Our concerns for housing and homelessness started way before there was “No Room at the Inn.” Class society has played a huge role in this dance of landlords and tenants. Frederick Engels wrote a very instructive pamphlet on housing as it related to the factory workers in Manchester England; and here have been countless others.
The struggle for housing has all but intensified in the more recent times when it forced the U.S. to first produce public housing and its ugly history of segregation. Although the problem of housing has been seen with race as key, it has always been class that is key. In the 1960s and 70s, Jesse Gray, founding director of the National Tenant Organization, helped organize a series of tenant-led strikes in New York City to attain affordable housing. Even in Washington D.C., in the mid-1980s, Mitch Snyder of the Community for Creative Non-Violence helped lead the struggle for legislation making shelter a right. The National Union of the Homeless in the late 1980s spearheaded organizing in Philadelphia that inspired Skylight Productions to produce the film “Takeover” documenting their housing takeovers organized around the country on May Day in 1990.
Lorraine Hansberry’s stellar play, “A Raisin in the Sun” dramatized the struggle for housing for a typical working class Black family. The race riots of the early 1900s – Oklahoma, Rosewood, Chicago, East St. Louis, all pointed to the struggle for that cherished yet denied commodity and how the housing market has been regulated in the United States. One of the first reactions of the Klan, with the leadership of the rich and those who control the housing market, was to burn the housing of the community seeking to exercise its right, followed by running out of town leaders, teachers, and/or business owners. These assaults on the working class’ need and demand for housing was to create and implement “redlining,” a discriminatory practice codified and maintained by the Federal Government.
The housing takeover campaigns – sometimes called “squatting” and broadly implemented with some success by such national organizations as ACORN and the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign led by Cheri Honkala – have lessons to offer. In order to successfully carry out squatting or takeovers, the organizers began with:
- FIRST informing the community of the group’s intentions and getting the affected community’s support of the action;
- Building an ethos and understanding that housing is a right and the working class has the right to find and secure shelter for its families;
- Spreading these ideas to communities across the U.S. that housing, as well as utilities and other necessary services, should be nationalized as a way of eliminating the inhumane way the capitalist system deals with the needs of the people who make (create) everything.
A luta continua, Rick Tingling-Clemmons