Rent Strike BG is demanding Bowling Green landlords cancel rent until August and refund tenants for payments made in April.
The group was founded on March 30 in response to the coronavirus-related layoffs and Gov. Mike DeWine’s stay-at-home order. The founders of Rent Strike BG have supplied their strikers with socially distant canvassing tips and built a community of over 400 supporters through Facebook and Twitter in less than a month.
With much of the group’s planning done through social media and video calls, its founders had to adapt typical community organizing efforts to the pandemic. Co-founder Meghan McKinley looked to other cities’ strikes for inspiration.
“Getting drafts of letters and the petition and things like that we really got from them, as well as lots of advice on one-on-one conversations,” McKinley said.
The petition, which has over 100 signatures as of April 14, is circulating on Rent Strike BG’s social media. Signers commit to Rent Strike BG’s demands of rental amnesty and “to defend each other against any threat to our ability to stay in our homes through the COVID-19 pandemic,” the petition states.
Co-founder Jake Fausnaugh noted the hesitation many tenants have to join the strike.
“People are scared,” he said. “That’s why we have to stand together to strike against the landlords and protect all of us.”
This fear of fees piling up or eviction that has shaken Bowling Green tenants has fueled McKinley’s focus on solidarity.
“It’s all about the collective, and it’s all about not only getting the people to do the will but having them understand why they need to,” McKinley said. This emphasis on community inspired the group’s hashtag, #DefendYourNeighbor.
The Rent Strike BG founders assure the message of solidarity is not just in the language of their posts and petitions, it’s in their actions. Co-founder Jillian Fournier said they are “ready and willing to put their bodies on the line for others” if strikers are threatened with eviction.
Rent Strike BG also found resources from local advocates. Ohio senate candidate and civil rights attorney Reem Subei provided the group with legal advice through a video call.
Fournier recognized how information about tenant rights can help quell some strikers’ fears.
“Reem also mentioned if you run into legal trouble, there are lots of attorneys out there that are interested in taking your cases and have arguments ready and set up for this very specific COVID situation that they haven’t been able to test in court but that they’re ready to defend you with,” Fournier said, citing Advocates for Basic Legal Equality Inc. as a helpful resource.
As May 1 approaches, Rent Strike BG continues to pursue its demands while those involved in the strike put signs in their windows, tape up flyers in apartment buildings all over town and send the petition to their coworkers, neighbors and friends.
“Ten people can’t execute a rent strike,” McKinley said.
“We need everyone,” Fausnaugh added.