You may well ask: ‘Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?’ You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.Letter from a Birmingham Jail – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
When a group of four working and unhoused women decided to draw attention to the housing crisis in Oakland, they formed #Moms4Housing. Their nonviolent, direct action sought to force our community confront the reality that housing in the Bay Area (and across the country according to media) has become a commodity – available only to the highest bidder. Their vision, like that of Dr. King, is so much larger than a single house on Magnolia Street. And their actions were aligned with so many civil rights leaders who illegally occupied front-of-the-bus seats and cafe counters, who illegally drank from water fountains, entered through front doors of businesses, and married the wrong color (or gender) people.
The Moms wanted us all to see and wrestle with the fact that low income families, and those (like many of us) who are solidly middle class, are being forced out. They wanted us to understand the truth that in this time of crisis, the “homeless” include the not just the many who have been pushed out to the streets, but also those who have no option but to couch surf between family members and friends. This crisis also includes those of us who are one or two paychecks away from losing our housing, those who are making choices to pay rent instead of buy groceries, clothes or medicines, those who have taken up 2-4 hour commutes, adding to area-wide traffic congestion and pollution, and those who have given up and are looking for jobs in other, more affordable communities.
On this “holiday” weekend, we would do well to remember that we are part of what Dr. King described as the “inescapable network of mutuality.” People earning high incomes, those with great privilege and power are connected in a “single garment of destiny” with those who serve their needs in low wage service industry jobs, with those who teach their children, with those who work to provide much-needed social services in their communities. If nonviolent direct action is what is needed to wake us all up to this reality, then so be it. It turns out we’re following a long line of leaders that includes a man named Jesus who turned over the tables of the moneylenders in his own Temple.
Want to know more about the housing crisis in the Bay Area and beyond?Here are some articles that might be of interest: