Feminist perspectives on a Latina-led rent strike and the struggle for homeplace in Sunset Park
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Amidst cries of “¡Inquilinos unidos, jamás será vencidos!” a small circle of predominately Latina tenants in Sunset Park, a neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, spearheaded a multifamily direct action rent strike in three adjacent buildings against their negligent landlord from 2011 until early 2013. In this thesis, I highlight how key tenant leaders exercised agency to craft their own organizing strategy and messages based on their fraught and contentious relationship to nation-state citizenship. I use intersectional readings of interview findings and testimonials to illustrate how the rent strikers challenged globalizing discourses that may cast gentrification as the progenitor of moments of rupture like their rent strike. Rather, Sunset Park has housed for many years a robust, if not imperiled, “political society” that has survived within contested terrain by developing rules of engagement predicated upon markers of race, class, gender, and immigration status (Chatterjee 2004, Hum 2014). The rent strikers’ reliance on, and expectation of, ever-splintered subjectivities and cartographies, rather than static fixtures for security, reflect Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands theory (1987) and the work of Saskia Sassen (1996, 2013) on the unique character of city-based speech acts and their relation to violence. Because the rent strike unfolds within the implicitly gendered domain of homeplace, the boon of this synthesization and strategic posturing is not new to the Latina tenant leaders of the rent strike who are featured. I relay media representations of a particularly violent attack on one of the tenant leaders by the building’s superintendent to argue that the rent strikers’ produce, and are produced by feminist geographic renderings of “paradoxical space.” Their (in)visibility within homeplace as migrant women of color both imperils and protects them (Rose 1993). By withholding rent and engaging in “public” political acts, the female tenant leaders use their in-flux positions on the margins, at the center and in between to authoritate an “experiential geography” of homeplace (McKittrick 2006). In doing so, they recall the constitutive nature of the global and the intimate: the conditions of their building are inextricably and forever tied up in transnational processes of exploitation and domination.