We admit we have had trouble in organising NYCHA residents. Our work at Fulton Houses and Elliott-Chelsea were undermined by politicians, including Mayor Bill de Blasio (WFP-New York City). The president of the resident council at Fulton Houses misled residents into believing that RAD/PACT would be in their best interest, and he was caught tearing down our flyers, interfering with tenant organising, which is unlawful, according to the Fair Housing Act protections against retaliation. Later, tenants were mislead into believing that forming a resident management corporation would be financially or politically possible, when it was neither. Other “community groups” deliberately mislead public housing residents into deëscalating any criticism of elected officials. In the end, RAD/PACT has almost become a fait accompli, since Mayor de Blasio has reportedly succeeded in issuing a Request For Proposal for the RAD/PACT conversion of the last parcels of public housing in the gentrified Manhattan neighborhood of Chelsea.
Disreputable individuals used the pandemic to scare residents from participating in protests against then-Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss over her role in countenancing the allegations of abuse and corruption of RAD/PACT conversions. Marches against elected officials didn’t draw enough support from public housing residents, either, because community groups allied with elected officials wrongly informed residents that the Green New Deal would save them, when there was no reality to that proposition, either.
When all looked lost, it became apparent that doing nothing was the only thing we should be aiming for. During the pandemic, wildcat strikes took place as essential workers demanded personal protective equipment (PPE), paid sick leave, and health insurance benefits, amongst other demands. Expecting something larger than walkouts from labour unions is probably unrealistic, since they now largely act as get-out-the-vote operations for the Democratic Party. The true beginnings of a general strike must come from a non-union context, namely, from people experiencing extreme forms of economic oppression.
That is why Fight For NYCHA is putting our faith in residents, who intuitively know that the pandemic is not over and that the Government is seeking to continue the era of racial disparities into the future. Given all the sectarianism we’ve witnessed in public housing organising in the last two years, the political ideologies that have coöpted NYCHA organising can support the concept of a general strike against a capitalist economy that is exploitative and creates the kind of economic inequality that is experienced by NYCHA public housing residents.