Friday, August 6, 2021

Was it Rep. Cori Bush's Sit-In That Convinced Biden to Issue a Moratorium on Evictions?

As I noted recently, I have been fascinated by a piece Bayard Rustin wrote back in 1965 focused on the fact that the Civil Rights Movement was moving from protest to politics. He defined two groups that were an impediment to that process: (1) moderates, who are willing to accept the status quo because the problem is so enormous and complicated, and (2) those who pursue a "no win" policy. Here's what he wrote about the latter:

Sharing with many moderates a recognition of the magnitude of the obstacles to freedom, spokesmen for this tendency survey the American scene and find no forces prepared to move toward radical solutions. From this they conclude that the only viable strategy is shock...These spokesmen are often described as the radicals of the movement, but they are really its moralists...

My quarrel with the “no-win” tendency in the civil rights movement (and the reason I have so designated it) parallels my quarrel with the moderates outside the movement. As the latter lack the vision or will for fundamental change, the former lack a realistic strategy for achieving it. For such a strategy they substitute militancy. But militancy is a matter of posture and volume and not of effect.

Rustin was referring to the "no-win" group when he wrote that "our problem is posed by those who accept the need for political power but do not understand the nature of the object and therefore lack sound strategies for achieving it; they tend to confuse political institutions with lunch counters."

I thought about that when I read all of the stories giving Rep. Cori Bush credit for pressuring Biden to issue a moratorium on evictions. Was it her sit-in on the Capitol steps that did the trick? Or was it the pressure applied by Speaker Nancy Pelosi when she issued a statement reading:

On Thursday, the President asked Congress to pass an extension of the eviction moratorium. Sadly, it is clear that the Senate is not able to do so, and any legislation in the House, therefore, will not be sufficient to extend the moratorium.

Action is needed, and it must come from the Administration. That is why House leadership is calling on the Administration to immediately extend the moratorium. As the CDC doubles down on mask-wearing and vaccination efforts, science and reason demand that they must also extend the moratorium in light of the delta variant. Doing so is a moral imperative to keep people from being put out on the street which also contributes to the public health emergency.

Or perhaps the Biden administration simply needed a couple of days to sort out their legal options.

The White House had been scrambling to figure out exactly what its legal options were for continuing the moratorium. On Monday, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said that Mr. Biden had asked the C.D.C. on Sunday to consider extending the moratorium for 30 days, even just to high-risk states, but that the C.D.C. had “been unable to find legal authority for a new, targeted eviction moratorium.”

A day later, however, the administration appeared ready to barrel through legal challenges and embrace a solution that did just that.

Personally I applaud Rep. Bush's determination to use a sit-in to make her case. It reminded me of the time Rep. John Lewis staged a sit-in on the House floor to pressure Republicans into bringing up a gun reform bill (which ultimately didn't happen until Democrats gained a majority in the House). But when it comes to actually making something happen, both sit-ins confused "political institutions with lunch counters." They were about "posture and volume...not effect."

That's because political solutions require power, most often in the form of leverage. As an example, Speaker Pelosi has made it clear that she will not bring the bipartisan infrastructure bill up for a vote in the House until the Senate passes the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill. THAT's how you use leverage. Neither Bush nor Lewis had any — they were simply bringing attention to an issue they thought needed to be addressed.

The truth is that we don't know what spurred Biden to move on the moratorium. Even if Bush's sit-in was part of the equation, it's clear that the president already wanted to go there. If you doubt that, just imagine how Biden would have responded to a sit-in to end a moratorium on evictions. 

Rustin's point was that political power comes from building coalitions in order to create an "effective political majority." Progressives don't yet have an "effective political majority" in this country. That's where we need to focus. 


  1. It's pretty clear to me that Biden was going to work to extend the moratorium. We know this because he worked to extend them last time; if he was game to do it once, he was probably game to do it again. Now it's always possible that he got whanged on the head by a frying pan, suffered a total personality change like on "The Flintstones", and had to be re-convinced of the value of moratoriums by Cori Bush ... but as someone who holds to past behavior being a pretty good gauge of current or future behavior, I side squarely with, Biden was going to do what he'd previously done again.

    Now, let's talk about Cori Bush. Her past behavior tells us a lot about her too. As with the rest of the Squad, her position at all times is, what the "establishment" is doing must be criticized. For example, Bush was one of the few people who voted against that Capitol Police bill, because it's not in her to acknowledge that the Establishment has a point even on something so obvious as the need to protect the Capitol. So I can't really credit Cori Bush for this protest; this was not a deeply principled move, it was a stunt to draw the spotlight to herself. Same as always.

    Honestly, being an insurgent is the laziest game in politics: gripe constantly that the establishment isn't doing enough, and when they do something, claim that it was your criticism that forced them to do it. Actual work you did: none. (That even holds from a physics definition, in that an insurgent's work is orthogonal to actual motion. F dot s equals zero.)

    Let us note, as well, that every single member of Congress had at least a little obligation to be working on moratorium legislation from the moment that the Supreme Court announced that they wouldn't do any more extensions without Congressional approval. Cori Bush dropped the ball on that. So did everyone else in Congress, in both chambers and both parties; but Cori is just as culpable as anyone. Probably moreso, in that, unlike someone like Lauren Underwood, Cori Bush can't really claim that she's already up to her neck in other legislation.

  2. I have this idea that every big social change requires two kinds of people, saint and strategist, Gandhi and Nehru, MLK and LBJ, a moralist like Cori Bush to clarify the issue and a pro like Nancy Pelosi (for me she can represent the moral issue well when called on, but not everybody hears her) to push it through the institutional obstacles. There's no need to debate which deserves the credit; both were needed.


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