May Day Rent Strike + Phara Souffrant Forrest Interview

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Local News

  • May 1st marked the start of a rent strike in New York, part of a nationwide movement by renters to resist eviction during the economic fallout from Covid-19. In New York City, over 12,000 renters have pledged to withhold rent this month, and specific landlords are being targeted by housing activists.
  • The MTA is suspending overnight subway service for only the third time in the subway’s history, leaving many commuters stranded. Critics see this a potential precursor to more subway cuts, or another excuse to arrest homeless people on the subway.
  • De Blasio committed to opening up 100 miles of NYC streets for recreation during Covid-19, in addition to “expanding sidewalks” and creating temporary bike lanes.
  • Although the City’s Department of Homeless Services announced it had met its initial goal of moving 6,000 homeless New Yorkers out of shelters and into hotel rooms, in order to stem the tide of Covid-19, their count apparently included thousands of people who were moved before the coronavirus outbreak.
  • Some families who cannot afford the equipment for distance learning are getting visits from Children’s Services.
  • Cuomo has changed 262 laws by executive fiat since the coronavirus crisis began.
  • In an attempt to support local restaurants, the City Council will likely pass a bill that caps service fees at 10% for delivery apps like Grubhub.


  • The New York Board of Elections cancelled the state’s Democratic presidential primary, sparking anger (and lawsuits) from voters who will not get a say in selecting the state’s delegates, and who see it as a ploy to protect local incumbents by driving down turnout from infrequent voters.
  • Phara Souffrant Forrest and Marcela Mitaynes’ campaigns for State Assembly received favorable news coverage.
  • Assembly candidate Zohran Mamdani (District 36, Astoria) publicly excoriated the Queens machine for kicking progressive challengers off of the primary ballot in June.
  • Bronx congressional candidate Samelys Lopez (NY-15) participated in a “Cancel Rent” sign drop on the Queensboro bridge.
  • The Red Hook Star-Revue released an extensive update of the competitive races for State Senate District 25 (where Jabari Brisport is contesting an open seat against two others) and Assembly District 51 (where Marcela Mitaynes is challenging incumbent Felix Ortiz along with two others).
  • Nearly 30,000 students were registered to vote during the City’s “Civics Week,” prior to the coronavirus outbreak, in part thanks to last year’s law allowing high school students to preregister before they turn 18.
  • A judge overturned City Board of Elections’ decision to suspend the special City Council election to replace Rafael Espinal, but denied the petition of progressive challenger Sandy Nurse on technical grounds.

Q&A with Phara Souffrant Forrest

What is it like to campaign during the COVID-19 outbreak? Has it made you think differently about your campaign?

Campaigning during COVID-19 means a lot of time on the phone. I spend my whole day talking to voters, volunteers, donors, and community groups. Just like campaigning in person, I’m constantly blown away by the commitment of volunteers and supporters–it keeps me motivated. 

It might sound funny, but I don’t think differently about my campaign. Our goal has always been to build an army of volunteers to get our district behind democratic socialism. That was our goal before COVID-19 and that’s our goal now. 

How does your experience as a nurse affect the way you approach this crisis?

Being a nurse affects the way you think. As a nurse, you learn to assess patients to determine the severity of their condition and prioritize who’s going to get immediate attention. This training really helps me make sense of this crisis where there are so many problems–healthcare workers without protective equipment, millions unemployed, and no money for rent.

What should state lawmakers be prioritizing in their response to the health crisis?

Our first priority must be to keep social distancing in place and make sure that healthcare workers have what they need. Nurses still need protective equipment, like gowns and N95 masks. Many of our hospitals are underfunded and understaffed. And we need to make all COVID testing and treatment free.

Once we get past this first wave, we need to pass Safe Staffing to make sure we put patient safety first. And we need to pass the New York Health Act to make free healthcare a human right.

How has this affected the fight for housing justice in New York?

The fight for housing justice has been transformed. Before the crisis, tenant organizing took months of meetings and protests with neighbors to get repairs and end harassment. That’s what it was like in my building. But now, millions of people suddenly can’t pay rent. Rent strikes are spreading in the city. We need to cancel the rent now. People were already stressed out about their housing and it’s only gotten worse. 

You told Teen Vogue that you “don’t know anymore where [the] campaign starts and stops and where the movement starts and stops.” Can you elaborate on what you meant by that?

It’s about our platform, the people, and the strategy. What we’re fighting for is what the movement is fighting for. Free healthcare. Universal rent control. Public Power. Decarceration. The right to strike. When we talk to voters, we’re asking them to sign a petition and get involved in the Housing Justice for All Coalition that’s fighting to cancel rent. So many of the people who are involved in my campaign are also involved in all of these crucial fights. With strategy, we need a mass movement to win our race and all of these demands. We win with the power of people, not real estate or corporate money. That’s our weapon.

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