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Reflections on a Summer of Militant Action for Housing Justice

The Sheraton hotel
February 20, 2021
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Huck - Working Artist - The Alliance

If you’ve been in the city of Minneapolis for any period of time, you probably know that finding a place to live is becoming increasingly difficult for working class people. The COVID-19 pandemic made the brutal reality of gentrification even more obvious, closing the few public spaces our unhoused relatives could access to use the bathroom, freshen up, or find some protection from the brutal Minnesota elements. 

There is no justification for a city being full of half empty luxury housing developments while hundreds of people are without homes. It is a crime for apartment buildings and hotels to be full of vacant units while parks and strips of land on the side of highways are full of families in tents. 

During the Spring months I participated in mutual aid efforts at Peavey Park and was deeply moved by the generosity and toughness of the community that gathered daily. I met many people struggling with houselessness who made the afternoon trip to the park in order to connect with friends and family, to pick up supplies and food for their neighbors in the camps, to provide crucial information or an encouraging word to lift each other up. Fresh, hot, medicinal, delicious tea was brought to the park everyday by volunteers along with coffee, meals, clothes and supplies. While government officials made excuses and empty promises over zoom and email, working class neighbors showed up day in and day out with real support and a listening ear. I saw the relationships cultivated  in the Spring months feed the powerful response to the murder of Geroge Floyd.

When the ruling class imposed the curfew and national guard occupation to squash the rebellion, they also destroyed encampment communities in South Minneapolis. The growing networks of unsheltered activists and supporters again took matters into their own hands and occupied the Midtown Sheraton hotel, creating a sanctuary space for hundreds of people locked out of our capitalist housing system. The outpouring of solidarity that followed was incredible. For several hard fought weeks the midtown Sheraton was transformed into an autonomous emergency shelter with hundreds of people taking action and helping in a variety of ways. A full account of the successes and short-comings of the “Share-a ton” sanctuary is too complex for this short article but we can be sure the experience of those weeks had a far reaching impact on the movement for housing justice. 

When the Sheraton was cleared the revolutionary spark was carried to Powderhorn Park, where an unprecedented encampment took root and spread to parks throughout the city. The Sheraton Sanctuary hotel and the park encampments that followed are direct challenges to the regime of private property and real estate profits represented by Jacob Frey, Lisa Bender and the proponents of gentrification. 

The most clear lesson I learned (or re-learned) this summer is that If we wait for policy change or permission from capitalists and politicians we will never end houselessness.  On the other hand, If we continue to assert our human right to housing through occupations and direct actions we can make sure every person in our region has a warm home. 

I am deeply inspired by the commitment, compassion and resilience I witnessed over and over again at the Sheraton and at Peavey Park in 2020. The fight to win dignified housing for every member of our society continues into 2021 and I believe the experience we gained this year will serve us well.

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