- The Context: Situating a Struggle
- The Present: Common Sense Radicals
The Context: Situating a Struggle
To understand current radical anti-gentrification activists in the ‘United States’ it is helpful to first know the history that gave rise to them and know that they are only the most recent iteration in a long tradition of anti-capitalist activists engaging in an ongoing struggle.
What is Gentrification – The Role of Race, Land, and Property in Power – The Tradition of Anti-Colonial Struggles – A Note on Calling Gentrification ‘Settler Colonialism’ and the Limitations of the Comparison
What is Gentrification
In their landmark 2003 study What Makes Gentrification ‘Gentrification’?, Scholar P.A. Redfin writes gentrification “consists of middle-class people re-occupying an area of the inner city that had at some point been abandoned by their literal or metaphorical forebears” (2003:2361). Aside from capturing the basic essence of gentrification which is people with middle-class or higher socioeconomic status moving to an area that’s population is largely of low socioeconomic status, what Redfin’s definition also succeeds in is acknowledging that, often, prior to gentrification, the neighborhoods’ middle-class residents fled and periods disinvestment followed. In an urban United States context, this would be the White Flight of the 1950s and 60s and the State ‘sponsored’ urban blight (strategic disinvestment and economic, political and social violence) that was seen almost exclusively in majority non-white neighborhoods from the 1960s through 90s.
But beyond that, gentrification must be seen as a type of settler colonialism–often occurring on land occupied by current settler-colonial projects like the so-called ‘united states’–not just because, as an intentionally caused process, it bears many similarities (particularly in terms of drivers) but additionally because of the history of the land that is the stage it unfolds on. This is described well by Right To The City: Montreal, as they write in part their definition of gentrification: “We recognize that class lines are inseparable from racial and gendered lines, among others, and it is important to situate gentrification processes within the geography of power structures at work, as continually (re)created and informed by the colonial context of the land we are on.” This being said, the comparison has limitations as we will soon explore.
The Role of Race, Land, and Property in Power
Though many see social class and socioeconomic class status in the United States as having nothing to do with the social construction of race, the way wealth–especially intergenerational wealth–has been generated cannot be understood without looking at race. There is a largely accurate trope among white–especially middle and upper-middle-class ‘United Statesians’ that your parents pay the down payment on your first house (often with the capital they accrued from their own house and so on). Because you can pass property down to your children, the house and the capital it allows one to build are often the foundations that (straight until recently) white ‘United Statesians’ build generational wealth on. So why is this a white-specific trope? While the most accurate answer would point to the way our whole society has been–and continues to be–structured, there are key causes:
- A long history of slavery, which, in this context, can be thought of as people of color people being literal property (capital) that white families passed on intergenerationally (rather than humans no different from those who, in the eyes of the law, owned them). Needless to say, only white men could own property.
- A recent history of Redlining, many related practices, and individual bias at a systemic level in the real estate industry.
- A continuing history of companies being allowed to prey on non-white families (the 2008 financial crisis was caused by predatory subprime mortgage loans which disproportionately affected families of color–especially black families, who lost half their wealth in the 2008 financial crisis).
Through all of this and so much more, non-white families in the ‘United States’ have not just been prevented from accruing wealth like white families but have been exploited as a means of white families generating and building intergenerational wealth.
Put simply, white wealth in the U.S. is built on the exploitation of people of color. Though this is not quite as easy to see today as it was in the past, this continues to this day leaving us with two truths: 1. Through a variety of complex mechanisms (in addition to housing as we have seen, things like education and socialization are two other ways capital of all sorts is reproduced over generations), the wealth that was generated from unjust and exploitive institutions that can be seen more easily as wrong (like slavery and sharecropping) has been passed down and still exists in white families today and 2. As the second and, to an even greater extent, third points of how this has happened illustrate, modern-day forms of this ‘old fashioned’ exploitation exist today. These processes even use many of the same methods to extract capital from people of color to further build white wealth in the ‘United States’ and abroad.
The Tradition of Anti-Colonial Struggles
As you can now see, in many ways, gentrification is a newer form of settler colonization and the larger process of further centering power. It is like the ‘soft-power’ of colonization and it is able to operate in contexts colonization simply couldn’t–if colonization centers power in the hands of one nation, gentrification is a part of what centers power within that nation.
So when we think of the history of anti-gentrification activists we firstly should not simply stop in 1964 when the term was coined by British sociologist Ruth Glass and secondly should not only think of those fighting what we now think of as gentrification. We must think of the National Union of the Homeless’ militant occupation of public housing across the United States in 1990 or the Young Lords’ 1960s struggle for Lincoln Park in Chicago or Jane Jacobs’ 1950s struggle for Greenwich Village in New York or the Haitian Revolution of 1791 or the Powhatan’s 1622 attack on the English’s Jamestown settlement or any other anti-colonial struggle.
A Note on Calling Gentrification ‘Settler Colonialism’ and the Limitations of the Comparison
Though gentrification and settler colonialism have many parallels, as black anti-statist, anti-authoritarian, horizontalist writer Bobby London does in her article ‘Party like it’s 1992’, calling them one and the same also has limits and colonial implications of its own. It must be noted that the outright violence of settler colonialism is, in every case, simply not matched by gentrification. Though calling gentrification a settler colonial project can be helpful at communicating some similarities, it can also minimize the tremendous violence of colonization which in itself is a colonial practice. We also risk seeing colonization as a thing of the past which is anything but true and also a colonial practice (in addition to the 17 (plus a few other U.S. occupied nations they miss) ‘Non-Self Governing Territories’ the United Nations says are still in the world, we also cannot forget nations like the ‘U.S.’, ‘Canada’, ‘Israel’, and ‘Australia’ which are also on-going settler colonial projects).
All this is not to say there is not violence in gentrification, there of course is: neighborhoods that were subjected to disinvestment and now gentrification have seen the impacts of the state–sponsored introduction of crack-cocaine (as well as syphillis and other horrible things), tremendous police violence against BIPOC community members, the state’s (lack of) response to the aids crisis, and the forced–sterilization of BIPOC women to just name a few instances of violent actions taken with the intent of furthering gentrification which, in this context, can be seen as a type of ethnic cleansing or genocide.
And of course, gentrification is about an area’s changing demographics which often takes shape as white people moving into, or ‘settling’ neighborhoods they hadn’t occupied before. And there is cultural violence and erasure too–gentrification whitewashes and plunders cultures in addition to dismantling communities and community power which also is a part of settler colonialism and genocide.
But despite their overlaps, gentrification and settler colonialism must not be seen as the same and the violence of gentrification must not be seen as the same as the violence indigenous nations experience and experienced during the past and present genocides that lead to the creation of the states that gentrification is now unfolding in–though the motivations behind them, namely, capital, are the same.
The Present: Common Sense Radicals
As we have slipped into global late-stage, neoliberal capitalism, gentrification has evolved and, with it, those who fight it. These activists know the ‘rules of protesting’ and ‘civility/respectability politics’ function to maintain the status quo and so, in a complete rejection of that (and despite biased backlash from mainstream media), like past movements, they have turned to direct action and guerrilla tactics.
Through a mix of traditional tactics like harassment and vandalism and newer ones like ‘online trolling’ (constant online harassment intended to not only frustrate and intimidate the target but also to “assassinate their reputation” as a member of Defend Boyle Heights once put it to me), they are slowly succeeding in ‘defending their hoods’ which, in the present day, with such wildly extreme economic pressures pushing in on them, is an amazing feat.
In trying to understand these groups, we will look at a few case studies, the groups’ relationship to their fight, their goals, their ideologies, the tactics they use to actualize all of this, and, finally, the impact they are having.
Relationship to the Fight – Ideologies – Goals – Tactics – Groups – Impacts
Relationship to the Fight
As the battle over the future of these communities has heated up, a new dimension has been added to the fight. Some critics have attacked groups claiming they are made of “outsiders” and “white hipsters” rather than members of the longstanding and often black, brown, and indigenous communities. In the 2017 Guardian article ‘Are white hipsters hijacking an anti-gentrification fight in Los Angeles?’, former outreach chair of the Boyle Heights neighborhood council, Steven Almazan, is quoted as saying, “I found it kind of strange to hear people not from the neighborhood speaking for the people of Boyle Heights” referring to his perception of the makeup of Defend Boyle Heights.
Others have gone even further. In a 2015 New Statesmen article the author includes quotes accusing members of Class War, a London, UK based group, of being “Oxford [university] types”. While a correction to the article later amended this perspective and included numerous challenges, the sentiment is not unheard of: white radicals with comparatively little proximity to the daily struggles of the community taking over the struggle and making it their own.
But, is there any merit to this? Of course. Detractors are right to point out the, often fraught, racialized, classed, gendered and otherwise structurally imbalanced dynamics of some of these groups. However, aside from often being little more than a guess, saying these groups are run by white outsiders erases the labor of community activists of color and members of the groups who have spent their lives fighting for their community. In the words of Boyle Heights local and Latino activist, Angel Luna in the aforementioned Guardian piece, “[saying these groups are white led is] a racist critique because it makes invisible the labour of people like myself. To assume we’re controlled by a group of white people is racist and offensive.”
While it is, of course, impossible to know each member of each group’s proximity to the fight, one can note that many if not all of the groups are upfront that their politics and that of their members are born out of their lived experiences and their proximity to the fight. This can be seen on an individual level in 2018 Capital and Main article ‘The Education of an Anti-Gentrification Warrior’ which showcases Defend Boyle Heights activist Nancy Meza’s (otherwise known as ‘La Quirky Nancy’ from DBH’s gentrifier parody videos) life and path to her politics. This is also reflected in the organization’s FAQ where, addressing outsiders’ ideas of the movement and what they should or shouldn’t protest, they write, “We are not paid protesters, we are from the community and stand in solidarity with the community. If you’re so worried about time managing and who isn’t being targeted then you do it. If not, you are part of the problem too.”
What is key in all of this is understanding that, once an area has been gentrified, in the words of Meza, “then I can’t live here. The doña [elder lady] can’t live here. It never leads to ‘improvement’ for us.” Gentrification is a struggle over life and while it can literally be life or death–like for unhoused people of color who face significant threat of violence from police and others or in colder areas where older unhoused people face particularly high risks in the winters–when I say that I mean it in the sense of who gets to live their life. This idea is particularly well articulated in Redfern’s ‘What Makes Gentrification ‘Gentrification?’:
Gentrification undermines the ontological security of the inhabitants of a place by permitting gentrifiers to turn it into a new place, of their own. It is here that the resistance to gentrification begins. Since what distinguishes the gentrifier from the displacee is nothing more nor less than ‘style of life’, the home that is made for the gentrifier is one that ipso facto excludes the potential displacee, who thereby loses not simply his or her shelter but the very world in which the displacee was at home, to which, like the marginal man, they will never be able to return.
In other words, because both gentrifiers’ and longstanding community members’ identities are built around a sense of self that is anchored to a place and all that exists there (the built environment, brick and mortar institutions, friends’ homes among many other things), only one can exist in any particular space. While it seems both could share a space, understanding gentrification to be driven by, among other things, the same unending need of surplus capital to be reinvested that drives settler colonialism helps us understand why it is this way. The binary is the malignant disinvestment that ‘allows’ certain spatially-based subaltern communities to exist without being gentrified VS the (also malignant) capital-gain-driven speculation and investment that spurs the process of gentrification which destroys other subaltern communities to enable new more privileged demographics to occupy the land. Either the community exists on land that is not, at the moment, desired by capitalists and accordingly its residents can go about their lives largely free of both gentrification and the services and investment communities that house more privileged residents receive OR the land is marketed to be desirable to those more privileged (higher on socially constructed hierarchies) and is taken through a variety of processes, among them gentrification, at the cost of the longstanding community’s identities. Understanding this we can better understand the nature of the battle being fought over these gentrifying areas and who gets to exist within them and, in a broader sense, who gets to simply exist in general.
A Note on the Use of the Term ‘Radical’:
In her piece ‘The Anti-Blueprint’, which is a look into how we might start to think of ‘liberation’, Bobby London writes, “If it is not about the destruction of all non-consenting hierarchical structures (white human supremacy, capitalism, hetero-patriarchy, ableism, etc. ) then it does not qualify itself to be considered revolutionary, and is instead only about assimilation and including more into the privileged class.” This sentiment captures that of many of the groups’ and for the purposes of this project that is what I mean by ‘radical’.
While all the groups’ proclaimed ideologies vary, virtually all of them embrace both traditionally neo-Marxist class-based analysis and an intersectional analysis of the structures/systems of oppression they are up against. In other words, they see gentrification as another form of class-based antagonism from those with power and capital against those without, however, they also recognize that our identities (be it disAbility status, immigration status, race, gender identity, sexuality, or any number of other axes) impact our experiences and options as we move through the world.
When one fails to see identity’s role in gentrification they are subscribing to what is often called “bad ‘identity politics’”. Those accused of this often see one’s identity as a revolutionary thing regardless of their actions. This can lead to their being co-opted which means that, for personal gain or perceived community gain–or both, they work against the interests of the larger identities and groups they belong to in order to advance the dominant groups’ interests.
On the other end of the spectrum, to be too heavy on the class analysis without an understanding of the complex ways our socially constructed identities impact us is called being a ‘class-reductionist’. Often preferring Marx’s original works to contemporary updates and other works, class-reductionists embrace dated and simplified ideas of how power functions. For a variety of reasons, as time has passed, the various constructed identities and identity itself have both played and filled a variety of different roles within various societies, however, one particularly notable shift (described particularly well in Michel Foucault’s 1976 book, The History of Sexuality) is the way that, as power has become far more diffuse than it was when we all lived under monarchies and other highly ‘Top-Down’ societies, identity has increasingly served to delineate who has power and who doesn’t. This is why having an intersectional analysis is crucial–if one were to succeed in a revolution that only replaced our economic and political systems/structures/institutions and not our social ones, many of the underlying problems that cause gentrification and/or are used as tools in the process would still be left operating. While people of all kinds embrace class reductionism, it is most commonly embraced by working-class white men who face oppression on fewer axes than many of their comrades and accordingly have to look beyond their own experiences to understand oppression and how power operates in a modern-day context.
Members of the groups also claim a variety of specific ideologies and stances. Members and groups stand against gentrification (of course), Capitalism, White Supremacy, Hetero-Patriarchy, Colonialism, Zionism, Imperialism, Settler-Colonialism, all other parts of the Kyriarchy, and domination in general. On the ‘positive side’ of things, members hold a variety of ideas on how to structure our political and economic systems and structures like communism (including variants like Marxist-Leninist-Maoism), socialism, anarchism, anarcho-communism, and many other, often related, ideologies. As was mentioned in the previous paragraphs, socially the groups and members share very similar intersectional politics that seeks to end all forms of hierarchical domination.
Often the groups looked at here have goals on both the ‘micro’ and ‘macro’ scales. The ‘micro’ goals seek to fulfill their communities’ basic needs and stop immediate threats. Often ‘micro’ goals involve stopping a specific project (public, private, or hybrid) like the razing of longstanding parts of the community for a highway or condo or the rezoning or redevelopment of an area and instead lobby for things that meets a need of the longstanding community. This can be seen in DBH lobbying for a laundromat to take the spot of an art gallery and in Gay Shame’s recent demands for self-described “cafe, restaurant, civil rights themed bookstore, [and] community gathering and programming space” Manny’s to leave the Mission due to their space being designed to cater to yuppie demographics, involvement with pro-gentrification and YIMBY elected officials, the owner’s Zionist and racist beliefs, and general woke-washing.
In addition to more immediate goals, these groups have larger end or ‘macro’ goals. On the slightly more reformist side (by this I mean they do not explicitly call for an end to capitalism and their demands could possibly be met under current political, social, and economic institutions), this can be seen in the Right to the City Alliance’s 12 point plan (see their section under the “groups” header) and on the more revolutionary side of things we see DBH’s explicit calls for an end to gentrification’s “root causes which [they] understand to be capitalism, white supremacy and colonialism” (see their section under the “groups” header).
While all the groups more or less fall on a spectrum somewhere between those two examples, each has their own focuses which are highly localized. This localization can be seen in Right to the City: Montreal’s strong focus on decolonization and many California-based groups’ focus on abolishing a set of laws that have played a substantial role in the gentrification of their cities.
Despite this localization/specialization, all the groups are united in their demand for a different world and their in your face work towards building it.
In many ways, these groups are defined by their actions and the tactics that comprise them. Since mainstream channels of “resistance’ have done virtually nothing to impede gentrification and have instead often accelerated it (see YIMBYism), these groups have departed from tactics accepted by the mainstream. In the words of Defend Boyle Heights, “It takes real hood shit to save the hood”. They continue:
These offensive tactics, we will stress over and over, can only be initiated by maintaining a certain autonomy that centers the needs of the most politically marginalized people in our hood. Our tactics do not flinch when needing to take “unpopular” stances or actions, nor do they worry about the weightless threats of the state and nonprofit apparatuses.
The recognition and understanding that under neoliberal capitalism, things that were once resistant to dominant hegemonies and were actually forces for social change like art, have now been co-opted and are being utilized as tools in furthering the on-going capitalist project of gentrification (among other things like fascist border policy). This means people, organizations, and businesses that say they are allies often are not. An understanding of this can be seen in virtually every group’s refusal to allow artists and art spaces that engage with the larger art industry into their communities regardless of the rhetoric of the individuals and spaces. Accordingly, since, in the words of Defend Boyle Heights, “Negotiation with gentrifiers = negotiating our defeat”, the groups have rejected discourse as a tactic. This may also be because, as a movement, anti-gentrification activism is largely lead by people and groups from the communities gentrification directly impacts. This may also because, for many, part of the experience of holding subaltern identities is seeing traditional channels do nothing for your communities and the conditions of your life. Due to this many groups have a heavy focus on direct action and guerrilla tactics.
So what are the tactics used? Well, like the ideologies and focuses of the groups, they take a wide variety of forms to fit the specific contexts they operate in but among them are:
Protests & Marches
While protests and marches in many of their forms are not new or particularly radical, the way these groups carry them out often is. Though they also protest traditional things like legislation and protest in non-specific public areas, these groups most notable protests are often extremely targeted at individuals or businesses. This can be seen in the Brooklyn Anti-gentrification Network’s holiday ‘caroling’ at the homes of developers and local officials who support gentrification or things that cause it. At these events, they sing pointed carols about the individual or businesses’ misdeeds and pass out literature to their neighbors. Forms of this can also be seen in virtually all other groups’ protests at specific gentrifying developers or other establishments. These protests can also get quite raucous as is detailed in a recent Huffington post article which describes how art investors and real estate spectators at recent events targeted by the groups have been “pelted with water bottles, shot with a potato gun, surrounded, chased, harassed and harangued at any number of events over the last two years”. While some actions only happen to harangue, the protests take a variety of forms including employing protest theatre like passing out mock-eviction notices and a variety of other non-traditional tactics. All in all, among the many ends, protesting serves to give the community a voice, assassinate the target’s character by holding them accountable for their actions, and occupy space with the intent of reclaiming it.
Seeing as they are all only tools in achieving a specific set of ends, many of the tactics have some overlap with each other. Though one way targets’ character is put into question are public protests, this can take a variety of other forms including flyering, reaching out to their workplace, reaching out to their friends and family, and disseminating information online or in a number of other spaces. One example of this is described in Opillard’s ‘Resisting the Politics of Displacement in the San Francisco Bay Area: Anti-gentrification Activism in the Tech Boom 2.0’ in which they describe the group Eviction Free San Francisco “giving out [serial evictor landlord’s] names, addresses, phone and fax numbers, and encouraging activists to drive out to their home and talk them out of evicting [their tenants]”. The goal of this family of tactics is to simultaneously hold the individual or business accountable for their actions while also trying to discourage them from continuing their roles in gentrification.
For the purposes of this, tech activism refers to any activism that uses technology as a tool in the fight against gentrification and the oppressive structures it ‘works with’ and within. While it is often in the background, this work is often extremely important and enables other work to happen. This is also demonstrated in Opillard’s ‘Resisting the Politics of Displacement in the San Francisco Bay Area: Anti-gentrification Activism in the Tech Boom 2.0’ which shows how the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project produces research that often enables other groups like Eviction Free San Francisco to carry out their various actions. This same symbiotic relationship also exists within groups; many groups have dedicated members that are particularly good with online research.
Aside from enabling targeted actions and doxxs (and also *in other contexts*, driving gentrification in so-called “tech-hub” cities), tech also enables activists to fight gentrification in a variety of other ways. For instance, in Opillard’s study, they also write that “Using technology as a tool to implement and empower community activism, [Anti-Eviction Mapping Project] makes maps, using both their own collected data and the available data on evictions and housing ownership.” While this is not necessarily storming the developers’ office (like activists did in Los Angeles), this work enables people from a variety of background to absorb, visualize, and conceptualize the damage gentrification has wrought which can be tremendously powerful in the face of such a complex process as gentrification.
Closely related to tech activism like trolling but a tactic in and of itself is the groups’ use of humor in their fight. This can be seen in parody videos put out by Defend Boyle Heights that mock gentrifiers just discovering (then plundering) aspects of the communities’ longstanding culture–particularly its Latino roots. This can also be seen in groups use of memes in their online harassment of gentrifiers like this one, where ChiResists makes fun of a vintage shop that is part of the gentrification of the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois. This not only succeeds in furthering their message and creating discomfort in their targets but also often has a cathartic effect to those gentrification hurts. After all, who doesn’t like karma?
Vandalization is often one of the first signs of dissent against gentrification and can send a strong message that is often taken extremely seriously (evidenced by police investigations, media coverage, and the targets’ responses to anti-gentrification graffiti). Though the groups themselves do not carry out any form of vandalization, other people, presumably those with proximity to the issues who are invested in the fight, do. It is likely that groups avoid carrying it out because of the harsh legal penalties associated with the acts and instead communicate their message other ways. However, new headlines about targeted anti-gentrification tagging and other types of vandalization pop up frequently.
While initially, it may seem that documentation only serves to show what once was (and when carried out poorly, does only that), many groups are fighting back against that and documenting the stories and lives of those in their communities as a form of resistance showing not only what has been but what is. This takes a variety of forms including oral histories like the ones put out by Brooklyn, New York-based Before It’s Gone // Take It Back – B4G. The Anti-Eviction Mapping Project also has numerous oral history projects including their “Narratives of Displacement” map which, among other things, “aims to document these changes in San Francisco by foregrounding the stories of people who have been, who are being, or who were being, displaced” (for full description click here).
Fighting the ‘Small’ Battles
One of the less talked about aspects of anti-gentrification groups is their fighting tooth and nail on every ‘little’ battle. It is hard to say whether this is simply a characteristic of the groups, a tactic, or something between the two. Regardless, many groups go ‘all-in’ on every battle that comes to them often devoting immense amounts of time to taking on one specific developer, politician, racist-resident, or business when there are many other targets who occupy similar roles. While critics say this hurts their cause because they don’t strategically pick fights with good optics that allow them to appear in a ‘good light’ to mainstream liberals this also may be helping them by scaring off potential businesses with their blitz like tactics. This can be seen in ChiResists getting ‘Lost Girls Vintage’ to leave Pilsen, Defend Boyle Heights’ getting multiple galleries to leave their community (see their section), and many other examples. So while their targeting of ‘small businesses’ and other specific targets does often hurt their popularity with mainstream liberals (it only takes one quick search on the LA Times archive to see this), it seems to also help their cause by convincing gentrifying businesses to leave. In the words of Opillard, “Precisely because it is provocative, Brahinsky’s assertion might be the key to an analysis of the current situation: the community response to the political, material and symbolic processes of dispossession that tenants are facing, despite its micro-scale fights, has gained significant power and coverage in the latest months”.
One of these groups’ most crucial tactics in building power is their ability to build coalitions within their communities, cities, and across the country and world. At home, groups are forming relationships with groups that have related focuses like tenant unions, feminist collectives, and even militant communist groups.
While these local coalitions are nothing new, increasingly, groups from other parts of the country are connecting and building networks. Recently members of Defend Boyle Heights taught anti-gentrification workshops in Chicago and New York on their #HoodSolidarityTour which ended in them following some of the same people gentrifying their community to New York for an art opening to, with the help of local groups there, protest the artists and developers’ gentrifying presence in New York too. In their post titled “Defending Boyle Heights and fucking shit up: A 2017 summation and report back from our Hood Solidarity tour” they write, “We are devoting our time to building a national movement against gentrification”. These coalitions, both on local and national levels, have been crucial in the power these groups have built as forces for their communities in their local fights and, on a broader level, as a movement.
The following list is far from exhaustive (it simply couldn’t be). Though many of the groups have been around in various forms for decades and decades, since the 2000s and even more so the 2010s, there has been an explosion in the formation of groups throughout the country (and world) in response to the growing scale and carnage of the urban crisis that is gentrification. Accordingly, rather than producing a detailed and accurate summary of all of the many groups and their origins, goals, tactics, and successes, I have instead chosen to focus on a few groups that I feel are particularly representative of the larger movement as a whole. In other words, a group’s selection or omission has nothing to do with their productivity, success, or anything of that nature and is instead just about how well I feel they enable me to communicate facets of the broader movement.
Though often sharing similar motivations and goals, the groups are all wildly different and, frankly, are hard to thoroughly understand without also looking at the other local groups they have built coalitions with and work alongside (these symbiotic relationships are wonderfully captured by Florian Opillard’s 2015 ethnographic study “Resisting the Politics of Displacement in the San Francisco Bay Area: Anti-gentrification Activism in the Tech Boom 2.0).
All in all, the groups seem to be united in their commitment to rejecting capital’s non-consensual control over their lives and instead, building their lives, families, and communities around each other and their shared values, goals, hopes, aspirations, and dreams.
And lastly, it must be noted that seeing as I am not a member of any of the groups, information provided here most certainly doesn’t speak for any of the groups. Beyond this, though some of this work comes from personal experience with gentrification and some limited experiences with these groups, largely, the content of this page has been generated from the groups own resources, scholarly research on the groups and related subjects, media coverage of the groups and struggles, and other content like people’s responses to the group online and in the streets that I have observed–accordingly, there is almost certainly a lot missing from this. If you feel there are inaccuracies or misinformation presented in this page–especially if you are involved with a group or have first-hand knowledge–please contact me at Brannanh@grinnell.edu and I will be happy to make any updates!
San Francisco, California based AEMP started in 2013 in the midst of the Bay Area’s “tech-boom-2.0”. Though it was born as a “data visualization and map-making project” when it became clear to organizers that “to tell the story of gentrification you can’t just have dots on a map”, it diversified and it now describes itself as:
a data-visualization, data analysis, and storytelling collective documenting the dispossession and resistance upon gentrifying landscapes. Primarily working in the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, and New York City, we are all volunteers producing digital maps, oral history work, film, murals, and community events. Working with a number of community partners and in solidarity with numerous housing movements, we study and visualize new entanglements of global capital, real estate, technocapitalism, and political economy. Our narrative oral history and video work centers the displacement of people and complex social worlds, but also modes of resistance. Maintaining antiracist and feminist analyses as well as decolonial methodology, the project creates tools and disseminates data contributing to collective resistance and movement building.
Producing a truly staggering amount of work, both as a group and as individuals, they are one of the most prolific information producing anti-gentrification groups. Their website is packed full of almost every possible type of media and information possible from their gripping oral history project to seemingly endless painstakingly constructed data visualizations.
They are also featured in numerous scholarly works and in addition to being one of two groups featured in Florian Opillard’s 2015 ethnographic study “Resisting the Politics of Displacement in the San Francisco Bay Area: Anti-gentrification Activism in the Tech Boom 2.0” they are also the focus of the 2016 article “The Anti-Eviction Mapping Project: Counter Mapping and Oral History toward Bay Area Housing Justice”, which was written by the group’s cofounders Manissa M. Maharawal & Erin McElroy.
Though Los Angeles, California based BHAAAD’s main goal is to dismantle art and artists’ role in gentrification, the group recognizes the interconnectedness of many struggles against capital and hierarchy. When describing themselves they write:
The Boyle Heights Alliance Against Artwashing and Displacement is a coalition born from the complex specificities of Los Angeles. We are new and old friends who find ourselves at the intersection of multiple overlapping struggles. We have come together to confront the current crisis of evictions and abusive real estate practices in L.A., to question the role of culture in gentrification and the narrative of ‘inevitability,’ and to push to stop displacement in its tracks.
We will not stop fighting until all galleries leave. Boyle Heights will continue to fight against the false promises of development and community improvement that are supposed to benefit us, but end up displacing us from our home. Once again we call on ALL galleries in Boyle Heights to reconsider your position and leave immediately.
The alliance is a coalition comprised of numerous community groups that operate in Los Angeles. The groups, Union de Vecinos, Defend Boyle Heights, Multiple Affinity Groups of Artists, School of Echoes Los Angeles, and The Eastside Local of the Los Angeles Tenants Union, all represent overlapping but different interests and BHAAAD is the point of convergence for them to work together against artwashing in their communities.
In addition to their clear focus on galleries gentrifying presence in the Boyle Heights Neighborhood, the alliance’s thorough understanding of how various different struggles are linked has resulted in them producing a large body of literature. Much of the literature is notable in that it is historically situated extremely well and connects the dots of struggles and parts of history that may initially not seem connected–this is likely the result of intergenerational community knowledge and the wide variety of groups that make up BHAAAD.
The alliance’s tactics lean heavily on the side of direct actions. Along with their member organizations, notably, Defend Boyle Heights, they are known internationally for abrasive–and effective–protests of galleries and other gentrifying establishments.
Though created by Equity for Flatbush only recently in 2015, Brooklyn, New York’s BAN, has had notable success in building community power and fighting displacement. They describe themselves as “a people of color-led, mass-based coalition of tenants, homeowners, block associations, anti-police brutality groups, legal and grassroots organizations working together to end the rampant gentrification and displacement of low to middle-income residents of Brooklyn” and in many ways they are the quintessential anti-gentrification community group.
Like many other groups, they are a coalition, in this case being made up of over 10 groups with an additional 30+ community groups endorsing them. They are all united around BAN’s 12 demands:
- We demand universal rent-stabilization in NYC.
- We demand that not one more rent-stabilized unit is destabilized and an end to tenant harassment.
- We demand hands off New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA).
- We demand hands off SCRIE, DRIE, and HASA.
- We demand that NYC Council pass The Small Business Jobs Survival Act– SBJSA Intro 0402-2014. Keep neighborhood businesses safe.
- We demand that Area Median Income (AMI) is based on the community where housing will be built
- We demand that Mayor De Blasio stop allowing NYC land and housing to be bought up by foreign investors.
- We demand a permanent end to the 421-A and similar tax breaks that subsidize luxury development and investment of the billion dollar plus yearly giveaway in immediate construction of permanent housing for the homeless.
- We demand an end to the construction of segregated housing.
- We demand that community boards are elected, not appointed.
- We demand full transparency of Mayor De Blasio’s Housing Plan.
- We demand alternative and creative affordable housing for all.
They do a notably good job of balancing the offensive and defensive and while what seems like weekly (or even more frequent) protests and actions are scheduled to fight things like the local rezoning of communities of color, they also manage to do a tremendous amount of community support and advocacy on things like illegal evictions, broken utilities and other unacceptable conditions community members experience at the hands of slumlords, planners, city officials, and developers.
After attending one of their meetings I was deeply moved by the almost incomprehensible amount of effort and unpaid labor its organizers put into keeping it running. Though this is undoubtedly true for all of the groups on this list, it is a different matter to see it in person. The meeting was made extremely accessible and very well organized which led to the planning of multiple important actions and reflection on past actions.
The group’s structure and meeting culture are similar to what Florian Opillard characterizes as Eviction Free San Francisco’s in her 2015 ethnographic study “Resisting the Politics of Displacement in the San Francisco Bay Area: Anti-gentrification Activism in the Tech Boom 2.0”. The meeting was comprised of ~20 members with some main organizers running the meeting and the meeting culture or ground rules were laid out prior to the beginning of the meeting. This was done with the explicit purpose of recognizing and centering the needs of the people and communities gentrification hits hardest. Beyond producing activism that recognizes the communities gentrification targets, it also creates a space where those who belong to traditional silenced groups and face structural oppression are able to freely speak and take up the space they are entitled.
BAN has been known to stage protests, boycotts, and other less traditional actions like getting together to sing pointed carols to public officials during the holiday season… in front of their homes while passing out literature.
Though they do not have many resources online, the Chicago, IL anti-gentrification group is well known in the community and makes their presence known in the streets. In addition to frequently working together with a number of other local groups like the Pilsen Alliance and Barrios Against Displacement, ChiResists has also worked with Los Angeles, CA’s Defend Boyle Heights. Together with other community groups, they have held marches through Pilsen and the surrounding communities. While walking around Pilsen in 2018, I saw posters for past and future anti-gentrification actions.
Their Youtube video ‘Standing For The Living’ manages to perfectly capture the radical gentrification activist’s foundational recognition that all struggles are linked by what they are against as it shares the story of one ChiResists member and their time in Standing Rock before using the importance of land and our connection to it to weave in the story of another individual’s connection to the space/place of the Pilsen neighborhood in Chicago. The second speaker talks about how their intergenerational connection to the space/place works with their identity as a Mexican-American person to situate their connection to the community.
DBH itself is actually a coalition of many different groups. Its member groups include Undeportables, Unión de Vecinos, and Serve the People – Los Angeles. In addition to this core group, East LA Brown Berets, LACCLA, BHAAAD, Los Angeles Tenants Union, Eviction Defense Network, Immigrant Youth Coalition, and Ice Out of LA are all part of the “DBH family” and “actively support [their] campaigns”.
Though hierarchies are seldom useful in the descriptions of these groups and coalitions, it would be a lie by omission to not mention that Los Angeles, CA’s DBH has attracted the most attention from the public and media of any of these groups and has ended up as the focal point of liberal media critiques of tactics that are criticized by those who subscribe to civility politics. A quick google search will reveal the immense amount of articles on their work.
Despite this, their abrasive tactics and unflinching commitment to protecting their vibrant and historic community from gentrification have set the tone for today’s anti-gentrification activists. They recognize the impact gentrifying institutions like [new] art galleries and [new] coffee shops have on their community and deal with the problem head-on by staging in your face pickets, marches, and boycotts. Some members also have created satire videos to shame gentrifiers while also providing comedic relief for their community.
Though members and member organizations of the coalition change, the group initially united around the 10 point plan of:
- We commit to fighting seriously against gentrification and its root causes which we understand to be capitalism, white supremacy and colonialism.
- We organize autonomously, outside of both the state and the reformist nonprofit structure as these most often than not represent a false hope for our communities.
- We will bring to the forefront the tactical leadership of those who are the most affected of the community and stand the most to gain from our victory.
- We aim to build community power through the formation of strategic alliances with community members when and where they further the struggle to defend our hoods.
- We commit to building and maintaining a safe(st), affordable and accessible Boyle Heights for the oppressed who have historically borne the brunt of displacement. (womxn, indigenous, black, undocumented, youth, elderly, homeless/houseless folks, people with disabilities/differently-abled, LGBTQIA2S, those who have been here for generations.)
- All people have to be fighting actively against gentrification: If you are informed and have the means to join the struggle, and chose not to join, you will be fought against.
- We understand that the policing of our communities plays an active role in gentrification. Gang injunctions and the enforcement of unjust laws are a few examples of why we see law enforcement agencies (la migra, Sheriff, LAPD) as fundamentally opposed to our struggles and we refuse to be complicit.
- We actively fight against the criminalization and prosecution of the working class and the oppressed and all sorts of activities that affect the economic survival of our community.
- We affirm the indigenous history of Boyle Heights, challenging the white supremacist and settler-colonialism narrative.
- We hold these principles for ourselves and aim to struggle with community on these points.
In addition to a massive presence in the streets, DBH (in tandem with BHAAAD) produces a large amount of online resources in information. This includes, unsurprisingly, a thorough FAQ section which describes the group in depth (and certainly better than me or anyone else could).
In addition to their unrelenting use of traditional tactics, DBH is also notable for their (also unrelenting) use of more recently developed tactics like online harassment known as ‘trolling’ (some of this can be seen under #BarrioTrollSquad). This tactic is not only effective because it successfully publicly assassinates the character of the target by exposing their unjust practices but also because anyone can participate, from anywhere, at any time which eliminates many accessibility issues that often plague other forms of activism.
Though the group is not responsible for the vandalization of the gentrifying establishments in their neighborhood, these incidents do show the wider community shares their sentiments and that they are extremely serious about the mission of protecting their community.
Like other groups we are looking at, they are explicitly intersectional with their politics, focus on those who face oppression on multiple axes, and connect their struggle to many others including the struggle against Immigration and Customs Enforcement and this country’s intense immigration policy which many feel is fascist in nature and designed to make the ‘U.S.’ whiter.
Members of the group have talked about how given the neighborhoods makeup (according to a recent NBC News article “about 100,000 residents [in the Boyle Heights Neighborhood], 94 percent are Latino. About one-third live in poverty, and about 17 percent are estimated to be undocumented immigrants”), the neighborhood is particularly important to protect so it can continue to be a safe, welcoming, and financially accessible place recent refugees and migrants can call home.
These sentiments on immigration are impossible to divorce from their larger anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, and anti-colonial politics and this is perfectly captured in their ‘On Immigration’ section of their FAQ where they address the connections between gentrification and imperialism writing:
Think of it this way: Many people escaped civil wars, in which the United States was giving money to fascist governments that without a second thought murdered entire villages, and people were forced to flee. Why was the United States funding these terrorizers? Mainly because they would do as they were told and would willingly share its resources with the US, they would combat the Soviet Union, and they would pass neoliberal laws. All those folks that were forced to flee went somewhere, many came to the United States and settled in the only neighborhoods that they were allowed to live in or could afford. They settle down, build their lives, and now once again, they are being forced to move because a rich person sees the potential money they can build from their misery.
All in all, they have made major victories in their campaign of stopping gentrification in Boyle Heights, L.A. and, through coalition building and simply setting an example, throughout the U.S. They have forced out numerous galleries from their community and, although I couldn’t find official stats to confirm or debunk this, in addition to pushing out many gentrifying establishments and making potential new yuppie-oriented businesses think twice, they claim to have also lowered property values in Boyle Heights which is especially notable given the almost incomprehensible pressure of the global financial market that is pushing the gentrification (for more on this see David Harvey’s ‘The Right To The City’ essay).
Austin Texas’ DOH – DEB states its mission as “Building power in ATX to fight displacement and exploitative development” and that is exactly what it does. Similar to other groups discussed here in its militancy, the group combines a mixture of community improvement work with militant activism that tosses civility politics to the side. They have targeted gentrifying businesses and developers and the neoliberal politicians that enable them with the same persistence and aggression that we have seen from the more widely publicized incidents involving Defend Boyle Heights. Like similar groups, they face backlash from right-wing, centrist, and neoliberal media for their tactics. Directly addressing this, they write that their critics “decry the militancy of [their] tactics” and in doing so dismiss “the lives of the people [their] tactics seek to protect”.
They also have produced literature and campaign updates which are shared with the public via facebook notes, facebook posts, tweets, and Instagram posts. In addition to social media, they have also deployed zines, audio journalism, and a community journal that features “poems, art, and stories around the subject of gentrification, from the perspective of those who have been on the receiving end” as tools in furthering their message of people power in response to gentrification.
With the gentrification of SE Austin intensifying, they have launched a new campaign to stop the gentrification of the riverside district with an especially large focus on a giant project driven by Nimes Capital that aims to raze a large swath of their communities and build what “lifestyle news” publication CultureMap Austin deems a “Domain-style development encompassing well over 5 million square feet” including “thousands of apartments, hundreds of hotel rooms, dozens of shops and restaurants, and scores of offices”.
In addition to the destruction of the community and the housing infrastructure that they call home, like in other cities, DOH – DEB are also up against the destruction of the longstanding communities’ public art and murals while also squaring off against local art institutions that through working with the developers secured protection from displacement for themselves leaving the longstanding community to fend for themselves.
Like other groups, DOH – DEB has often seen their tactics come out successful. Instances of this can be seen in their ongoing boycott of the blue cat cafe which is built on the site of the beloved (and now razed) Jumpolin piñata and party-supply.
Along with the previously mentioned AEMP, San Francisco, California’s EFSF is the other group focused on in Florian Opillard’s 2015 ethnographic study “Resisting the Politics of Displacement in the San Francisco Bay Area: Anti-gentrification Activism in the Tech Boom 2.0”. The study depicts the two groups as symbiotic forces working together to stop real estate speculation and the displacement and gentrification it causes.
They write on their website that as “a direct action group whose mission is to help stop the wave of evictions in San Francisco… [they] use different kinds of creative action to hold accountable and to confront real estate speculators and landlords that are displacing our communities for profit.” This manifests in a variety of actions that accomplish the end goal of fighting gentrification by raising awareness of their plight, creating social consequences for those who benefit from gentrification at a high level, and forcing policymakers to address their experiences.
The study goes in depth not only in communicating the group’s actions and beliefs directly related to gentrification but also their broader politics and how that influences their work. One area where their intersectional and non-hierarchical beliefs can be seen is the way they conduct meetings on which Opillard writes:
[The group’s meeting guidelines] specifically show the group’s preoccupation with the reproduction of society’s intersectional structures of domination (race, sex, and class) within the group. They invite structurally dominated and silent minorities to step up. The willingness to challenge structures of domination within the group itself makes it necessary to clearly define the meeting agenda, the time devoted to each item and to take stacks. Such a structure creates a safe and designated space for structurally oppressed and silenced minorities to take up their own right to speech. It is not rare to witness harassed tenants both describe the symbolic violence which they face every day and express their gratitude towards the group.
Because they have successfully balanced smaller-scale and large-scale goals, in addition to influencing policy at a state and the citywide level, they have had lots of smaller scale victories like helping residents of specific building avoid Ellis act evictions. EFSF shares some of these stories on their website in addition to resources tenants can contact if facing eviction or harassment and detailed accounts, including their motivations and goals, of actions they have taken recently.
One of the oldest groups on the list, San Francisco, California’s Gay Shame is “a virus in the system”. The group first started in New York in 1998 as a response to the ever-increasing commercialization of Pride events and assimilation of (middle-class, white) queer people into dominant society’s oppressive institutions (marriage and the military for instance) at the direct expense of fellow queers with less privileged identities.
In the last 20 years, the group has taken on every issue in the book and done so with equal parts extravagance and confrontation. However, in recent years, the QTPOC-lead San Francisco chapter has begun to focus their attention on fighting gentrification. The group uses a variety of tactics that have been described here (of course with the addition of “trans/queer extravaganza“) including confrontational protests and targeted online harassment of developers and YIMBY local officials, but maybe most uniquely, they create broadsides that can only speak for themselves.
Unsurprisingly given the neoliberal climate of San Francisco politics and the radical nature of Gay Shame’s tactics, they face mainstream backlash. This is acknowledged and even maybe a point of humor for them as they write on their website, “Liberals think we are frivolous decorations and mainstream gays want us gone. Against them and with each other we instigate, irritate, and agitate, to build cultures of devastating resistance.” I have personally seen both of these responses to their work in many comments sections online. I have also seen (and felt) a slew of love and adoration for their politics and their work.
All in all, through working “collectively outside boring and deceptive non-profit models” Gay Shame succeeds in holding gentrifiers accountable, empowering the queer/trans community especially people of color, and furthering their mission of fighting “white supremacy, capitalism, ableism, cops, settler-colonialism and all forms of domination.”
RTC Alliance is a social movement and a national organization founded around the work of Henri Lefebvre and more recently David Harvey. Though Lefebvre coined the phrase, the group and its mission are more in-line with Harvey’s 2008 essay “The Right To The City” in which he says in order to fight the massive inequities that have sprung up since neoliberal capitalism proliferated in the 1980s, we need a “coherent opposition” on a global scale. Harvey’s essay ends by calling for the adoption of “‘the right to the city’ as both working slogan and political ideal” and RTC alliance embodies this. According to Jackie Leavitt et al, in their paper ‘The Right to the City Alliance: Time to Democratize Urban Governance’, the alliance was created in 2007 “out of dialogue and organizing between the Miami Workers Center, Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (Los Angeles) and Tenants and Workers United (Alexandria, VA).”
The alliance works both at grassroots levels as individual groups and small coalitions work on local campaigns and also at a nation level uniting behind the 12 parts of their platform which are:
Land for People vs. Land for Speculation, Land Ownership, Economic Justice, Indigenous Justice, Environmental Justice, Freedom from Police & State Harassment, Immigrant Justice, Services and Community Institutions, Democracy and Participation, Reparations, Internationalism, and Rural Justice
These items show that though they do have a clear focus which is ending gentrification and its financial and cultural drivers, they also recognize these are impossible to separate from other causes. The result is a politics that works to unite people across struggles to take out the root causes. In support of this platform, they have put out a number of in-depth reports and calls to action on various current events and struggles in housing justice like their Rise of the Corporate Landlord report which looked at “The Institutionalization of the Single-Family Rental Market and Potential Impacts on Renters.”
While many of the coalition members show no signs of slowing down, the alliance on a national level appears to have become less active in the last 5 years.
Although the alliance has had many victories at the local level they have also had national victories as well including their effort to replace Ed Demarco with Mel Watt as the acting director of the Federal Housing and Finance Agency which resulted in former US president Barack Obama issuing an executive order which fulfilled their goal.
RTC Montreal is a “spatial justice working group of The Quebec Public Interest Research Group at Concordia [university].” Not officially affiliated with the US alliance of the same name, the Canadian group are most notable for their large amount of literature and focus on the settler-colonial context of the land. Their explicit goal is to “contribute to anti-gentrification struggles and research and make connections of intersectionality with other struggles, while moving toward workable alternatives” and was formed by Concordia students after presenting at community input sessions about their concerns of “spatial and social equity” in the ‘redevelopment’ of downtown Montreal.
Though how they are articulated is differently, RTC Montreal shares the following eight of the wider RTC movement’s goals:
Land for People vs. Land for Speculation, Indigenous Justice, Environmental Justice, Freedom from Police & State Harassment, (Im)migrant Justice, Services and Community Institutions, Democracy and Participation, and Internationalism.
One can see these beliefs expressed in a number of articles they have published. The articles have a strong anti-colonial leaning which can be seen in works like “Colonizing the Inner City – Gentrification and the Geographies of Colonialism” in which they, among other things, define then connect colonization, gentrification, and the right to the city. They also have a thorough and extremely well curated “virtual library” full of enough supplemental materials to make one an expert themselves.
While many of the aforementioned groups primarily focus on offense against the various drivers of gentrification and those at their helms, often tenant unions play a variety of different yet equally important roles. While this project is largely focused on the offensive fight against gentrification, it would be wrong to omit tenant unions not only because they are also heavily involved in the ‘offense’ and can share members with other groups, but because their work is utterly essential to the fight. They also play an especially important role in cities without larger anti-gentrification groups like Portland, Oregon. While the groups and their focuses vary, their core mission is often empowering tenants to be able to stand up for their rights to landlords and cities. In the words of Portland, Oregon’s Community Alliance of Tenants, tenant unions’ mission is “[t]o educate and empower tenants to demand safe, stable and affordable rental homes.” While varying from group to group, in practice, the work tenant unions do takes many forms, among them: providing classes and other forms of education on tenant rights directly to tenants, organizing rent strikes, providing legal assistance, putting pressure on slumlords to improve condition or practices, organizing community actions, and organizing to bring about structural changes that increase legal protections for tenants, make zoning laws more renter friendly and address past injustices, and generally restoring power and agency to those who are deprived of them by current systems.
By introducing what are seen as radical ideas compared to much of the conservative vs. neoliberal spectrum that exists now, these activists succeed in widening the political window and making many of their short term goals viable. In the language of political science, this is called widening the Overton Window and this is evidenced in the rising tide of mainstream anti-gentrification activism.
One recent example of this is Oakland mayoral candidate, Cat Brooks who, in a recent article, is quoted as saying “Yes, I support Proposition 10 … and I am the only candidate who has made that a central issue in my campaign. When Prop 10 passes, we will pass the most progressive rent control policy in the state – because that’s the Oakland way”. This sentiment can also be seen in her rhetoric and its unflinching urgency “If you want to put a shovel in the ground in Oakland, you need to be paying us to be able to house the Oaklanders that were already here, we are one of the only few cities in the state of California that doesn’t demand impact fees, community benefit agreements, and inclusionary zoning. We got a crisis on our hands, and we need to employ every single mechanism that we can to solve that crisis … Ultimately, I’m running because I don’t want to become San Francisco 2.0, I’m running because I want to help stop what’s happening to Oakland.”
Unfortunately, Brooks lost and prop 10 failed (this is a stark reminder of the power of the forces we are up against), however, the fact legislation like that and a candidate as outspoken as Brooks both almost won their respective fights is a signal that the work of these groups is changing our mainstream political culture (even if their interests lie far beyond our political process and rehabilitating capitalism).
But beyond the political process, these groups have managed a much larger change: they have provided (and continue to provide) an avenue to meaningfully fight gentrification and, prior to their arrival, that did not exist. While the model is far from perfect and has not halted gentrification in its tracks, that is, of course, not a shock given the immense pressure our global financial markets have put behind real estate speculation and the process of gentrification. These groups have given a voice–and a particularly loud one at that–to communities and interests that are not given a voice and people are listening… or at least being forced to. They have found a wide range of supporters all around the world. Galleries are leaving their communities. The public discourse has shifted. Cities are, for the first time, having to actually hear and address the communities’ voices their actions impact and either change their actions to meet the communities’ needs or get held publicly accountable. And all across the world, communities facing down the antagonism of gentrification have a model of resistance that actually stands to achieve something.
One of the many strengths of a number of the groups looked at here is their insistence on writing about what they’re doing themselves. While there may even be journalists or researchers who are capable of accurately portraying these groups and their movement and have genuine and honest intentions, they simply do not have the same understanding as those involved in the struggle directly. Worse still, that is assuming the best case scenario. In their FAQ section, Defend Boyle Heights explain part of their reliance on self-published literature (and the corresponding distrust of mainstream media outlets) in four key points: 1. Papers are driven by advertiser and reader generated revenues and editors have the final say in what makes it in 2. Many reporters have crossed the group and other groups in the past doing things like lying about intentions to get a scoop, taking quotes out of context, and portraying them in a biased bad light. 3. They often lack proximity to the struggle that informs the perspectives of those involved 4. Structural problems of how papers portray victims of police violence and white terrorists leave the group feeling they will not get a fair shake based on past coverage. These points among many others are why self-produced literature is a key part of these groups.
As was discussed in their section the whole thing is pretty much all self-produced literature and research. You could spend years reading everything they have produced. Even binge readers like me have to pick what they take on judiciously!
“Before It’s Gone / Take It Back.” DOCUMENTING BROOKLYN, FIGHTING GENTRIFICATION, ongoing, beforeitsgone.co/.
At the top of the group’s website homepage lies an interactive map full of stories of Brooklynites doing what they do best: being Brooklynites. I highly recommend you follow the link and read the ‘about’ section and then some of the stories shared (many are just on sentence). The project exists to show, despite gentrification, people are still doing their thing and thriving in spite of it all.
Boyle Heights Alliance Against Artwashing and Displacement. A Short History of a Long Struggle. alianzacontraartwashing.org/en/coalition-statements/bhaaad-the-short-history-of-a-long-struggle/
This longer piece masterfully contextualizes both the fight in Boyle Heights and around the world. It not only tells the history of the community but also their struggle for self-determination and to free themselves from state-driven oppression.
Deconomize this Place’s zines and posters
The group has put out an array of information including zines about decolonizing museums and Palestine in addition to their anti-gentrification related work.
Defend Boyle Heights. Frequently Asked Questions: What is Gentrification?. http://defendboyleheights.blogspot.com/p/frequently-asked-questions.html
This FAQ provides the basic context a person first encountering anti-gentrification politics will need to understand the fight. Their blog is also helpful, accessible and not weighed down with unnecessary academic jargon, and informative about both specifics and the broader struggle.
Defend Our Hoodz’ Free The Land zine
Like DBH, they also have a blog, however, this zine provides specific information on their struggle, anti-gentrification struggles, and broader revolutionary thinking.
This series of in-depth scholarly reports were produced by a diverse mix of community members, activists, scholars, and scholar-activists. They cover a wide range of topics like the rise of corporate landlords to strategies to bettering our approach to public housing.
Right to the City: Montreal. Colonizing the Inner City- Gentrification and the Geographies of Colonialism. 15 Aug. 2012, righttothecitymtl.wordpress.com/2012/08/15/colonizing-the-inner-city-gentrification-and-the-geographies-of-colonialism/.
While virtually all of their literature is good, this piece is particularly helpful in understanding the colonial context of the land which gentrification unfolds on and how it shapes the current fight.
Note: For more simply refer to works linked in the text or the reading lists at the end of this section!
London, Bobby. “Party Like It’s 1992.” The New Inquiry, 15 Sept. 2018, thenewinquiry.com/party-like-its-1992/.
London articulates that “Early colonization and current gentrification are linked by their use of cages to gain land and exert zero-sum autonomy over those with darker skin”. Then goes on to illuminate the path that must be taken against gentrification if there is any chance at stopping it: the same path taken against colonialism.
Opillard, Florian. “Resisting the Politics of Displacement in the San …” European Journal of American Studies: Special Double Issue: The City, 2015, https://journals.openedition.org/ejas/11322. Heavily used throughout this work, this study showcases two anti-gentrification groups, their symbiotic relationship and work, and their politics–all in the context of the struggle they are engaged in.
Redfern, P. A. (2003). What Makes Gentrification “Gentrification”? Urban Studies, 40(12), 2351–2366. https://doi.org/10.1080/0042098032000136101
Unsurprisingly given the title, this study provides readers with a thorough understanding of gentrification. Beyond this, Redfern traces some history and, in the way of a doctor of philosophy who writes about gentrification, explores constructions of identity in relation to spatial places “under the conditions of modernity”. A formative work.
Harvey, David. “Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution.” Penguin Random House, 2012 https://www.versobooks.com/books/1411-rebel-cities. (or free online here–but buy it if you can!)
While many works by those in the left focus on making claims why things are bad, why they exist, and their history, this collection of Harvey’s essays (Available for free as a pdf here!) not only provides that but also goes deep into what the solutions are and the realities of the fight ahead of us. Particularly helpful in understanding gentrification’s relationship to capital and the processes of neoliberalization.
Jacobs, Jane. The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Random House, 1961.
Though its ideas have been picked apart and, once hardly recognizable, used by neoliberal YIMBY planners, the canonical book marked a turning point in Urban Studies. Jacobs, a community activist was instrumental in various anti-early-gentrification fights in New York, breaks down the problems with the way the city was/is organized and the institution of planning. While she has been rightly criticized for some of the same homophobic and racist moralisms she aimed to cleanse planning of, her book was miles ahead of others of its time and at its level of publicity.
Lyle, Erica, et al. Streetopia. Booklyn, 2015.
I first “met” Erica at the inaugural session of the School of the Alternative. I was 18 and had just quit a crummy night shift job to hop a freight train across the country to this residency/program. While it would be years before I would read Streetopia and come to terms with how amazing her work is and how I should have absorbed every insight I could, I knew even at the time that she was someone to admire greatly. The book is an amazing collection of essays about a sort of counter-cultural anti-gentrification street fair/protest Lyle helped put on. If resistance looks like anything it is illegal, creative, and idealistic. Lyle clearly knows this.
Schulman, Sarah. The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination. 1st ed., University of California Press, 2012. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pps9s. (Available in essay form in “Streetopia” by Erica Lyle)
It has, admittedly, been a while since I read this, however, from my memory and skimming the book takes us back to the heart of the AIDS crisis in order to describe gentrification, AIDS, the connection between the two, and larger cultural shifts that the two and their relationship depict so horrifyingly. I remember loving the tone of the book.
Los Angeles’ School of Echoes’ reading list: here
This list is tremendously helpful if one wanted to understand gentrification, it’s history, and how to fight it in a day or two. Short, sweet, and well-curated.
Right to the City: Montreal’s Virtual Library is another great reading list. Find it: here!
One of my favorite collections of writing anywhere. Whoever the people are that put this together, they are fantastic. As with the group’s other work, there is a heavy focus on the ongoing colonial history of the land gentrification unfolds on and how that impacts current processes. Full of articles that are absolutely necessary in the formation of a nuanced understanding of gentrification.
My own list. Find it: here
I put this one together after teaching a class on the relationship between gentrification and art at School of the Alternative summer 2018. It looks at gentrification and its relationship with things like the state, race, and policing. Though more extensive and specific than the others, I think the other two are much better overall.
“Holes in Current Research”: What Current Scholarship Won’t Do
In recent decades there has been an explosion of research on gentrification–almost every niche subject one can think of has been explored (there are of course exceptions that, unsurprisingly, pop up along predictable lines). Among this scholarship, there has of course been an abundance of bad work: everything from the ‘trickle-down housing’ ideology of the market-loving YIMBY to the outright racist/classist/plain dreadful ideology of the ‘gentrification is improvement’ school to the disastrously myopic scholarship that sees it as only a class issue: it’s all been said. However, there has been a lot of fantastic scholarship too. And that fantastic work is the focus of this section.
Despite the production of a large body of fantastic work (and a tremendous body of mediocre work), in this time, the process of gentrification has, unsurprisingly, only ramped up. Many of neighborhoods the works of the past decades documented and explored are now largely little more than new ‘urban’ suburbs. While this is, of course, the fault of capitalism, white supremacy, and co and it’s quite hard to say what is or isn’t the job or responsibility of the Academy and those in it, it seems to me that to justify the whole enterprise, the extent of our impact cannot simply be little more than fleeting pictures of what was.
To me, the fact so many have built stable careers documenting the predictable destruction gentrification has wrought is really more of an indictment of the Academy than something with its own intrinsic worth. Don’t get me wrong, the work is important and I have thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I even hope to produce some of my own scholarship on gentrification (what is this if not that?)–but shouldn’t it have some larger worth aside from simply existing? Before you say it, no, I don’t particularly think maybe impacting a bit of obscure policy–or, more typically, failing to–counts. And people say that these works expose knowledge and patterns and history and they enable us to see the mistakes of the past and not repeat them but, frankly, that’s a pretty flimsy argument given making the same capital generating “mistakes” of the past is a core ‘american’ tradition and a key to our global dominance.
So, when I think of holes in the research, I want to know what research will be produced that will tear down capitalism and collectively imagine and construct in its place something new and built on an entirely different set of values? What research will do the same to white supremacy? To all other socially-constructed hierarchies that gentrification is simply a tool of and a part of? What research will, at the least, drop its privileged pretenses of ‘objectivity’ and show what is happening, why it’s happening, and how to change it? That can’t be too much to expect? If that’s not what we’re doing, what is the point? We are far beyond the time of endless ethnographies and literature reviews, while they must still be produced, the truth may be that, to play any sort of a meaningful role in the world, we must actually be agents of change. We must join the fight against gentrification and its drivers, we must reimagine the role of the Academy in the world. As scholars and students, we must investigate our own immense privilege and how we use it (or, more typically, fail to) and how we benefit from the very things we claim to be against in a number of direct and indirect ways. We must understand and dismantle our very positionalities. As things stand now, as scholars, we are a parasite in the belly of a monster. We sustain ourselves feeding on the remains of everything it has consumed to fuel itself (and us). If this is our role as scholars, why not just get a better paying job within the monster itself? At least then we would be honest. But no. Instead, we must, for the first time, meaningfully align ourselves on the right side of this fight and take action.
Other Literature & Resources
German, Vanessa. “Lost My Cool at a Community Meeting.” Going There With Michel Martin. Live: Reinventing The American City — Who Wins, Who Loses?, Pittsburgh, PA. www.npr.org/2016/03/07/469236513/reinventing-the-american-city-steel-town-forges-a-new-future.
A beyond-words-beautiful look at the violence of disinvestment then gentrification and finally on white indifference to the struggle of people of color. You will cry.
KCET. City Rising (Documentary). www.kcet.org/shows/city-rising. 2017.
City Rising first introduces gentrification and its historical context in Oakland before going on to show a few current battles including a major victory.
Yates, Pamela and Peter Kinoy, directors. Takeover. Skylight Pictures, 1990. https://vimeo.com/42778583
Aminé. “Turf (Stripped) (Vevo LIFT).” YouTube, 16 June 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=AZR5LYwMuZY.
This song describes the pain gentrification causes as our communities are destroyed under our feet. It is also specific to my neighborhood and makes me cry every time. The 8 is my bus too.
Community, Family, Collectivism, Lived Experience over academic knowledge (organic intellectualism), Anti-academia intellectualism, Anti-capitalism, Idealism, Creativity, Community agency, Communism, Socialism, Anarcho-communism, Marxist-Leninist-Maoism, Militant activism, Settler-Colonialism, Anti-colonialism, BIPOC feminist thought, Class Consciousness, Mutual Aid, Compassion, Consequentialism, and All or nothing unflinching commitment to the goals (among many many others!)
This was written and researched in the so-called “united states of america” on the occupied land of the oθaakiiwaki‧hina‧ki (Sauk), Meškwahki·aša·hina (Meskwaki), Báxoje Máyaⁿ (Ioway) Nations in ‘Iowa’ and the Chinook and Clackamas Nations in ‘Oregon’.
This has been better said before, but objectivity is not real and being in the middle of the false democrats vs. republican binary doesn’t make your writing anything but bad, ill-informed, and myopic. To produce works that are seen within the mainstream journalistic and academic establishments as ‘neutral’ generally means you are simply taking a stance directly in the median of the window of ideas that are ‘acceptable’. This type of work is often produced by those writing from a privileged perspective who have little if any proximity to the issues at hand. In fact, like their often privileged audience, they are often untouched by, or even beneficiaries of, the violence of gentrification. If, in the face of injustice, all you have to offer is compromise, what worth do you bring to the world?
On Your Author
I grew up poor and was raised by an amazing single mom in a neighborhood that would, during my childhood and adolescence, be gentrified beyond my recognition. This trauma and the economic, social, and political violence I have experienced, in tandem with seeing my neighbors’–especially my BIPoC neighbors’–experiences, has informed my view of gentrification and those who fight it. This being said, it is also influenced by my whiteness and my other privileged identities and experiences. Despite the economic and social circumstances of my first 20 years: 1. I am now at a ‘prestigious’ college that grants me quite a bit of educational and social capital 2. After more than 25 years of working retail, my mom owns her home. While I am brimming with admiration, this didn’t happen in a political vacuum and we are both the beneficiaries of white intergenerational wealth and all the systems and institutions that enable it to be passed from generation to generation rather than redistributed as reparations (as I believe it must be).
Accordingly, my relationship with gentrification is shaped by both my experiences of social, political, and economic violence AND my benefiting fiscally–whether I like it or not–from the very thing that destroyed my community and many parts of my life. My work comes from this position. This work is an early step in going beyond addressing this and working to participate in the taking of a collective stab at ending these hierarchy and capital driven systems, structures, institutions, practices, and beliefs that perpetuate gentrification, related social ills, and their drivers which I believe to be capitalism, white supremacy, the heteropatriarchy, and all of the other parts of the kyriarchy.
Thank Yous Thank you to all those out there who are fighting gentrification any way you can, to my Ma for raising me right, and to Dr. Haenfler (and my peers in his class) for providing important feedback on this work and making this possible!
Please feel free to email me at Brannanh@grinnell.edu with any comments, questions, qualms, errors, or anything else! Thanks for reading!
All the best,
Henry ! Last edited: 1-11-19