ACORN Newcastle Busts Sex-for-Rent Predators

crowd pouring in

Newcastle     My whistle-stop tour of England and Scotland is finally winding down but doing so with a roar.  In Newcastle a great crowd, breaking fifty people, streamed into the “proper” cinema at the Side Gallery, grabbing samosas and drinking box wine before the screening of “The Organizer.”   As a special treat, I got to sit in on a leadership organizing committee meeting before the screening, allowing me to get a sense of what was really happening with Newcastle ACORN and to observe the leaders in action along with ACORN’s organizer, Tom Scott.

Newcastle showing in a proper theater, the Side Gallery

The first item on the agenda was proof positive that I have been traveling too long, because someone it had slipped by me that an action by ACORN Newcastle had been on the BBC just last week as I was coming into the country.  An agenda time entitled “BBC Sex for Rent,” immediately catches your eye!

setting up for signup and ticket checks
report on an upcoming action on a forced eviction …Tom Scott, ACORN organizer standing

The report from one of the leaders, who had acted as a “decoy,” surrounded by Tom and other members in a café, as reported on the video by BBC, indicated that a landlord showed up who had responded to a craigslist posting.  ACORN had been hearing about this problem and had a member post the need for a room in the soaring rental market and the fact that temporarily she was short of money.  There was no artifice in the landlord’s reply, since he had directly responded that he would furnish a room in exchange for “occasional sex.”  No misunderstanding such a reply!  When he realized he was also being filmed, he bolted, and then was convinced to come back, arguing lamely that it wasn’t so much sex, but “companionship” he was seeking, which has to count as one of the lamest lies by a landlord ever.  If he had wanted simply companionship, he could have replied in that vein and willingly offered a spare room to someone in need, rather than stating flatly the exchange for his generosity would be sleeping with him from time to time.

leadership organizing committee before the screening
setting up the food

            Other women at the leadership meeting shared their stories of looking for rent in various cities and being directly or subtly propositioned by landlords in the same way.  ACORN has opened up an issue that is likely a #MeToo moment for many women in our membership and constituency who seem easy prey when they were wishing, as Langston Hughes wrote, “that rent were heaven sent.”

full house with over 50 in Newcastle

I would bet many meetings would find women testifying about similar cases, and once our members started talking about landlords, employers and others would likely be on the list.  If predators with slightly more power can exploit women in big business and Hollywood, it boggles the mind and enrages the soul to thing how often this is part of the daily experience of women with less income and power.

Cheers to ACORN Newcastle for breaking this wide open!

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Devolution in the North of England

CGeorge Osborne’s northern powerhouse policy has given Greater Manchester a £6bn health and social care budget and powers over transport, police and housing. Photograph: Joel Goodman/PA
George Osborne. Photograph: Joel Goodman/PA

Newcastle    I had ridden by Newcastle before on the train between Edinburgh and London, and mainly looked at the wide river and noted how striking it was in contrast to the old saying that defined a waste of time and effort as being like “bringing coal to Newcastle.” Of course they don’t mine coal anywhere around Newcastle anymore, nor is their steel and other heavy industry. The city center is still grand and looming in a way that Pittsburgh and Detroit speak to immense wealth in the past that is still a work in progress in the present.

Talking to the ACORN organizers in Newcastle their attention was riveted on their first organizing drive in Heaton, low-and-moderate income area which is building momentum toward the launch of the organization in coming weeks. Invariably conversations moved to the problems of getting rental security deposits back despite rules and regulations requiring it, the escalating rent, damp and mold, and the myriad issues burdening tenants all over the United Kingdom finding little action or relief.

The north of England has been the focus of the ruling Conservative Party’s initiatives around devolution. During the Scottish election last year more than 100 city councils had made parallel demands for increased powers along the lines the Party was pledging to Scotland if they rejected independence. Now the Treasury Secretary George Osborne has made a number of proposals starting with an amalgamation in Manchester that outline what they are willing to allow. Newcastle has also made a number of steps to get in the early line for whatever might be possible from devolution.

Osborne’s outline is pretty straightforward. There would be a grand mayor of sorts and representatives from each of the city councils amalgamating into this form of larger or regional government would have a seat on the new council. The new formation would have authority over housing, transportation, planning, and public safety or policing. Roads, schools, and garbage collection would remain with the local councils. Osborne claims he’s willing to make the devolution deal with any metropolitan formation that is willing to agree to such terms and conditions. Bristol has an elected mayor so might be eligible for example.

Given the tension on housing and the general distance of the central government and its resistance to change and isolation from pressure, this has some attraction, and as argued to me in London recently by a former government official, the cities are going to get stuck with cuts and having to defend them anyway, so essentially, they might as well get something out of the deal. Obviously the one key thing they are not getting is the ability to raise more money. They would get the money from Treasury to pay the bills they are handling centrally, but austerity is austerity.

We walked past several large parks after we left the city centre and the soaring soccer stadium crouched over the skyline. Tom Scott, one of ACORN Newcastle’s organizers, made the point that the council had announced that in the next budget there would be no money for parks. He wondered what might happen to them in the future with no maintenance or attention. Pushing the buck down the line doesn’t mean that the pain won’t persist until the screaming and cries are deafening.

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