Philadephia, Protesters Seize Street to Demand Housing Rights
Police watched as more than 100 people blocked a busy intersection at 6th and Market yesterday, near the Federal Building, to call attention to the nation's housing crisis. Speakers questioned national priorities, with President Obama sending 30,000 more soldiers to Afghanistan as thousands of Americans continue to be pushed into poverty and homelessness.
The group, organized by Kensington Welfare Rights Union and the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign, demanded a moratorium on evictions, and vowed massive nationwide civil disobedience at the end of January if Obama has not taken adequate steps to address the housing issue.
Protesters gathered at the Federal Building at 11 am holding signs and banners, wearing colorful cardboard houses, beating drums in rhythm, and chanting “What do we want? Housing! When do we want it? Now!” Lead by about a dozen disabled individuals in wheelchairs, the group marched to the intersection of 6th and Market and picketed in a large circle, blockading the entire intersection, before converging on the south side of the intersection and blocking traffic across all of 6th Street. A number of people spoke to the gathered crowd, including two women whose homes were recently foreclosed.
“I was renting a home and received a letter stating my house was going up for foreclosure because the owner had not been paying his mortgage. A week later the sheriff was knocking on my door giving me five minutes to leave,” said Starleen Pringle, a longtime resident of Philadelphia.
Pringle said she was forced to immediately leave her home of three years, along with her nine year old daughter and seven year old son, even though she already paid full rent for the month.
“I wasn't even allowed to get school clothes for my daughter the next day,” said Pringle. “They said, 'If you touch or take anything we're gonna lock you up.'” She had to make an appointment to later return to her house and collect all her belongings under a sheriff's supervision.
“Every 15 seconds in this country someone's home is foreclosed!” announced Cheri Honkala, one of the rally organizers, and a national organizer for the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign (PPEHRC). “We want to know what the government is going to do for these people!”
PPEHRC organized similar rallies across the country and demanded that the Obama administration make housing its top priority and increase the federal government's funding for affordable housing to the $83 billion dollar level it was at in 1978.
Honkala criticized the government for bailing out banks and corporations, and spending tens of billions of dollars to escalate war, while neglecting the swelling masses of Americans who are living in poverty and homelessness.
“Bail out the people, not the banks!” the group chanted in unison.
Another Philadelphia woman whose home was recently foreclosed spoke on the megaphone. “I'm homeless with my children,” she said with both her daughters, aged two and four, by her side. “I'm living in my car now. I want the government to get me a house so my kids don't get taken away from me by DHS.”
PPEHRC is demanding that Philadelphia immediately take measures to house its entire homeless population, which numbers around 4,000 people on any given day.
Last month dozens of people gathered at City Hall with the AIDS advocacy group ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) to pressure Mayor Nutter to provide housing for the 8,000 people living in Philadelphia with HIV/AIDS who do not have access to adequate housing, one of the worst records for AIDS housing in any American city. People who are disabled and/or living with diseases are particularly hard hit by the nation's lack of housing and health care.
As the economic crisis continues to strangle poor and working Americans, the numbers of homeless keep rising in Philadelphia and throughout the country. Meanwhile, many of the banks that received billions of dollars in federal taxpayer bailout funds are the same ones evicting people and taking their homes. The banks keep posting high and even record profits. The people keep paying the price.
PPEHRC and the Kensington Welfare Rights Union announced that if President Obama does not adequately address the housing crisis there will be massive civil disobedience planned at federal buildings across the nation at the end of January, including Philadelphia. The highly energized crowd seemed fearless and ready for this escalation, even with police officers watching closely.
As one of the speakers said to the crowd, “The war is not over there in Afghanistan. It's right here in America!” The nonviolent soldiers seemed determined to keep fighting for economic justice until all their demands are met, and everyone has access to adequate housing.
The Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign is a national coalition of over a hundred groups building a multiracial movement to unite the poor and fight for economic justice and human rights. Their website is http://www.economichumanrights.org .
The Kensington Welfare Rights Union, according to their website, is “a multiracial organization led by poor and homeless families organizing for Economic Human Rights in the poorest district of Pennsylvania.” Their website is http://www.kwru.org .