On Monday, January 24th Fidele Albert in Flatbush, a tenant leader with Flatbush Tenant Coalition, organized a rally to demand SAFE HOUSING. Dozens of angered tenants and neighbors spoke passionately outside of Fidele’s building while the oppressor peeked from behind the second-story window’s curtain — rightfully scared of the power of the mobilized tenant movement.
“I am not prepared to give up any fight”
Our neighbor Fidele’s leaseholding roommate, CARL BULLEN (from whom she sublets), has for months now subjected Fidele to horrific abuse, harassment, and unsafe living conditions. He has routinely threatened her, has physically assaulted her, has broken down her doors and has locked Fidele out of the kitchen, and has kept off the electricity in the unit; he has his own extension cord that keeps his room and his living spaces with electricity. Fidele cannot cook, cannot use the bathroom, cannot exist in peace within her home.
She has been going through hell because of Carl’s harassment and neither the landlord of the building or the police—to both of whom Fidele has called endlessly—have done a single thing to improve Fidele’s situation. But Fidele is a fighter and a leader in the tenant movement. We, tenants and workers, came out on the 24th to let Carl know that his bullshit will not be tolerated; to let him know that the community was behind Fidele and that the community was pissed off; to let him know that we are watching, that we will hold him accountable.
It is important to point out that Carl is not a landlord, he is a renter himself. Yet he subjects Fidele to the same type of wanton violence that landlords routinely do. He believes he is above Fidele in an imagined hierarchy — the fact is both he and Fidele pay rent to a landlord. Tenants should not abuse other tenants. Tenants should not oppress other tenants. Carl is an example of a reactionary tenant, a tenant who must be subjected to the will of the tenant movement, by force if necessary.
Carl, and the many reactionary tenants like him, speaks to the gradation that exists within the tenant class: these are tiers of perceived power and privilege produced in order to obscure our oneness as a class and, ultimately, the freedom from landlords we all should be fighting for. A similar dynamic can be seen in regard to rent-stabilized and market-rate tenants, wherein different ‘rights’ are allocated to different forms of tenancy, thus fracturing the class and undermining our cohesion. This pits tenant against tenant and ultimately always serves to strengthen our class antagonists: landlords!
There is the saying “kill the cop inside your head” which refers to the many ways in which we, workers and tenants, police each other the way the actual badge-wearing pigs would. We must also “kill the landlord inside our heads” because rent-a-landlords like Carl, who feel accommodated, and empowered, by the for-profit housing regime, to displace Fidele, are clinging to the power of her sublease contract, treating her rented space as though it was his private property.
There is, also, a particular violence that we see in Fidele’s horrific situation, that we’ve seen in countless instances through the work that we do. This is the intimate violence of dispossession without displacement. So many tenants that we have worked with—and so many of our own organizers—have dealt with this phenomenon. It is not just the frustrations and possible conflicts that arise when living in close quarters. It is a particular form of spatial violence that arises within the conditions of tenancy. This can take the form of being locked out from specific rooms, having your electricity turned off, having your hot water turned off, dealing with decaying buildings and neglectful management, and being harassed. These abuses come together to shrink and maim a tenant’s sense of home. They are confined more and more to smaller spaces and more taxing modes of survival. Fidele has had to run down to bodegas and electronic stores just to charge her phone. She has to eat and bathe at friends’ homes.
All of these acts of violence are enabled—and in fact, made necessary—because of the regime of private property. That private property structures our social relations creates an understanding of space and home as realms of domination and exclusion. Base human instincts and survival drives are routed through the constrictions of private property. It is because of capitalist production and his name on the lease that CARL BELLEN understands the apartment — in which he and Fidele live — as his property. Further, the structure of landlord-tenant-subletter has produced in poor CARL an understanding also of Fidele as subordinate to him, as subject to his whims.
We understand that dispossession is, in a capitalist ecosystem, akin to a force of nature. Like rivers, this force can be dammed and routed into various outlets. This is why, during the now-lapsed eviction moratorium, we saw so many illegal evictions and self-evictions (and these two are not mutually exclusive). This is why we understand that no matter how low of a number we can reform the eviction machines down to, that without the overthrow of capital, then that dispossession will always be rerouted towards newer and newer outlets. Such as the ‘soft’ dispossessions of increasing rent, neglect, gentrification, domestic violence, the withholding of utilities.
What Fidele has been dealing with has been horrific and intimate. Her very home has been for nearly a year under attack by an asshole named Carl. We share Fidele’s rage and her convictions. And we understand that it is the fiction of private property that allows someone like Carl carte blanche to harass, threaten and abuse our neighbor and comrade Fidele. And we know that we can, within the world as it exists, stop Carl. And as a community, with and for Fidele, create a safe home. But we know that we cannot stop all the Carl’s in the world (much less Brooklyn) without also resolving the contradictions of the commodity form, abolishing private property, decommodifying our homes, establishing community control, overthrowing the landlords, bankers, and financiers; and building towards the end of hierarchy and unequal social and economic relationships through the organization of the working class.
Brooklyn Eviction Defense stands to reach these horizons by bringing tenants into our network of solidarity, reciprocal care, and base-building.
We have been holding daily stoop watches since the rally on Monday and do not plan to resign until Fidele has fair and safe living conditions. We will be holding another rally on Sunday the 30th at 4pm. Join us in solidarity with Fidele, and in solidarity with all the victims of the violences generated by private property!
– comrade equis