Category Archives: Evictions

Eviction Abolition: The Time Is Now

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 include 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.

The post Eviction Abolition: The Time Is Now first appeared on Dissident Voice.

A Green New Deal for Workers

Workers in 2020 have a unique opportunity to vote to put two fellow workers in the White House. Howie is a recently retired Teamster and Angela is a dump truck driver. We know the economic realities that working people face in the United States. This Labor Day we call for a better class of people in the White House than the corporate crooks and flunkies that have been occupying it.

The COVID pandemic and economic collapse have highlighted the race and class inequalities in our society. With more than 35 million jobs lost, millions have lost their employer-connected health insurance in the middle of a pandemic. COVID-19 deaths are disproportionately afflicting working-class people, particularly Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people. The case for universal healthcare through a publicly-funded Medicare for All has never been stronger.

As income disappears, the rent — already too high — has become impossible for many to pay. The threat of eviction is with many of us every month. Even if eviction has been stopped by a temporary moratorium for some of us, we see our rent piling up each month so that we will be evicted anyway when the moratorium ends. We need a federal emergency housing relief program that helps people make their rent and mortgage payments during the emergency. To fix the fundamentals of the housing crisis requires a major investment in public housing, this time not just as segregated housing for the poor but as high-quality mixed-income developments that include middle-income workers and professionals.

Congress and the president are responding to the economic collapse so poorly that the nation is falling into a depression. A poll this week reported that 50% unemployed workers, 8.3 million people, were unable to cover their basic expenses in August.

Trump and Biden rely on private enterprise alone to pull us out of this economic hole. Their public economic recovery spending proposals feature corporate welfare grants, loans, and tax breaks that will supposedly trickle-down to working people as new jobs. But with working-class consumer demand depressed, it is too risky for corporations to make job-creating productive investments. Instead, they will again invest their stimulus money in stocks, bonds, and derivatives, just rearranging and further concentrating who owns the productive assets we have rather than creating new ones.

Our alternative is large-scale public investment in new public enterprises and services to benefit the working-class majority. Our ecosocialist Green New Deal will create 30 million jobs in manufacturing, construction, transportation, energy, and agriculture to rebuild our production systems for zero-to-negative carbon emissions and 100% clean energy by 2030. It provides for a Just Transition of up to five years wage and benefits maintenance for workers displaced by this economic transition, but few will need it for very long with all the new jobs that will be created.

We create 8 million more jobs with an Economic Bill of Rights to a living-wage job, a guaranteed income above poverty, affordable housing, universal health care, lifelong tuition-free public education, and a secure retirement for every senior by doubling Social Security benefits.

The two corporate parties, who represent their Wall Street and big business donors, continue to undermine the rights of workers and let employers get away with breaking labor, health, and safety laws. It is time to repeal repressive labor laws, starting with the Taft-Hartley law that restricts labor’s ability to organize, act in solidarity, and engage in political activity. We need to enact new laws that enable union organization, including card check union recognition and the repeal of anti-union “right-to-work” laws.

We call for a Workers Bill of Rights, including workers rights to unions, to living wages, to portable defined-benefit pensions, to information about chemicals used at work, to refuse unsafe work, and to participate in enterprise governance. In order to increase economic security and strengthen workers’ power, we must replace employment-at-will laws, which let employers discharge workers for any reason or no reason, with just cause termination laws, where workers can only be fired for nonperformance or economic reasons. We must extend constitutional rights into the workplace, including free speech, association, and assembly, and freedom from warrantless employer surveillance, search, and seizure.

Even before the pandemic health and economic crisis hit, three super-rich Americans owned more wealth than the bottom 50% of the population, who earn a poverty-level median income of $18,000 a year.

Now, mounting COVID-19 deaths, economic depression, accelerating economic inequality, and climate collapse are all reasons to restructure our economy into a socialist economic democracy where the working-class majority is empowered to protect its interests and receive the full value of its labor. The first step is the ecosocialist Green New Deal for economic recovery as well as climate recovery.

The post A Green New Deal for Workers first appeared on Dissident Voice.

“People of the Cave”: Palestinians Take Their Fight for Justice to the Mountains 

Palestinians are not going anywhere. This is the gist of seven decades of Palestinian struggle against Zionist colonialism. The proof? The story of Ahmed Amarneh.

Amarneh, a 30-year-old civil engineer from the northern West Bank village of Farasin, lives with his family in a cave. For many years, the Amarneh family has attempted to build a proper home, but their request has been denied by the Israeli military every time.

In many ways, the struggle of the Amarnehs is a microcosm of the collective struggle of Farasin; in fact, of most Palestinians.

Those who are unfortunate enough to be living in areas of the West Bank, designated by the Oslo II Accord of 1995 as Area C, were left in a perpetual limbo.

Area C constitutes nearly 60% of the overall size of the West Bank. It is rich with resources – mostly arable land, water and ample minerals – yet, relatively sparsely populated. It should not be surprising why right-wing Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, wants to annex this region. More land, with fewer Palestinians, has been the guiding principle for Zionist colonialism from the outset.

True, Netanyahu’s annexation plan, at least the de jure element of it, has been postponed. In practice, however, de facto annexation has been taking place for many years, and, lately, it has accelerated. Last June, for example, Israel demolished 30 Palestinian homes in the West Bank, mostly in Area C, rendering over 100 Palestinians homeless.

Additionally, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Israeli army bulldozers destroyed 33 non-residential structures as well. This is “the same number (of homes) demolished throughout the entire first five months of 2020,” OCHA reported.

Unfortunately, Farasin, like numerous other Palestinian villages and communities across Area C, has been singled out for complete destruction. A small population of approximately 200 people has been subjected to Israeli army harassment for years. While Israel is keen on implanting Jewish communities in the heart of the occupied West Bank, it is equally keen on disrupting the natural growth of Palestinian communities, the indigenous people of the land, in Area C.

On July 29, Israeli forces invaded Farasin, terrorizing the residents, and handed over 36 demolition orders, according to the head of the Farasin village council. Namely, this is the onset of ethnic cleansing of the entire population of the village by Israel.

Ahmed Amarneh and his family also received a demolition order, although they do not live in a concrete house, but, rather, in a mountain cave.  “I didn’t make the cave. It has existed since antiquity,” he told reporters. “I don’t understand how they can prevent me from living in a cave. Animals live in caves and are not thrown out. So let them treat me like an animal and let me live in the cave.”

Amarneh’s emotional outburst is not misleading. In a recent report, the Israeli rights group B’tselem, has listed some of Israel’s deceptive methods used to forcefully remove Palestinians from their homes in Area C or to block any development whatsoever within these Palestinian communities.

“Israel has blocked Palestinian development by designating large swathes of land as state land, survey land, firing zones, nature reserves and national parks,” according to B’tselem. Judging by the systematic destruction of the Palestinian environment in the West Bank, Israel is hardly interested in the preservation of animals, either. The ultimate goal is the allocation of “land to settlements and their regional councils,” B’tselem argues.

Therefore, it should not come as a surprise that, for example, as of November 2017, only 16 of the 180 Palestinian communities in Area C have been approved for development. The rest are strictly prohibited.

Between 2016 and 2018, of the 1,485 Palestinian applications for construction and development in these areas, only 21 permits have been approved.

These unrealistic and draconian measures leave Palestinian families with no option but to build without a permit, eventually making them targets for Israeli military bulldozers.

Hundreds of families, like that of Ahmed Amarneh, have opted for alternative solutions. Failing to obtain a permit and wary of the imminent demolition if they build without one, they simply move to mountain caves.

This phenomenon is particularly manifest in the Hebron and Nablus regions.

In the mountainous wasteland located on the outskirts of Nablus, the wreckage of abandoned homes – some demolished, some unfinished – is a testimony of an ongoing war between the Israeli military, on the one hand, and the Palestinian people, on the other. Once they lose the battle and are left with no other option, many Palestinian families take their belongings and head to the caves in search of a home.

Quite often, the fight does not end there, as Palestinian communities, especially in the Hebron hills region, find themselves target to more eviction orders. The war for Palestinian survival rages on.

The case of Ahmed Amarneh, however, is particularly unique, for rarely, if ever, Israel issues a military order to demolish a cave. When the cave is demolished, where else can the Amarneh family go?

This dilemma, symptomatic of the larger Palestinian quandary, reminds one of Mahmoud Darwish’s seminal poem, “The Earth is Closing on Us”:

Where should we go after the last frontiers?
Where should the birds fly after the last sky?
Where should the plants sleep after the last breath of air?

However depressing the reality may be, the metaphor is undeniably powerful, that of savage colonialism that knows no bounds and Palestinian steadfastness (sumoud) that is perennial.

Often buried within the technical details of oppression – Area C, home demolition, ethnic cleansing and so on – is the tenacity of the human spirit, that of the Amarneh family and hundreds of other Palestinian families, who have turned caves into loving homes. It is this unmatched perseverance that makes the quest for justice in Palestine, despite the innumerable odds, possible.

Open Letter To My Landlord #5

Our landlord doesn’t read my letters, as far as we know, but it feels like it’s only fair to write a letter each month, if we’re not going to be paying the rent.

Well, hello again. This is the fifth full month in the pandemic, and the fifth month of the suspension on evictions here in Oregon, the fifth month that we’re not paying our rent, and the fifth month that I’m writing you a letter, instead of giving you another check.

I say I’m writing “you,” and “you” is a convenient word in the English language, since it can be either singular or plural. I might be writing to an individual, or to a corporate board, or even to thousands of investors, and I can still address this entity as “you.”

As it is, I have no idea who you are. Which seems odd, doesn’t it? Maybe even odder is the fact that I’m addressing you as if you might be reading this letter. What we both know is that you’re not. If anyone is reading this letter, other than people who read my blog, it is some employee in the property management company that does all your dirty work for you, so you can sleep at night. You know, like raising the rent on a family like mine almost 250% over the course of a decade. You wouldn’t want to do that to anyone you actually knew, so it’s best to remain totally anonymous, right?

Anyway, putting aside the question of the profoundly unethical behavior you have exhibited towards your tenants through such rent-gouging practices over the past decade or so, let’s center our attention on the current historical moment, shall we? You’re not reading this, so I’ll just take that as an enthusiastic “yes, let’s.”

Before the pandemic hit, Portland, Oregon was the most rent-burdened city in the United States. You were already actively creating this situation through the political lobbying groups you fund, who long ago bought our legislature, and by so many other means. You were already actively cleansing the city of its Black population, and of its artists, service sector workers, and everyone else who can no longer afford to live in this increasingly expensive metropolis. We were all leaving the city, month by month, over the course of many years now, as you know, if you’re paying any attention at all.

But now, with the sudden loss of jobs for so many of us, with those of us who managed to get past the busy signals and actually get any money from the state now having those benefits cut off (I’ve personally never managed to get any in the first place), with the pandemic spreading across the country in a form that the scientists are calling “out of control,” as we’re looking at an estimated 28 millions evictions in the US between now and the end of September, according to the business press, I wonder what your game plan is?

Because so far as I can tell, your game plan is to just keep going like you’ve been doing since I moved in to this apartment in April, 2007. Oh and as you probably don’t know, I paid the rent on time every month from then until March, 2020. You kept raising the rent every year, sending a letter through your property management company, thanking us for our tenancy and letting us know, incredibly, that the rent is going up and if we don’t like it we can move out whenever we like (I’m paraphrasing), and never once giving us even the beginnings of an explanation for why the rent has had to double and more over such a short period of time. And then, weeks into the pandemic, on March 25th, you announced yet another rent increase.

OK, so maybe it takes more than a few weeks for a big, important landlord like you to realize something is happening in the world and half of your tenants have just become unemployed, so we can’t expect you to move your big corporate ship so nimbly. But now it’s been almost half a year, and still not a single word from you. Not even anything like, “hey, I exist, I’m your landlord, I feel your pain, and hey, you don’t have to pay rent for the month of April.” A lot of other landlords, big and small, wrote their tenants notes like that, across the country – but not you.

But the obvious reality is, at least if you read the business press, as I’ll bet you do (whether “you” is singular or plural, in this case), things are not going to be going back to any kind of pre-pandemic “normal” anytime soon. And “normal” was untenable in the first place, as the business press was telling us last year, too. I mean, there are only so many tech millionaires from San Francisco and New York City you can hope to replace the rest of us with, as you systematically drive us out of this city. You’ll eventually run out of them, and then what? And what about your tenants like me, who were already long ago priced out of New York City, San Francisco, Boston and Seattle, too? Do you think we’ll all just leave quietly, again? Where should we move next, any suggestions? Where’s the next town you plan to re-shape in the image of Silicon Valley?

No, the old normal wasn’t working, and the new normal is Great Depression Chapter 2. I’m sure you know this, because, like I mentioned before, it’s not just your struggling artist tenants who read the business press – you do, too. You make big investments in real estate, not because you are interested in housing people, but because it’s an extremely profitable thing to invest in. Now, maybe less so. So then the question is, are you going to make the kinds of adjustments in your profit-uber-alles business model in time to save your precious capitalist system? Or are you going to just zombie on, making as much money as possible, until the riots get bigger? And then, you got insurance, so who cares if the riots get bigger, right? But eventually society becomes ungovernable if you let it go like that. That’s why the governor, despite the fact that she rules on your behalf, for the most part, saw fit to suspend evictions for the time being. As a representative of your class, she’s scared of your renters, even if you’re too busy looking at your stock portfolio to pay attention to the real world, struggling to breathe, under the pressure of your unfettered capitalist knee.

If you have children that you care about, if you are indeed human, or even if you as a collective board of corporate investors are, somewhere in the equation, human, and have children, or maybe just nieces and nephews that you care about, maybe you want to consider the future? What kind of world, and what kind of assets, will they be inheriting from you? Will they require armed guards when they walk down the sidewalks of this city? Will they have to put a tall gate around their homes to keep out the impoverished masses like the rich have to do in Mexico or Kenya? Will there be any money left in the public coffers to increase the police budget enough to defend your assets from the people who use your assets, otherwise known as us renters, living in what we sometimes, foolishly, in our more deluded moments, refer to as “our homes”? Is it maybe not time to shift direction here, to realize your business model and the economic system you and your corporate lobbyists have brought into existence is totally unsustainable?

Out of the goodness of my heart, and because me and my children would really prefer not to take you up on your invitation to spend the rest of our lives fighting the class war with the likes of you and your heirs, I’ll give you some advice: stop.

Write your renters a letter, tell us who you are. Explain to us what your expenses are, lay it out, and be completely transparent. Did you apply for any of those trillions of dollars of forgivable loans that the government has just issued to corporations just like yours? Tell us about that. Then charge us rent that is equal to your expenses, plus a little extra. Let that formula determine “the market rate,” rather than your current formulation of the market rate as “whatever the market will bear.” Behind that door lies the end of society. Behind that door lies fascism, for no democracy can survive such ponzi scheme, kleptocratic corruption and still have a population that believes it’s ruling on behalf of the citizens, rather than just the citizen-capitalists like you and your heirs. Is that the future you want?

Well, I just thought I’d give a little communication another shot. My mother always said it was good to talk it out, but it’s hard when the communication is only one-way. Is this how you conduct your other relationships? Anyway, I’d say this letter is easily worth $1,175 for a two-bedroom for the month of August. I’ll write an even more eloquent letter for September, I promise. It’ll be worth even more. Not that you’ll read it, either, whoever you are.

Sincerely,
David Rovics
Francis Park Apartments
Portland, Oregon

COVID-19 Crisis Failure, People Must Save Themselves and the Economy

Positive COVID-19 Test (Shutterstock)

The US is at a moment of truth. This week, Congress has to face up to a pandemic that is out of control and an economy that is collapsing. The Republican’s and Democrat’s proposals show they will fail this test. The people will need to protect themselves and lead from below.

The pandemic is worsening with more than 60,000 new cases and approximately 1,000 new deaths daily. Deaths, now over 158,000, are spiking across the sunbelt and increasing across the Midwest. By Election Day, the US could have 250,000 deaths making COVID-19 the third largest killer after cancer and heart disease.

The economy shrank at a record 32.9% annual pace in the second quarter, the largest since records were first kept in 1947. Jobless claims increased for the second week in a row with 1.4 million new people seeking unemployment benefits and continuing claims have risen to 17.06 million. More than 35 million people have lost their jobs since March.

In the face of these depression-era numbers, neither the Democrats nor Republicans are planning enough spending to rebuild the economy. President Trump, who has botched the response to the pandemic, is unable to lead but seems willing to sign anything that passes Congress.

Boxes of food are distributed by the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, at a drive thru distribution in downtown Pittsburgh, 10 April, 2020 (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar.)

Republican HEALS Act Will Spread the Virus, Deepen Economic Collapse

The Republican Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection, and Schools (HEALS) Act seeks to push people back to work and reopen schools even if it is not safe to do so. Their proposals to cut unemployment benefits are designed to make workers desperate so they will work in conditions that put their health at risk. A large portion of school funding is restricted to schools that physically reopen forcing unsafe schools. Here are some of the details of the bill:

Health care: The inadequacy of for-profit healthcare has been magnified by the pandemic. The loss of jobs resulted in millions of people losing their health insurance on top of almost 30 million people who were already uninsured. Republicans do not include a funding increase for Medicaid, which 70 million people rely on. The National Governor’s Association reports states are experiencing budget shortfalls ranging between 5 and 20 percent. The Republicans do not provide any funding to state and local governments to make up for this loss of income. Without new funding, states will have to cut Medicaid eligibility, reduce benefits, or reduce payments to providers at a time when the economy and virus mean more people need it.

Food: The Census reports 26 million people do not have adequate food. Food banks are reporting shortages and 14 million children are going hungry but the Republicans did not extend funding for food assistance programs. The Republicans did not extend either the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), known as food stamps, or the Pandemic EBT program, a benefit for households with children who have temporarily lost access to free or reduced-price school meals, which ended in June. In contrast, they did propose a 100 percent deduction on business meals through the end of 2020.

Housing: The eviction moratorium expired last week. It protected an estimated 12 million renters in federally-backed properties. The HEALS Act does nothing to prevent evictions from restarting. There are 110 million Americans who live in rental households. Twenty percent of them, 23 million people, are at risk of eviction by September 30 according to the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project. With the cut in unemployment benefits, the Census Bureau estimates 24 million people will be unable to pay next month’s rent, including 45 percent of Black and Latinx households.

Worker safety: As workers are being forced back to work, the HEALS Act cuts their ability to sue at a time when worker-safety is at its greatest risk in a century.  Senator McConnell calls this a “red line” that must be in the final bill. His proposal would preempt the few state workplace safety laws that exist and supersede such federal worker safeguards as the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, among others. The Republican proposal would erect almost insurmountable obstacles to lawsuits by workers who become infected at their workplaces and limit damages. To be immune, employers would merely have to show they were  “exploring options” to comply with federal law, or they found the risk of harm to health could not be “reduced or eliminated by reasonably modifying policies, practices, or procedures.” A worker whose lawyer issues a demand letter and settlement offer would find themselves potentially facing litigation by the employer against them. If employers sue workers, there is no limit to punitive damages. These provisions would be retroactive to December 1, 2019, and remain in effect at least until October 1, 2024.

Student debt: The HEALS Act doesn’t extend the interest-free payment pause on federal student loans or halt debt collection on government-held student debt, two forms of relief in the original CARES ACT. Without extending the relief Congress first granted to student loan borrowers through the CARES Act, 40 million people are likely to have to resume payments on September 30, 2020 at a time when there are Depression-like levels of unemployment.

Business support: The Act provides $100 billion more for the problematic Paycheck Protection Program, which has been rife with corruption as members of Congress and the administration as well as their friends, families, and donors got payouts. Big businesses got loans even though the program was intended for small businesses, making small business owners furious. Black and minority businesses were denied loans. Money is needed for main street businesses but PPP needs major changes rather than just pouring more money into the failed program.

The bill also includes $1.75 billion for the FBI building. This was added at the insistence of the Trump administration because the president’s hotel is across the street from the FBI. Without funding to refurbish the building, the FBI could move to Virginia or Maryland, leaving the current building to be torn down and likely replaced with a hotel that would compete with Trump’s hotel.

Military spending: Nearly $30 billion in the HEALS Act would be allocated in a brazen giveaway to the military. The bill includes billions for the Pentagon including $686 million for F-35 stealth fighters, $650 million for A-10 ground attack airplane wing replacements, $1.4 billion for four expeditionary medical ships, and $720 million for C-130J transport aircraft, $375 million for armored vehicles, $360 million for missile defense, and $283 million for Apache helicopters. This is reportedly being added to make up for money taken from the Pentagon for the border wall and comes after Congress recently passed a record military spending bill.

Paramedics taking a patient into an Emergency Room at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

The Democrats Fail To Use Their Power

The Democrats control the House of Representatives. Nothing can pass the Senate without Democratic Party support. The Senate Republicans are divided and Trump is desperate to sign a bill. Polls show Republicans could lose the Senate so they need to pass a good bill. The political alignment favors the Democratic Party but it still isn’t doing what is needed.

The Democrats passed the HEROES (Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions) Act in May, a $3 trillion proposal compared to the $1 trillion HEALS Act. Two months ago this may have been adequate but now that figure needs to be increased as more jobs have been lost, state and city governments have lost income, and the cost of treating the virus has increased with more cases.

A “red line” for the Democrats should be funding state and local government with at least $1 trillion to continue basic services. More than 20 million people work for state and local governments such as firefighters, teachers, police, sanitation workers, and transportation workers. The Economic Policy Institute estimates 5.3 million jobs will be lost without state and local funding. President Trump and the Republicans do not want another massive increase in job loss, so the Democrats are in a strong position to make this demand.

The decrease in unemployment benefits should be another unacceptable “red line” as this will further shrink the economy. The Economic Policy Institute finds the loss of the extra $600 of unemployment benefits, which people are currently spending on basic needs, will result in the loss of an additional 3.4 million jobs.

One area where the Democrats can build on some agreement is the $1,200 COVID-19 relief payment to individuals. These payments are too small. A good COVID-19 relief package would increase payments to $2,000 per person monthly for the duration of the pandemic and recession for households earning under $150,000 as suggested by Sen. Bernie Sanders. This would slow the economic collapse and ease suffering.

It is essential to extend the moratorium on evictions not just for federally-subsidized housing, but the federal government should also cover rent and mortgage payments for the duration of the crises. Otherwise, millions of families will lose their homes in an election year, which should be politically unpalatable for both parties.

Health workers give people free Covid-19 tests in Arlington, Virginia, on May 26 (Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images)

We Need a Plan

What is missing from both the Republican and Democratic bills is a strategy to control and stop the pandemic. The virus is 7 months old and still spreading rapidly. President Trump has failed to lead so Congress must do so. The bill should include a massive investment in making rapid testing available across the country. Every business and school should have rapid testing capability before they reopen. This should be combined with hiring 500,000 public health tracers so those who have been exposed to COVID-19 can be tracked to prevent further spread of the virus.

Everyone wants to restart the economy but this must be done safely. In addition to testing and tracing, workplaces and schools must be safe. School districts should decide whether to restart or continue web-based learning and should be supported by the federal government whatever they choose. Hundreds of thousands of tutors who can do one-on-one teaching to support web-based learning are needed. With high unemployment, especially among recent graduates and college students, there are people available to take on this task.

Congress should authorize OSHA to rapidly enact stringent standards for workplaces to reopen, along with funding for necessary safeguards. There should be increased funding for OSHA workplace inspections and investigations of inadequate safety. Employers who meet the standards for a safe workplace should have legal protection from frivolous lawsuits but employees should also have the right to sue if workplaces do not meet safety standards. This approach protects both workers and employers and will reduce the spread of the virus.

Neither party handled healthcare well even before the pandemic. COVID-19 has magnified the failure of for-profit healthcare. To stop the spread of the virus, Congress needs to break away from its privatized approach to healthcare. With the widespread job loss, 5.4 million workers lost their health insurance as did millions more family members. This is the largest decline in health insurance coverage in US history. The rapid response to this healthcare crisis should be the expansion of Medicare to everyone in the United States. Ideological opposition to publicly funded healthcare should not block this essential step. The long term failure of our healthcare system and widening health disparities demonstrate why we need a community-controlled, public, universal healthcare system.

Workers strike over safety (Yahoo Finance)

he People Must Rule, and Protect Ourselves

Congress and the President are unlikely to enact the laws needed to confront the pandemic and economic collapse. As a result, both will worsen. We will have to take action to protect ourselves and build popular power to win our demands.

We need to organize mutual aid to people meet people’s basic needs, such as for food and housing. Many cities have vacant buildings owned by the local and federal governments. As homelessness rises, these should be taken over to house people. We discuss the practical steps for taking over homes with Cheri Honkala this week on Clearing The FOG, (available as a podcast on Monday).

We build popular power by taking the streets as people have been doing for over two months now across the country, only buying essentials, refusing to pay rent or debt payments, blocking evictions and by building in our workplaces for a general strike.

Our actions must not be about which presidential candidate from the two parties of the millionaires to elect. Only one serious presidential campaign is right on COVID-19 and the economy, the Green candidates Howie Hawkins and Angela Walker. Our actions need to be about building a people’s movement that grows in power before and after the November elections. No matter who is elected, the people will need to resist, create new systems and rule from below.

Stop the Evictions Before They Start

The system based on a combination of police brutality, mass imprisonment, and evictions at gunpoint may be collapsing, but if it’s going to fall in the direction we want it to fall in, we need to push it that way.  And if we want to make that happen, we have to organize to stop the impending wave of evictions before it starts.

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This society is at a crossroads in so many ways.  In recent weeks, a multiracial uprising in the streets of the US and other countries is demanding not more ineffective police reforms, but a total transformation of the concept of policing.  The ideas are not new, but the degree to which the notion of defunding the police has suddenly become commonplace is new.

The powers-that-be and the corporate media are very actively trying to frame the questions as narrowly as possible, at every opportunity, sticking as much as they can to rehashing useless reforms and talking about bad apples, better bias training, and so on.  They will avoid the elephant in the living room as much as possible, and do everything they can to make sure there’s a sufficiently complex set of mirrors surrounding the elephant so that we don’t see it.

The reason they must avoid the elephant at all costs is because the horrifically unequal and unsustainable system of capitalism, this corrupt plutocracy that we live in, can only be held together through constant deception, and the threat of armed force and imprisonment.  Deception whenever possible, armed force and imprisonment whenever necessary.  When and to what degree the different strategies of control are employed depends on various factors, such as race and class.

Portland, Oregon, my home town for the past thirteen years, is the most rent-burdened city in the United States.  This was the case well before the pandemic.  Depending on the year, Portland also has the highest number of police killings of Black people in the US, per capita.  If these statistics might be related, I have no studies to cite, but there they are, anyway, these facts that stand starkly side by side.

Here’s another statistic:  in the United States we have a census every ten years.  A lot happens from one year to the next, let alone every ten years, but nevertheless, what is known for sure is that between the census in 2000 and the census in 2010, the city of Portland lost half of its Black population.  Since 2010 it has lost more.

There is no statistic to neatly measure the gains or losses for many other demographics, but this number can easily be assumed to be more or less representative in terms of the many artists and other lower-paid workers who have been forced to leave the city.  The process of gentrification — the process of investment companies buying up massive numbers of buildings throughout the US (and other countries) and then proceeding to maximize their profits by charging as much rent as the market will bear, while they create the market through price-fixing and buying most of the legislators in every state capital — is extremely disruptive, in every possible sense.  What this does to communities and to the lives of people within them cannot be overstated.  It can be called many things, but it is most certainly a vicious form of class war, and it is most certainly a form of urban ethnic cleansing.

This level of social disruption, this ethnic cleansing, this class war relies on many things in order to keep happening.  It relies on the consent of the governed to no small degree — it relies on most people believing they deserve their miserable fates, that it is their fault they can’t afford the rent or the mortgage, that if they just worked harder or got more education, they could achieve like those billionaires have done.  That’s the deception part of the equation.

But when circumstances start to become impossible, the deception gets harder to maintain.  And everyone knows, whether they believe the deception or not, that behind it lies the threat of force — of being beaten, shot, and/or imprisoned.  So, the movement to defund the police needs to be understood as the very radical idea that it is, since it would mean not just the prospect of Black people not having to worry about being shot by uniformed, paid employees of their town or city just for existing, but also the prospect of the investment banks that own much of the rental property in those towns and cities no longer having the option of sending the men with guns in to enforce the laws that they got their legislators to pass.  No more evictions at gunpoint.

What would happen, in a rent-burdened city largely owned by investment banks, when the landlords no longer have the threat of violence to fall back onto?  And what would happen if that police force is not defunded, and if the suspension on evictions currently in place in Portland is lifted, and if the landlords can start filing for evictions all over the city?  There are many unemployed people in this city (like this author) who have been rejected by the Employment Department, or whose unemployment money will soon run out.  There are many people in this city who were just barely managing to come up with rent before the pandemic, who were spending 70% of their earnings on the landlord every month.  There are many people whose credit cards were already maxed out before the pandemic hit, and many others whose credit cards are now at their limits — and they’ve been spending their money on nothing but food and rent.

Once the ban on evictions is lifted, we can expect the waves of evictions to begin.  They won’t happen all at once, however.  People who lost significant income due to the pandemic may be able to put the process off by six months or more.  The future is unwritten, and things are changing rapidly.  Lots can happen between now and the time that the city declares the crisis is over.

But for me and others of us artists that remain in the city of Portland, affiliated in the loose-knit network called Artists for Rent Control, it is clear that the time to prepare for the evictions is now, while they are still banned.  We say they should remain banned.  Without the threat of forced eviction — that is, without the threat of the police — tenant-landlord relations in society become very, very different.  But as long as the threat exists — or will soon exist once again — we need to be able to respond to it directly.

Doing so will require the participation of a certain cross-section of people in the city of Portland who really believe that another Portland is possible.  Who believe we can stand up to the corporations who would seek to enforce their ability to make obscene profits through their investments in the human need — and human right — to housing.  Who believe we can confidently condemn the system that has produced such deadly inequities — who can ask the question of the bankers that run this country:  what gave you the right to be our landlords?  How did it happen that we taxpayers bailed you out only a decade ago, and now you’ve somehow managed to buy the buildings we live in, and double the rent?  What kind of dystopia have we woken up in?  What sector of the matrix is this, anyway?

Artists for Rent Control does not make any claims to knowing the whole way forward here, but we know one thing:  popular education, community-building, and direct action are effective and important tactics.  The popular education part is helping people to understand that another world is possible.  This is the role of art in any social movement, along with the community-building that tends to take place anytime a public event involving music or other forms of artistic expression takes place.  The direct action part that our little group is initiating is what we are calling Portland Emergency Eviction Response (PEER).

The concept is well-worn and simple, in its essence.  You enter your phone number and sign up for text notifications.  When we get confirmation that an eviction is taking place, you’ll receive a text telling you where it’s happening.  You then drop whatever you’re doing, and head immediately to the address provided.  What happens next depends on the situation, and is impossible to predict with certainty, but the fact is that it is often the case that just a few dozen people showing up to an attempted eviction will cause the cops to give up and leave.

A successful movement to lower the rents, to impose rent control, to pressure government entities to get involved by buying buildings from recalcitrant landlords in order to turn them into housing collectives, must inevitably involve many people, many tactics, many approaches, just like anything else.  But this form of direct action has generally been an important element of any successful struggle between landlords and tenants.

What we need, and what the time may be ripe for, is a return to the kinds of tactics employed by the Anti-Rent movement in New York’s Hudson Valley in the 1840’s, to take one example.  The most important of the tactics was this one:  whenever the landlord sent in the police or some other armed group to try to seize the property of tenant farmer family, or evict them from their farm, the farmers would blow a tin horn, which would reverberate through the rolling hills of the region.  Within an hour or so, hundreds of other tenant farmers would show up — generally on horseback, wearing disguises, and armed.

For nine years of what became known as the Rent Strike Wars, the tenant farmers of the Van Rennsalaer estate did not pay the rent, and did not get evicted.  Though there were many standoffs between masked rent strikers and police, for nine years, not a shot was actually fired in either direction.  For nine years, every time, the police retreated.  I’m simplifying the story a bit, but in the end, the landlord was forced to sell his estate to the tenant farmers, and many progressive laws were enacted.  Our effort here is to revive the tin horns, in the form of text messages, but otherwise our hope and our belief is that by employing similar tactics, we may get similar results.  Our belief is that whatever might be coming next in the struggle for fairness, justice and equality in this unfair, unjust and unequal society, eviction abolition will be a first step in the right direction.