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Jamaal Bowman, Rent Cancellation and the Rise of Radical Black Politics
Plus, PPP ends, and begins

 
Jamaal Bowman represents a novel force in American politics. (Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/AP Photo)
First Response
Jamaal Bowman’s campaign to defeat longtime absentee incumbent Eliot Engel in a New York House seat was inspiring. Not only did it reflect the professionalization of a left electoral apparatus, with the infrastructure to poll, organize, and raise the funds needed to run credible primary challenges. It also showed the changing tides in Black politics: the Congressional Black Caucus supported Engel, a white incumbent in a majority-minority district.

Bowman situates himself in a different place than the establishment CBC leadership and the younger Obama-era climbers who are knocking on the door of that establishment. This is a more ideological left, which now has a foothold on power. And that’s just a very different dynamic, which will bring in new voices on key issues.

For example, I was on a call yesterday that was one of Bowman’s first appearances since the primary. He wasn’t allying with an ossified Democratic interest group, but independent left organizations like the Action Center on Race and the Economy (ACRE). And it wasn’t about some targeted investment in at-risk communities or tax-advantaged enterprise zone. The first words out of Bowman’s mouth on this call, echoing a previous speaker, was “I love the way you framed that, we’re dealing with violence being administered by the state against its own people.”

The topic of the call was how to handle a fast-approaching housing crisis all over the country. Moratoria on evictions at the state level are about to expire, as is the national partial moratorium for renters fortunate enough to live in a government-subsidized property. The first of the month brings another struggle for those who have fallen through the cracks of the hastily arranged COVID-19 safety net, and in a little over three weeks, that safety net is gone without further action. The weekly unemployment boost of $600 ends July 25.

Bowman kicked off the call, but numerous other speakers gave testimony on their struggles since the crisis began. Peggy Perkins, a cosmetologist with three children, was unable to procure a small business loan and has been hounded for rent by her landlord in Hempstead, New York. Vanessa del Campo of Minneapolis demanded that the governor not lift the state’s moratorium on evictions, saying “our families are right on the point of losing their homes.” Carlos Perodin of Make the Road Pennsylvania pointed out that the state is short 279,000 available and affordable rental units. Jasmine Johnson of Action North Carolina has been out of work since March and didn’t manage to get on unemployment until two weeks ago. “Until this pandemic ends, rent should be cancelled,” Johnson said. “We don’t deserve to be put out on the street because the government can’t come up with any ideas.”

Allying with these activists was Bowman, who will almost assuredly step into Congress in January. Bowman represents a split district; “if this district were a nation, it would have the eighth-worst economic inequality in the world,” he said. There are wealthy areas in Westchester County along with the relative depravity of the Bronx. Often members of Congress in that situation pay attention to where the money is. Bowman was decidedly on the other side of that.

“How the heck are people supposed to pay rent when there’s no money coming in?” he pleaded. “We bailed out Wall Street, large corporations… Jeff Bezos’ wealth has gone up. The system is inhumane, a manifestation of institutional racism within housing and all institutions. And it’s nurtured by the people we elect to serve us, Democrats included.”

That’s powerful talk from someone headed into the halls of power. He’s backing a national eviction blockade, easily the largest sustained rent strike in recent memory, maybe ever in American history. The plan is to physically block evictions in communities of color. “We are in full support of any kind of organized rent strike, because what the hell else are people supposed to do,” Bowman said. “This is a collective trauma that I’m happy to stand with you and fight against.”

This new dynamic within Black politics is fascinating and hopeful. The gap between the radicalism on the streets and the indifference inside the Capitol is closing. The CBC has always been called the conscience of the Congress, but that consciousness is being raised, from the bottom up. As Bowman said yesterday: “People in this district haven’t always been involved and engaged. Now they are.”

Thanks to You
I just wanted to thank those of you who helped us reach our monthly donor goal in our pledge drive. It’s great to see us build something together. Here’s the work we’ve been doing this week, and where your support is going:

Brian Fallon and Christopher Kang on how to expand the lower courts; Felicia Kornbluh on the Supreme Court abortion ruling; Tom Squitieri on how an October 2019 global military athletic competition in Wuhan, China may have spread coronavirus; Lizzie Tribone on mutual aid for undocumented immigrants; me on the Facebook advertiser boycott and corporate co-optation of the Black Lives Matter protests; and much, much more.
Time’s Up for PPP
On Tuesday, the deadline for the Paycheck Protection Program expired, with $130 billion still left over. Senate Democrats offered a pro forma extension to August 8, to try to get those remaining funds they appropriated into small business owners’ hands. It’s the kind of thing Senators do to say they tried to their constituents. There wasn’t really an expectation it would pass. Until it did, unanimously.

This was not how things were supposed to go. Earlier in the day, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin was musing about how to use the leftover PPP funds (he wants them to go to hard-hit industries like restaurants and hotels). And there were rumblings about a bipartisan agreement on a second round of funds for businesses in need, without any hint of an immediate extension (in fact the extension was part of the broader agreement).
The House still has to pass it and President Trump has to sign it, but that seems within the realm of probability. Considering the continuing wave of cases and potential closures, the need will likely crop up. One other tea leaf, the extended deadline aligns with the end of the next work period in the Senate. That suggests that a second bill won’t happen until around that time, which is two weeks after the unemployment insurance boost expires. I hope Washington doesn’t wait that long and triggers a gap, which would be not only devastating for families but difficult for state unemployment systems to have to spin down and spin up.

Days Without a Bailout Oversight Chair
96. It was the best quarter for stocks since 1998, in the middle of this. Maybe the distributional impact of the Fed’s interventions is something that a bailout oversight chair could investigate!
Today I Learned

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