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Interview with Carmen of Eviction Free San Francisco
Interview of Carmen of Eviction Free San Francisco.
Since Cinco de Mayo, when local anarchists and housing advocates organized a block party in the Mission to call attention to the ongoing onslaught of Ellis Act evictions, a new ground swell of support has risen for direct action against displacement and gentrification in San Francisco. In June, a two week occupation began of the Hayes Valley Farm to block the construction of condos and in solidarity with the Turkish Uprising around Gezi Park. As the summer wore on, a new organization was formed, Eviction Free SF, which vowed to take on landlords that were evicting tenants to pave the way for converting homes into condos. Since then, the Mission and San Francisco has seen large marches and protests, a campaign to stop Jack Spade from coming in on 16th Street, and rallies outside the homes of numerous residents threatened with expulsion. In the past few months alone, protesters grabbed headlines, and in the case of the Lee family, people held off the cops for a fair amount of time. As the Mission braces for yet another wave of development projects which seek to displace even the "hoodest" working-class districts, we sat down with Carmen from Eviction Free SF to talk about the evolving movement.
FireWorks: What kind of actions has the group, Eviction Free SF been engaged in since its inception this summer? Have you had success so far?
Carmen: We have hosted several actions since we started the group in June. Our first action, at the beginning of July, targeted a husband and wife speculation team, who were in the process of evicting a shared household situation that housed different organizers and community advocates. Unfortunately, they were evicted, but we also caught that case very late in the legal process. We explicitly do not do tenant counseling or legal advising, and we recommend that our members seek both of these out while we are working with their case, if they haven’t already. Our measures of success are a little more finessed than “Did they [our cases] get to stay or not?” Obviously, the ultimate win would be watching a landlord completely back off a case, where we have done direct actions. That that hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean we don’t relish in the conversation we have helped start here in San Francisco.
The dialogue that has been happening between organizers and the rest of the City, for example, is changing to reflect pro-tenant language more and more. Example: mainstream news media are using the phrase “eviction crisis.” People are fighting back in different ways, and we are grateful to be part of that momentum. Of course, we will continue to organize highly targeted, direct action campaigns against different landlords. When we say ‘direct action,’ that can look like a host of different things. We have sort of [used the] template…of the work being done by the Foreclosure Fighters, who have been defending home owners by directly protesting banks, holding press conferences in front of the homes of evicted owners, and hosting call-ins to different lenders. They have been very successful in what they have done in a way that is measurable. [For more info on resistance to foreclosures across the US, check out Occupy Our Homes - editors.]
Fireworks: Can you speak to the recent action outside of the Lee’s home in San Francisco and what happened?
Carmen: Well, we weren’t directly involved in the planning as a group, though some of our members hold other roles in the tenants’ rights movement. We did agree to turn out membership, and we had some of our group speak. I think the general opinion of that action among the housing justice community was that it was a “game-changer,” in that the turn-out was very large, and someone from our movement had finally managed to capture the attention of City Hall in a way that was visible. It opened the doorway to holding them more accountable for the housing crisis because now, all of sudden, they are seen in public making a commitment to San Francisco’s renters. This also parlayed into progress with our work because, about a week later, we had an action for one of members, Jeremy Mykaels, and three of the Supervisors showed up. I think this would have been less likely to happen without the Lee action.
FireWorks: How can the actions and blockades against evictions become larger and involve more people?
Carmen: Good question. To be clear, EFSF has not been involved in blockading as right now. Blockading is a very specific strategy, and has different forms of implementation, all with different legal implications. Regarding turn-out, it is not necessary for every action have a huge turn-out to succeed, though obviously you want some that do. I think the hope right now is that more and more people will start organizing actions to defend their homes during an eviction process. It is the frequency of these events, I think, that will really start to shake-up the landlords and get them thinking. Of course, this is my opinion. This is a complicated question, but an important one.
FireWorks: Many people feel the battle over gentrification in SF is hopeless – how would you respond?
Carmen: It depends on what you mean by hopeless. Hopelessness is a fairly relative stance. I think there are some grave truths to this fight that we are coming to grips with. Example: evictions in San Francisco have increased, what, something like 38% in the last year alone? This is according to a budget analyst’s report through the City’s legislative office. People are already leaving or have left. But I think there is always hope. For one thing, there are many of us unhappy with the status quo (unmitigated real estate speculation, with limited interventions..state laws around affordable housing are prohibiting as well, and need to be addressed in the future). I think in many ways, housing justice is like any other economic struggle…the amount of beneficiaries of the situation is a smaller number than those being harmed. The Occupy movement started a spark of conversation that made [this problematic]. The question is, how do we mobilize people in way that constructs better solutions with what seem like limited options. It’s challenging, but it is never hopeless.