Largest Rent Strike in U.S. in Nearly a Century Is About to Begin

You’d be forgiven for not knowing about it.

By Natasha Lennard and cross-posted from The Intercept.

WANT A GRIM picture of the state of American dissent during the coronavirus pandemic? Take an overview of media coverage from the last week. The press focused disproportionate attention on a few hundred white reactionaries, in a small number of states, rallying against social distancing measures — buoyed, of course, by tweets from President Donald Trump. Meanwhile, some of the most radical and righteous acts of mass resistance this country has seen in decades — from a wave of labor strikes to an explosion of mutual aid networks — are earning but a fraction of the media focus accorded to fringe, right-wing protesters.

Based on mainstream news coverage alone, for instance, you’d likely never know that organizers and tenants in New York are preparing the largest coordinated rent strike in nearly a century, to begin on May 1.

At least 400 hundred families who live in buildings each containing over 1,500 rent units are coordinating building-wide rent strikes, according to Cea Weaver, campaign coordinator for Housing Justice For All, a New York-based coalition of tenants and housing activists. Additionally, over 5,000 people have committed, through an online pledge, to refuse to pay rent in May.

Precise strike numbers will be impossible to track, but the number of commitments alone points to a historic revival of this tenant resistance tactic. Coordinated rent strikes of this size in New York City haven’t been seen since the 1930s, when thousands of renters in Harlem and the Bronx successfully fought price gouging and landlord neglect by refusing to pay rent en masse.

The numbers committing to a rent strike might seem insignificant compared to the millions who don’t frame nonpayment as a strike, but simply will not be able to pay rent in the coming month. By the first week of April, one-third of renters nationwide — approximately 13.4 million people — had not paid rent; since then, 26 million workers have joined the ranks of the unemployed

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