“You ought to thank me, rather. Without me, for how much longer
would those unquestionable things that are suddenly suspended
have gone on being presented as necessary?”
“What the Virus Said”
Translated by Robert Hurley for lundimatin
From Isolation to Organization
Due to COVID-19, an unprecedented wave of people will not pay rent. Some will do this in solidarity. Some will do this as their only option. Some will do this as an entire building or block. Some will go it alone. This strike does not belong to activists or organizers. It belongs to all of us, to everyone who simply cannot or will not bear the burden of this pandemic. It belongs to everyone who won’t pay, who refuses debt, and who affirms each other in saying “no.”
The TOOLKIT is a step-by-step guide with links to organizational tools and online resources to help you build collective power within your communities and leverage it against your landlords.
- Research your landlord. Check city records for their property listings.
- Contact your landlord’s other tenants. Post a flyer on doors or put letters in mailboxes. Go door-to-door with a script and explain the need for a rent strike. Share your contact information. Be friendly. Stay positive. Wear a mask and maintain recommended distances.
- Download a Signal or Telegram app, and join the Rent Strike 2020 Telegram thread for updates. Set up your own group texting thread to arrange your first meeting. You can opt for online video chat with Jitsi or plan to meet somewhere with adequate room for physical distancing.
- Host a meet and greet. Help neighbors get to know each other and their circumstances. Ask everyone to state their intention to either pay or withhold rent, to better understand who needs more support and who can move into leadership roles, and how you can collectively leverage your power.
- Take time to understand each other’s specific needs, for example: some people might have kids, or be elderly, immune compromised, disabled or chronically ill. These scenarios require tenderness and personal attention to ensure that those people feel supported by the group, especially as you’re taking a collective bargain for the sake of those who cannot pay and risking shelter for those who need it most.
- Connect with local mutual aid projects in your area to form a support system for tenant needs. Mutual aid networks can help answer immediate concerns about food, medicine and other supplies and services. If one group can’t help with your specific need, they often know someone who can.
- Research current moratoriums on eviction to inform how you’ll need to build your capacity to strike. Check the anti-eviction map to see what protections exist in your area. The CARES Act protects 1 in 4 homes from eviction, check if your building is covered.
- Consolidate the demands for your building or tenant group into a single letter, presenting as a cohesive and organized body to your shared landlord. You have now established yourselves as a tenants council, and all issues relevant to COVID-19 will take place through your council, rather than as individuals. This protects you from certain retaliations in some states. Send your letter to your landlord by certified mail and retain a copy for your records.
- Share a form letter with those who rent single family dwellings, and express your solidarity in their decision to strike. Encourage them to join an existing tenants union in your city and protect them. Please take care to understand your risks of eviction and consult a lawyer/the law if you have any questions.
- Prepare to defend each other in the days and months to come. Have plans for how to keep the landlord and their agents out of the building if necessary. Create emergency text codes to quickly rally your neighbors if there are eviction attempts or threats.
A note on digital meetings: Jitsi calls and Zoom meetings present a new form of speaking to each other. Create a few guidelines to prevent people from interrupting each other. As a facilitator, ask people to mute their microphones when they are not speaking, and explore the additional functions like ‘hand raising’. After doing this a few times, you will witness a different pace in how people typically communicate — a conscientious slowing down.
A note on organizing in these times: Fear is a strong emotion. It cripples us into thinking we don’t have the answers. It stops us from acting collectively because we don’t make ourselves vulnerable to the moment and each other long enough to move past it. Collectivity and community can bring us power in a moment when we feel most alone. Being open and patient in these times is what will bring us together and build the networks of support we need for the long road ahead. Take a deep breath, and keep going.
- Meet regularly and set agendas and time limits for meetings. Designate rotating facilitators, note takers, and time keepers and find ways to conscientiously listen yet still move the conversation toward goals and actions to build your strike.
- Draft letters to your city and state governments demanding the suspension of rent and the enactment of the 5 demands for emergency COVID-19 survival. Check-in with other buildings and houses on their progress and learn from each other.
- Map your neighborhood together, and help us map too. Know where people live and their local support systems like churches or other organizations. Help add those places to your strike network.
- Share the work. Empower people to inhabit their best skills in a time of inaction. Paint signs and banners to hang on doors and out of windows. Create your own signifiers of your commitment to strike. Take turns cooking meals or providing sanitary care packages to home bound neighbors. Negate maintenance fees by fixing things yourself. Take care of each other and your shared dwelling.
- Pool resources. Formalize sharing. Consolidate shopping trips, buy bulk and find other ways to stretch funds. Go for walks and get outside. Check on the elders, be mindful of your distance. Trade recipes and film suggestions. Become organs of the same body and keep each other healthy and supported.
- Keep researching. Tenant laws are different in every city and state. Know your rights and how to protect your organization. Your landlord cannot legally shut off your essential services or lock you out of your apartment. If they use intimidation, band together and stand strong. Talk about the intensity of the situation and share space and time to process and recenter your goals.
By now, your whole neighborhood is probably hanging white sheets out the window and you’re wondering what’s next…