The image is from a poster created during the French revolutionary movement of May 1968. It reads, La Lutte Continue (Translation: The Struggle Continues)

Preface to the Expanded Edition of ebt poems

When I released the first draft of ebt poems in April 2020, it was the "last hours before May Day." The chapbook was an ongoing work. But I'd wanted to put out something in print that responded to the crisis of hunger and housing from within the organizing movement where I was one among many thousands in Philly who were fighting for our collective survival. I will now say more of that moment since I've been thrown back into the same year-long housing emergency where "the word eviction splinter[s] every other / conversation", which began when my roommates and I lost income and jobs when the pandemic began and which continues still. 

 

During the spring and summer, we were part of a self-organized group of tenants who were pushed to the brink of rent striking because our landlord (one of the largest in the city) refused to grant the broad relief that we needed and had built support around and demanded forcefully. We did, across a number of households under our same landlord, collectively withhold rent for a limited period of time as part of an action that in the end could not be carried out to its conclusion—the strike. We didn't have the numbers or the resources to take that leap.

 

We were working directly with other tenant groups who were also organizing for their own survival against large, wealthy landlords. In Philadelphia, that included Altman Tenants Council. Caney Tenants Council, Greenzang Tenants Council, New Age Tenants Council, Pintzuk-Brown Tenants Council, Tenants of Constellar, Tenants of OCF. UCH Tenants Council. All of us for one exhilarating moment were united as the Philly Autonomous Tenants Council. 

 

Many of the tenants in other groups took similar risks for themselves and even went further in solidarity with their own neighbor comrades while facing intimidation and threats of illegal lockouts from their landlords. This work took place largely independently from the local tenants union because they weren't with us in that early phase of the struggle—they didn't have the capacity, their own organization had internal disagreements about what to say publicly and how to support the masses struggling with housing—for whatever reason in those early months it felt as if tenants only had one another. 

 

That's where the poems emerged from: the actions we took then. And the actions of the summer when the focus of the struggle shifted after the murder of George Floyd and deepened with the demand of creating a world where Black lives matter. 

 

For our household, the moment of crisis was only deferred for a few months by unemployment benefits and acts of solidarity that eventually ran out. The tenants organizing movement was cut off at the knees by concessions the city was forced into with each push we made, but those temporary policy changes—all those 30 day eviction moratoriums that were only extended after the 1st of the month, forcing desperate tenants to pay their last dollar or risk going to court—never resulted in a real, permanent rearrangement of the power dynamic which puts tenants at the mercy of people who have more money. (The man who owns our landlord company is a billionaire; his family owns the internet company whose service we are contractually obligated to pay for as his tenants). This reaction to the early tenants organizing was similar to the way the movement for Black lives was repressed not just by police violence at protests but also by the overwhelming force of reformism and electoral politics—fascism with the façade of democracy draped over it. The state and business interests gave just enough ground to stop our movements from going further, but not enough for any of us to have even a taste of justice. 

 

Not that we are defeated yet. 

 

But the subject of ebt poems is that question of structural transformation: that our personal complicity with the violence that shapes this world is profound almost beyond understanding; that nothing changes until property is eliminated, all social relations are fundamentally upset, and hierarchies are eliminated. White supremacy has formed a world of the housed that rests upon the unhoused. A world where prisons and universities and non profits and reformist policies and elections work together as a unified system towards their shared goal of keeping the structure of white supremacist capital intact. All of it must burn. Though, like George Jackson said, it's going to take building an underground press with its own distribution networks, the creation of a revolutionary culture to nourish the struggle, a vast political organization that can provide mutual aid to sustain the fight, and an army of revolutionaries slicing through cops like they're made of cake. 

 

Our emergency has come to its final phase; something else begins.

 

The streets have been quiet in Philly since the protests following the police killing (murder) of Walter Wallace were suppressed by the police, national guard, and the responsible moderates who wanted us to shut up in time for the November 3rd election to proceed calmly—calm in the face of police brutality?!—again, we see the pattern by which revolutionary impulses are beaten back by state violence and sapped of sustained, mass participation by reformism. 

 

I'm writing this during the second week I've been sleeping on a friend's couch, as the five of us who shared an apartment have been forced to move out—not by an eviction order, because the ban on evictions is still in place, but by a fatal build up of debt and late fees, and the endless greed of our landlord, which are entirely within the law. We've asked for help, and we're confident that mutual aid will see us through safely, this time. But we haven't forgotten about the crisis still unfolding around us. We know the work of the previous year was only the start. We're building for a longer struggle this time around. Because when we find one another on the streets again this spring and summer and fall and winter—anything might happen. 

 

Jamie Berrout
March 8, 2021