What started out as a small action in a working-class area of New York City is catching on city-wide, as tenants demand: “Cancel the Rent!”
Despite the coronavirus pandemic and the urgent need for people to stay home, rent was still due for thousands of people on April 1. That is why organizers with the Justice Center en El Barrio and the Party for Socialism and Liberation began a “cacerolazo” protest every day at 7 pm: following a style of protest popular across Latin America, New Yorkers bang pots and pans and make noise to demand a cancellation of all rent as well as support essential workers’ demands for better pay, testing, and personal protective equipment like gloves and masks. These protestors add a concrete political demand to broader actions where New Yorkers clap and cheer out of appreciation for hospital workers.
The cacerolazos started small, mainly in the hard-hit northern part of the city, the Bronx, with participation in the other four boroughs as well. Members of the PSL and their friends went door to door, slipping small handwritten or typed notes under doors or pinning them on with gloved hands with offers to assist each other, the demand to cancel rent, and join in on the action. Organizers at the Justice Center en el Barrio also promoted a tenants’ “know your rights” campaign to help educate them on the current eviction moratorium. When April came around, Justice Center organizers, their friends, and their neighbors banded together, started their first day of noise, and built with their neighbors.
Through online videos and organizing, the protests quickly spread. Around the city other groups took up the action. The neighborhood of Corona, which has become the epicenter of the coronavirus, protested with force. Huge swaths of a large housing development in the neighborhood (LeFrak City) took to their windows and balconies not long after the actions started, bringing with them their demands and about the lack of testing, PPE, and sick time which are being denied as the federal government refuses to assist the people and lets NYC fend for itself.
Some of the areas of the city hardest hit by the coronavirus, such as Queens and the Bronx, are the ones with the highest population of people of color and working-class people, as well as some of the largest concentration of renters in the city. Many of them are the essential workers being forced onto the front lines without PPE and even with possible infection. As the rich flee the city, the city’s essential workers must continue on, taking a massive risk as they navigate public transit to staff hospitals, grocery stores, and more. These protests show that the working people of NYC will not allow this vicious neglect of their needs to go unchallenged.
The coronavirus has brought a crisis, with massive job loss not seen since the Great Depression. Under capitalism, a system that criminalizes and kills the poor during a time of disease, landlords are still demanding rent money from tenants who are just trying to survive. Workers need this money to pay for essential goods. Forced to decide between rent and survival, a third of Americans chose to not pay rent this April.
In socialist countries like Vietnam, Cuba, and China, there is an effort to meet human needs, and this effort is seen as part of the fight against the coronavirus. For example, in China.essential goods and healthy meals are dropped off to peoples’ doors to prevent people from leaving their homes or panic buying during the pandemic. Here, people are left to fend on their own, and their basic human rights denied unless they fight for their rights. Every day at 7 pm, communities across New York City will be banging their pots and pans to demand their basic human rights in this pandemic: that they and other working people be protected, and that their rents be canceled. Join us in this protest! Get in touch, view the videos and photos on this campaign, and bring your questions to [email protected] or on Instagram @justicecenterenelbarrio.