Defend Aunti Frances! A Panel and Fundraiser

Parisa Yekalamlari | 01.26.2018

Photo by Francesco Guerrieri

On Wednesday, January 17th three panelists – allies and comrades of Aunti Frances, a beloved East Bay activist and former Black Panther, discussed the intersections of food justice and gentrification at La Pena Cultural Center. Panelists urged an audience of Aunti Frances’ supporters to examine individual relationships with power and expand perceptions of what can be done in response to systemic displacement, violence, and gentrification.

For nearly a decade, “Aunti” Frances Moore has served weekly community meals at North Oakland’s Driver’s Plaza. Her meals are part of the Self-help Hunger Program, which she organizes and primarily self-funds. Every week, multiple generations of North Oakland residents – primarily people of color, some without housing, some low income – meet at Driver’s Plaza for a free meal. In recent years, lawyers and legal clinicians have provided legal and housing services at some meals as well. Phat Beets Produce, a local CSA, provides some local vegetables and fruits for the meals. Community expands beyond the sharing of food – some people help cook, others help clean. Aunti Frances pours her blood and sweat into the Love Mission. Through food, she sees herself continuing the legacy of the Black Panther’s Free Breakfast Program.

In 2016, Aunti Frances’ rent-stabilized apartment was sold to Natalia Morphy and her parents James and Alexandra Morphy. The Morphys, who own investment properties across Oakland, are no strangers to displacing long-term residents. Though Aunti Frances is a model tenant, the Morphys have attempted to evict her (as well as the building’s other long-term tenant, a Black disabled veteran) three times. Now, the Morphys are trying to evict Aunti Frances through a loophole in the Just Cause Ordinance.

Wednesday’s panel, organized by Food First and Defend Aunti Frances!, supported Aunti France’s legal defense against the Morphy Family’s violent eviction. Though Aunti Frances felt too ill to attend the event, three community organizers – Poor Magazine’s Lisa “Tiny” Gray-Garcia, Movement Generation’s Quinton Sankofa, and Roots Community Healthcare Center’s Charles Ray – spoke in solidarity.

Responding to questions posed by moderator Ahna Kruzic, the three organizers shared bafflement and anger at the flagrant displacement of Oakland’s long-term residents. Displacement is painful and violent, Ray reminded audience members. People do not choose to leave their neighborhoods. Rather, they are forced off their land. Oftentimes, gentrifiers weaponize the police against long-term residents.

Sankofa noted past police violence at Driver’s Plaza, where Aunti Frances hosts her weekly meals: “We’ve seen police called on folks, we’ve seen ripped up vegetables, we’ve seen people dump shit to try to deter folks from gathering [in a space].”

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Panelists raised questions of how power is distributed within the context of ever-increasing housing costs. How is it that Aunti Frances, a long-time community member who has given her life and income to the feeding of her community, has less power within Oakland’s real estate boom than the Morphys – who bought her property little more than a year ago, who have no ties to North Oakland’s community?

The panelists called for a more radical response to increasingly flagrant, violent displacement of long-time residents like Aunti Frances. Instead of asking for the bare minimum (such as fewer loopholes within tenant protection laws), panelists asked the majority-young, white-passing audience to consider reparations and redistribution.

This is not justice, the panelists agreed. We need to be more bold. We need to have conversations about leveraging power and wealth. Gray-Garcia reminded the audience why they had gathered at La Pena: “At the end of the day, there is no conversation other than [this]: Aunti Frances needs to stay there!

How can Aunti Frances stay there? That is, in her long-time residence in North Oakland? Right now, activists at Defend Aunti Frances! have a simple goal: show Auti Frances’ landlords that this eviction is a community crisis that will not go away quietly. Yes, it’s important to turn toward more radical solutions in the face of ever-increasing state violence. First, however, the Morphys need to make the right decision and drop this eviction.

Defend Aunti Frances! recently sent the Morphy Family a community letter, signed by 50+ organizations, sharing the impact of eviction on Aunti Frances, and asking that the Morphy’s reconsider (view letter here). On the Action Network, Defend Aunti Frances! has raised nearly 500 signatures petitioning the Morphy’s to let Aunti Frances stay there.

To support community power, sign the petition here. Email the Morphys (email template and contact information available on the petition’s webpage). Donate to the Self-Help Hunger Program (here). Attend events organized by the program (here). Directly contact the coalition built in support of Aunti Frances (here).