Before rioters brought chaos to the streets of downtown San Antonio on Saturday, a separate protest regarding housing peacefully snaked its way through the East and West sides of the city Saturday afternoon.

Dozens of cars covered in messages of resistance ranging from “abolish ICE” to “cancel the rent” participated in a national protest demanding the cancellation of rent, mortgage payments, and debts to landlords during the coronavirus pandemic.

“This is to call out the local, state, and national governments to act on behalf of the people and take that huge debt that we have weighing us down – the rent, mortgages, and rent for small businesses as well,” said Rachell Tucker, an organizer with the local Party for Socialism and Liberation as well as About Face: Veterans Against the War. Dozens of cities hosted similar Cancel the Rents caravans across the U.S. on Saturday.

“Landlords will get bailed out … but what about the renters?” Tucker said.

If the federal government won’t start subsidizing all residents in need, it should cancel rent and mortgage collection, she added. “Our demands are more for the people than for the landlords.”

The caravan protest was organized and supported by several additional groups, including the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center and SA Stands, an immigrant advocacy group.

Undocumented residents in the U.S. do not qualify for federal assistance and many were the first to lose their jobs as the coronavirus spread, Tucker said. “[They] don’t get any kind of assistance – they didn’t get the stimulus, they didn’t get anything.”

San Antonio City Council rejected a measure with a 6-5 vote on May 14 that could have delayed evictions another 30-60 days. The City is working on measures to ensure that renters know their rights in the eviction process and is slated to send staff to eviction courts when they start having hearings again in mid-June.

On June 4 Council is slated to vote on a spending plan that would add nearly $28 million to its housing assistance fund from the federal coronavirus relief fund.

Issues such as racial justice, immigration reform, and housing security are all related, said Katy Murdza, an organizer with SA Stands. The coalition launched its Undocumented Worker Fund to help families stay afloat during the pandemic.

“We’ve received about 300 people asking [for help] before we had to cut off applications,” Murdza said.

Murdza used specialized markers to write “Justice for George Floyd” on the back of a car. Meanwhile, Mario Montelongo wrote “People over profits” on the side.

The caravan culminated at Travis Park, where more than 5,000 people showed up to participate in the Justice for George Floyd rally and march. Hours after most of the downtown protesters dispersed, hundreds confronted police and an armed civilian group gathered at the Alamo. As night fell, the dwindling crowd grew violent.

Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org