Washington DC—It’s Monday evening October 5, 2015 and I’m rushing to be on time for a meeting in Barry Farm Housing Project. The meeting is about the next steps in the fight to keep families in their homes, which are slated for destruction by the District of Columbia.
I arrive to meet Schyla, a veteran Barry Farm organizer and resident, a white guy who is there to get a story and Ms. Paulette, another organizer and Barry Farm resident. We met in front of Ms. Paulette’s home.
The group of black women are members of the Barry Farms Tenant and Allies Association, which the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement (InPDUM) DC helped form. They are preparing for a meeting the following day, with DC mayor Muriel Bowser.
They intend to deliver a list of demands that focus on keeping residents in place, economic development, getting repairs completed and acquiring amnesty for back rent.
These women, like many Africans, live at or below the poverty line and have children that they either raise on their own or with a partner.
This fight is not a choice to them. It is the last straw and could mean the difference between having a home, or being homeless. They are determined to win even if comes down to standoff with the State.
Barry Farm, first black Freedmen’s community, now housing projects
The displacement of poor and working families, headed mostly by women, is in the shadows of this struggle.
Families are shuffled around from one housing project to another only to face the inevitability of their new placement being torn down for a new development. They have no guarantee of return. This is the landscape of what used to be “Chocolate City.”
Gentrification: the forced displacement of black communities
The women understand this as an attack on black communities. We talked about the high levels of crime that resulted from units being emptied and boarded up.
One of the women recalled that “at one time you would be in a row of 20 houses filled with families, now you may be one family left in a row of boarded up houses.”
Isolated residents in a community without economic development and depressing colonial conditions, result in increased crime which has left female headed households vulnerable to victimization. The women know that it wasn’t always like this.
The conditions of the “Farm” is a result of decisions made by the district’s housing departments and commissions, decisions that can be reversed if struggled for. So they’ve committed to making that struggle.
Black women gain some wins
They boast about how they prevented a tour bus carrying “investors” from coming into the community.
Petty merchants, hearing about a brand new development opportunity (that will come as a consequence of tearing down people’s homes), decided it would be a good idea to go on “safari” in a community of people.
The outraged women blocked the bus from moving for 45 minutes. The police arrived and eventually forced them to move.
The women persevere despite setbacks. Dozens of bureaucratic agencies and despotic housing commissions who keep them turning in circles while the State pushes ahead with their redevelopment plans.
The women, however, have decided they will jump off the hamster wheel soon. We will be right there with them, helping to deepen the struggle.