Originally published April 15th, 2020
A common issue that we, as organizers, face consistently is making up for disorganization in a time when disorganization is most dangerous. We realize that we or our neighbors are in trouble while we are in the thick of the trouble. In my building, there has not been an active campaign for months. Most of the repairs we demanded to be fixed were fixed. It is not perfect in our building, but our victories made our building satisfactory to its inhabitants. As we enjoyed those victories our generative conversations faded away into the thrum of low-level interactions and check-ins.
Now, with the coronavirus pandemic raging and the wave of economic instability starting to curl, many of us are facing job-loss and, potentially, the inability to pay rent. What are the structures that we have built to confront these sudden threats? We used the language of “the union” and “the association” but where are those organizations now?
In the time of the COVID-19 crisis, we must begin to discuss organizing as a preparedness step. Building a tenants union may not be immediately obvious when times are marginally stable, but, for those who understand that crisis is always around corner in global capitalism, it is an investment in future stability. As we organize in between crises, we should draw upon the suddenness of coronavirus. We should remind our neighbors how the crisis blindsided us and forced many of us to confront homelessness as a possibility. If we create tenants unions, even ones that remain largely dormant during stable periods, there is a tool at the ready when people need to use it. We do not need to re-discover the same tactics again and again in the moments when it is most difficult to do anything.