Kim Davis is a County Clerk in Kentucky recently imprisoned (though later released) for defending her deeply held religious beliefs.
When the Unites States Supreme Court made same sex marriage the law of the land throughout the entire nation, Ms. Davis decided that civil disobedience in defiance of what she considered an immoral law and contrary to her religious beliefs was her only option. So she is refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay or lesbian citizens of Kentucky.
Peaceful civil disobedience is part of the American political tradition and a tactic used to great success during the Civil Rights movement and protesting the Vietnam War and other unpopular public policies.
Bayard Rustin once wrote, “We need in every bay and community a group of angelic troublemakers.”
I can’t think of a more angelic cause than protecting people’s homes. So last Wednesday, I was one of 55 troublemakers, including eleven elected officials, arrested for civil disobedience outside of Governor Cuomo’s office in Albany protesting Albany’s inaction on strengthening the rent laws this session.
As 25,000 of our Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village neighbors know all too well, New York’s rent laws will expire next week – midnight on June 15. The issue isn’t if the rent laws will be renewed, however. It’s practically a given they will be. The real question is whether protections for rent-regulated tenants will continue to be eroded by the status quo that favors landlords at the expense of tenants.
Tenant activists have put it bluntly: a straightforward extension of the rent laws is an unmitigated disaster for tenants and New York’s affordable housing stock. I agree. The reason is because currently landlords can take advantage of a raft of anti-tenant provisions in the law to flip regulated apartments to market units, making the rent out of reach for most New Yorkers.
Vacancy bonuses allow landlords to hike rents by 20 percent when an apartment becomes available for a new tenant, creating an incentive to push old tenants out.
They use so-called preferential rents to bait prospective tenants into a deceptive sense of safety with a single year of rent below the legal maximum allowed, and then shock them with huge rent increases based on that legal maximum when their leases come up for renewal.
And they make tenants pay extra for major capital improvements (MCIs) — often after the cost of the improvement has been recouped. The result is that over the last two decades, New York has lost 400,000 rent-regulated apartments. Tenants quite literally cannot afford to lose any more.
It is axiomatic that young people must rebel. That is nothing new. It has been going on since the time of the Stone Age I suspect, and certainly during recorded history. Whether it is attire, hairstyles, music, dance or other assorted personal activities, savory or not, kids need to act out, and will. We all did it whether we wish to recall or not. But in the last number of years there has been a disturbing difference… random violence.
To be sure there are no circumstances in which vandalism and even the violent attacks against other innocent people or businesses can be condoned or rationalized. But we see that over and over these days. Protesting against social ills or injustices is part of the fabric of youth. It is in their DNA, and that is a good thing. As people age they tend to become more conservative and complacent and more easily accepting of things the way they are. Young people possess the zeal of idealism and a sense of indignation against the status quo especially when the status quo results in societal unfairness or discrimination. But what we are witnessing of late goes well beyond the pale and the norm.
The demonstrations in response to police shootings in Ferguson, New York City and now Baltimore and elsewhere have turned ugly with indiscriminate acts of destruction. Gone are the days of civil disobedience and peaceful protests. They have been displaced largely with rock and bottle throwing, setting fires and the spewing of vile insults designed to provoke an equally ugly response. To some extent it is not hard to understand how a protest with passions and emotions running high can escalate into aggression after what may be an unjust death at the hands of the local police. But how does that situation become an opportunity to loot local merchants, largely in minority communities, or commit indiscriminate vandalism? Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would be apoplectic at the sight of such uncontrolled and mindless fury.
But it gets worse. How does the celebration of a baseball World Series victory, or a basketball championship become cause for street violence with the overturning of cars and other acts of random destruction? We have been spectators to that scene all too often. What is going on in America’s inner cities that provokes such aberrant and volatile behavior?