Tenants Demand: Cancel the Rent!
The following is a selection from the speeches of tenants who spoke at the Cancel Rent Halloween March on DC mayor Muriel Bowser’s house on October 31, 2020. They speak for an enormous proportion of the working class in the United States, one whose perspectives are rarely heard even in left-wing publications. (Thanks to Kylé Ingrid Pienaar for filming the footage and to Emily Kamin and Hayden Higgins for transcription and editing.)
Barbara Cooper, tenant at Marbury Plaza in Southeast:
We want you to cancel rent. We don’t think it’s fair.
We voted you in. The same way we vote you in, we can vote you out. You need to help us. You need to help us. You sit up here and you give money to the restaurants. You try to keep the restaurants open. What about us people trying to live, in our houses? Help us. We voted you in and we can sure enough vote you out…
…I don’t think a roach is crawling on your table, Mayor Bowser. I don’t think you got rats running around in your house, Mayor Bowser. I think you need to help us. Half the time the elevators don’t work. When we need protection, we don’t have protection. But I see you got all the protection in the world, Mayor Bowser. We are here for peace. We are not here to start a riot. We came here to tell you how we feel about the situation. We feel hurt. We feel humiliated that you are treating us like this. You’re supposed to be our mayor. Stand up for us. Cause if you don’t stand up for us, we’ll stand up for ourselves.
Ale Moz, tenant at Sherman Ave Apartments in Northwest:
I bet you don’t sleep with rats around you, eating your food.
Mayor Bowser, we are here because we need your help. Mayor Bowser, don’t let landlords treat immigrants differently. Just because we don’t have documents. Just because they think we don’t belong here. Don’t let our children live in the street.
Mayor Bowser, the CDC is asking people to quarantine. How are we going to quarantine if we don’t have a place to live? They are asking us to wear masks. How are we gonna get masks if we don’t have a job?
Cancel the rent!
Shannon R., tenant at New Hampshire & First Apartments in Northwest:
Ms. Bowser, our request is very clear and simple. We need your support. We need you to please cancel the rent for the past months in which we’ve suffered in so many different ways because of the global pandemic.
All of us who are here today—and a lot of those who are not here, too—are families impacted in a very significant way, since many of us have lost our jobs since March. Many families are supporting themselves on only one person’s salary, which is not enough. We all know that because this city is so expensive. Many had their hours reduced and others did not even have the option to return to work since we have our children learning from home. Many of us do not have family to help us care for our kids and a lot of us are single parents.
It is very unfair that many of the DC apartment companies receive help from the government but they have not given any support to us—the tenants. Tenants who have lived in the city for years and who—before the pandemic—never failed to pay their rent on time.
Let’s not forget that many of us have to help families in other countries. Many of us have lost loved ones. For many of us, savings from many years have vanished in days. Many did not have the opportunity to receive unemployment benefits or help from the city because of their immigration status in this country.
But remember that all these people pay taxes, just like you, just like me, just like any DC resident. Not to mention that many here present have worked for years earning less than the minimum wage because many employers take advantage of undocumented people in this country. Please consider that some are starting to work, just a few hours a week, some are getting back into a routine.
But it is impossible to cover expenses of thousands of dollars in back rent. We cannot choose between paying rent or feeding our children. Moving out for many of us will no longer be an option since a bad payment history due to the pandemic will disqualify us from applying for a new apartment.
As you can see, this is a chain of problems in which we suffer in every way. No one ever thought or ever wanted to be in this situation. No one ever imagined that 2020 would bring us so many obstacles. But that’s why we need your support, your consideration, and above all, your humanity.
Jewel Burgess, tenant at Park 7 Apartments in Northeast:
I am originally from Washington, DC, born and raised 40 years here. I am now a resident in Ward 7, in one of the new developments that Mayor Bowser has allowed to come and build up in our community.
Well, I thought that I was gonna get a nice luxury gated community but instead I got a busted down, bummed down, handicapped apartment.
I have been on furlough for 5 months because the mayor decided to do a budget cut in the middle of a pandemic—after I was one of the first responders. After I bust my butt during the beginning of the pandemic, not knowing what i was getting myself into—risking myself, risking my life, risking myself to exposure to Corona and my family, just so I could live and support myself. I went out at the beginning—April and May—until she decided to furlough us because of the budget cuts.
I worked my butt off delivering meals to the elderly throughout the whole District of Columbia just so they could have food to eat. We started out with 350 residents and then we ended up with 3,500 residents needing food because of the pandemic.
So, know that I am on furlough and don’t have a job and I have to sit at home and collect unemployment, which I had to fight for, because unemployment came up with some bogus excuse that I had an overpayment over 10 years ago… so I was out of money for I don’t know how many months now until they decided they were gonna give me my money.
So now I have an income, thankfully. But I look around and I see all the Halloween decorations that are put up. If you go over to Ward 7, you’re not going to see Halloween decorations, you’re gonna see people strung out… you’re gonna see people strung out on dope, on crack, and it’s because the mayor [makes decisions] like giving $4 million to winterize restaurants when you got people—all these people right here—who don’t have money, who are out of work, that do not have a place to live…because once the pandemic is over and they decide to have landlord-tenant court open, they’re going to have all these people – including myself – evicted out of our homes because we were not able to pay our rent because of a pandemic that we did not have anything to do with.
We had no control of. No control of. Not only the fact that we had no control over it, we still have to go out every day, risk our lives, come out and make a wage, to survive, to provide for ourselves, and for our families. Risking ourselves and our health.
And what does Mayor Bowser do? She sits here and she plays house while people right here have families and children that they’ve given birth to, that depend on them, that need them to feed them and give them food and shelter and provide for them.
But what do we get? We get nothing. We get nothing from her but a bunch of hopeless dreams. A bunch of hopeless dreams. She comes on the TV and she says that she wants to protect us. She says that she wants us to stay safe. She says she wants us to stay in our homes. But it doesn’t look like they’re staying in their homes! It looks like they’re enjoying their Halloween. The neighbors are laughing! After we walked all those miles to come here. To stand here and tell her how we feel. To tell her that we want help.
All we’re asking for is help. I’d like to see all these police officers lined up on Minnesota Avenue tomorrow morning when I come outside my house. I’d like to see them standing out there protecting us from the people who come down there shooting and killing our kids and our community… who can’t come outside and play safely, because there’s no protection. But she has all the protection she needs. Because she thinks we’re here to harm her, when we’re just here to ask for help.
So, at the end of the day, when all of this is said and done, I just hope and pray that she can find it in her heart—if she has a heart—and that I know that she does, cause she’s still breathing, just like we are—that she helps us at the end of the day. Cancel the rent! Because it’s not our fault that we cannot pay the rent. If we don’t have jobs and we don’t have money, how can we pay? How can we pay for something if we don’t work? It’s not that we don’t want to work, we want to work! We want to work! But because everything is shut down because of the pandemic, we are not allowed to work! So if we’re not allowed to work, then we should not have to pay rent. That makes sense to me and that’s all I have to say. Have a blessed day.