SWATS Rising! A solidarity Network in Atlanta

I am currently participating in building a solidarity network called SWATS Rising! (SouthWest Atlanta Too Strong aka SW Atlanta Tenants Rising). We have been working on a presentation of the housing crisis in Atlanta and how it has been manifesting itself here and why the need to fight back. I wanted to include this presentation here:
I. Introduction
The Atlanta Way
i. The History of SWATS RISING!
a. We came together this summer to try to find an alternative way of fighting against the effects of the housing crisis here in Atlanta.
b. After Occupy begins to dwindle down, we saw this activity begin to carry over in communities. A big part of this was housing defense, like here in Atlanta The Glen Iris Home Occupation was fight by community members and the family against Chase Bank.  After Occupying the House for months and doing actions at chase local banks, the family decided to take a reduced settlement for the house.c. So after this occupation was over, and Occupy is long gone, we started thinking about how we can fight against not just foreclosures, but expand to fight against people getting evicted from apartments, jacked up landlords, and a lot of the issues we have to deal with renting apartments of homes due to the gentrification and different changes that are taking place here in Atlanta.

I am going to go into more detail of that in a minute, but before we move on we want to explain a little about what a solidarity network is:

ii. What is a solidarity network:
a. So a basic definition could be: it is a formal group of people who use direct action to confront the forces of power that have influence over their lives. This could be landlords, bosses, cops, banks, check cashing companies, or even harassers, though usually the targets have been bosses and landlords.

b. So that’s a basic definition. We also know people do this informally, whether they take a neighbor with them to go talk to the landlord about issues they are both facing, a few co-workers go talk to the boss to tell them a grievance they are having. But with this type of model this becomes a more formal way of dealing with these issues when they arise. Whether they be small or big, we learn to fight back together.
1. How do we start fights?
*video of demand letter drop*

In SWATS Rising we have employed a variety of forms to attract folks.  This includes postering, flyering individuals at MARTA stations and on MARTA trains, leaving flyers at every door in an apartment complex.  We have gotten calls back through each of these forms.

We begin fights by issuing a demand letter to the landlord in question.  These demands will have been decided upon beforehand by the contact and by SWATS organizers.  The demand letter will include what we’re fight for, who it is for, and a timeframe for them to redress the specific grievance, whether it be a leaky roof, a deposit that has not been returned, or

2. How do solinets work?
Solinets use a variety of tactics to in order to achieve their specific demands.

http://libcom.org/library/you-say-you-want-build-solidarity-network
a. Picketing a store / restaurant / hotel.
[taken from SeaSol Pamphlet]
The timing of a picket is really important and often warrants scouting the location to determine the time of most possible impact. We have found that direct messages garner the most attention: “Don’t Rent/Shop/Eat Here” grabs people’s attention more than a nebulous “Justice for all workers!” or similar. When we picket we usually hand out an aggressive flyer at the same time. We have also tried out other tricks to help turn away business. For example, in the Jimmy John’s fight, we handed out coupons for Subway; in the Greenlake and Nelson fights we had collected negative online reviews to show to potential customers; in the Tuff Shed fight we had a list of other shed stores to direct people to.
In some cases picketing can antagonize the current employees, especially if they are restaurant workers who are dependent on tips. Recently we have discussed the idea of always doing a week or two of less aggressive, informational picketing or flyering before we start aggressively turning away business. This would give us an opportunity to make contact with the current employees in a positive way and explain the issue to them. We have also begun taking up collections for the tip jar when picketing a coffee shop or restaurant.
b. Crashing events (such as open houses).
[Taken from SeaSol Pamphlet]
This tactic makes the most sense in a long-running fight, where you are trying to find every possible way of making trouble for your target. When you find, usually by searching online, that a company you’re fighting is holding an event that’s open to the public, you can have a few people go in “plainclothes”—without picket signs—and blend in with the crowd. Then after a prearranged signal (someone yells, “yee-haw!”), they start distributing flyers to the crowd to inform everyone of the company’s misdeeds. Don’t forget to save some of the free snacks for your comrades outside.
3. What is the relationship between the solinet and folks who reach out to us in order to fight against their landlord or other power figure?Because the driving force of a solidarity network is solidarity, we require that those who reach out to us are central to organizing their own fight.  They will democratically participate and plan their campaign every step of the way with the solinet.  We also encourage those folks to become organizers themselves, to join the network, and fight beyond their own fight though some or most may choose not to.

We understand solidarity to mean to the active material support for working people based on the notion that an attack on one section of the working class, or one individual in this case, is an attack on the class as a whole.  This means those of us who organize in solinets have a vested interest since we are also workers, renters, etc.  A landlord refusing to repair a unit or evicting someone can happen to any one of us.

Because of this we don’t defer only to what the individual who contacts us wants to do.

II. The Housing Crisis
i. Atlanta Housing Crisis –
Now I’m going to talk about the housing crisis and what it looks like to us.
So, for us here in ATL it looks like the beltline, the elimination of all public housing, and high foreclosure rates:

1. “It’s just economics, get rid of the old, in with the new.”
i. These things are often talked about in terms of beautifying the city.. It doesn’t discuss in terms of gentrification – all the people who get displaced and straight up kicked out of their homes due to this beautification. We also think it is a problem that we don’t have any say in this – we don’t get to choose where we live, we have no control over “beautifying” on our own terms. It is those who own land, and landlords, and banks, and the state who get to push us around when they want to make these changes the city.

2. Olympics
So one way this has played out is back at the 1996 Olympics – we saw an attack on homeless as they try to push all homeless folks out of the city. The beautification process takes the center of the olympics because they want to put a rush on this change before the olympics happens. One outcome is the  removal of homeless, destruction of techwood homes for the olympic village** which at the time are public housing.

3. But the process of eliminating public housing doesn’t stop there. By 2010, Atlanta, becomes the first major city in the world to deliberately remove all public housing.
This process takes place in order to remove poor black folks from the city in order to rid the city of these elements and attract new money.

On top of the total elimination of public housing, there was a moratorium on section 8.
What this means for poor people who rely on these programs is that they are pushed out of the city, literally, into the outskirts or further out. On top of the old projects they are building new luxury condos, and expensive apartments that these folks can’t afford. This is all part of the process of gentrification.

2. Beltline
One project that is underway that is helping to facilitate this removal of poor black folks from the city is the Beltline. This is being built with the promise that it is going to fix this “problem” – the problem of projects and poverty – when the problem itself is the way society is built. We have no control over the housing we have access to and yet somehow we are being told we are the problem. If they could only get rid of us then the city can prosper. Because if there is no profit to be made off of public housing then they will just remove it with complete disregard of the people that live there. Out with the old, in with the new.

The Beltline takes control of public housing, making way for privatized corporations and individual landlords to take control of housing and quality of living.

So while they call it a crisis, we ask for who?

ii. banks and foreclosures.
Then Atlanta is facing some of the highest home foreclosures in the country. Many folks think that homeowners aren’t subjected to these same attacks but they definitely are.

[Taken from Dollars & Sense]
First, the wealth of blacks is more concentrated in their homes than the wealth of their white counterparts.  Even though homes are typically the largest asset of most households, regardless of race, homes of black families make 59% of their net worth compared to 44% among white families.  White households typically hold more of other types of assets like stocks and IRA accounts.  So when the housing crisis hit, driven down the value of homes and pushing up foreclosure rates, black households lost a far greater share of their wealth than the white households.

Second, mortgage brokers and lenders marketed subprime mortgages specifically to black households.  Subprime mortgages are high-interest loans that are supposed to increase access to home financing for risky borrowers–those with a shaky credit history or low income.  But these high-cost loans were disproportionately peddled to black households, even on those that could qualify for conventional loans.  One study estimated that in 2007 nearly double the share of upper-income black households (54%) had high-cost mortgages compared to low-income white households (28%).

iii. landlords
With this assessment on how the housing crisis benefits the ruling class, we have explained the banks benefit from this and how they are contributing to the attack on housing for the poor, but we also have an understanding of how landlords contribute to this.

We don’t look at them as “good” or “bad” landlords. It is just a fact that they are there to make money off of us.

The relationship is social, it is a social process. While they want to invest as little as possible and make as much as possible, they want to have total control over how we live and not the other way around. We want to live in good conditions and have more control over our lives.

It is an on-going tension but at times it will become more apparent. Like when the rents are being raised and we can’t afford them. Landlords have a stake in gentrification because it means they can make more of a profit. For us it means displacement, losing our homes and our communities.

We are on opposing sides of the tension but they have power on their side in the form of the state and the police. If you don’t pay rent cause you can’t afford it, or because they are refusing to make repairs, they get the courts involved and the police come to remove you.

But we do have power in numbers. And that’s how the solidarity network functions. We confront landlords together, we make demands together, and if they refuse, we fight back together.
III. outro, also why you should join our networkConclusion. I know we weren’t sure how much to include here and ended up just wrapping things up and giving a pitch for why people should join, so I don’t know if I should include more of what’s in the other sections but we can talk about this tomorrow.

So as we said earlier, SR! is a group that works using direct action. For us this has meant deliberately sidestepping official institutions to take care of our needs. It also means we work together, building up community resistance to the attack on housing that is taking place in Atlanta. We are not a non-profit so we are not bound by rules and regulations, but we also do not work for a profit. We are a group of community members who do this work in our free time.

That is why y’all’s involvement is key. If this strategy of home defense is going to work we will need to develop a network of folks who can come out to actions. Because we rely on direct action, having this network is how we will be able to put enough pressure on landlords to make them give in to our demands.

What it would mean for y’all to be part of the network as of now would just be if we need a call to action we can hit y’all up to come out to a[n action for an ongoing] campaign. As of now we don’t have a campaign so the urgency is low, but as soon as we get one we want to be prepared to act immediately. The other thing is that the solidarity network is a loose grouping, meaning people can decide on what level they would like to get involved. We go out to flyer every week, we will have more events, if we have a campaign we will have different level of tactics we will employ. Anywhere from delivering a demand letter to door knocking at an apartment complex, to having pickets. There are many ways people can plug into the organization, but at the very least y’all can join the email list to be invited out to actions [and events] when they happen.

Links/Sources:

http://www.ajc.com/news/news/housing-still-a-crisis-in-southwest-atlanta/nSqK9/ (need access)
http://thegrio.com/2010/08/12/housing-voucher-hysteria-in-atlanta-highlights-national-crisis/ (housing vouchers in E. Point)
http://www.forbes.com/sites/peterferrara/2012/10/11/obamas-real-unemployment-rate-is-14-7-and-a-recessions-on-the-way/ (real umemployment rates)
http://www.gainesville.com/article/20100624/ARTICLES/100629675?tc=ar race and housing crisis
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/11/national/11atlanta.html?_r=2&pagewanted=print gentrification in atlanta and demise of “black power”
http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2012/0112wicks-lim.html Great Recession in Black Wealth
http://www.ajc.com/news/news/local/unsafe-streets-stifle-housing-rebound-in-southwest/nSqj9/ Really reactionary piece on how squatters are slow renovation
http://saportareport.com/blog/2012/02/judge-orders-the-closing-of-peachtree-pine-homeless-shelter-by-aug-31/ The closing of a homeless shelter which has been an ongoing struggle for a few years
http://libcom.org/library/you-say-you-want-build-solidarity-network Seattle Solidarity Network“The crisis in the housing market and the Great Recession made racial wealth inequality yet worse for two reasons. First, the wealth of blacks is more concentrated in their homes than the wealth of their white counterparts. Even though homes are typically the largest asset of most households, regardless of race, homes of black families make up 59% of their net worth compared to 44% among white families. White households typically hold more of other types of assets like stocks and IRA accounts. So when the housing crisis hit, driving down the value of homes and pushing up foreclosure rates, black households lost a far greater share of their wealth than did white households.
Second, mortgage brokers and lenders marketed subprime mortgages specifically to black households. Subprime mortgages are high-interest loans that are supposed to increase access to home financing for risky borrowers—those with a shaky credit history or low income. But these high-cost loans were disproportionately peddled to black households, even to those that could qualify for conventional loans. One study estimated that in 2007 nearly double the share of upper-income black households (54%) had high-cost mortgages compared to low-income white households (28%).”“While about 4.5 percent of white borrowers lost their homes to foreclosure during that period, black and Latino borrowers had a 7.9 percent and 7.7 percent foreclosure rate, respectively.
That means that blacks and Latinos were more than 70 percent more likely to lose their homes to foreclosure during that period, the study found.” (http://www.gainesville.com/article/20100624/ARTICLES/100629675?tc=ar)a snapshot of housing situation in East Point from August, 2010
“An estimated 30,000 people came over the course of three days to receive applications for the slim chance of obtaining one of the 62 [Section 8 housing] vouchers. The East Point Housing Authority was prepared for 10,000 people. East Point’s current population is estimated at just over 41,000.” (http://thegrio.com/2010/08/12/housing-voucher-hysteria-in-atlanta-highlights-national-crisis/)“the Pittsburgh neighborhood that has borne the brunt of the city’s housing woes. At just under 50 percent, the neighborhood’s vacancy rate is among the highest in the nation.” (http://www.emory.edu/EMORY_MAGAZINE/issues/2012/spring/features/housing.html)“Georgia posted the nation’s highest foreclosure rate in May, with one in 300 housing units subject to a notice or repossession, data released Thursday by a real estate firm showed.” (http://www.ajc.com/news/business/firm-georgia-foreclosure-rate-tops-in-us-for-may/nQWXc/)

Atlanta

So here I am sitting in a cafe near my job. It’s a “Mexican Cantina” called No Mas, ironically. They play terrible spanish pop over and over. I can’t get this shit out of my head after leaving. It’s right on the corner of a street called Stonewall which is also ironic to me.

I dread coming everytime I come here, and I do it often right before work to get some coffee and get online before selling my labor down the street at another restaurant that is bullshit from the floor up. My restaurant is known for it’s history in the Civil Rights era. It was one of the first black clubs at nights, and many of the civil rights leaders used to meet up there to eat and talk. Now they hang pictures from black history ranging from MLK to Obama, the owners laughing it up with the Mayor of Atlanta, President Bill Clinton, President Jimmy Carter, and others. The people who come are black middle class church goers usually. Full of themselves and full of shit, they treat us like crap and then don’t tip. They expect fine dining, glasses and plates sit on the table when they walk up; high ceilings with ugly red chandeliers hanging, hip music like funk or soul playing, a full bar, and us running around in all black here to grant your every wish.

So here I am at No Mas, watching the sky get full of color from the sunset, drinking my Cafe de Olla and typing on the keys. This whole area is called Castleberry Hill. It was some kind of warehouse district before turning into lofts and cute boutiques and restaurants with overpriced, average tasting food and bars. It’s close enough to downtown but you don’t have to deal with as many homeless people here. The old warehouses were turned into lofts and condos. Near the train tracks there’s a park for dogs.

I can’t help but get disgusted by this place. Atlanta is in the midst of a whole city renewal. Out with the old and in with the new.. money that is. All the affordable housing is gone and the poor black folks are being pushed further and further out of the city. There is a new “beltline” being built which will connect the city with parks and walking and biking paths. How nice! Only problem is it is built on the land of poor black folks. Either they were pushed off the land it would be built on, and if that didn’t get em the prices of housing raise all along this beltline. So in the ads and videos of all the nice white people smiling and having a good time with their families and friends, they fail to show the families who have been kicked to the curb by society – literally.

While I work here I live in an area of town where going out and flyering to defend people’s homes and apartments means people telling you all the horror stories of their landlords, or someone they know. The city is in a state of crisis. The people are the only possibility for change.