Freedom Rider: Solidarity with Moms 4 Housing

Black women in Oakland confronted the austerity regime head-on by seizing the housing their families need.

The four women in Oakland, California, known as Moms 4 Housing have been evicted from the home they seized from unscrupulous speculators. Despite being removed by police and arrested, they are still a model for action in this latest attack on the rights of black people.

The displacement of black people from their communities isn’t new. Urban renewal, popular and accurately known as Negro removal, was a weapon in use for many years. White flight from the cities was accompanied by a flight of capital which left communities in ruins. Landlords made more money by burning their properties and collecting insurance than they did by making them habitable for renters. The current term gentrification does not do justice to the latest assault.

The process is playing out publicly in Oakland where Moms 4 Housing took matters into their own hands. They are mothers with young children and despite being employed could not find adequate places to live. One of them works not one, not two, but three different jobs. Low wage workers are caught in the same trap in California and in every other state. These women took bold action when they moved into an empty house targeted by a real estate speculator and called it their own.

There are millions of uninhabited dwellings in cities across the country. They aren’t empty because there is no need for them. On the contrary, there are millions of people who either have inadequate dwellings or none at all.

Houses are unoccupied in Oakland and elsewhere because of the housing bubble that spectacularly burst in 2008. Black people were the hardest hit victims. Many of them were caught up in schemes to securitize mortgages, a plan hatched by bankers in New York, London and Paris. Right-wing talking points blame black Americans for a crisis that also occurred in Ireland and Spain among other countries. Worldwide finance capital created the devastation, not black people trying to secure the only piece of wealth that most of them will ever have.

Black Oakland residents have the misfortune of being near Silicon Valley, and that proximity has brought new affluent residents who have driven up the cost of housing. Investors buy properties until they can sell them at the profit margin they seek. In doing so they inflate real estate prices and exacerbate the crisis. The Oakland house occupied by Moms 4 Housing had been empty for two years and exemplifies this tactic.

The impact of governmental austerity can be seen in the dearth of housing for low income people. The federal government was traditionally the provider of homes for the poor. The “projects” may have been scorned but they kept millions of people sheltered. The federal government is trying to do away with the little funding it still provides and increased homelessness is the result. The women who claimed this particular property are just more public about their plight. There are unseen millions more in the same situation.

Moms 4 Housing are like other little known people throughout history whose individual actions brought about much needed change. They ought to be joined by the rest of the homeless population in Oakland and around the country. Mass action would change the conversation. If an action is singular it is easily targeted. If other such properties are taken in this way, the finance capital scam would be exposed and endangered.

Critics say that the women are stealing. If so, they are behaving no differently than the banksters whose malfeasance created the real estate bubble in the first place. They are no different than the politicians who do their bidding and allow the austerity regime to accelerate. The criminals were bailed out with trillions of dollars but the people are given nothing except more insecurity.

In fact, the women offered to purchase the property but the owner refused. Agreeing to an equitable arrangement with these individuals would put their con game and profits on shaky ground.

Hopefully this tactic will spread and others made housing insecure by governmental collusion with crooked investors will take the same action. It is disheartening to see these women being vilified when they ought to be supported by their entire community. Like the proverbial frog in the pot of boiling water, too many black people have accepted the criminality foisted upon them and accept the status quo. The austerity regime is relentless and has been decades in the making. Now there is passive acceptance, confusion and even attacks on this fight for human rights.

The Moms 4 Housing need solidarity from the people and support from anyone who claims to be a leader. Their cause is a litmus test for black politics. They are on the right side of history and we must all stand with them.

Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well at freedomrider.blogspot.com.  Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgendaReport.com.

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