By Manuel Valdes, Associated Press
From The Seattle Times:
Occupy Wall Street demonstrators in Seattle, Portland and Oakland have taken up a new tactic in their protests against wealth inequality: Squatting in vacant properties.
In Seattle, protesters have taken over a formerly boarded up duplex across the street from Garfield High School. They have painted the bare wood sidings with green, black and red paint, and they have strung up a banner that says “Occupy Everything – No Banks No Landlords.”
The red and black anarchist flag also decorates the front.
“Too many homeless. Too many unoccupied buildings. That doesn’t make sense,” is the official stance of the duplex occupiers, said Ariel, a demonstrator who declined to give her full name.
Squatting marks a move away from the public demonstrations that have marked protests in cities around the country. The move is an attempt to re-energize the protests in Oakland and Portland – two cities that have seen violent clashes with police.
“Who knows, maybe squatting will be the next pressure point,” said 42-year-old Arlo Stone, who has squatted in Portland and Seattle.
After its eviction, the Occupy Portland encampment scattered. Organizers have called for members of the movement to occupy foreclosed properties on behalf of the former owners who lost the houses.
Occupy Portland organizer Andrea Townsend, 28, said providing a safe, warm place for former members of the Occupy Portland movement should be a focus for the city, and said squatting is a way to keep attention on the issue of homelessness.
“You’re building a self-sustaining community that’s toward what this movement’s about,” said Townsend, a self-described anarchist.
Occupiers in Oakland have also taken over at least one property and are showing other members how to do more squatting. From “Intro to Squatting” to “Property Law and Squatters’ Rights,” a recent “teach-in” in Oakland featured six hours of lessons for squatters. The lessons were given by the San Francisco homeless advocacy group called Homes, Not Jails.
In Seattle, the duplex occupants declined to allow The Associated Press inside, saying they want to remain “under the radar” – even after the official Occupy Seattle website posted about their actions.
There are between eight and 15 people staying at the house on any given day, Ariel said. She said volunteers are fixing electric wiring and installing insulation among other work.
Volunteers could be seen taking trash to a truck on a recent afternoon. A rainwater retainer sits in front of the duplex. The group took over the building more than 10 days ago.
The duplex these Occupy Seattle protesters have taken over was owned by a couple who held several properties in the region, including a multimillion waterfront home on Mercer Island that has also been foreclosed. One of them died in 2009. It wasn’t immediately clear if the owner had a listed phone number.
The building is located in Seattle’s Central District, a historically African-American and working class neighborhood that has seen gentrification over the years.
Still, Ariel said the main reason they chose this house was because it was vacant for several years.
Garfield High School’s principal hasn’t fielded any complaints about the Occupy house, Seattle Schools spokeswoman Teresa Wippel said.
“He said he has not observed any changes to the school environment as a result of the Occupy Seattle folks being across the street,” she said.
Seattle police are aware of the people squatting, but haven’t received any phone calls about it, spokesman Mark Jamieson said.
Things weren’t as welcoming in Portland.
Police moved in and evicted more than a dozen occupiers in a foreclosed home in northeast Portland more than 10 days ago. Two people were arrested, while the rest left without incident, according to police.
Another three people were evicted from houses on Monday, but Sgt. Pete Simpson said it’s unknown whether the squatters were members of the Occupy Portland encampment that was evicted on Nov. 13.
Simpson said he’s aware that the movement called for people to occupy foreclosed homes, but said it’s difficult to distinguish between the people who would squat in homes as a political statement and those that do it for shelter.
“The vacant property issue is of concern in cities nationwide,” Simpson said. “We’ll treat them all as trespassers.”
Associated Press writer Nigel Duara in Portland, Ore., contributed to this report.
Valdes can be reached at twitter.com/ByManuelValdes