Historic #RenterPower2018 Assembly Convenes 325+ in Atlanta to build community, strategy and vision for the US Land & Housing Movement.

By Homes For All From July 18-22, more than 325 organizers, tenants, and activists representing 105 organizations from across the country convened in Atlanta for the Homes For All #RenterPower2018 assembly. The assembly was a space to deepen relationships, share strategies and stories of struggles, celebrate our hard-won victories and hard-fought defeats and begin developing long-term 10-year strategy for the land & housing movement. It was also space for trainings on shared organizing models to grow the movement to scale and develop new skills and capacities through trainings and workshops.

Bertha Harden. Credit: Mike Dennis

Bertha Harden of the Housing Justice League, opened the night with a stirring rendition of “Victory is Ours” that brought the assembly to its feet and set the tone for what would be a fiery, energetic and powerful week.

Lydia Lowe of the Chinatown Community Land Trust, Andrea Chiriboga-Flor of 9to5 Colorado and Trenise Bryant of Miami Workers Center opened up the assembly program in 3 languages – Mandarin, Spanish and English. The assembly was a trilingual event grounded in the belief that all participants must be able to participate in the language they feel most comfortable in – a core belief of HFA.

“Language Justice is about more than interpretation. It’s about us being able to win. If we’re going to win we need mass numbers of people in our movement. We need the people most affected by the issues we are fighting to transform to lead. Those people speak many languages – our movements must too.” – Andrea Chiriboga-Flor, HFA member and organizer with 9to5 in Denver colorado.

On Thursday, the first full day of the assembly, Holiday Simmons – a black Cherokee transmasculine activist and Atlanta native, opened the assembly and helped us to root ourselves in the history of the land upon which we convened, land contested between the Cherokee and Creek tribes, marked by centuries of slavery, and steeped in the history and struggle of indigenous and Black populations.

Holiday Simmons. Credit: Mike Dennis

Later, Ryan Acuff of Rochester and Cesiah Guadarrama Trejo of Denver introduced the 6 Homes For All principles and 3 core values of Homes For All. While we have different approaches and contexts in each of our cities, it’s these values and principles that allow us to coordinate our work together as a trans-local movement and to bring new people into the movement. Throughout the next five days, we worked to stay grounded in principles of cooperation, mutual respect, solidarity, love, self-care, and a not insignificant amount of dancing.

Digging Into Strategy.

Photo by Mike Dennis©

“As an assembly we dreamed big about the future. We have to dream big and think about the 10 years out, not just next year or even 5 years out because the real estate industry, hedge funds that are buying up our buildings are thinking 10 years if not 20 years out…. We dreamed of Rent Control for All! We dreamed about reclaiming land and having community control! What could our movement be if we had a million tenants actively involved. No elected official would be able to ignore us.” – Andrea Shapiro, Met Council on Housing 

  On day 2, we began the difficult and exciting task of developing 10+ year strategy with more than 300 people! Real estate developers and investors have 10 and 20 year plans to displace the working class and remake neighborhoods for profit. It took 40 years to transition from the racist disinvestment of redlining to the racist reinvestment of gentrification, and if we want to organize for housing and transit for all, we must plan ahead too.

“Homes For All believes the leadership of our movements must come from those directly affected by the housing and displacement crisis’. The way we develop strategy then, too, must be a democratic process through which we collectively learn new skills and develop new muscles to develop long term strategy.” – Davin Cardenas, North Bay Organizing Project / Homes For All California 

We began our strategy exploration by creating a shared timeline of hundreds of local victories and campaigns we have achieved together since our last convening in 2016, and a nation-wide map of the campaigns, targets and opportunities that exist in our communities. Together we created a collective narrative history of our work as a movement and an assessment of where we are as a movement.

I was inspired by people seriously doing a lot of hard work out there. From Minnesota to Colorado to New York to California—the amazing mobile home strike, the creativity and courage and inclusiveness of us all. Our struggles are all connected and Homes For All connects the dots—to other social movements around the world — Honduras, Palestine, Philippines to Tennessee to California, we are all connected. – Mommi Papalaz, Causa Justa::Just Cause, Oakland

In the afternoon we kicked off with a imagination-opening activity called ‘the story of how we win.’ We asked each other to collectively spin a story to our future generations of all the things that happened between 2018 and 2043 that got us to a world where housing is a human right for all people. In 2018, we shared how we planned and carried out city-wide and national rent strikes, organized block parties within our communities, fought to preserve Section 8, built a national union of tenants, reached out to formerly incarcerated people, and worked to strengthen our regional coalitions. We role-played “disaster scenarios” to envision how to liberate our cities, disrupt entrenched power, and band together when climate catastrophe strikes to meet our own needs and create autonomous ‘freed zones’ in our communities.

Malchus Mills of Providence addresses the assembly. Credit: Mike Dennis

With our imaginations open and our hearts ready, we then broke into two translocal tracks for deeper discussion on the campaigns and tactics, movement infrastructure, resources, opposition attacks, and strategic movement partnerships we will need to be ready for or need to build over the next 10 years.

“While split into our translocal committees, we developed deep discussion around different strategies and goals for the coalition then reported back to the larger assembly. It was extremely empowering to hear other people dreaming big for their communities, because those dreams can become reality with the power of organizing.” -Carmina Calderon, East LA Community Corporation, Los Angeles

We closed out Day 2, hearing back from all of the breakout groups and readying ourselves to take action together on Day 3!

Friday: Taking To The Streets – Collective Action & #BeltLine4All

In solidarity with our comrades inthe Atlanta Housing Justice League, we took over the steps of Atlanta City Hall to demand that redevelopment along the Atlanta Beltline meet the needs of displaced Atlantans who built the city and anchor their communities, only to find themselves pushed out by public officials, greedy developers and landlords. We chanted, drummed, and celebrated our collective strength.

“For Atlanta, the action helped to keep the issue of housing justice and affordability on the radar. The Beltline is in a crisis of leadership right now, and having the rally with Homes For All members was relevant and timely to keep pressure on city officials. It re-enegerized the #Beltline4All movement in Atlanta, and for assembly participants, being able to physically engage in an action was energizing, and inspiring. I heard people wanting to bring out folks to actions across the country in New Jersey and Florida and other cities!” -Karimah Dillard of Housing Justice League

Homes For All Movement DNA

The second part of the day was filled with theatre and reflection, as the Homes For All DNA Committee introduced HFA’s new organizing manual, the Greenbook: a new tool that HFA has been developing over the last two years to reach the millions of residents who are directly impacted by the housing and land crisis but are not already part of our movement. Regardless of their background or level of experience, the Greenbook aims to support tenants in starting to organize and take lin their communities and center our most marginalized comrades at the heart of our organizing, making base-building easier and collectivizing our individual power.

Playback Theater @ #RenterPower2018 Credit: Mike Dennis

Through a playback theater performance focused on base building, protest and intimidation from developers members of tenant unions and organizations around the country reflected on theatrical skits that deeply resonated with the lived experience of struggle.

“It all begins with local assemblies that are rooted deeply in their cities. From here it moves to build out leaders who represent their states to build regionally. Regional assemblies encompass multiple states that meet and share knowledge that unite forces to create alternatives to the common narrative of land and house. It is about sharing.  And about learning our enemy, and freeing ourselves from the shackles of oppression. Regional assemblies then lead to our national assemblies. People left excited, inspired, and ready to take our movement to the next level.” – Roberto de la Riva, Inquilinxs Unidxs Por Justica, Minneapolis [Roberto Photo]

Still in draft form, every organizer and participant took ownership of the work to refine a Homes for All and were asked to reflect in regional breakout sessions to consider whether this tool would be effective for growing our movement’s power and organizing new people. In the coming months HFA organizers will be finalizing the tool and releasing it to the world.

Building Regional Power & Strategy.

Participants from the South, Southwest, California, Northeast, Mountain West, Mid-Atlantic, and Midwest broke out into regional breakout sessions to solidify strategies and share with the larger group. While there is more work to be done to build alignment in our regions, coming together to meet each other and coordinate our work was critical for the future of the movement.

What emerged was a clear desire for more regional assemblies and intersectional solidarity work across organized labor, education, public health, immigrant justice, language justice, Black liberation, indigenous rights, and other fronts. The shared goal: to redefine the American dream toward collective and cooperative ownership of land and housing, while finding ways for every block-by-block organizing effort and the national Homes for All movement to integrate with and feed into one another.

And of course – even the regional report backs had dancing!

Friday Night: Building The Bigger We – Joint Assembly with Grassroots Global Justice Alliance

On Friday, we convened with our brothers and sisters in the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance for a joint assembly bringing together our two movements. We connected across alliances and learned from comrades from Mozambique, Brazil, Palestine, and First Nations communities who spoke about the global struggle for feminism, the right to the city as an analytical framework, and how our struggles to reclaim the land for the people are all parts of one larger fight.

As the movement for land & housing continues to grow, the urgent need for deeper alignment and coordination across movements with people’s fighting for black liberation, indigenous sovereignty, gender justice, climate justice and for a world free from war & militarism is imperative.

This fall – Right To The City, Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, the Indigenous Environmental Network and Climate Justice Alliance will convene in San Francisco in September for the Solidarity to Solutions Summit to counteract the for-profit, imperialist narratives of the upcoming Global Climate Action Summit and reorient the narrative toward collective stewardship of the land.

Saturday: Building our skills, sharpening our tools

We started Saturday off with a joint mistica with our sisters in GGJ – a cultural performance led by indigenous, black and latinx sisters and brothers exploring our relationship to, and defense of the land. We then broke out into five different training tracks giving assembly participants a chance to dig deeper into skill building and organizing models and tools: direct action strategy, narrative strategy, launching electoral campaigns & preparing for opposition attacks, tenant union organizing and organizing for community control & equitable development.

“I learned about how other states are doing community land trusts. I learned the ways in how they are organizing. Learning and listening to some the techniques housing advocates use throughout the United States on organizing homes for all.  It wasn’t talking specifically about any particular home but homes for all… It is very important to build, to ally, to collaborate and to be in solidarity nationally and globally because what goes on nationally also goes on globally.” – Deborah Dickerson, Picture The Homeless, New York City 

Each track coincided with Homes For All’s strategy and beliefs about what it will take to win. HFA believes winning will require organizing mass tenants unions and community unions capable of organizing mass numbers of our people to take bold and collective direct action. HFA believes winning will require changing the story about land & housing and upending dominant beliefs. HFA believes that we need to launch effective, cross city campaigns that take decisions directly to the people and that we must be as much about defending our people now as we are about building new alternative models to take land & housing off of the speculative market and promote community control.  

Time To Get Down & Party

Credit: Mike Dennis
Credit: Mike Dennis

Saturday night was all about the party. After four days of learning from each other, strategizing, engaging in challenging conversations, assembly participants threw down and turned up on the dance floor along with members of the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance. From our movement ‘no-talent’ talent show to the movement photo booth assembly members had fun and built community together.

“Taking time to wind down, be ourselves and see all of the parts of us that we often don’t see is critical for our assemblies. Creating space to bring out our cultures, and our secret jewels and talents is needed in every people’s assembly and in all of our movement spaces,” – Trenise Bryant, Miami Workers Center

Sunday: Closing & Wrap Up

The closing ceremony on Sunday brought home the week. As members prepared to say goodbye we regrounded ourselves in our purpose and vision and we recapped some of the major takeaways from the 10 year strategy discussions that are resonating most with HFA members. Members in Nebraska resonated with the goal of making rent control a common sense and normal call for the general public within 5 years, and explored what it would take to launch a rent control campaign there. Members resonated with organizing renter pride marches in our cities, building a network of community controlled land trusts, establishing social housing commissions in 50 cities across the country, and building toward a coordinated network of tenants unions through local, regional and national assemblies. Members in New Jersey, Washington State, Oregon, Pittsburg, Philadelphia, California (both statewide and in local cities), Washington D.C., Baltimore, Rochester, Colorado and Boston shared interest or commitments to organize public renter assemblies in 2018 – 2019.

Dawn Phillips of Right To The City reminded us all that the time is now to build a national movement for the liberation of land and housing. This will take us all. It will take building a movement of millions of people. It will take connecting our movement to other struggles for liberation. And finally it will take transformation of ourselves.

Participants were grounded in the reminder that the biggest take away from the #RenterPower2018 assembly is the emotions and the feelings we create when we are together. “We have transform us, to transform our communities and societies. We need to love each other and ourselves much more deeply than we know how to…We wanted this assembly to feel different.”

“This assembly was much more than training and technical terms — it was about community. It was about building together, whether you’ve known that person for years or not at all; the common thread can be found in many places. Although I recognize that I have much more to learn, this experience has grown me beyond any expectation and when the fight comes, I will be willing to do what it takes to win because of what I have experienced here.”  – Jewel Rodgers, We Are Vital, Lincoln Nebraska 

“Tenants Are Workers, Workers are Tenants”

The final activity of the assembly brought forward the most tears and emotions of the week. Led through a facilitated process of appreciations we acknowledge the many ways that each person made others laugh, taught others something new, challenged each other and supported each other.

Assembly members stood in raucous applause as the Childcare and Art Build teams shared the work that happened within each of their spaces throughout the week – recognizing that we cannot build a movement without creating space for care, creativity and our whole selves.

And finally we gave love and appreciation to the people who made the assembly possible – the workers at Georgia Tech Hotel & Conference Center who fed us, cared for us, looked out for us and built relationships. Participants shared hugs, exchanged contact information and closed in an assembly wide chant “tenants are workers and workers are tenants.” We were reminded that we as tenants and organizers are the workers and the workers are us. We need each other to build the world we believe in.

Learning More & Getting Involved

To learn more about Homes For All visit www.homesforall.org or reach out to info@HomesForAll.org. To join Homes For All sign the pledge at www.homesforall.org/pledge To find organizations in your community visit: https://homesforall.org/our-partners/