By Crescenzo Vellucci
Vanguard Sacramento Bureau Chief
SACRAMENTO – Car protests that “respect” social distancing are becoming quite the norm in the Capital City now – over the past several weeks, at least four car “rallies” have scooted through mostly abandoned city streets here.
But in these days of COVID-19, advocates have been itching for a chance to reach out in some way about what is wrong now, and what has been wrong in society, despite social distancing and stay-at-home orders.
Saturday, for instance, a car caravan of a several dozen vehicles – with between one or more people inside each car, everyone “masked up” – traversed downtown Sacramento, from midtown to the Capitol to south Sacramento to call for the cancellation of ALL rents, mortgages for homeowners, small landlords and small businesses.
But this car protest was not limited to Sacramento – there were about 40 protests nationwide, sponsored by the Party for Socialism and Liberation, and other progressive organizations.
“In December 2019, when COVID-19 emerged in China, the United States was warned that we would be affected. Instead of using the next two months to prepare, Trump and the U.S. government ignored public health experts, even ridiculing them,” according to a statement released by PSL Sacramento, adding:
“Now, due to this lack of preparedness the U.S. has become the epicenter of the pandemic and millions of working class people are headed towards financial ruin. The patchwork of city and state moratoriums on evictions are not enough.”
PSL noted that as May 1 approaches many people – who haven’t received unemployment monies because of snafus in the CA unemployment office – are facing rent payments, let alone food purchases they may not be able to afford.
As a result, PSL is urging the cancellation of all rents.
“In a few months when these moratoriums are lifted, and the rents come due — we will still not have the money! Workers cannot pay their rent because we cannot work! #CancelTheRents. We believe that we must act now to defend the essential right of all people to housing during and after the COVID-19 crisis,” said PSL Sacramento.
From Los Angeles to San Francisco to Chicago to New York and more than 40 cities across the country, according to PSL, cars rolled through impoverished neighborhoods, stopped in front of jails to demand prisoners be freed from their trucks and cars and drove by the homes of local politicians to demand that all rents and mortgages be cancelled.
Posters attached to the vehicles with painters tape read CancelTheRents.org, House the Homeless and Bail out the People not the Corporations. They called for a cancellation of utility payments and for full rights to all immigrants, freedom for prisoners and housing for all.
Those without cars stood 6 feet apart on street corners with masks covering their faces holding signs that said “If we can’t work, we can’t pay. Canceltherents.org.” In numerous boroughs of New York City, small groups of protesters dropped banners from overpasses and stood 6 feet apart with homemade signs saying, “Cancel the Rent!”
According to PSL, in many cities, like New Haven, Ct. and Denver, pedestrians, essential workers like bus drivers, people living on the street and other drivers responded enthusiastically to the call for a cancellation of rents, mortgages for workers, small businesses and small landlords.
In Boston, some 30 cars drove around the South Bay House of Correction, where many people (most of whom are pretrial) are being jailed. The jail is next to a homeless shelter, and many of the people there were clapping and yelling in support when the caravan passed by. Public bus drivers and individual drivers/pedestrians honked and gestured in support throughout the route, reported PSL.
Organizers made it clear that these protests were nothing like the despicable rightwing protests against necessary stay at home measures.
National organizer Brian Becker stated: “While we recognize and society recognize the First Amendment and exercise of First Amendment rights as essential, our April 25, 2020 ‘Cancel the Rents’ car protest practiced the socially responsible regulations outlined in social distancing norms and stay at home orders including physical distancing and mask-wearing. We believe we must act now to defend the essential right of all people to housing during and after the COVID-19 crisis.”
In San Francisco, said PSL, about 30 cars rolled past rows of sidewalk tents in the Tenderloin as homeless people joined in the chants. The protest started with a speech from Gloria La Riva, the Party for Socialism and Liberation’s 2020 presidential candidate, who pointed out that if the rents stopped being paid, all the housing would still be standing and everyone could have a home.
Denver, reportedly, was the site of one of the largest car caravans of the day. Nearly 200 cars met at the Mercury Cafe parking lot and zig-zagged along a one mile circuit through downtown Denver, stopping to honk at several key landmarks of capitalism such as upscale apartments with major vacancies, the State capitol building, the downtown jail and the immigration center, as well as a homeless shelter.
In Albuquerque, PSL reported that “21 cars traveled six miles mostly down Historic Route 66, one of the original U.S. highways. Famous for being the route Dust Bowl refugees used to escape West during the 1930s, it is nowadays entwined into New Mexican low rider car cruising culture. The caravan made several detours into the infamous War Zone neighborhood, known for decrepit, crumbling housing and predatory landlordism. Residents lined the streets cheering. Some ran into the streets shouting their phone numbers and names at passing drivers, asking to be contacted about the next caravan.”
PSL added: “With support from housing rights organizations, decarceration groups, and anti-police terror organizations, the Washington, D.C. caravan was a rousing success, with stops at the mayor’s house, the White House and the DC jail.
In Fresno California, 13 cars traveled through working class neighborhoods to the Tower District, the main cultural strip in the city and then to downtown where PSL member Cruz Rodriguez gave a speech demanding the cancellation of rents and mortgages for small businesses and homeowners.
PSL described below what happened in the New York City metropolitan area, national epicenter of the crisis:
“Protests across the city were met with cheers and support. Two separate caravans rolled through working class areas in Queens, and the Bronx, possibly the hardest hit areas in the country. Caravan drivers decorated their vehicles with signs such as ‘No Debt During a Pandemic’ and ‘Shouldn’t Choose Rent Over Food.’
In northern New Jersey, PSL said a caravan of some 20 cars passed close to the Essex County Correctional Center to support for the ICE detainees and demand their immediate release. Banner drops were held at strategic and high-traffic locations around the city, such as the Brooklyn Housing Court, Brooklyn Bridge, and the Macombs Dam Bridge in Harlem. Those unable to leave their homes covered their windows with signs of support to inform their neighbors. Outside subway stations, activists chalked up the streets with the demand to cancel the rents.
And in Los Angeles, a car caravan with more than 80 cars gathered in Historic South Central Los Angeles and had a press conference before departing to loop through neighborhoods to Downtown LA – passing Section 8 housing, City Hall, the ICE detention center, through Chinatown, ending at the Twin Towers Jail.
Four protests took place in Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Lancaster and West Chester. In Pittsburgh, cars began a caravan through six Pittsburgh neighborhoods, traveling about 10 miles. With windows down, the caravan waved to passersby as people in cars and pedestrians cheered it on.
Said PSL, “Approximately 70 cars participated in the Philadelphia action, which circled around City Hall before concluding with several loops around hated local oligarch Joel Freedman’s house. Freedman is a real estate baron who bought a struggling local hospital, closed it down, and then demanded over $5 million from the city to reopen it to treat Coronavirus victims.”
At least 20 cars drove through Downtown San Diego, through Barrio Logan, to National City.
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