1. The United Front Against Displacement is an Anti-Gentrification Organization
Gentrification is a process in which banks, developers, and politicians transform neighborhoods and whole cities by driving up rents and sponsoring waves of new construction. Through the construction of new luxury units, keeping vacant apartments off the market to restrict housing supply, and destroying low-income housing, these forces work together to price poor and working-class people out of the city. In the process they make billions of dollars transforming cities into playgrounds for the rich, while the poor are kicked to the curb, out of neighborhoods, and eventually out of the city all together. Gentrification disproportionately affects Black people, Latinos, and other oppressed minorities.
Because gentrification is a complex process, many different actors are involved in various ways. Landlords raise rents far above what tenants can afford and evict people in large numbers. Politicians pass laws that subsidize new luxury buildings and rezone neighborhoods to pave the way for new construction. Banks invest billions of dollars in this process and lobby hard for new subsidies. The court system facilitates the whole process, favoring landlords over tenants and the rich over the poor. Police ramp up patrols in gentrifying neighborhoods and harass homeless people (many of whom often are former tenants from the neighborhood who have fallen on hard times). The government plays an active role in the process, serving the rich and pretending to represent the people. Many non-profits play a role in gentrification too, often serving as fronts for both the super-rich and their friends in government.
The United Front Against Displacement is an organization built around fighting against gentrification. We are committed to working with all who are serious about fighting back against gentrification. We work to unite residents in developments and across neighborhoods facing displacement so that their struggles can join together and halt gentrification in its tracks. Our focus is on organizing with the people, rather than hoping that the powerful will do the right thing.
2. We organize among the people, and work to build unity through struggle.
At present most people in this country are not generally united in any common cause or political struggle. While there are big spontaneous protests and some pockets of organized resistance, there is also a lot of division and conflict among the people. The rich and powerful elite of this country run things by a “divide and rule” strategy. They work to divide people by age, nationality, skin color, gender, language, and more, pitting them against each other. To build the power of the people we need to overcome these divisions. It takes patient and methodical work day-by-day, week-by-week, and year-by-year to bring people together.
While some of these contradictions and conflicts play out along national lines, it’s also important not to oversimplify things. Wealthy white people moving into a neighborhood is often a telltale sign of gentrification; however in some cities such as Palo Alto and Seattle, influxes of wealthy South and East Asian populations have been a significant part of gentrification. There are often also many low-income white people in public housing.
While there are conflicts among the people, in many cases there is a basis for people to overcome these issues and work together. But this does not happen automatically. It takes serious time and work to understand what is needed to bring people together in the common struggle against displacement. Even when a whole neighborhood faces gentrification, the obstacles to bringing people together often vary building to building and need to be understood in detail. This difficult work has to be done in order to win meaningful victories in the struggle. Working through contradictions among the people and struggling against gentrification are two closely linked tasks. We need to bring people together in the process of fighting back.
3. We aim to build unity between the struggles of tenants and homeless people.
Low-income tenants and homeless people have a shared interest in opposing gentrification. Many homeless people were once residents of poor neighborhoods; they often become homeless because of rising rents and the other related dynamics. Most people in this country are living paycheck-to-paycheck. This means that many tenants are only one missed paycheck or rent payment away from becoming homeless themselves. Even if they don’t miss a paycheck or lose their jobs, the pressures of gentrification, such as rising rents and costs of living, often eat into their incomes. So, there is a real basis for both tenants and the homeless to unite in this common struggle.
However, there are also serious obstacles to this. Because of the harsh conditions on the street, it is more difficult for the homeless to become consistent organizers. Predatory individuals (often including the cops, dealers, and scam artists) leave most of the homeless in even more precarious daily situations.
City governments often drive the homeless out of wealthy neighborhoods and into poorer ones. While many residents in these neighborhoods are aware that the homeless are not their true enemies, they also have real issues with homeless encampments setting up in their neighborhoods. When encampments are set up in parks (and the police often push the homeless into parks), residents often feel unsafe using these parks. While many homeless people pose no threat to most people, there are some predatory individuals who make things unsafe, especially predatory dealers. What’s more, people with severe drug problems can be a danger to those around them when facing withdrawal or looking for a way to find their next fix. Heavy drug use among homeless people means that needles are often left on the ground in the areas surrounding encampments, making parks and neighborhoods unsafe for children to play in.
Many tenants with kids are reasonably concerned about these and other issues. They are legitimate issues which negatively impact people’s lives in a big way. Loss of access to public spaces like parks and other issues that come with homeless encampments being set up in neighborhoods (trash, violent crime, etc.) are real problems. However, it is important to note that homeless people themselves are not the ultimate source of these issues.
The oppressive nature of this society leaves millions of the people with nothing, and the city governments drive the homeless into poor neighborhoods. This is part of their divide and rule strategy, aimed at pitting low-income residents against homeless people, and thus using their complaints to justify expanding police budgets and presence. This works to exacerbate and perpetuate divisions among the people along these lines. Therefore, it is important to build unity between tenants and homeless people in the struggle against gentrification.
Building this unity is a long-term effort that cannot be accomplished all at once. It has many parts to it. There’s a need to address the issues in neighborhoods related to homeless encampments, including needles being left around, drug use, and more. It’s also important to oppose efforts to “solve” these problems by increased policing. At the same time, there is a need to organize among homeless people to isolate the predatory individuals and groups. There is also a need to work through differences and problems among homeless people, including issues with trash, drug addiction, and more. Only in working in this way will it be possible to build unity between tenants and homeless people in the struggle against gentrification.
4. We believe that addiction is a detriment to all people and we stand against the sale and distribution of hard drugs. We believe that overcoming addiction is not only possible, but an important part of the struggle against gentrification.
For a long time, drugs have been used by the wealthy and powerful as a tool of social control. To subjugate China in the nineteenth century, the British and other colonial powers pushed boatloads of opium on the Chinese people. To curtail the rising tide of the Black Liberation struggle, the U.S. Government pushed heroin and later crack cocaine into Black neighborhoods. They sponsored gangs and dealers at the same time that they rolled out new forms of mass incarceration and mandatory minimum sentences for minor drug possession. The CIA and DEA have also worked closely with narcotraffickers and drug lords in Mexico and the rest of Latin America to crush people’s movement and facilitate the flow of drugs around the world.
At present the U.S. consumes around 80% of the world’s narcotics. Major companies like Purdue Pharma make billions of dollars a year pushing opioids onto the people of this country. Recent years have seen massive spikes in drug addiction and overdoses; this crisis is only likely to intensify in the coming years as we head into a global economic depression.
In addition to drug addiction, alcohol addiction remains a heavy burden on many Americans. It is estimated that at least 5.8% of Americans over the age of 18 suffer from alcoholism. Alcoholism is a serious obstacle to getting people involved in the struggle.
The deaths caused by overdoses are a major problem; at least tens of thousands of people die every year in this country from overdoses. However, the issues with drug use are not limited to overdoses. A reason that drugs are such an effective form of social control is that they generally reduce people’s willingness and ability to fight back against their oppressors. This is not just an issue with opioids and other hard drugs like meth. For years big drug companies have been pushing a variety of powerful drugs for all kinds of problems people face, from chronic pain to anxiety and even poor performance in school. Abuse of these drugs in prescription form is now normalized in the U.S., even if their street equivalents are stigmatized. Increasing people’s dependence on these drugs for daily functioning is also very profitable for the drug companies.
Another aspect of social control via drug use is the promotion of dealers, gangs, and gang-related violence. Gangs are often primary daily oppressors of people in poor neighborhoods. They make the streets unsafe, they push hard drugs on people, and they shake them down for payments on a regular basis. They also regularly work hand-in-glove with the police. The presence of gangs in the neighborhood also provides a convenient justification for increases in police presence and routine harassment of poor people and oppressed minorities, as in policies such as New York City’s infamous “Stop and Frisk”.
Drug use and drug dealing are also closely linked to gentrification. Not only is drug use a major obstacle to uniting people in collective resistance to their oppressors, it also is used as a justification for increased police presence in neighborhoods. The killing of Breonna Taylor shows how police use the presence of drugs in a neighborhood as a pretense to increase their patrols, to criminalize the poor, and to pave the way for gentrification. What’s more, the government has used things like mandatory minimum sentences to imprison huge numbers of people for petty possession, thus further ripping apart the social fabric of neighborhoods and facilitating more gentrification.
All of this being said, we are opposed to shaming or stigmatizing people who use drugs and even those who are addicted to hard drugs. People often turn to drug use when facing incredibly difficult situations from which they see no way out. The prevailing hopelessness and nihilism in our society leads some people to conclude that escapism via drug use is the only option, or at least the least-bad one. But this is not the case. The people can come together and collectively struggle for a better world. Where possible we aim to follow in the footsteps of efforts like those pursued by Malcolm X and the Black Panther Party to help people get clean so that they can join in and more fully participate in the struggle.
5. We build change through the power of the people.
The people are the real force behind all positive and progressive social change. When people come together in collective struggle, all the forces of oppression can be overcome. We focus our organizing efforts on bringing people together in the struggle against gentrification. This means that our main focus is going among the people, not lobbying politicians, engaging in electoral efforts, or filing lawsuits.
Some gains can be won in the form of the passage of progressive legislation (for example, rent control) and the struggle against gentrification does have a legal component (for example, lawsuits to force a landlord to repair a building). However, these are not our main focus. Historically, progressive legislation has followed mass protests, mobilizations, and long-term organizing efforts. In comparison, lobbying politicians and “getting a seat at the table” has not yielded much in the way of results; instead, it often is little more than a dead end and a waste of time. Similarly, lawsuits can be a helpful tactic in a given struggle, but they are not the key to victory. Courts generally take years to provide a ruling, even on basic matters like dangerous living conditions.
Our view is that grassroots organizing with the people is the key to winning victories in the struggle against gentrification. Right now, there are very few organizations out there which are not beholden to the power structure. Building tenants associations, neighborhood councils, and encampment associations provides the people with organizations that serve their interests, organizations which take up the struggle against gentrification. Through building and participating in these organizations the people learn about the larger dynamics of gentrification, gain valuable experience, and become leaders in the struggle.