At US Social Forum Max Rameau talks about housing justice

06/24/10 Kelly Benjamin
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More than 10,000 social and political activists are gathered in Detroit this week for the U.S. Social Forum. They hope to build a movement to discuss solutions to the economic and ecological crisis facing the United States.

One such activist is Max Rameau, of Miami’s Take Back the Land movement. They garnered international press by setting up shanytowns to house the homeless and more recently, by taking over foreclosed properties and moving in entire homeless families. Today, WMNF’s Kelly Benjamin spoke with Max Rameau on why he is at the U.S. Social Forum.

"We're here because there are other social justice fighters and social justice organizations that are here. And we think this is extremely important that we connect up with those organizations and those other individuals, so that we can build a viable movement to make this world a better world and this society a better society."

"And tell me about the current struggle in Miami right now."

"Well Miami, like many other cities, has been devastated by the housing prices, so people have been getting kicked out of public housing and people are getting kicked out of foreclosed homes. So there's a real crisis in terms of housing there, and there doesn't seem to be any kind of relief coming from neither the government or from the market."

"What do you hope to some out of the U.S. Social form?"

"We are building a Take Back the Land movement with organizations from all around the country who are fighting to elevate housing to the level of the human rights. At the social form, we are looking to hook up with other organizations and other social justice fighters who will also engage in the exact same fights, so we can also increase our strengths, and quicken the day that every human being will have a right to housing."

"Can you tell me a little bit about the workshop that just took place?"

"So in this we had organizations from around the country including: Toledo, Ohio; Atlanta, Georgia; Madison, Wisconsin; Chicago, Illinois; Boston, Massachusetts and several other cities who have engaged in housing liberations. In other words, opening up vacant homes and moving people in. Or in family eviction defense, where they defend the families from eviction and kept them in their home. So they gave reports back, talked about the work that they've done, and then also we talked about some of our legal concerns as it relates to doing defenses and doing liberations. We've talked about what it means and what it's going to mean to be able to build a movement to realize housing as a human rights. So we are able to connect with real live struggles, but also talk about some more theoretical concepts."

"When we last spoke, it was over two years ago during the height of the foreclosure crisis in Florida and during the whole Umoja Village campaign. Can you tell me what's changed since then with Take Back the Land?"

"The only real things that have changed have been the objective conditions, and that is when the Umoja Village was around it was still the height of the housing crisis. It was the beginning of the decline of the housing crisis, but we didn't recognize it as such yet. And so all the homes were filled, either full or they were being renovated so that they could be flipped. But immediately after that the bus came, after the housing movement the housing bus came, and now there's a bunch of vacant homes. So there's still a housing crisis. But it's not a crisis because there's a bunch of speculators coming in flipping homes, there's a housing crisis because the banks now own all the homes. So we've switched our, adjusted our tactics accordingly. But the problem is still exactly the same: human beings don't have places to live. And people who don't need places to live, whether their banks/corporations don't need places to live or individual speculators have way too many homes, too many to use."

"Some people are saying that the economy's recession is beginning to turn around. What's your take on that?"

"Well there's certainly mixed evidence suggesting that it is. But there's also a lot of housing which is just being kept off the market, and the reality is that if the situation turns around and people have access to housing, the movements like Take Back the Land are not going to survive, even though we think that the ideas live on. But I think that time will tell and if the housing market does not turn around, then more and more people are going to continue to flock to organizations and solutions like Take Back the Land."

"There's been a lot of people, even from the middles class, who are beginning to loose their homes and hurt from the struggle. Has that strengthened your movement?"

"Well that certainly has given it more legitimacy, because it's not a group of poor black people who can say they're just poor black people who don't know how to keep a home anyhow. We have large numbers of whites, and large numbers of people who are traditionally in the middles class who suddenly have no where to live. So people are recognizing that it's not just poor people or black people who don't know how to maintain their homes. It's actually a structural problem with the way land relationships work in this society and that structural problem, the chickens of that structural problem, are coming home to roost right now."

"Alright. Thanks a lot."

"Thank you."

Take Back the Land

Kelly's 2006 video

another interview with Max Rameau

another interview with Max Rameau

another interview with Max Rameau

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