by Tiny, daughter of Dee, mama of Tiburcio
“When we really needed it, you had our backs. We were able to mobilize over 300 people in 15 minutes. That’s power!”
When Dominque Walker spoke on MLK Day 2020 to tell us that real estate company Wedgewood had agreed to negotiate a sale of the home with Oakland Land Trust that Moms 4 Housing had been fiercely inhabiting for the last two and half months, she began as she always did with several words of gratitude to all of us who stood unfailingly alongside her and the other moms and their babies that made up Moms 4 Housing. “That’s the people power that made the mayor and Wedgewood know that housing is a human right,” Dominque concluded.
Dominque was on point as usual. But maybe in a way that some of you hearing Dominque might not have picked up on. People power is not an anomaly. It is not casually attained or recklessly organized.
It is an extremely strategic and difficult process to manifest and takes a lot of planning and thinking – and then the hardest part, doing. It also means putting aside the multiple “issues” and disagreements that movement folks have with each other and truly committing to doing the love work that is necessary to back up fierce warrior moves like the Moms 4 Housing walked into reality.
As well, it must be said that the most important movement building must be led by us mamas. Just like poor and houseless people organizing must be led by poor and houseless peoples – from First Nations Mama Earth protectors who have always been protecting Mama Earth to all of us poor mamas who have always been protecting our babies. By any means necessary.
Real estate developers, get out the way. We are un-Wedgewooding the WORLD!
Me and my houseless, disabled mama were evicted 22 times. Sometimes they were violent and forceful evictions due to me and mama’s poverty crimes such as “squatting” like the Moms 4 Housing just did. Sometimes because the scam lords perpetrated evil and unlawful harassment and unjust removal and evictions. Out of those 22, 18 were multinational corporate real estate companies which, like Wedgewood, bought and sold Mama Earth for profit every day.
Multi-national predators, like Wedgewood, are proud to be known for inhuman acts like “house flipping” – even though that really means family flipping, family evicting, family destroying, elder and child abusing and, in many cases, elders dying. But these truly dangerous companies are built on the capitalist lies that profit and private property are more important than life itself and are proud of their violent “work,” Boastful even.
They get national awards from other house-flippers and house-flipping lovers who feed off the scraps of our broken lives as though it was a juicy steak, just waiting for more of us to lose our jobs, miss a rent payment, miss a tax bill, not be able to take care of a “blight” notice, get behind on bankster mortgage payments or, god forbid, get sick or pass away.
For me and mama, engaging with these criminals meant we were never safely housed. Which is why when Moms 4 Housing “won” the “right” to buy their home on MLK Day, I was breathless.
It all started in November of 2019 when four fierce mamas and a whole lot of supporters took back one of thousands of stolen and hoarded vacant homes in West Oakland that had been held hostage by these dangerous, yet normalized sanctioned criminal “house flippers,” this one named Wedgwood. On that first day, this poor mama who had been houseless from age 11 to 21, silently cried and screamed for joy, but also became quietly terrorized for the moms.
What would happen to them? When would the stolen land protectors aka police and sheriffs march in, like they did every time me and mama would dare to inhabit an “abandoned” home or storefront when sleeping on the street, on park benches, in bus shelters and the old Transbay Terminal got too cold, too hard or too dangerous.
I call them poverty crimes because we often didn’t have the money to pay the rent or buy the house. We were poverty refugees, members of the unhoused nation, just trying, for a week, a month or a year to be housed, so it was always a matter of time before we were violently evicted. We always knew it going in. We never expected any more.
And one after the other, the sheriffs would come. Hefty bags would collect the basics – personal mementoes and belongings thrown out the window. And we would go back to the street. Go back to nothing. It is why I have no family pictures or mementoes to this day.
As the days and weeks passed of the fierce Moms 4 Housing resistance, the hate speech chatter from all kinds of folks began to fill the digital streets. “Those women are stealing.” “They don’t own that house.” Some idiots even said, “Why don’t they just get a job?”
That was extra stupid considering they all have more than one job just to keep their babies safe and fed and pay the insane rents charged in the Bay Area now – jobs like all of us houseless and poor folks have notwithstanding the lies that we are lazy, unemployed or “living off the system” and all these tired 1980s era stereotypes about us poor people, poor mamas, unhoused families and elders. We are ALWAYS working.
Me and mama used to work. We worked every day. We had our own micro-business making and selling art on the street. Starting when I was 12, we were working 12-14-hour days to survive, after mama was fired from her anti-social work job for refusing to target and criminalize other poor mamas and children like ourselves.
But it was never enough. We could never seem to make enough to cover the rent and the food, the utilities and transportation. The fear of impending doom of homelessness was always on our neck. But scam lords and welfare workers and case manglers aka managers were always there judging. Calling us names: bums, lazy, shiftless, messy, trash were the favorites, usually screamed out to us while sheriffs were evicting or locksmiths were lock-changing.
Of course the reason for the hate chatter about the Moms, which I think is important to speak upon, is everyone in capitalism has been lied to, especially poor people and people of color, and anything done that threatens the status quo – the constant and incessant land-stealing, wealth-hoarding success model – threatens our collective belief system about what success means and looks like.
Why we risk our babies and our own lives to cross false borders, why we kill each other, even our families, just to “make it,” why we fight for years over settler colonizer papers like wills and trusts, grow to “hate” our own elders for not “dying” soon enough so we can “inherit” their stolen land and hoarded resources. Why families fight each other like dogs over access to the family’s blood-stained paper dollars, sometimes to the death.
Why people line up for the violent, murderous workshops masked as “How to become rich though ‘income property’” and how to become a house-flipper and how to make money on old houses and on and on. We are all numbly participating in this murderous activity so we too can “make it” in a system set up to make us fail. And exploit people’s inability to manage it.
But Moms 4 Housing and their supporters continued to resist, inhabit, thrive and persevere in that little house for over two months, notwithstanding a cold-hearted, sick attempt by Wedgewood developers to evict them over Christmas. Around that time, I got even more scared for the Moms, imagining in terrifying detail the very scene that ended up occurring at 5 a.m. on the freezing cold and dark morning of Jan. 14, when an entire arsenal of stolen land protecting armies that have been stealing, killing and evicting babies, mamas and elders since the genocide called colonization of the first peoples of this land, the Ohlone-Lisjan nations, aimed their battering ram at the front door and barged in. On that tragic morning, watching the evil colonial violence unfold, replete with AR 15 rifles and terminator looking sheriffs, and a friggin’ tank, I couldn’t speak or function for a whole day. Too much trigger pain for me.
And then when they WON, I haven’t stopped smiling.
On MLK Day 2020, Moms 4 Housing announced that the Oakland Land Trust would negotiate the sale with Wedgewood of the stolen home with some last minute politrickster nudges from Mayor Libby Schaaf and Gov. Gavin Newsom finally speaking up for the Moms (not like they were there all along, and so please don’t give them un-deserved credit for finally listening to this serious emergency).
There are so many things to say about this “win,” which isn’t really a win; it’s just a right, which should have been there in the first place. A right to one of the most basic things humans need: a roof, shelter, a home, warmth, safety. But we live in a place and time when housing is the fight, when space on already poisoned, stolen and hoarded Mama Earth is seen as not a right but a privilege, only accessible to certain people, not everyone.
Where one wrong move can mean you are permanently outside. Where one strike and you’re out-side. And so the win, of this, the most basic of things, was HUGE and beautiful and full and large and should be held in all of our hearts for many days and years to come. And there are lessons. Lessons that need to be understood and overstood clearly so we can continue this momentum.
One of them is, from my humble poverty skola perspective, is, please don’t walk away from this power and depth of organizing with the facile notion that we should all just “squat the world.” The infrastructure, planning, support and people behind the beautiful Moms 4 Housing moves were large and layered. Every move was strategic and their support networks, media and legal were lined up.
Moms 4 Housing and all of the community and media and folks who stood with them were a sharp contrast to me and my mama’s multiple and silent evictions, which always ended badly, or multiple squats that POOR Magazine’s disabled elder Uncle Bruce Allison participated in and then was ultimately charged with conspiracy and assessed a $275,000 fine and no one even heard about it, or my beautiful sisSTAR Laure and her Mama, who just like me and my mama squatted and were violently evicted alone and with no back-up.
Our collective eviction, homelessness and police terror trauma of the multiple Wedgewoods, banksters and politrickster enablers of the world is what drove us poor and houseless folks to manifest the Homefulness project in the way we did. We believed – and still do – that the only way to ensure the land-stealers, banksters and government gangsters would never take our homeless people’s solution to homelessness away from us with guns and tanks is if we taught ourselves how to navigate their multiple and CONfusing settler colonial lies – I mean, laws – i.e. raise enough blood-stained dollars to work within their ridiculous system which was never meant for us poor people and attain all their building permits and adhere to their codes, their endless requirements, fees, licenses and on and on.
And now, in a classic Catch 22, the permit gangsters have halted Homefulness construction, saying we took too long to build as poor and homeless builders and we are now fighting just to get the right to keep building homes for houseless families like us. To date we have housed four houseless families with eight more units to be completed and now we are stopped.
Moms 4 Housing and all the beautiful people from ACCE and APTP and POOR magazine and SURJ and every single human who stood together with the Moms are sheroes and heroes who manifested something capitalism tries very hard to kill: People Power. But they also manifested MAMA POWER, which, like all of us mamaz and daughters know, can take down a developer or real estate snake any day.
Lisa “Tiny” Gray-Garcia, aka “povertyskola,” is a poet, teacher and the formerly houseless, incarcerated daughter of Dee and mama of Tiburcio and author of “Criminal of Poverty: Growing Up Homeless in America” and “Poverty Scholarship: Poor People-led Theory, Art, Words and Tears Across Mama Earth” and co-founder of Homefulness, a homeless people’s solution to Homelessness. Reach her at www.lisatinygraygarcia.com or @povertyskola on Twitter.
Editor’s note: All the videos are from Democracy Now! where you can read the full transcripts at the links provided.
This segment was broadcast Jan. 14. Read the full transcript at https://www.democracynow.org/2020/1/14/oakland_california_moms_4_housing.
This segment was broadcast Jan. 16. Read the full transcript at https://www.democracynow.org/2020/1/16/moms_4_housing.
This segment was broadcast Jan. 24. Read the full transcript at https://www.democracynow.org/2020/1/24/moms_4_housing_oakland_california.