How do we work together to stop displacement when it seems like everything is against us?
Alliance Against Displacement (AAD) (originally Social Housing Coalition/Alliance) formed in the lead-up to the provincial election of 2013 to raise the issue of the need for social housing in BC and oppose the imminent threat to social housing programs.
AAD situates the current housing crisis in BC within the larger political and economic forces of displacement that are inherent to colonialism and capitalism. To address the housing crisis at its roots requires an engagement with these two interwoven systems of power.
Displacement is nothing new
The current displacement and housing crisis in British Columbia is just one result of the ongoing policies of dispossession that have been imposed on Indigenous communities since colonization began. When white settlers came to what we now call Canada, they forcibly removed Indigenous communities from their lands and their homes. Over time, many Indigenous nations were confined to small reserves and isolated from traditional, non-capitalist economies and ways of living. The reserve system made large areas of land available to the Canadian government for settlement, natural resource extraction, and the development of a real estate market.
In British Columbia, most of the land is unceded Indigenous territory. Colonial practices of Indigenous dispossession have been aggressively pursued by the provincial government since the beginning, working with settlers, companies and land developers to increase capitalist investment and profit. Today, more than 24% of British Columbia’s economic profits come from natural resource extraction and real estate speculation and development on stolen Native lands.
And the process of Indigenous dispossession and displacement continues. On reserves, traditional ways of living, building houses, and providing social supports are difficult to maintain under the pressures of a capitalist market. Driven from their communities and lands by development, resource extraction, and the elimination of traditional economies, and in efforts to escape severe poverty and housing shortages on reserves, Indigenous people end up on city streets. Here they experience the violence of displacement again as a result of gentrification, renovictions and rent increases.
Displacement is widespread
The majority of people living in British Columbia are affected by the displacement pressures produced by colonialism and capitalism.
These pressures push out low-income renters and families from their homes and neighbourhoods. Those on welfare or disability pensions and people with no job security are put at risk of facing unbearable difficulties to avoid homelessness. Temporary foreign workers, who lack access to social housing and social service programs, have very few options for safe and affordable housing. Low-income single mothers, women escaping abuse, youth, queer, and trans* residents often end up couch-surfing or living in overcrowded and unsafe housing in an effort to escape street homelessness.
Those who become visibly homeless face stigma and social discrimination. Homeless people are judged as individual failures rather than a symptom of a failing system that only accommodates the needs of those who can buy into it. Homeless people who are substance-addicted or live with mental health needs are highly stigmatized, and often end up criminalized, imprisoned, or contained and managed in supportive housing models, rather than being treated as family and part of a community.
Low-income and working class neighbourhoods can be some of the last refuges for those experiencing the housing and displacement crisis. Yet as gentrification demolishes low-income neighbourhoods and networks of social relationships, there are fewer and fewer places to find material, social and emotional shelter.
The housing and displacement crisis is as much a struggle to meet basic and material needs as it is a struggle to break social and political isolation and sustain strong communities. Therefore, an anti-displacement movement is potentially transformative of all aspects of life and society.
AAD focuses on communities facing displacement. We want to organize with people who are moved against their will out of their homes and their communities and into the streets, out of their reserves or rural areas and into the cities, and out of the cities and into the suburbs and towns.
Many people think that displacement and insecurity are normal. Warehoused in a temporary shelter, living precariously in a tent city, being evicted for renovations or redevelopment, chasing temporary work from one place to another, being deported – all these seem like they are just part of life.
AAD wants to challenge this idea that poverty, homelessness and displacement are an individual person’s problem. We think the fight against displacement can help unify our experiences and move us to work for justice against displacement.
AAD thinks that getting more social housing built is a really important part of our struggles against displacement. Social housing exists outside of market price increases and can be a shelter against very high housing prices that push people out.
In order to build our anti-displacement alliance, we are committed to developing community organizing drives that root down into communities, deepen connections and politicize our all of our experiences of displacement.
We recognize that the housing and displacement crisis is international, and the politics of displacement come from forces outside any local community and require that we get allies across the region and world. Yet people experience it intimately, with locally specific conditions and needs. An important part of community organizing is specific thinking, visioning, and planning work done by leaders from within that community. We hope organizing alongside local communities in struggle will generate ongoing organizing hubs and partnerships with local groups that can ally with other communities facing similar struggles.
Agitate, Educate, Organize
To build a community-based, anti-displacement organization, our focus in this current political climate cannot be only to call demonstrations and actions. Before people are displaced, our imaginations and our dreams are displaced. In the midst of direct, immediate challenges to our communities’ survival, we must speak (or yell) our uncompromising dreams for a better world and a good, decent life for us all. To see past the fog of the present neo-liberal reality, we need to climb up on the shoulders of our ancestors and stand up with others around the world who have worked for justice.
To create space to think, discuss, and dream together, AAD supports The Volcano newspaper as a publication of the anti-displacement movement. AAD also organizes an informal, open to everyone education class series called the Conditions of Struggle (COS). The classes examine political questions that can help us strengthen and deepen our collective analysis and understanding. And you can come even if you don’t read the handouts.
Our struggle is inside and out
The challenge of building a movement for justice must include challenging the power dynamics that exist in our relationships with each other. When we come together voluntarily into an organization to contribute our energy, time, and visions for social justice, we also carry within us elements of the oppressive power structures that we want to destroy. If we are not able to support each other to do battle against the systems we oppose that have been planted inside as we organize against those systems outside us, we risk wrecking our dreams on the shores of our traumas.
AAD has developed an accountability process to support members (and those close to us) to hold accountable our members who wield oppressive gender, racializing, sexual, colonial ideas or behaviours. Our accountability process does not seek punishment, but transformative justice. We seek to make liberatory social and organizational spaces while we fight for a liberated world.