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CSC 1st Birthday with Cancel Rent DC: A Summary

Collaborative Social Change (CSC) celebrated its first birthday on 23 April 2022 by inviting community organizers, Patrick Gregoire and Veronica Mosqueda, from Cancel Rent DC to teach network members and our diverse global community about how they collaborate with those who have been most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic to combat systemic disenfranchisement and oppression of working-class, long-standing BIPOC residents of Washington DC.

The important work at Cancel Rent DC aligns with CSC’s core mandate: to address direct, structural, and cultural violence in the everyday, and therefore prevent atrocity violence more efficiently and effectively. This is a continuous process of unlearning violent institutional assumptions and relearning ideas of peace, one in which everyone is responsible for. With this logic in mind, CSC invites individuals and organizations of different backgrounds, sectors, and skill sets to our diverse and expanding network. To commemorate the milestone of our first birthday, we have featured the efforts towards collaborative social change by Cancel Rent DC.

Cancel Rent DC was established by a group of 12 organizations and individual members that came together during the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic to prevent mass eviction and displacement of long-time residents from Washington DC, especially its black and brown residents who are at a higher risk of eviction, unemployment, and the coronavirus infection over the last two years. Since then, Cancel Rent DC and its action, policy, communications, and outreach working groups have been supporting the community. This work is necessarily broad, but includes facilitating community members to share their diverse skills and knowledge with each other to organize mutual aid and to know and advocate for their rights

The key elements of the organization’s proposal are as follows: no evictions and debt accrued on unpaid rent due to the pandemic; no use of means testing; burden of applying for relief will fall on the landlords; funds for landlords should have certain contingencies for landlords; funds for landlords will be paid for by both federal and local funds; develop a relief mechanism for tenants who paid rent even under economic hardship; the city will commit to spending more money later if needed for future landlord relief.

In the long-term, Cancel Rent DC calls for a shift from the capitalist housing system to one that promotes racial and economic equity as this is not a new phenomenon in Washington DC, a highly segregated place. The pandemic had only expedited the disenfranchisement of black residents, as well as immigrant and working-class families.

At the heart of Cancel Rent DC’s efforts is the community, and more specifically, community organizing. Patrick and Veronica demystify the conflated terms—activism, advocacy, and community organizing—by highlighting that community organizing has to be collective in nature; it must not only involve the community but also must be led by the community in order to ensure that past harmful structures are not produced and reproduced. On the other hand, activism’s primary aim is to raise awareness of an issue, and this process can either be an individual act (e.g. posting on social media) or involve the community (e.g. organizing and participating in protests). Although advocacy is similar to activism, it is usually championed by professionals who hold certain degrees and operate within the traditionally established frames.

One of the key aims of community organizing is to enable individuals to recognize and activate what power they do have to demand and make change – and to be aware of what barriers might be in the way and how to navigate around them. Ultimately, this is a power that can only be exercised collectively. Cancel Rent DC reminds us that change throughout history, whether it be a 40-hour work week or maternity leave, has resulted from mass mobilization. The power lies with all of us to make change and Cancel Rent DC provides an effective model to do so.

To show support for the work being done at Cancel Rent DC, CSC has started a fundraising page, where you can contribute any amount to show your support. You can find the fundraiser here. All the funds raised will go directly to Cancel Rent DC’s important work so please share the link far and wide!

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