By Malcolm Torrejón Chu of Right to the City Alliance
On October 17th and 18th, 23 residents, activists, and organizers from across the South gathered in Atlanta for the first Homes For All: Southern Land & Housing Leadership Assembly. Members of the Housing Justice League in Atlanta, Cooperation Jackson (Mississippi), Miami Workers Center (Florida), Kentuckians For The Commonwealth and Homes For All Nashville (Tennessee) spent three days learning from each other’s local organizing, getting to know and build trust with each other, developing a collective vision for expanding land and housing organizing across the South, and planning next steps to build regional power toward land and housing liberation.
We caught up with some of the participants to hear about their experience and what went down in Atlanta.
“With no vision, people will perish”
Sacajawea Hall of Cooperation Jackson opened the assembly with a collective visioning process helping to ground each of the five organizations in each other’s work and begin to emerge common ideas and goals of what we want to build together. Each organization shared their vision and their short, medium, and long-term goals.
Once grounded in each other’s work, participants broke up into small groups of mixed cities to ask each other: “What do we want the south to look like for our children / grandchildren?”
Each group brought back a visual representation of their vision and bullet points of what they believe we must be ready to fight for together. While housing as a human right and community control of land and housing were central themes, our collective vision for the south (and the nation) was not limited to land and housing. We talked about our need to fight for a broad and intersectional vision with demands that include a living wage for all, ending mass incarceration, and other economic, gender, and racial justice issues.
“We get so comfortable. We get comfortable thinking that the things we take for granted, someone paid a cost for that. It was so amazing to see all of the work, the detailed work that people are doing to create change, and to take that back and get out and fight for our cause.” – Mrs. Sheila, Cooperation Jackson
This is the first time, that we know of, that a group of southern organizers and residents have come together to plan a regional organizing strategy for land and housing in the South. The battles ahead will not be easy, but we know we won’t win unless we build intersectional power across movements.
To confront and dismantle white supremacy, the South must lead
Homes For All members across the country understand that to truly secure housing as a human right for all people, our movement must confront and dismantle white supremacy and other systems of oppression and power.
From the theft of indigenous land, the enslavement and exploitation of Africans, the denial of land ownership to black and other communities of color, the creation of federal backed GSEs (government-sponsored enterprises) to support white and suburban homeownership while redlining and dis-investing from entire communities of color, to predatory lending, the destruction of public housing and gentrification of historically black and brown neighborhoods, white supremacist ideology has shaped land and housing policy for centuries.
“I was born in the South. I came from a small city of Florence, Mississippi. I got to experience some of the injustice and white supremacist way of thinking. The South is so important because this is the root of white supremacist inequality of housing, the economic struggle of people of color, and that root spreads out to different regions.” – Mrs. Shelia, Jackson
During day two of the #HFASouth Assembly, we dove deep together to understand the particular and specific ways white supremacy has shaped our communities’ relationships to land and housing in the South. We emerged with deeper clarity that Southern people and movements must lead and play a central role in building a regional, national, and international movement for land and housing liberation that centers the fight to dismantle white supremacy, win reparations, and transform our communities.
“We’re looking forward to building together and creating change as we stand as a unified group. It’s exciting to think about tackling this issue in the South in particular. Through Homes for All South, we will be directly confronting racial, economic, and housing injustice at its source. Meeting with our Homes for All partners in Atlanta gave us hope that we can create the vision we are looking towards as we build and grow together.” – Meredith Wadlington, Kentucky
Planting the seed – a plan to build #HFASouth
“Atlanta was just the beginning. Our hope in birthing #HFASouth is that this is just the planting of the seeds. Next is to grow our roots – meaning we must deepen our collective unity around vision and goals and reach out to bring in more cities and organizations to this critical regional organizing.” – Tony Romano
On day two of the convening, we unanimously decided to form Homes For All South (#HFASouth) and to move forward with plans to hold a bigger Southern HFA Assembly in Spring 2018 in either Jackson, MS or Nashville, TN. We plan to bring together as many as a hundred residents, organizers, and freedom fighters actively engaged in land and housing struggles along with allies from other movements to train and educate each other on cutting-edge organizing strategies, develop shared strategy, and grow our movement.
“I left Atlanta thinking, ‘What can I do? How can I work with my community to transform the way that things are done?’ I’ve been talking about it with friends since I’ve been back. Anytime you can put something together that causes us to talk. To have people with different experiences in life in a space to really be able to talk, to listen, without judgment, and talk from the heart, that’s a really, really great experience.” – Mrs. Sheila, Jackson
Over the next years, we plan to recruit and support the development of new housing and land justice organizations including tenant unions, neighborhood organizations, and Community Land Trusts, as well as to build deep partnerships across other sectors and movements. HFA South covers the following states: Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas, Kentucky. Parts of Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia are being considered.
By building a unified land and housing movement across the South, we can contribute to a broader movement to confront the rise of the Neo-Confederacy and win land, liberation, and freedom for our people.
Learning from Atlanta
While the collective time together was transformative and powerful, for many participants getting a chance to learn from the local movement for development without displacement and to fight back against gentrification in Atlanta was a highlight.
“My highlight was going to the Housing Justice League monthly meeting and learning about their Beltline Report. We then got to break out into a tenant association meeting. I learned so much, it was so real and raw. I was in there with Ms. Sherise from Atlanta, being able to see how other folks engage tenants and organize tenants. The tenants coming in were elderly and were being bullied and left the room with hope. As an organizer who is going to be leading tenant union meetings in the future in Nashville, it was very informative and I got to learn a lot about how to organize.” – Kennetha Patterson, Nashville
The Housing Justice League recently released a powerful new report on the Beltline Development project laying out an alternative vision for development that guarantees and protects the right of long-term black, low-income, and working-class communities to remain in their homes. They are organizing tenant unions, neighborhood assemblies, and holding monthly organizing meetings to build power.
Direct action gets the goods
On day three of the gathering, we were joined by our sister and brothers from It Takes Roots and other movement organizations for a day-long Direct Action Strategy training put on by the Ruckus Society and Blackout Collective. Homes For All members built across social movements with comrades from Southerners On New Ground (SONG), SNAPCO, Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, and the North Carolina Climate Justice Summit.
We learned about direct action strategy, how to plan a direct action, common roles in actions, discussed how to challenge those in power, and practiced eviction blockades and civil disobedience to build our skills and get ready to fight for our people and communities.
“One of the discussions that opened the training was around non-violence and offensive versus defensive actions. It was helpful to move through the steps of planning an action, and the materials that Ruckus shared will be helpful templates that we will put to good use as our state moves into the General Assembly.” – Laura Harper, Kentuckians For The Commonwealth
The Direct Action training was put on as part of Right To The City’s collaboration with It Takes Roots, which includes Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, Climate Justice Alliance, the Indigenous Environmental Network, Center for Story Based Strategy, and the Ruckus Society. Over the next nine months, we are convening regional and national cross-movement direct action strategy trainings to deepen the skills and capacities of communities on the front lines of grassroots movements for transformative change to take bold and escalated action together and lead visionary alternatives to the right-wing agenda.
Right to the City Alliance (RTC) emerged in 2007 as a unified response to gentrification and a call to halt the displacement of low-income people, people of color, marginalized LGBTQ communities, and youths of color from their historic urban neighborhoods. RTC is a national alliance of racial, economic and environmental justice organizations.
Homes For All is a national campaign launched by Right to the City Alliance that aims to protect, defend, and expand housing that is truly affordable and dignified for low-income and very low-income communities by engaging those most directly impacted by this crisis through local and national organizing, winning strong local policies that protect renters and homeowners, supporting efforts at building models for truly affordable community-controlled housing, and shifting the national debate on housing.
This story was originally published via Homes For All, with photos by Mike Dennis. For more information about Homes For All’s southern regional organizing, contact Tony Romano at firstname.lastname@example.org.