“CANCEL THE RENT,” a five-stories-tall projection onto a Midtown Manhattan skyscraper read on Saturday night, March 28. The guerrilla projection, beamed from a nearby apartment on 31st Street, started with friendly reminders like “Wash Your Hands” and “Don’t Touch Your Face” before escalating to a list of demands directed at the local, state, and federal governments including “Free Care for COVID,” “Healthcare for All,” “End Bail,” and “DC: More Aid to NYC.”
The guerrilla action is the work of the activist collective the Illuminator, which has made projections onto urban landscapes its trademark strategy. Formed during the Occupy Wall Street protest, the collective has since orchestrated several interventions in New York and in other cities around the world.
“These are not radical demands,” said Emily Andersen, a member of the collective, in a statement sent to Hyperallergic. “These are requests for basic needs, needs that must be fulfilled if we are to survive not only this current outbreak, but the fallout that is soon to come after.”
“The system we have been operating in has exacerbated the severity of this crisis, and we cannot go back to business as usual,” Andersen continued. “We need change. We need federal aid now — help with medical supplies, testing, rent and debt relief.”
Last week, the New Dealers Alliance (NADA) circulated a petition dubbed #CancelRent, which calls on individuals to press their local representatives to support a sweeping rent and mortgage forgiveness act in the New York Senate. Gallery owners told Hyperallergic that a mass shutdown of small and artist-run galleries in the city is imminent if the local government doesn’t implement a rent moratorium.
“We have to move faster and go further,” Rachel Brown, another member of the Illuminator said in a statement. “The government needs to guarantee food stamps and paid sick leave for all. NYC needs to provide emergency housing to people on the street. We need to protect the most vulnerable in our society now. No strings attached.”
“Additionally, our government needs to cease its sanctions around the world, especially in Iran,” Brown said. “These sanctions are accelerating the spread of the virus through shortages of medicine and equipment.”