D.C. tenants and unemployed organize and mobilize

D.C. tenants and unemployed organize and mobilize


The Claudia Jones School for Political Education recently hosted an Unemployment and Tenant Organizing Town Hall for residents in the DMV area (District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia) in the form of an online Zoom webinar. We invited seven panelists who work in the local area, as well as one panelist from a national labor organization. Panelists represented the Brookland Manor and Brentwood Village Tenants Association (DC’s largest remaining affordable housing complexes), ONE DC, DC Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, New Virginia Majority, and the CPUSA Labor Commission. Also, Will Merrifield, a candidate running for DC Council, was in attendance; he has worked closely with tenants associations around the area advocating for universal housing, education, and employment opportunities.

We are hoping to host more events like this in the future, and to put as many residents in the DMV area into contact with regional and national labor organizers as possible. Our aim with this event was to facilitate a community-led dialogue between organizers in the area, and to put unemployed people and tenants in contact with one another to strategize about ways to advocate for ourselves as a collective. We are currently thinking about ways that we can enhance dialogue between participants and panelists in an online format such as a webinar, and to raise the voices of everyone in the discussion while maintaining safety and technological feasibility. Our intention is to create a consistent meeting place for the mass of poor and working-class people in our community so that they can organize and mobilize in the face of untenable material conditions. We are aiming to replicate similar strategies that the CPUSA used to create the successful Unemployed Councils (UCs) during the Great Depression in the 1930s.

We are currently experiencing the types of material conditions that have spawned mass revolutionary movements and uprisings across history. Currently, 28 million renters, representing 22.5% of all U.S. households, are at risk of being evicted at this very moment. These numbers do not even count the mass of undocumented folks who work and pay rent to exploitative property owners. If it wasn’t crystal clear by now: this is a completely untenable economic situation for the poor and working-class people of this country. In the past, the Unemployed Councils got their start in the local communities of major cities like New York and D.C., which expanded to neighborhood units called Councils of Action. These local units imagined national organizations of workers that advanced their political goals in preparation for the larger goal to abolish the capitalist state. We would like to take a similar approach, starting locally to imagine a mass of poor and working-class folk across the country who collaborate in advocacy for our collective rights and establish new systems of governance in place of the outmoded institutions of the current capitalist political economy.

As a collective, we are hoping that our town halls will focus on empowering marginalized people in the area and strengthening the poor and working-class struggle in two important ways: 1) by recruiting unemployed workers into the labor movement so they can participate in building on the rising movement in this moment as well as when they go back to work, and 2) to help protect tenants who experience aggression from their landlords, who employ the threat of eviction to violently coerce and extort renters during a global pandemic. We hope that building organizational strength will actively weaken the power that landlords and employers unjustly wield in opposition to the poor and working-class people of our community. If tenants know that they have collective strength in numbers, and they are affirmed by large groups of their  community members who demonstrate that they are ready to take action and back up their comrades in solidarity, they will have the confidence to organize strikes, participate in protests, and advocate for change in the face of eviction and severely back-loaded rents.

We were hoping to reach as many DMV folks as possible in our coming town hall events, and we received loads of support for the first town hall from our network of comrades in the area. We considered this event to be successful, but we want to reach even more people who aren’t necessarily involved in organizations yet. We have found it challenging to reach out to residents at their homes during these times. Suggestions and advice are welcome. Please reach out with ideas, or if you have found any strategies that have been effective in your own organizing efforts, please contact us at info@claudiajonesschool.org.

We encourage folks from other communities to partner with us in organizing more of these events going forward, and we stand in solidarity with all the folks who are struggling with unemployment and aggressive pressure from landlords and employers.

Image:  Lorie Shaull, Creative Commons (BY-SA 2.0).


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