Two weeks ago, I saw the City call in the cops on community members who wanted to...deliver a petition. Why? Because under capitalism the state (or the City in this case) exists to protect the interests of capital, not those of the people. And the police are its enforcers.
The Sheriff Sale Moratorium expired earlier this month, and with that comes the sale of empty lots to for-profit developers in an unjust, opaque process.
Sheriff Sales are public auctions of foreclosed homes and lots, seized when homeowners can’t pay their mortgages or property taxes. Many of these lots provide green space, play areas, and community gardens throughout neglected parts of our city. This process is one of the principal ways the ruling class seizes homes and community spaces that belong to Black and Brown, working-class Philadelphians.
Organizers from the Iglesias Garden in Kensington delivered their petition to reinstate the moratorium in a basket of tomatoes and basil, grown in the garden. The City responded with laughably disproportionate force. I counted at least 18 cops. When the organizers tried to enter the building with a few signs and the symbolic basket to deliver to the sheriff, the cops blocked them at the door. After a long standoff, the cops finally let the lead organizer enter. When the lead organizer returned a little later, I heard that the City had claimed this issue was “out of their jurisdiction.”
The image of police blocking community members carrying a garden basket from entering a public building was a testament to who “public” property really belongs to and who is welcome there. In his Declaration of Havana in 1960, Fidel Castro proclaimed “the right of the peasants to the land; the right of the workers to the fruit of their work...the right of nations to turn fortresses into schools, and to arm their workers, their peasants, their students, their intellectuals, the Negro, the Indian, the women, the young and the old, the oppressed and exploited people, so that they may themselves defend their rights and their destinies.”
As democratic socialists, we must defend the rights of Philadelphians to their land, homes and communities. You can sign this petition to show your support for the Iglesias Garden’s demand to extend the Sheriff Sales Moratorium. You can also attend the Housing Committee meeting scheduled for tonight (Sept. 23, 2021) at 8pm, where we’ll hear from a guest speaker about community land trusts and discuss how to win democratic control over community land.
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