An armored vehicle was parked outside the house on Magnolia Street in Oakland when a SWAT team dressed in what looked like military fatigues broke down the door. Deputies from the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department swarmed in to carry away their targets. So what threat was the police force sent in to pacify? What danger warranted all the police, the guns, the fatigues, the vehicle meant to respond to terrorism threats?
Inside the small, unassuming house on Magnolia Street known as “Mom’s House” a collective of Black homeless mothers and their young children had created a home. For nearly two months they had lived and organized in the space, fighting for their right to be housed in their city. This was the threat that brought the Sheriff’s Department to the doorstep. Before sunrise on January 14th, two mothers were led away in handcuffs as a growing crowd of protesters shouted “mothers and babies, mothers and babies!” in the faces of riot police.
The night before hundreds of neighbors and community organizers had gathered to show support for the occupation of a vacant investment property, legally owned by Wedgewood, a real estate investment firm based in Southern California. The firm left the property vacant for two years before four Black homeless mothers and their children decided to fight back against the gentrification that had displaced their families and reclaim housing for themselves.
Addressing the crowd the night before their violent eviction, one of the mothers said “I want everyone here to know we are not suicidal,” lifting up the name and story of Sandra Bland, a Black woman whose death by hanging in a Texas prison was ruled suicide, despite public outcry and accusations that she was killed by police.
That there are four vacant housing units for every homeless person in Oakland, a figure derived from city statistics, has been the central argument made by the group known as Moms 4 Housing. They argue that it is unfair for real estate speculators and banks to keep units vacant while people, especially Black people, from Oakland are unable to keep up with skyrocketing rents and are being forced out of town or onto the streets.
This certainly is not the first time squatters have moved into vacant units in the Bay Area, but the Moms 4 Housing campaign garnered the support of the nation as they spoke out against the injustices of poverty and homelessness they face in Oakland. After the extreme response of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department and the outpouring of public support for the moms, Wedgewood announced in a joint statement with the mayor and the moms that they would sell the house to the Oakland Land Trust, which will move the displaced families back into their new and contested home.
“This is what happens when we organize, when people come together to build the beloved community,” Dominique Walker of Moms 4 Housing said in a statement at a press conference on MLK Day. “Today we honor Dr. King’s radical legacy by taking Oakland back from banks and corporations.”