Housing justice–then and now (Quaker reflections, Part 4)

[Note from Kathie Malley-Morrison:  Today we welcome guest author Jean Gerard for the final post in her series on Quaker reflections.]

I read recently of the Occupiers’ attempts to redirect their efforts toward multiple current problems. In particular, I feel an affinity toward “Occupy Homes,” which helps people move back into houses from which banks have ejected them. It takes me back decades to our small but determined efforts in Southern California.

We worked and lived for years in a typical provincial conservative suburb in the San Gabriel Valley northeast of downtown L.A.  The first “housing heist” occurred when all Japanese Americans (most of them citizens) were summarily removed from their properties around the West Coast at the beginning of World War II to isolated “camps” inland.

Later, racial prejudice reared its ugly head again in the form of “restrictive covenants” – illegal promises made among white citizens, promising not to sell or rent properties to “non-whites.”

On the eastern outskirts of Los Angeles County, a tract of inexpensive houses had been built and put up for sale. When black and Asian families tried to buy these homes, banks were willing to lend them money (at no doubt exorbitant rates of interest) but militant and reactionary organizations “hazed” them after they moved in. They were shunned by the white majorities, threatened with mysterious warnings, snubbed, or had garbage thrown on their front yards at night.

When a Japanese-American couple returned from “the camps” and needed a place to live, my husband and I succeeded in supporting their purchase of a house next door.

Encouraged by that success, we joined a small group of neighbors to form an “inter-racial club” in order to support a black couple by helping to calm a neighborhood of white owners. Spending time with them, having picnics together on front lawns, inviting their neighbors, talking over feelings, we succeeded in defusing resistance and fear. Together we reached what might be called “provisional acceptance,” which turned out to be a permanent solution in that community.

Naturally,”Occupy Homes” went straight to my heart when I watched a video of a house in Brooklyn being reclaimed by OWS action.  The moment I heard a child’s laughter coming from his “reoccupied” bedroom, I remembered a similar voice from years ago when I first learned that peace with justice is not only possible; it is imperative. But people have to engage in the process to achieve and maintain it.

I am with you, you are with me, we are with them and they are with us.  I had almost given up!  “Occupy the Future!”


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2 Responses to Housing justice–then and now (Quaker reflections, Part 4)

  1. Dahlia Wasfi says:

    I really loved this piece…thank you so much. Sincerely, Dahlia

  2. Gold Dust Twin says:

    I loved this heart-warming story too. Jean Gerard makes me think of the little engine that could. Other people either are indiferent or imagine there’s nothing they can do to change human nature. Ms. Gerard proves that if you think you can help and then set about putting your thoughts to work, you can achieve admirable goals.

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