“Reminder,” State Senator Jabari Brisport tweets, “Your landlord cannot evict you. Only a judge can, through a formal process.” Brisport then goes on to tag us and our comrades in the Crown Heights Tenant Union, in support of our eviction defense in the neighborhood. Three photos of him and some comrades from BED and CHTU follow.
[Screenshot of the tweet]
While we appreciate Brisport’s support—and appreciate that he showed up to the stoopwatch to play a role (de-escalate with cops) and not (only) for photo opps — it’s imperative to push back against his, and any, liberal framing of our work.
Your landlord cannot evict you. Only a judge can, through a formal process: Not only is this untrue — as landlords have and will as long as they exist evict tenants — but it falls prey to a liberal misreading of law, rights and power. This is, first, the liberal tendency to naturalize “rights”—to frame them as these things that will save us, rather than as possible tools we can (with proper understanding) wield.
The intention to inform tenants of their rights is important. But it is imperative to understand — and to integrate this understanding into our work — that rights are not inalienable societal forces; rather they are historically contingent and politically fraught legal expectations, whose enforcement are subject to constant contest. The peoples’ rights are only as strong as the people’s will and capacity to enforce those rights.
What Brisport’s tweet does is rhetorically displace the aegis of power from us — the organized people — and relinquishes it to the state. If there was no housing court, if there were no formal processes through which a landlord “had” to go to evict a tenant, the well from which we draw the strength to fight evictions and displacement would remain unchanged. That is, it is from the organization and discipline of working class people that we derive our power and capacity.
Furthermore, this tweet commits the liberal crime of making a distinction between “good” and “bad” evictions, between evictions that are “allowed” and those that are not “allowed,” (those that “can” happen and those that “cannot”). This is bullshit liberalism at its worst. There are no “okay” evictions and to suggest that there are — even unwittingly — is weak and undisciplined.
We invited Brisport to the action for one reason: to, if needed, divert and distract the police. He had no role in the planning or execution of the eviction defense. His brand as a “socialist-in-office” hinges upon the appearance of a presence in (and relationship with) on-the-ground struggles. This is why principled critique of him, and any other ‘socialist-in-office,’ is constantly necessary.
Brisport’s liberal framing of the action confirms for us two things: 1) the necessity of a disciplined socialist party whose candidates and politicians are subject to the party’s political analysis. In the absence of this, it is up to those on-the-ground (us!) to maintain and enforce our analyses. This is not a liberal critique ‘cancelling’ Brisport — he’s fine, better than most “socialists,” but it’s really not about him. Rather, it’s a recognition of how liberalism snakes its way opportunistically into every juncture. A disciplined party, with the infrastructure to maintain political lines and discipline its politicians, is the only means to consistently combat this slithering liberalism. This infrastructure can and will be composed of peoples’ tribunes, of neighborhood councils, of tenant associations and labor unions.
and 2): that it is our responsibility and our calling as an organization to operate as a conscious prefigurative expression of this infrastructure. Our work — ongoing and incomplete, though studded with success’ of the people — is to build this infrastructure from the sidewalk up. It is, after all, the tenants who hold up the sky.