Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Tenants: Occupy

Across California and the nation, the 99% are joining together to protest economic inequality and corporate excesses. In an age when most politicians are servants of corporate interests, the public has done one of the few things left to do: occupy public space in protest of a system gone awry.

The figures are increasingly well known, thanks in no small part to the success of the Occupy Wall Street movement. 1% of the U.S. population controls over 40% of the nation’s wealth and 25% of its annual income. The top 1%’s income has grown by 275% over the last 30 years. Meanwhile, one in seven Americans lives in poverty. Unemployment is in double digits. Student loan debt is a staggering trillion dollars. The economic inequities are so depressing, that for years many have wondered how to even begin trying to make change.

Avenues for political change from within have been largely blockaded. The right wing’s assault on the judicial system has resulted in a judiciary hostile to the rights of poor and middle class people. Long gone are the days when judges furthered social justice by using their discretion to protect the vulnerable.

The Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling was the last straw, toppling reason in transparent service to moneyed interests. Thanks to the decision, corporate control over the political process is here to stay, unless there is a constitutional amendment or popular uprising. By giving corporations all the privileges of personhood, including the right to buy elections, the Supreme Court made a mockery of our democratic process.

Rather than be satisfied with a skewed system in which wealth is concentrated at the top, those at the top have sought further and further gains at the expense of working people. Politicians of all parties have obliged: eliminating the estate tax; cutting taxes on the richest Americans; slashing spending on housing, education and welfare programs; bailing out banks while abandoning homeowners to fend for themselves; refusing to hold anyone accountable for fraudulent conduct leading to the mortgage meltdown. The Occupy movement summarizes the overwhelming feeling of the masses who, with every occupation, collectively shout: “Enough!”

California tenants share this feeling. California has over 15 million tenants. Most are working people of low or moderate incomes, including millions of people of color. Legislators in the state capitol ignore tenants, shamelessly serving real estate industry interests who pay to play in a game that is rigged against tenants and other working people. Meanwhile, tenants find no refuge in the courts, where decades of conservative appointments have created an unmistakable hostility to tenant rights.

Tenants are joining the Occupy movement in large numbers. Occupations are occurring across California – in Oakland, San Jose, Fresno, Merced, Los Angeles and dozens of other cities. Honest, emotional, creative and constructive voices for change are emerging and the chorus is getting louder.

For tenants and homeowners in foreclosed properties, the Occupy movement has particular poignancy. Some housing groups try to fight off evictions by bringing the community together in eviction blockades, but these actions are designed to save one family’s housing at a time, and despite these heroic efforts, banks continue the mass-displacement of people from their homes for no good reason. Occupations provide a forum for collective refusal to vacate. There is safety and power in numbers, notwithstanding the violent and misguided police actions in Oakland and other cities in recent days.Tenants Together commends Occupy Wall Street and the entire Occupy movement for giving voice to the frustration felt by the 99% and for sparking a long overdue and desperately needed movement for economic justice.

To our members across the state, and our allies everywhere, we say: “Occupy.”

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