#RentStrike Movement Building for April 1, 2020: Some Thoughts and Considerations

Huey Dessalines

UNITED STATES: Demands for a rent strike are building steam across the United States during the COVID-19 epidemic. This is expected, as countless people are unemployed as a result of disruption to the restaurant and tourism industries which employ millions of people in this country. This rent strike demand goes along with several dozen wildcat strikes in key industries, such as food processing, delivery, and cargo transport. The demands of these strikes are, generally, provision of adequate PPE and sanitation measures. It is the task of the revolutionary movement to revolutionize and centralize these actions, and bring as many people into them as possible – the more people who are willing to refuse to pay rent, the more power we have. A single person in a building with 40 people is not a rent strike. 40 people refusing to pay their rent because they either can not pay or because they are doing so in solidarity with those who can not pay is a statement more effective than any hashtag or social media propaganda. The more people that are willing to commit, the more material strength the movement will build. It is essential for real connections to be made between tenants, contact information to be shared, and preparations made for violations of the moratoriums on evictions that have been issued by mayors in many cities. Rent strikes, we repeat, are led by groups, not by individuals.

A successful rent strike, which we can define as the landlord/property management company yielding to the pressure of the tenant masses and freezing rent for the duration of the pandemic, will generate much needed morale for the revolutionary movement. Rent strike organizing is going hand in hand with the cropping up of Facebook pages to expose landlords who continue to gouge tenants during this crisis. Pages such as Evil Landlords During Corona are being used as key organizing tools to impose more and more demands and shame on landlords and employers who are nickel and diming tenants and employees during this crisis. More and more working class people are becoming politicized through this crisis and starting to think about organizing not just for reforms and concessions but for more – for political power. Nothing is more addictive than victory – if we get rent freeze for April and May, why not withhold labor for more? Why not more frequently? Our strength comes from unity and iron discipline, whereas that of the enemy comes from repression and force which serves only to more openly display the fundamental contradictions that are becoming more and more openly antagonistic. Quarantine orders will increasingly be enforced by the local police and Trump today spoke of issuing a federally enforced quarantine order in New York City, Connecticut and New Jersey. What of the homeless and others? Students of urban struggles know what happens when the National Guard take control of the cities populated in large part by New Afrikan and Latinx working class people. Only an opportunist, a racist, a fascist, or a fool would support the National Guard in the streets of New Orleans, Baltimore, Saint Louis, Los Angeles, or Chicago after witnessing their crimes against the people during the “response” to Hurricane Katrine in 2005. The fascists in power seek to militarize the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and test their strength against that of the people’s movement and organizing.

Landlords and employers are the class enemies. They are withholding tips and wages, arbitrarily turning employees out into the streets, and undoubtedly would be evicting countless working families during this crisis were these possibilities not restricted. Only though revolutionary vigilance and creative militancy can the demands issued by various organizations and tendencies not only be spread, but enforced. Demands that are not enforced by a disciplined revolutionary movement are hollow, weak demands, no better than suggestions, and the masses are let down by a movement that issues demands without enforcing them. Such a movement will never gain the confidence of the masses. It is necessary to monitor landlords and employers who refuse to comply with issued demands and apply pressure through direct action. Exposing them to the masses, call and email campaigns until compliance is guaranteed, developing information and people’s news and rapid response networks, and establishing people’s self-defense corps – these are methods that we can take right now to ensure our demands spread and begin bearing fruit.

The demands of the FTP movement led by the MCP-OC are:

1.) Eviction and Rent Freeze.
2.) Public utility shutoff freeze.
3.) Universal paid sick leave.
4.) Free testing and treatment.
5.) Free food and other necessities for all in quarantine.
6.) Immediate release of those being held in jail on cash bond and closing of all courts for the duration of the emergency. Immediate compassionate release for immunocompromised and elderly prisoners in light of their increased risk for contraction and death from COVID-19.

Similar demands have been issued countrywide, by a variety of organizations, Marxist-Leninist, “democratic socialist”, and anarchist alike. How can these demands be met? At the local level, spreading and propagandizing them through creative means. Banner drops, flyering, tagging demands and revolutionary slogans and person to person conversation are all forms of propaganda that should be spread widely at this time. Working through Facebook groups that have sprouted up to provide/organize mutual aid are also good outlets for propagandizing revolutionary demands and slogans. Revolutionaries should struggle for leadership in such groups and restrict the presence of reactionaries, liberals, and others who often argue for rightist or economist or outright reactionary lines such as “not all landlords are bad” or “support small businesses”. YouTube videos and interviews with tenants/workers are also goood propaganda methods. Many working class people have been laid off and quarantined — this is the perfect time to spread propaganda and organize online.

It’s also essential for revolutionaries to be sourcing and storing necessities such as nonperishable food and personal care items. Toilet paper, toothpaste, canned goods, and other essential items should be obtained, sanitized and stored – it’s possible to obtain a storage unit for centralization purposes. We should also be ready to provide emergency eviction defense at short notice in the event that landlords respond to rent strikes with mass evictions when the moratoriums on evictions are lifted. The task of a revolutionary movement is to be ready for anything, legal or otherwise. Develop connections with legal aid workers such as the National Lawyers’ Guild, and test the strength of your self-defense groups in eviction defense. Learn warfare through warfare. If you are receiving a stimulus check, pool a percentage of these funds to acquire a base of operations for your organization, set up a general strike/rent strike fund, or other necessary organ for the growth of the revolutionary movement and the defense of the people. Or, donate funds to a colonized led organization to help the most oppressed fight state repression.

The #RentStrike demand is coalescing into a broad reaching mass movement out of necessity. Workers refuse to pay because they simply cannot pay. It is our task to turn this spontaneous movement into a centralized one through struggling alongside the people in the most militant current trenches of combat – our homes. The struggle for shelter must be politicized and revolutionized and united under the leadership of the revolutionary Marxist-Leninist-Maoist movement.

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