Teacher’s Viral Arrest Helped Stop Evictions

Arrested For Housing Justice—An Interview With Sophia Lukatya

Sophia Lukatya is a Chicago Public Schools teacher. She organizes with the Chicago Teachers Union and is a member of Democratic Socialists of America. During the Lift The Ban Coalition’s protests in Daley Plaza this August, Lukatya was one of a dozen housing activists who were arrested in the week-long occupation. Positive press from the event—including a viral video of Lukatya and fellow DSA member Shannon Pilz—contributed to Governor Pritzker’s decision to extend the eviction moratorium.

Did you anticipate that your arrest would make such a lasting impression?

Sophia Lukatya: I was a bit surprised by how much attention it got—the video went to over a million views. In the days after I was released, I looked through the comments a bit and the vast majority of people were extremely supportive. In other actions I’ve done with Lift the Ban, it’s always amazed me how many people are for rent control when you explain it to them. It almost feel like it’s not a partisan issue. People agree that housing is a human right.

What was the action like?

SL: The organizations in the Lift the Ban Coalition occupied Daley Plaza for the whole week. There were a handful of tents and couches and mattresses to demonstrate the homelessness crisis that is continually just around the corner. Thursday, the day I got arrested, was hosted by CTU. We got together and did kind of a pedagogy of the oppressed, a live theater piece. A bunch of kids were involved and we had an evil banker come in and evict a kid, which could actually happen to some of our students. I always feel like there is a lot of crossover between education and activism.

Lift the Ban’s encampment were not the only tents at Daley Plaza. What were all those ominous tents doing outside an eviction court?

SL: I believe you’re referring to the tents by the entrance? Yeah, the city was getting ready to evict people when the moratorium ended. It was a really interesting juxtaposition because they’re COVID tents to do the screenings before renters would come in. So it’s like the city is setting up these tents, admitting that it’s not entirely safe for people to come into that building, and people would be coming in just to be thrown out of their houses during a pandemic.

What was the outcome of the occupation? Were any demands met?

SL: By our pushing and prodding, the state did extend the moratorium on evictions for another month. And we did have insider information that our occupation and the press that it got did have an influence on the governor’s decision. That felt really great to know our activism did something. Now, we have this CDC ban on evictions, which is good. But we still have thousands of renters with thousands of dollars of past due rent. What are these families gonna do?

Is there a policy that could save renters from eviction in the long-term?

SL: I always tell people: there’s not a single rent-controlled unit within the state of Illinois because there is a ban on rent control. Rent control is desperately needed in Chicago. It would allow people to stay in their neighborhoods for long periods of time. Even with my degrees and privilege and stable income, I’ve had to move neighborhoods multiple times because of rent being raised. This is an issue that effects everyone.