the culture wars.
In such an atmosphere, it would be easy to believe that there is very little interest in society in the housing crisis that is affecting most of us so deeply, which transcends all lines other than that most fundamental one in a capitalist society, that one that is numerically impossible to compete with in terms of how much it affects us all — class.
Yes, in fact, you would think that the class divisions in our society are not of interest to most people, given what may be accurately characterized as the relative silence of the mass media on what is easily one of the most pressing issues of our times — where we have to live, how often we’re forced to move, and whether we can afford to live anywhere.
But we get little indications now and then about how much class matters to regular people. Indications like the fact that the #1 hit song on the charts right now is all about that — “Rich Men North of Richmond.” (Yes, the song was amplified by outlets like Fox, which contributed to its success, but this viral sensation is not merely the result of the song getting attention in the media, it’s too big for that.)
If you walk around and keep your ears open, it’s not hard to hear lots of people talking about the cost of living, and especially the cost of housing. Such conversations are all around us, in supermarket aisles and on front porches across the country. But they are not covered by the corporate press, and when they are, it is through a sort of fake woke angle that is, by design, intended to pit different racialized groups against each other. (Even if many of the young reporters covering the news this way may be blissfully ignorant of the role they are playing.)
The effort on the part of the corporate (and “public”) press and the other powers-that-be to cover the culture wars and not the class war doesn’t just promote one and try to silence the other. It has many, far more nefarious impacts.
One is to turn what should be class resentments into other forms of resentment. If you’re a white working class renter whose rent has tripled over the past 15 years, and you hear story after story on NPR about hard-pressed BIPOC LGBTQI+ renters who need protection, you might draw the conclusion that you’re privileged for being white, although your rent has tripled, and you have no right to complain.
Or this kind of incessant race-baiting might make you angry. Maybe you turn off NPR and turn on Fox, and you start feeling like the root of your poverty and the reason your rent has tripled has something to do with those extra-marginalized BIPOC LGBTQI+ people who the “progressive” corporate news outlets love to give a huge platform to in recent years, and which the “conservative” news outlets like to cover in response, in both cases as a means of keeping the population confused and divided. And then you start getting angry about racial justice campaigners and drag performers. Maybe you find some people to shoot to death, like someone did the other day in Florida.
There is no way to overstate how well the culture war propaganda machine has worked, on behalf of the ruling class and both the Republican and Democratic party machines — and to the detriment of the overwhelming majority of American society.
It’s an extremely dangerous game they’re playing that may lead to civil war or overt fascism. When such eventualities come, there is no doubt that they will have been fomented just as much by NPR and MSNBC as by Fox, as much by the “antiracist, pro-choice” Democratic elements of the ruling class as by the “racist, pro-life” Republican elements of it.
The average Democratic Congressperson is slightly wealthier than the average Republican, but they won’t emphasize this point on any of the media outlets, it’s not in the interests of the ruling class to dwell on how rich most members of Congress in either party are, how much property they own, and especially not how much property their corporate donors own — and rent out at rates that are consistently creating more and more billionaires, far more than ever before, while 1 in 4 people in the US is living in a form of poverty that is extreme, by the standards of most other wealthy nations, and even by the standards of many poor ones.
A future characterized by Civil War and/or fascism is one that seems so inevitable to so many today. But there is an alternative future, and it could easily be the one outlined at the beginning of this missive.
The title of this piece comes from a song that everyone knows in Australia, which was written to remember the Gurindji strike in the 1960’s and 70’s, which ultimately resulted in a fairly massive victory, with the Gurindji people of Australia getting a whole lot of their stolen land back. The strike involved two hundred workers.
With smaller numbers than that, in 2020 we stopped a family from being kicked out of their home in north Portland, Oregon. With smaller numbers than that, the Poor People’s Army in Philadelphia last week just stopped an eviction from happening.
It won’t get media attention whether we win or lose. Our existence won’t be validated or celebrated by them. Instead, we will be vilified in every way imaginable, and in many ways no one would even have imagined.
But the history of our world shows that the most impressive social movements did not require praise by the corporate media, or even promotion (or vilification) by the corporate media, in order to grow, in order for the movement to create its own media, or to develop a widespread culture of resistance and solidarity, or in order to win.
The biggest obstacle to such a movement forming is not necessarily the incessant divide-and-conquer propaganda. The biggest obstacle to a movement like this growing and sustaining itself is not necessarily the police brutality, the provocateurs, the intelligence agencies’ Cointelpro-style activities, or their disinformation campaigns — although those are all major problems to contend with.
The biggest obstacle is the absence of hope.
This is why FDR said the biggest thing to fear is fear itself. He understood the same thing — the confidence of an army, or of a people, is at least as important as how well-trained or well-armed or well-supplied the troops are. He knew this well, as do all competent leaders of any kind.
Confidence, and hope, is necessary in order to even begin to fight, unless you’re busy trying to organize a successful retreat. And confidence is born of optimism.
Optimism in the possibility that by engaging in a certain tactic, you stand a good chance of winning. This principle applies, whether you’re sending hundreds of thousands of troops in to liberate France, or trying to organize a few dozen people to block the entrance to someone’s Class C apartment in Portland, Oregon in order to prevent an eviction.
As with a war, once you win some battles, the next ones seem much more winnable. That’s why it’s so important for any movement to be nipped in the bud, denounced, vilified, prevented from growing and flourishing in the first place. Prevented from developing any sense of optimism, or even any sense of itself.
But as history shows, victory is indeed possible, and optimism is the first thing we need, and the first thing they’ll try to make sure we never have.
The biggest problem for the powers-that-be is that we have every reason to be optimistic about the prospects for a working class movement calling for guaranteed housing for all and an end to destructive, soul-killing, violent events like evictions, to become popular. Half of the country rents, and most renters, and so many homeowners, are struggling to keep themselves housed, having rented or “bought” a home that they couldn’t really afford in the first place, but they needed housing.
Living in a society where there is such a radical and fast-growing disparity between the lives of the rich and everybody else, the only viable strategy for the ruling class is to keep the people in a state of confusion and polarization. As soon as we wake up and see this increasingly feudal society for the society of haves and have-nots that it has increasingly become over the past fifty years or so, as soon as we collectively see how badly we’ve been played against each other on behalf of the rich men north of Richmond, then the ruling class is left with nothing to defend themselves with short of outright brutality.
At that point they will face the reality that most cops have close relatives who also can’t afford housing. Many cops have close relatives who are living on the streets, just like the rest of the working class does these days. Recent events in Philadelphia, as well as Portland and elsewhere indicate that neither the cops nor the prosecutors are particularly interested in fighting with people who are trying to prevent an eviction.
One more indication of the desperation of the housing crisis these days are the rising number of cases across the country along the lines of what happened a few weeks ago in Tualatin, Oregon, when a young man shot at the police who were coming to evict him, and was then either killed by the police or killed himself, found dead in his bathtub.
Just looking at the long series of Class C apartments this young man had lived in over the course of his life, prior to his “last stand” at yet another such apartment complex in Tualatin, tells his story with bitter eloquence. When he first moved out of his parents’ place, he was paying a few hundred dollars a month. By the time he got evicted for the last time, he was paying thousands, just to stay housed in the same sort of moldy shithole.
There is an alternative to suicide by cop, or living in a tent, but it requires collective action, the knowledge that collective action can indeed change everything, and the optimism that such collective action is indeed possible to organize.
If you’re in the Portland area, you can be part of this effort by going to abolishevictions.org and joining the text mob you’ll find on the bottom of the page. If you’re not in Portland, there may be a similar initiative already going on where you are, or you can get an affinity group together and start one yourself.
For those of you who got this far, and are interested in principle in this project, but are concerned about the security risk involved with joining the text mob and thus perhaps being identified as a radical and subjected to whatever consequences might follow: please get over it. Security culture of this kind has royally backfired, much worse than just not being helpful. It has aided the provocateurs and infiltrators tremendously.
Use your name. Be real. Don’t hide. They already know who you are. The problem is, we don’t know each other. Introduce yourself. Join the text mob, and let’s make a movement. Another world is not only possible, I have seen it regularly in my international travels. This country is an outlier. The world we seek, as far as guaranteed, affordable housing is concerned, already exists. Just not here. Let’s change that, together.
We don’t care about your identity — skin color, gender, sexual orientation, immigration status, voting history, perspective on the origins of Covid, who carried out 9/11, whether you support NATO expansionism, or any of that. If you’re a human being (or potentially a member of any other species so inclined) and you think there is a way forward for society that does not involve evicting people who can’t afford to house themselves, WE WANT YOU.