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Interview with East Bay Solidarity Network
Modeled after the Seattle Solidarity Network (SeaSol), EBSN is a group of workers and tenants who use direct action to fight landlords and bosses. Working against both wage theft at workplaces, despicable conditions in housing complexes, as well as against foreclosures, EBSN has worked to combat abuses and build power among workers and tenants. FireWorks through email reached out to the group to get more information on them and what it is they do in the East Bay.
FW: When did East Bay Solidarity Network form? What inspired you to form the group?
EBSN: The East Bay Solidarity Network formed in early 2010 after the founding organizers attended a local presentation by the Seattle Solidarity Network. We were inspired by the success they were having and refreshed by the idea of short campaigns with imminently winnable goals. We thought this approach might bring in new people to organizing and spread radical ideas. We wanted people to experience what it was like to win together, to build confidence with other working-class people in the basic idea that we can stand up to the people that exploit our labor and profit off of our basic needs.
FW: What kind of fights have you been in so far with the project?
EBSN: Our fights so far have been around individuals or families facing foreclosure, eviction, and unjust termination from employment. Our most recent fight at Booker Emery Apartments is the first fight we’ve taken on with a large group of tenants, some of whom didn’t even know each other when the fight started.
FW: Recently, you all have gotten a lot of media coverage about your involvement in a West Oakland housing complex fighting a slumlord. Can you tell us more about this struggle?
EBSN: Booker Emery is a 40 unit building near the West Oakland Bart station that had everything wrong with it a building could have: mold, bedbugs, roaches, dead pigeons in the air shafts, holes in walls and ceilings, an unreliable and abusive landlord and security cameras that were used to intimidate tenants that demanded repairs and better conditions. There were tenants with chronic and debilitating respiratory problems because of nightmarish floor to ceiling mold. Some tenants had to send their children to stay with relatives because the bedbug problem was so severe, and I met with tenants whose legs were scarred from hundreds of bites. Before we started organizing there, tenants who requested repairs were moved into even worse units or told to keep quiet or get out.
FW: It was stated in the media that the slumlord was demanding sex from tenants in order to make up rent. Has this campaign allowed people to confront and stand up to those within patriarchal society (like the slumlord) that they normally would have not?
EBSN: I feel its inappropriate to make claims about what would have happened there without us. Six months ago, we met about half a dozen women who had experienced some form of sexual harassment at the hands of the landlord. Few of them knew that this was a common experience in the building and none of them had ever spoken to each other about it at all. Over the course of the next six months, we witnessed those women begin to speak more openly to each other about the harassment, confront the landlord and his wife about it, testify about it in court and speak to multiple media outlets about it as well. During this time, the fight against sexual harassment stopped happening merely behind closed doors and became a collective struggle.
Tenants hung a banner calling out their landlord on their West Oakland building. Photo courtesy of EBSOLFW: In this case, what would a victory look like to the tenants?
EBSN: The victory is presently unfolding. The landlord has been removed and the tenants say that his sons, who have replaced him as building managers, are much easier to deal with (and have not offered any rent reductions in exchange for sexual favors). Five retaliatory evictions have been stopped since the campaign began. Mold abatement and thorough treatment for roaches and bedbugs is underway. We have yet to receive a decision from the rent board hearing, but a majority of the nine tenants who participated expect to see serious rent reductions for an extended period.
FW: How did EBSN go about organizing with the tenants?
EBSN: We got a phone call from a tenant who was suing the landlord. He left the building but stayed in touch and introduced us to other tenants who were interested in getting active. Our initial stage was focused on tactics of intimidation and shaming for the landlord, and relationship building between tenants (and between tenants and organizers). While EBSol as a rule doesn’t participate in the legal system, we supported tenants in this exceptional case in a rent board hearing they wanted to file. That rent board hearing was actually the point of interest for the media.
East Bay Solidarity Network BBQ in West Oakland.
FW: Do you believe that there are many other housing complexes in Oakland that have similar problems? Do you believe that similar struggles can also be waged?
FW: Anything to add in closing? How can people get involved with EBSN?
EBSN: We have meetings every Monday night. If you’d like to come, get in touch with an organizer by emailing eastbaysol [at] gmail.com. You can also call us at 510-239-3219 and leave a message about a situation you’d like support in organizing around.
Check out East Bay Solidarity Network and their 'Evict This!' zine at: http://eastbaysol.wordpress.com/