This is a summary of our meeting on August 19. There was quite of a bit of ‘homework’ that we realized we needed to do, so if you are able to contribute to any of the following in any way, please let me know and respond with links, etc.
We began our meeting with a land recognition. I mentioned how I had nerves at our ‘Push’ film screening and panel discussion, which caused me to move past a proper introduction and land recognition which I had planned out. I felt really bad about it. But, as I mentioned in the meeting, I think that it would be great to develop an official recognition of land that incorporates housing. In the limited reading that I’ve done, I’ve learned how the Haudenosaunee in and around Katarokwi lived in longhouses. These housing arrangements were communal in nature, with no rents or anything like that (there’s still tons of readings I know I should be doing; feel free to provide us with resources and articles that would help by emailing email@example.com). I think that this is important to remember: it shows how colonial constructs and capitalism has changed our social relationships on the very ground we occupy in modern day Kingston. In this light, I would like to encourage everyone to do a little research on housing in Katarokwi prior to its settlement and occupation. I want to solicit contributions from anyone who is willing to create a unique, motivating, and important land recognition. Please send links to articles, opinions from people with knowledge about the subject, etc. At our meeting, we also discussed inviting people who might have knowledge about this important history to our meetings to share their perspectives and offer insight about how we can meaningfully change housing relations in Kingston today.
The next important discussion we had was relating to our organizational form and program development. Without getting into the weeds too much, we wondered about our current structure (or lack thereof). I said that I was not comfortable with an ad hoc approach to resolutions, and it might be wise to firm up a committee of sorts to deal with different issues. No firm decision was arrived at, but I did propose we think about this for our next meeting. While I have more to say about this issue (below and in the future), I encourage everyone to think about how we might establish best practices and a constitution of sorts in the near future.
Relatedly, I also mentioned how—if we could get everyone to participate a little bit more—having different committees might be useful. It would allow our organization to manage the workload more effectively. For instance, having a committee (or committees) committed to media engagement, agenda-creation, and tenant recruitment would allow us to cover more ground than we currently are. Right now I feel as though a lot of the workload is shouldered by a few people, so making our organization more official would require more buy-in from people. At the same time, committees relating to tenant recruitment would indicate that we are potentially interested in formalizing membership.
Though I think more research and consideration needs to be done in order for us to come to something official, I am wondering if we should try to organize a small workshop and hear from union and tenant organizers about how they manage their affairs. My thought is that we should create an infrastructure composed of a dedicated executive committee and well-planned sub-committees. Essentially, by being a grassroots-, tenant-chosen movement, this would ensure that this movement doesn’t live and die with only a few of us; if we had a committed group that was chosen by the tenants in our organization, it will be as strong as we allow it to be, so long as it supported tenants. We could choose our leaders democratically, which would hopefully give incentive for tenants to want to join, knowing that they could change the direction of leadership with an already established infrastructure in the future.
Personally, I don’t want to be an organization limited to talking to bourgeois politicians and hosting discussions; while I see those types of things as useful in some ways, I would like to actually build tenant power and organize communities and buildings. But that takes real work, and mass engagement. At the very least, this is something to think about. I mocked a very rough draft of how our committee system might work, and I hope you critique it and offer your thoughts about how to move forward with this. That image is attached below. If you have any questions about it, feel free to ask! It’s really based in a wish to represent Kingston and organize buildings, so I tried to synthesize that thought and came up with this. Its a starting point, so I don’t suspect it to be without its flaws, and I really hope you can provide feedback.
After we discussed our organizational form, we briefly discussed our program development. Our program should help inform us about the shape of our organization. So what should our organization be aiming to do? In my mind, we need to be rooted in both theory and practice. Without theory, we are rudderless. Loosely, I think our program needs to be rooted in decolonization and working-class democracy. We should be fighting for reforms and taking direct action, but also have a longer-term goal in mind, one that actually allows tenants—who are exploited at work and extorted at home—to live as equals. Our program should also contain an educational element. One of our members at the meeting wondered if we should start a reading group; I think this would be a great idea, if done right. I’ve been in many reading groups that have failed, but there’s also a few I’ve been in that have been really helpful and wonderful experiences. We also talked about future events, like door-knocking and trying to organize buildings and renting communities. Our next meeting will focus on this.
There’s obviously a lot to think about here, and I don’t expect people to have all the answers right away. For those who are already organizing with us, this post is redundant, and I’ve included more information in the group email for you to consider. For those reading this for the first time, what do you think? How can we build alternative institutions that challenge the status quo? What sorts of direct action campaigns would you like to see? What should I organizational form be, if anything? If you are reading this, share this with tenants in your building or tenants in your neighbourhood. Lets build something powerful, new, and different; an institution that is unquestionably working class, de-colonial, and one that allows us to assert our collective strength. For far too long the working class—and working class tenants especially—have been beaten down all for the accumulation of wealth for people like Brit Smith of Homestead. That needs to stop. Help us figure out a solution to our immediate, material problems. Get involved.