About 175 tenants gathered on the steps of Alameda County’s Superior Courthouse for a rally called Life Over Rent / Nuestrxs Vidas Si Renta No on Saturday September 5 from 3 pm to 5:30 pm.
A Facebook invite for the rally claimed “Our needs come before our landlord’s profits” and showed that five different tenant unions organized the event: Tenants and Neighborhood Councils (TANC), SMC Tenants Council, Lonay Tenants Council, Village Residents Association at UC Berkeley Family Housing and JDW Tenants Union.
The invite also listed three goals: canceling rent during the pandemic, recognition and negotiation from landlords of collectively organized tenants, and prohibiting all evictions and expanding unemployment and food stamps for those hit hardest by the pandemic.
Although the day was hot with temperatures in the upper 80s and 90s, the courthouse provided shade which tenants sat in as they listened to about a dozen speakers representing different local grassroots tenant, labor, and housing justice groups. A march was planned, but it was cancelled as smoke increasingly blew into the area. Tenants held signs, mostly in red, some of which read “EVICTIONS = POLICE VIOLENCE,” “BLACK LIVES MATTER, BLACK TENANTS MATTER,” “HOMES FOR ALL, WE WON’T WAIT” and “LANDLORDS MUST NEGOTIATE.”
Gerald Smith, a former Black Panther who’s currently a member of Oscar Grant Organizing Committee spoke first and encouraged people to join in the fight to release people from San Quentin Prison, where currently 26 people have died from COVID-19. Then Smith spoke of lessons he learned participating in The Harlem Rent Strikes in the mid-60s and highlighted the importance of organized leadership and planning beyond small wins against landlords. After some landlords abandoned buildings during the Harlem strike, Smith said many renters weren’t organized or prepared well for how to respond.
“We figured if you beat them, things are going to be alright,” Smith said. “But it’s not going to be alright. As long as capitalism exists it’s not going to be alright. You have to prepare people for the next step.”