Right to the City in (times of) Crisis: A Declaration

Hello to all activists for the right to the city!

The current crisis, which includes the rapid spread of the COVID–19 virus, quarantine measures, the prescribed „social distance“, political restrictions and economic consequences, makes questions about the right to the city and tenant struggles more acute than ever – because they are closely interwoven with other struggles for a society based on solidarity. The COVID–19 pandemic and the measures taken against its spread do not affect us all equally. Injustices exist and are currently worsening. This can be seen in many examples that are closely related to the right to the city. Some of them we would like to mention here.

Health and care – is everybody taken care of?

The medical care, the density of doctors and the quality of the treatment vary from district to district and from region to region. The health care offered is not available to everyone: People without health insurance and illegalized persons have no direct access to the health system. Other groups of people have to expect discrimination when visiting a doctor: racism, trans and inter hostility are examples. This also prevents people from receiving necessary medical care. In the current crisis this dynamic is intensifying. Because psychiatric treatment, addiction and social counselling are no longer available, the current crisis management has disastrous consequences for many people. Let‘s not delude ourselves: The health care system in Germany is based on capitalist and austerity principles. They prevent high-quality medical care that is needs-oriented. Jobs in the care and health sector are usually poorly paid and poorly recognized – a one-time thank you in a crisis situation is not enough! The current crisis was triggered by the virus, but has its roots in state austerity policies, which dominate care logics.

#StayingAtHome – but the home of many people is and stays precarious

People who live in cramped, badly located or inadequately equipped apartments are hit particularly hard by #StayingAtHome, they have no possibility to escape to the outside. A lot of time spent together in a confined space, neighbours‘ quarrels, loneliness or arguments in the own household aggravate conflict situations. High psychological stress can be the consequences. In addition, there are fewer opportunities for people affected by abuse and violence to escape from the perpetrator. Especially now, when access to social infrastructure and publicly accessible space is extremely restricted or forbidden, it becomes clear how important it is for social coexistence as well as private life and how essential it is therefore to grant all people access to these spaces. Social infrastructures such as women‘s shelters or shelters for LGBTIQ* persons are often working at full capacity and are insufficiently financed or available. Thus, it is necessary to stop to the displacement of marginalised people from the so-called public space, as well as to expand and comprehensively finance a social infrastructure – for everyone! The current shape of the crisis is a major threat to homeless people, people with low incomes or those whose income is reduced by corona. Although layoffs due to rent losses have been ruled out until September 2020, it is unclear who will bear the costs of this immense rent debt.

Police, controls and displacement: Who is affected by state repressions?

Police controls to enforce prohibitions and rules in public space never affect everyone equally. Identity checks often have a racist motivation, are directed against young people, LGBTIQ*s, homeless people, sex workers or other people who are considered to be deviating from the norm. A look at France or other countries where curfews have already been in place for a few days shows that these groups are particularly targeted when curfews are enforced. Especially homeless people and sex workers are exposed to massive repression and invisibility, which brings many dangers for these people.

If your protection is not in your power: migration in crisis

Not all people can protect themselves equally well against an infection. People who have to live in collective accommodations, camps, prisons or other crowded conditions, or are imprisoned there, are much less able to protect themselves from infection. They are often exposed to insufficient hygienic conditions. They are often forbidden to take care of their own health; they are granted or denied access to medical treatment by guards. They cannot take care of minimizing social contacts themselves. In camps, prisons and collective centres people are often exposed to arbitrariness, racism, abuse of power by caretakers, guards and security personnel. In Suhl, not far from Weimar, problems are becoming increasingly apparent as after a corona case in the Thuringian reception centre the more than 500 residents are quarantined. People in the collective accommodation were not sufficiently informed after a person was infected with COVID–19, people are afraid they will not be helped. Instead, the people who are often trauma patients due to escape experiences are met with massive police repression. Racist rumours, which spread regarding the situation in Suhl, were circulated by the police stationed there. The situation at the European external border is intolerable. For years people have been killed by European isolationist policies, dying in the Mediterranean or on the way there. The situation is now becoming even more acute. Migrating people are being prevented from continuing their journey at the European border by all means. The camps are overcrowded and the conditions for the inha-bitants are bad – not only, but especially on the Greek islands. Currently, the danger of the COVID–19 pandemic is added. People who are prevented from continuing their journey neither can keep their distance and isolate in their own homes, nor can they follow the rules of hygene. Such camps inevitably every day resemble those mass events, that are currently prohibited in all European countries! Collective accommodations, detention centres, shelters for the homeless and camps do not offer adequate protection, especially in the current crisis. People must therefore be given the opportunity to leave them immediately. For a credible crisis policy, this means taking in people from overcrowded camps on Europe‘s external borders! Hotel rooms to temporary accommodation!

What it takes? Solidary cities and communities!

Many conflicts and problems that are now intensifying during the COVID–19 crisis are not new. They arise from an unjust and capitalist society. They are caused by the fact that many people do not have adequate housing, no right to stay, hardly any income and are dependent on their jobs, their partners and other things. They arise from racism, sexism and classism. They are caused by inequality and injustice.The worsening of the problems due to the current crisis makes it very clear that we need cities and municipalities that show solidarity. People need unrestricted residence permits where they live, they must have access to medical care, housing must finally be accessible to all and treated as a fundamental right, not as a commodity. Patriarchal oppression must be combated. In towns and communities based on solidarity there must be offers of help for people who are at the mercy of violence and abuse. In the solidarity cities we are talking about, people are no longer exploited, their livelihood is unconditionally secured within planetary boundaries. Health care is accessible to all, it is based on needs and requirements and not on profit. Illegalisation, camps and deportations are part of history. In solidarity and free cities and communities, people gradually learn to organise themselves and to deal with crises and problems in a self-responsible way. There is enough space to accommodate newly arriving people. Inequity, exploitation and discrimination are dealt with openly: They are named and addressed, taken seriously and tackled together. Neighbourhoods form local networks; infrastructures based on solidarity can be used by all. Economic cycles are regionalised and designed to be climate-friendly. All these are ideas for a city of the future based on solidarity – a city that is both resistant and resilient in the event of a crisis. In order to achieve it, it will take struggles everywhere!

For a joint intervention of the Right to the city movement!

Many concrete questions arise for us at the moment:

  • How can we organize ourselves apart from demonstrations and usual forms of action?
  • To what extent does the current crisis bring opportunities for change and how can we use them?
  • Which campaigns must we now pursue with full force at this moment of rupture?
  • How can a necessary critical observation of measures, rules, prohibitions and laws adopted in the context of the COVID 19 pandemic look like from a right-to-the-city perspective?

With the Right to City Forum we would therefore like to offer a framework for ex-change and organising. A few weeks ago we already asked you for feedback on our statement. Most of the reactions were very positive and wanted to continue working with us on this topic! We still think that it is important to position ourselves as a Right to the city movement and not to stand idly by and watch the current situation. Therefore we have created a programme point during the digital forum, where all interested people are invited to find a positioning as a movement and to collect demands and forms of action. Herewith you are cordially invited to actively participate in this programme point!

Love and solidarity –

Orga team Right to the City Forum 2020
Organized within the collective Raumstation