A recent article about the repressive policies instituted by Housing Authority of Portland against people offering shelter to their homeless relatives hit hard by the current economic crisis brings home the urgent need for poor and working class people to organize THEMSELVES rather than relying exclusively on the good will and "charity" of bureaucrats, bosses, landlords, and other affluent classes of people. I recently contributed a comment to this article, but would like to expand on this here.
A great synergy exists between issues that affect working class people, like housing and transportation. The most promising approach would be to link these together. For example, when Trimet starts cutting service and raising fares, many poor people are left deciding between paying rent and paying bus fare. The bus fare is more likely to take the cut first, and when you restrict people's mobility, that has all kinds of other vicious effects on their ability to improve their own lot, including getting to work, or getting to the store (or even organizing politically!) That's why it's important to tackle these bread and butter issues together as a whole.
Many of us are most affected by housing challenges. Others are most threatened by cuts to certain basic services like public transit. But all of us share in the common challenges of being working class in America. We can all see the commonalities we face and work on these issues together. Even if we don't live in Section 8 housing, we know others who do. We ride the bus with them! And even if you don't ride the bus or the train, you should still be able to understand the value of having a good public transportation system. What happens when the price of gas goes up, your car breaks down, you can't afford insurance or get laid off, you get sick or injured and can't ride a bike or drive a car? Don't we all need good, reliable public transportation to fall back on?!!
As the wobblies (IWW) were so fond of pointing out, we need "one big union"! Looking at these problems in isolation is too limiting and self-defeating, preventing us from organizing the broad and deep kinds of solidarity and coalition building needed for real change.
Some examples locally of this kind of broad thinking are being developed by folks in the Tenants Rights Project and the Transit Riders Union. Transit Riders for instance have been meeting regularly the past year to develop strategies against more Trimet service cuts. Last year saw a spontaneneous outpouring of opposition to cuts that forced Trimet to backtrack. This year, the cuts they've implemented have disproportionately targeted poor and working class people, and that has helped to mute the response against them, which last year was spearheaded by more affluent folks, such as business owners downtown.
Please consider getting involved!