Outside the home of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti last Friday, the volume of the People’s City Council May Day protest was deafening. There was a mariachi band. There were approximately 100 cars laying on their horns. There were protestors on foot blaring siren noises through their megaphones and chanting “Fight, Fight, Fight! Housing IS a human right!” It was all extremely disruptive, which was exactly the point of the protest. How much longer can Eric Garcetti and every other elected official in Los Angeles go while pretending that they can’t hear the people of this city asking for help?
The People’s City Council demonstrated outside of Mayor Garcetti’s house on April 1st to amplify three demands: no rent, no evictions, no vacancies. It is now more than a month later and our demands still have not been met. We’ve repeatedly demonstrated outside the homes of conservative, anti-tenant City Councilmembers, outside of the house of Chief Assistant City Attorney (David Michaelson), and Garcetti’s house again a few times in between.
We ask: why is it so hard to move some of these local politicians to do the right thing and help the people of Los Angeles? Is it because almost half of the members of City Council (Paul Krekorian, Herb Wesson, Paul Koretz, Curren Price, Nury Martinez, David Ryu, and Jose Huizar) are landlords themselves? Are certain City Council members voting against strengthening tenants’ rights because they are more interested in protecting their class interests as landlords? Is Mayor Garcetti refusing to fill all hotel room vacancies because he has an ownership stake in the Inn at Playa del Rey, himself? These are questions that Angelenos deserve to know answers to.
The Mayor, City Attorney, and City Council lied and misled people for weeks about the city’s “eviction moratorium.” They made Angelenos believe that they were fully protected as if there was a true eviction ban or suspension of rent collection. But guess what happened on April 1st and again on May 1st? Landlords attempted to collect rent. If tenants couldn’t pay rent (either at all or in full) then most landlords filed a notice to ‘Quit or Pay Now,’ which is the first step of the eviction process. Although tenants cannot be physically evicted at the moment due to the current “moratorium,” they can be physically evicted once the emergency period is over for unpaid past rent that was due unless they follow a series of regulations and then can hire a lawyer and prove the impact of COVID-19 on their lives in court.
The City Attorney’s office attempted to provide legal cover for City Council by giving them the excuse that they did not have the “legal authority” to enact stronger renter protections. However, that legal authority was based on shoddy legal analysis by David Michaelson, which (and I checked with my legal writing professor) would not hold very much weight in a 1L legal writing course.
The city of LA gets sued quite often — there is a potential lawsuit for most laws that are passed by municipal lawmakers and the City Attorney’s job is to defend the city whenever it’s brought to court. In this case, they functionally did the opposite. Further, the Los Angeles City Attorney’s record of knowing whether a law is legal is terrible; at the moment, the City is fighting a major lawsuit for its inhumane policies regarding the treatment of unhoused people, even though this policy was found legal by its legal advisors.
Passing a law to suspend rent payments would immediately help people struggling in Los Angeles. Should the City Attorney have to defend it in court eventually, it will still have saved countless Angelenos from homelessness and greater poverty in the meantime, during a pandemic. Lawmakers constantly challenge legal precedent and the boundaries of laws currently on the books. Imagine if all of the social movements throughout history in this country just put their hands up and said, “oh, welp. Can’t do it! There’s no ‘legal authority’ to challenge the current law! Guess we just have to pack up and go home.” No! That’s definitively not how lawmaking works! City Council absolutely has the authority to pass a rent suspension, and it is a pure act of cowardice that they do not do so.
There are 60,000 unhoused peoples in Los Angeles. In a pandemic, unhoused people are extremely susceptible to catching and spreading a virus. How can unsheltered people “Shelter-In-Place”? That’s why housing advocates are calling on Mayor Garcetti to fill all vacant hotel and motel rooms in Los Angeles. There are 100,000 empty hotel rooms and 60,000 unhoused peoples. FILL. ALL. VACANCIES. ERIC. The city of Los Angeles subsidizes and gives millions of dollars in tax breaks to big-name hotels downtown. And for what reason? Mayor Garcetti and the city have launched a new effort to move 15,000 people from shelters and encampments and into hotel rooms, which is about 1/4th of the total unhoused population in Los Angeles. Project Roomkey has been tracking the city’s promise to house 15k people: through May 4th, only around 2,000 unhoused people have received shelter through this initiative. The number of rooms opened under Project Roomkey is far from adequate. It is a drop in the bucket compared to what is actually needed. Even the aspirational goal of 15,000 hotel rooms for LA County would still leave tens of thousands of people vulnerable to exposure on the streets. The Mayor has repeatedly said, “anyone who is experiencing homelessness, who wants to go in, we have a room for you tonight, and we want to house you.”
Yet on Friday during a simultaneous action to the one in front of the Mayor’s house — in which StreetWatchLA organizers commandeered a hotel room at the Ritz-Carlton in downtown Los Angeles (through an absolutely genius and well-executed plan) — the organizers were removed from the hotel by a dozen cops who then arrested three of the participants. A few hours later, during Garcetti’s nightly press conference, Garcetti looked directly into the camera and said, “We have a room for you,” referring to Davon Brown, the unhoused StreetWatchLA organizer that was removed from the Ritz and subsequently arrested. But he had tried to get a room and was told he didn’t qualify under Project Roomkey. This performance begs the question, Mayor Garcetti, do you think that we cannot see or hear what is really going on? The people see through your classic political posturing. Enough is enough.
Every single elected official in Los Angeles makes over $200,000 a year, so they are likely immune to the struggle that many people in this city are feeling. Researchers found that more than 50% of the workers in Los Angeles have lost their jobs during the coronavirus crisis. People in Los Angeles are struggling, unable to pay rent, and are having to make the tough decision between food and rent (if that’s you- check out the LA Tenants Union ‘Food Not Rent’ guide). Nevertheless, elected officials in this city, who absolutely have the power to protect people that are struggling, have chosen inaction. Council President Nury Martinez would rather tweet about how much she cares about “working-class ppl” than do anything to help the people that are struggling to keep up with their bills. Mitch O’Farrell may send strongly worded letters to Congress begging for help but consistently votes NO on any type of rent freeze or rent suspension bill. Is City Council really expecting us to believe that they are that powerless? City Council is the legislative body of one of the biggest cities in the country, but apparently, they don’t have any power to help people in need. Funny how that works.
It is in this context that we return to the May Day action at Garcetti’s house. Why were we out there? To disrupt and make noise in the very affluent neighborhood of Hancock Park. We weren’t really sure what to expect when we began. We were concerned that the Los Angeles Police Department would escalate tensions as they had the week before. When we protested in front of Garcetti’s house on April 19th, we were met with instant conflict from LAPD. Within the first 15 minutes, LAPD had two People’s City Council organizers in handcuffs. Leading up to their arrest, the protestors were using megaphones and microphones to amplify our demands — the LAPD responded by abusing their First Amendment rights. LAPD also gave out nine citations to honking drivers, another potential abridgement of protesters rights. LAPD has repeatedly proven their inability to “protect,” as, in addition to violating rights, officers have kept showing up without masks. This despite a mandate from the Mayor. We are fortunate that LAPD was on their best behavior on May Day and they did not give out any honking or “amplified noise” tickets.
One of the brightest highlights from Friday’s action was the mariachi band. They were amazing and brought such great energy. Have you ever been at a protest with a mariachi band? I hadn’t either. The mariachis told us that they have been out of work for over a month and that this was their first gig in months. The People’s City Council independently fundraised for the cost of the mariachis, and they were worth every single penny. We are thinking about inviting them to our future actions so that: (1) We can help provide them with some income, and (2) because they were absolutely the best part of the demonstration. If the picture of the mariachis being stopped by the police in front of Garcetti’s and being told to keep moving doesn’t tell the whole story of the movement, then I don’t know what does. Members of the band have been out of work for months and decided to join us in the protest in front of the Mayor’s house, only to be stopped by state-funded bullies that were sent by the Mayor to silence dissenters outside of his home.
One of our goals is to disrupt and get loud because seemingly, the lives of elected officials in Los Angeles aren’t really disrupted by the COVID-19 crisis. Sure, some things in their day-to-day lives may have changed, but they still collect a very comfortable salary that ensures they aren’t worried about choosing between food or rent. They don’t have to worry about turning on the A/C during a heatwave out of fear they won’t be able to pay their bills. We are going to keep calling in to every single City Council meeting so they know their inaction is contributing to the stress and struggles of regular people in Los Angeles. We are going keep showing up outside their homes at 7 am with our horns blaring, and we are going to publicly announce a protest in front of their house to make them hear us. We are going to keep bombarding them on social media with tweets, memes, and GIFs. The @PplsCityCouncil Twitter account already has over 600 followers in just 2 weeks and it is only going to keep growing. We’ve even made a social media toolkit with ready-made tweets and memes to send to our favorite local politicians!
The People’s City Council is made up of organizers from LA Tenants Union, Sunrise Movement LA, NOlympics, KtownforAll, Ground Game LA, and StreetWatchLA. It’s important to remember that there are two components to these actions: in-person and online through social media. We know that many people are unable to attend these car protests for a variety of reasons. However, if we can provide easily digestible and engaging content on social media, people who cannot come can still play an essential role in our COVID-19 era protests, even if it’s only on Twitter or Instagram. We want people to know that if they are struggling, the People’s City Council is out here in solidarity with you. Even if you weren’t able to join us at this specific action, just know that the People’s City Council is out here, representing all of us with our bodies and voices. You could tell from the videos on Friday that it was LOUD. For a solid 30 minutes, all you could hear was “beeeeeep beeeeeep,” “weeeeooooweeeeeoooo,” siren noises, and the beautiful symphony of the mariachi band. For those 30 minutes, we were all free. If the Mayor’s life is going to be otherwise uninterrupted, then by-golly you bet that WE are going to disrupt that. That’s a promise the People’s City Council can make. Elected officials don’t deserve one second of peace as long as there are people sleeping on the streets. Check out this noise!
It is also important to distinguish our activism from the Open America protests that have been seen across social media. I do not want to delve too far into it, but the Open America protests are organized by AstroTurfed groups that are likely funded by rich conservative donors. The People’s City Council advocates for rent suspension and the right to housing and shelter for all. We are not the same. They advocate for haircuts and beach time and “freedom.” They do not observe social distancing. They brandish guns; we hire mariachis. We are not the same.
The People’s City Council wants to set the tone. We know what you’re doing, Eric, Nury, Mitch, Mike, etc. and we won’t accept the lies and gaslighting anymore. People shouldn’t have to choose between food or rent anymore. People shouldn’t have to live on the streets during a pandemic when there are plenty of vacant hotel rooms available. How can unsheltered people “Shelter-In-Place?” is a question that keeps circling my mind. The People’s City Council is going to show up and disrupt you. Whether it’s at home, on social media, during meetings, or… well, expect us everywhere. We aren’t going anywhere. We are only going to get more people to join the movement, the PEOPLE’S movement, and we are only going to get louder. Since elected officials in Los Angeles are otherwise unaffected then they do not deserve one second of peace.
Check out our HYPE video from the May Day action: