Forced evictions on stolen land during a global pandemic? That’s a reality facing nearly 30-40 million people in the U.S. who can’t pay their rent. Forced evictions have been happening on these lands since colonizers first arrived, terrorizing and displacing Indigenous communities. Today’s eviction crisis is only the latest in generations of compounding crises of violence. The fatally inadequate state support in the midst of the massive economic fallout of COVID-19 is nothing new.
A housing crisis existed long before COVID-19 began. In January of 2019, nearly 570,000 people were experiencing homelessness in the U.S. This number says nothing for the uncounted, the unknown, the erased– let alone those struggling to stay in homes they cannot afford or those living under abusive landlords. The racial inequities of this issue mirror (and reproduce) those of other human rights issues: BIPOC are disproportionately represented among the unhoused population, with Black and indigenous people facing the highest rates among these groups. This is the result of generations of discrimination in housing, criminal punishment, child welfare, education, and employment, as well as the tolls of gentrification, dispossession, and displacement. These systemic stressors also cause or exacerbate mental illness. About a third of unhoused people in the U.S. have serious mental illness, leaving them vulnerable to further state violence like police killings.
The pandemic and accompanying recession have been fuel for a long-burning fire. Structural racism threatens to become even more entrenched as Black and Latinx communities bear the brunt of the most severe impacts of COVID-19 on income, employment, and wellbeing.
So– what can we do?
The history of resistance to forced evictions stretches across the globe and far back in time. Stopping evictions is an act of “collective empowerment” in which groups in the U.S draw from tactics used in the Great Depression or even from demonstration techniques systematically employed in Spain.
Some ways groups are resisting include:
- New Orleans Renters’ Rights Assembly blocking a courthouse with protests, furniture, people chained together, and holding a mock court in order to call an end to evictions in Louisiana
- Community Power Collective successfully closing Los Angeles Superior Court during an action as part of a series of action directed at shutting down courts and highlighting the eviction crisis
- Tenants groups in Los Angeles keeping renters in their homes by blocking movers from loading vans and staging direct actions
- Equality for Flatbush organizing with hundreds of supporters who camped out to stop a forced eviction in New York City in July 2020
- Make the Road Nevada and local activists in Las Vegas leading a caravan and press conference in coordination with nationwide actions calling for the cancellation of rent
- JustFixNYC developing tech tools to make it easier to do things like respond to an eviction notice or take your landlord to court
- Right To the City Alliance developing a training series to build renter power and stop evictions
And today, many of us have phones that give us a new tool to fight back: video documentation.
Filming before, during, and/or after an eviction can help bring attention to an individual case or group of cases. It can also be used to help mobilize a larger movement against forced evictions. Video can be used as a tool in campaigns that call the state to account for the ongoing neglect of human life. The same footage can be used to call attention to the entrenched racism of policies, illuminate the strengths of a society that must be protected, and amplify grassroots solutions to problems that have devastated communities for centuries. For example, community-led police accountability groups like Berkeley Copwatch have been collecting videos of raids on homeless encampments and police abuse against unhoused individuals to raise public awareness and hold officers accountable.
In collaboration with affected communities, WITNESS and Amnesty International created guides, tip sheets, and videos that outline how to safely and effectively use film to fight forced evictions. This Forced Evictions Advocacy Toolkit is available for download in English, Spanish, French, Arabic, Portuguese, Hindi, Italian, Khmer, Oriya, and Romanian. You can find inspiration by reading our highlights on how activists in countries like Kenya, Cambodia, India, Colombia, and Brazil have leveraged these resources in the past: here and here.
You can also pull from our social media toolkit on documenting forced evictions to ensure that this information gets shared in your networks and can reach those who need this information the most.
Solidarity is essential to the survival of many and for the liberation of us all. And safe housing should be a human right. While COVID-19 and capitalism ravage on, our recovery will rely on each of us equipping ourselves with skills to protect our community members. Be sure to follow, amplify, and support community groups that are working to end the abuses tied into evictions and houselessness. Look for local organizations and tenant unions organizing rent strikes, mutual aid efforts, and advocacy campaigns.
Our collective liberation is the way home.
GROUPS TO FOLLOW + SUPPORT
Anti-Eviction Map (NY, CA)
Make the Road (NY + other states)
Legal Aid Society (NYC)
DSA Housing Justice (NY)
Met Council on Housing (NYC)
Right To Counsel (NYC)
Street Watch LA (CA)
Moms 4 Housing (CA)
Action NC (NC)
Find local organizations in your area by using Just Shelter’s mapping tool
KEY WITNESS RESOURCES
Guide to Filming Forced Evictions:
Download English guide: wit.to/ForcedEvictions
Download Arabic guide: wit.to/ForcedEvictions-AR
Download Portuguese guide: wit.to/RemocoesForcadas
Download Spanish guide: wit.to/DesalojosForzosos
More languages here
Tip sheets for Filming Forced Evictions:
Download English: wit.to/ForcedEvictions-Tips
Know Your Rights: Forced Evictions (WITNESS + Amnesty International): Download English guide: wit.to/ForcedEvictions-Rights
Download Spanish guide: wit.to/TomaPartido-DF
More languages available here
Know Your Obligations: Forced Evictions (WITNESS + Amnesty International) Download English guide: wit.to/ForcedEvictions-Obligations
Download Spanish guide: wit.to/ConozcanSusObligaciones-DF
More languages available here
Films on Forced Evictions
People Before Profit (Youtube with subtitles in multiple languages)
Anthology Film Archives + Shelter Force: Films on housing rights, displacement and the meaning of home