Due to the large-scale coronavirus restrictions, countless people have been put out of work and are unable to afford necessities, like groceries, utilities, and, perhaps their largest expense, rent. We've seen that as the crisis becomes increasingly severe, more and more Americans have been overcome with financial anxiety, wondering how they'll be able to pay their landlords once the first of the month rolls around. In an effort to protect these vulnerable citizens, activists and union leaders have attempted to gather support for a nationwide rent strike—and the movement appears to be gaining momentum.
The hashtags #RentStrike and #RentStrike2020 have been popping up across social media, along with photos of homes and apartment units with white sheets hanging from the windows. As pointed out by the Daily Dot, the sheets are used to inform the landlords and banks that the tenants are participating in a rent strike amid the global pandemic. This protest symbol reportedly began in Montreal but has since been spotted in major U.S. cities over the last couple of weeks.
Rent Strike 2020 is at the forefront of the movement, bringing together grassroots organizations to advocate for the working class. The organizing campaign is working with groups like the Socialist Alternative and the Rose Caucus, while also encouraging others to sign state petitions that call for the suspension of rent, mortgage payments, utility bills.
Rent Strike 2020's website reads:
Rent Strike 2020 is a response to a the signed demand of over 1.5 million Americans who need immediate, structural economic relief during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our initial demand is simple: every governor, in every state, must do what is necessary to ensure a 2-month freeze on the payment of rent, residential mortgages, and utility bills (including sanitation, power, water, gas, & internet services) to allow working families to do what is necessary to prepare for the difficult social measures required to flatten the outbreak curve. We are an alliance of political organizations, tenant organizers, mutual aid organizers, progressive activists, and climate activists from across the United States. We are working to build strike infrastructure to allow the American working class to fight back against the interests of the wealthy and weather this crisis safely.
The Rent Strike movement has made its way to major cities like Madison, Wisconsin, Portland, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Austin, Denver, and New York City. (You can find a map of U.S. rent strike groups here; the site also provides links to city-specific resources.)
However, some experts are cautioning against a rent strike, as some participants have seemingly failed to spur enough local support. Though some state and local governments have placed months-long freezes on foreclosures and evictions amid the COVID-19 pandemic, there are still areas in which a landlord can legally evict a tenant for failing to pay rent. Gregory Afinogenov, an assistant history professor at Georgetown and organizer with Stomp Out Slumlords, has urged tenants to consider the risks.
"The danger in launching something like that without adequate preparation is potentially exposing people who could’ve paid their rent to being evicted without much to show for it," Afinogenov told BuzzFeed News. "Landlords don’t necessarily care about why you’re not paying rent, they’re going to file eviction proceedings regardless ... If someone’s seen a meme telling them not to pay their rent, that’s not going to protect them from an eviction."