Our anxious rest is over

Thursday evening, August 26th – the Supreme Court of the United States proclaimed a dictum: that the Biden administration’s stay on evictions is an overreach. The moratorium was to end immediately, before the original October 3rd extension.

Those tenants, the opinion holds, for whom the original stay was intended have had their conditions improve throughout the past year. The “harm to landlords” has only been elevated, meanwhile. 

The distribution of funds for rent assistance has grown, attaining a greater purview; the distribution of vaccines has enabled work to continue. An anxious respite has ended; the dog days across America will boil the brick tenements like jars, and you among the hot air will be too tired to do anything but sit quietly or vacate. 

The opinion is a disjunction: you will go back to work, you will pay, or you will be displaced. If you have not paid, you will be displaced. 

Last summer in Minneapolis, graffiti gave a mordant reception in paint: “WELCOME BACK TO THE WORLD.” Five months inside – those with the option withdrew from everything, but everything continued without them. 

Heat drew us out into the streets for three months now flattened, and we were back inside directly afterward. Everything went on again without us. 

I’m filled with a sense of profound, angry love by the memory of 2020. Getting mad at the news again is like biting the madeleine. I am convinced by the idea that history has contingencies, if only because everything felt possible then. 

That said, I think the reception was premature. We consoled ourselves with the thoughtless imminence of something better, huddled in processions on the odd occasion, sleepily riding the train back to the comfort of cloistered homes and images on screens. 

We weren’t in the world long, that is. We became peeping toms, idly dreaming of what the world could be. 500-some writs of possession are now continuing through the channels of the Fulton County Magistrate Court. 

We shouldn’t fool ourselves: the preceding stay was hardly watertight – evictions continued while we were elsewhere. But marshals and sheriffs with clipboards and Glocks will be receiving everyone now, anyway.

Chants at protests are often odd and poorly recited but upheld by the potent belief of every screaming, syncopated voice. Politics are like a hastily but earnestly assembled high school production in that way. 

Freddie Gray’s murder by the police brought a hot summer in 2015. A particularly stilted chant from Baltimore circulated on video in April after being suggestively edited: “can’t stop, won’t stop, killer cops in cell blocks.” 

The manipulated clip suggested they had been chanting “kill a cop.”

3,200 is a familiar number if you’ve been in Atlanta long. It’s a figure that rarely expands or contracts – it’s remarkably consistent and easily deployed. 3,200-some people are unhoused in Atlanta, probably. 

Getting the actual data is a chore, and the results are unsightly – so we settle for what’s probable. We don’t count how many unhoused people die and bake in their bodies on our streets every year. We can assume a consistent turnover – 3,200 is a fine guess at the equilibrium. 

I am reluctant to talk too much about killer cops after last year. “Eviction is tantamount to killing” – I’d like to think this. Though I have come to believe these ideas are too sentimental. 

Killing requires a degree of belief: the killer believes in the possibility of death and, therefore, the life that precedes it. Landlords, marshals and sheriffs are more secular.

I do not think Derek Chauvin believes in life. I do not think any of our nine sitting justices believe in life. I do not think any of us actively believe in enduring life, except in name. 

We are nothing to each other, except during spare moments of life-affirmation, the arrivals of which are almost entirely a matter of chance. 

The radiant warmth of the stirring streets last June was an affirmation of life. It was a belief that was bound up in a burning AutoZone, in a looted Target. Believing is an entire act of the body, and we ceased believing when we went home. 

We rarely believe in the life and death of the unhoused, and most often, we materialize that belief by calling the cops – and only then. The Supreme Court of the United States lifted the stay on evictions not because the realtors, judges, cops, and lawmakers are killers. That label would be too generous. 

The stay on evictions lifted because they have no beliefs and no compunctions beyond the mundane continuation of economic motion. The unhoused occupy no place in their minds – very little does, anyway, besides their unrehearsed roles scribbled down but always upheld. 

I am sure they would all attest to believing in plenty of things. However, while they cradle their head on the bedside and weepily murmur a name with baubles in hand, they are still yet too bleak to be interesting, and too spiritless to be killers. 

Hundreds of thousands now sit awaiting displacement. As we boil in late summer, I am asking us to believe again, however naive. 

I am asking us to understand love and anger as belief and belief as an action. I am asking us to place our bodies before the courthouses, to chain ourselves to doors and believe loudly in our deaths and the deaths of others. We must believe eviction is killing, even if it is only our own belief.

A moment to affirm life has arrived, by chance, and the streets are again a theater. The audience, once voyeurs, has been called into the scene, our lines penciled in – there will be no practice. 

I am asking us back into the world. I am asking you to join the stage with me, hand outstretched, and deliver your part as though you have known it forever. 

We must struggle against houselessness with rasped throats, tired arms and a bold unknowing but vigorous belief. It will be a hot September.