Austin: 22 Arrested in Rent Strike Protest

By Ed Dalton

On International Workers Day, Austin Police Department (APD) arrested 22 activists and tenants involved with an automobile slow down on Interstate Highway 35, the protest was organized by the progressive organization Rent Strike ATX.

A group of 30 cars drove onto 135 at a speed of 5 miles per hour, the vehicles were decorated with signs supporting the citywide rent strike. While the protest brought traffic to a slow pace on the highway, the city’s response was repressive. On a given Friday, traffic on IH35 is typically at a near standstill where the rent strike protest took place, making it clear that traffic was not the issue here, the signs promoting the rent strike were, making the arrests an act of political repression.

Vehicles on I-35 participating in the highway slowdown protest

APD showing a flagrant disregard for the people’s health by incarcerating dozens including elderly people, all for non-violent misdemeanors, putting them, the population of the jail, and anyone else they might come into contact with at greater risk of viral transmission. It is clear, APD would rather spread COVID-19 than allow the rent strike to spread.

The police kettled the vehicles while they were on the highway and then forced them to exit into a private parking  lot where 19 people were arrested for obstructing a roadway, and 2 more for trespassing in the lot the police forced them into. All vehicles were placed in impound, where heavy fees can accumulate quickly, adding to the overall cost forced on the defendants, most of whom were already unemployed and unable to pay rent. The city’s ‘solution’ to those who are too poor to pay their bills is to give them more bills, to bleed stones and levy greater debts; the malice of the capitalist system is on full display here.

To save face among an increasingly angry population of renters, the City of Austin announced the same day that they would enact “Relief Emergency Needs for Tenants” (RENT), which allocates city funds to a minuscule number of renters (1,000 only!) on a lottery basis, as a one-time grant. Renters would literally have better chances playing scratch-off tickets or gambling on slot machines than they would with the city’s lottery; as a bribe to quell the rent strikes, it is nothing but insulting.

The capitalist system is hopelessly inadequate to address the issues affecting the people, and the city politicians only pretend to care in order to gain support from voters, as they continue to defend the police who are willing to arrest anyone representing the people’s interests in the streets.

A press conference was held at the jail by Rent Strike ATX, and revolutionaries from the Red May 1st march showed up in solidarity. While Rent Strike ATX is a progressive organization that lacks some of the more militant tactics seen in the citywide rent strike, (i.e. the gluing of rent drop boxes, the painting of management offices, or the forcing property managers into hiding or getting them fired) they still have a common basis for unity with the more militant activists. Political graffiti supporting the rent strike can be found in every popular neighborhood. Revolutionaries as well as progressives have been working tirelessly to promote the rent strike.

We publish an unedited version of the press conference held outside the Travis County jail on May 1st and urge our readers to donate what they can to the legal support of the arrested progressive activists and tenants. The best method of fighting the slumlords in the current conditions is to find unity among those who are struggling, on the basis of supporting the rent strike and opposing the police and the politicians. When peaceful activists like those of Rent Strike ATX are criminalized the same as militants, little recourse is left and the struggle must be intensified, now is the time to fight tooth and nail.