The Do-It-Yourself Occupation Guide: 2012 Redux

March 29, 2012 at 6:07 pm (Building Occupations, Housing Occupations, Occupations, Squatting, Student Occupations, Workplace Occupations) (, , , )

A new occupation guide, as a continuation and re-adjustment of the previous DIY occupation guide that emerged during the student movement in the fall of 2009. This guide takes into account the strategy and tactics of the previous student movement in relation to Occupy Oakland and the J28 Move-In Assembly. With various practical how-to’s as well as general strategic and tactical questions, this guide hopes to further the discourse and debate on how to occupy.

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new occupy london squat – ‘school of ideas’

February 13, 2012 at 12:36 am (Building Occupations, Squatting) ()

this week, ‘occupy london’ activists opened up a new community squatted building in the city, near old street. it is a deserted primary school with loads of beautiful airy classrooms, a small gym, and some pleasant outdoor space. it has lain unused for three years and the owners are awaiting planning permission before demolishing. in the meantime, the hope is to put it to good use for the community. see photos and report and watch video of the new ‘school of ideas’.

Click here to read more…

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Welcome Back: Anarchist occupy vacant CVS building in downtown Carrboro

February 5, 2012 at 2:45 pm (Building Occupations, Peoples' Assemblies, Squatting) ()

From Carrboro Commune

Carrboro/Chapel Hill anarchists occupy vacant building in the heart of downtown Carrboro. Here’s a text released by occupiers:

The end of 2011 saw a blossoming of self-organization and struggle across the US,as the Occupy movement illuminated people’s anger, imagination, and desire. Issues that had been simmering below the surface of political discourse exploded onto the public stage. From Oakland to New York, from Seattle to Chapel Hill, we started to find each other, to find that we are powerful. None of the tensions that catalyzed the movement have dissipated. Bosses, bankers, politicians, and police still hold our communities hostage—no armed evictions, government cover-ups, or election-year sloganeering can hide this. We have occupied this building in the spirit of this growing movement. This is not a temporary protest, but a permanent occupation intended to establish a social center in the heart of Carrboro, instead of the CVS that would have been here.

www.livestream.com/carrborocommune

The proposed CVS has faced near-unanimous local opposition. The building would be out of proportion for the location and a logistical nightmare for nearby neighbors. Local residents have repeatedly expressed that the site should serve some kind of community interest rather than corporate profits.Yet outside the zoning process, where at best we can delay the inevitable, the channels at Town Hall offer no meaningful way for affected community members to determine what should be here. We aim to provide such a venue by occupying this site and holding open assemblies.

This will allow local residents to come together, roll up our sleeves, and share a sense of real ownership over the site. This would be impossible were a corporate drug store to be located here.

This isn’t just about CVS. It’s about an economic system that prioritizes profit over people, a legal system that violently defends it, and a political system that rubber-stamps it. North Carolina is in the midst of a deep recession and budget crisis: education, libraries, healthcare, unemployment benefits, food and housing support, and other services face drastic cuts. Rather than wait for politicians to fix the problems they’ve created, we should be occupying the holdings of corporate profiteers so that people hurt by this crisis can directly decide how to use such resources for community benefit. Corporate and banking interests created this crisis; this occupation is one way of responding while creating something positive at the same time. The space, resources, and activities of our town should benefit everyone. We should have direct decision-making power over the resources of our neighborhoods and workplaces, rather than live at the mercy of speculating absentee landlords, out-of-state drug corporations, or town bureaucrats and politicians.

“Occupy” Squat, Seattle 2011
75 River, Santa Cruz 2011
Rachel Corrie Center, Olympia 2011

The violent eviction of last year’s peaceful Yates Building occupation demonstrates that the governments of Chapel Hill and Carrboro are willing to use potentially lethal armed force to protect the “right” of the wealthy to profit on empty buildings. We are here to show that we are not intimidated by armed police or their bureaucratic defenders. We will not live our lives in fear merely to relieve the political anxieties of a mayor who sips tea and quotes Gandhi while evicting demonstrators at gunpoint.

To that end, we once again encourage residents—in particular service workers, the unemployed and underemployed, the homeless, and those displaced by racist gentrification and outrageous housing prices—to imagine what this “really really free building” could be, free from the stranglehold of rent and the profit motive. A free health clinic? A mutual aid center to help people find work when the economy has failed them?
A community library or media center? A place for free childcare or a free school? Through open assemblies, we can decide together, rather than being forced to accept the decisions of an out-ofstate corporation guided only by profit.

Please join us, not just in supporting this occupation, but in making it your own. We have a world to win, and this is just the beginning. Imagine what this “really really free building” could be, free from the stranglehold of rent and the profit motive:
• A free health clinic?
• A mutual aid center to help people find work when the economy has failed them?
• A community library or media center?
• A place for free childcare or a free school?

Through open assemblies, we can decide together, rather than being forced to accept the decisions of an outof-state corporation guided by profit.

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How “Occupy Our Homes” Can Win

February 3, 2012 at 2:01 am (Building Occupations, Housing Occupations, Squatting) (, )

An Occupy Real Estate march in East New York protests bank foreclosures and encourages people to occupy empty buildings on December 6, 2011. (Photo: Brennan Cavanaugh)

An interview with anti-eviction organizer Steve Meacham of City Life/Vida Urbana in Boston

By Amy Dean, Truthout

Since most of the original Occupy encampments were evicted by wintertime, the question now is, what’s next for activists? One of the most popular suggestions is “Occupy Our Homes,” a campaign in which occupiers around the country would do actions at foreclosed houses or at bailed-out banks that are throwing people out of their homes. A national day of action on December 6 focused on this approach and featured home occupations or solidarity marches in 25 cities, including New York and Chicago.

Occupy Our Homes has three particularly good instincts.

First, it takes the general critique of inequality that the movement has been voicing – something often expressed in abstract charts and tables – and makes the issue concrete.

Since so many people in America are dealing with insecurity about their homes, the shift to doing foreclosure prevention and anti-eviction actions allows new groups of people  with a clear sense of their own connection to the struggle to engage with the Occupy movement. Social movements at their best are about helping people take their individual troubles and link them to a public problem and shifting the focus from trying to personally cope to taking collective action.

Second, the campaign connects the Occupy movement with organizing that has been going on for years. Community-based groups have been resisting foreclosures and evictions at least since the bursting of the housing bubble in 2008, if not before. Bringing the energy of Occupy to bear affords these campaigns more visibility and helps scale up local struggles, which can see themselves as part of a national movement.

Third, Occupy Our Homes identifies an arena for concrete change. Thus far, Occupy has been successful in creating enough general unrest to keep issues of inequality from being ignored and to shine a spotlight on the real economic problems affecting the majority of Americans. But as the movement progresses, it will benefit from targeting its discontent. Yes, we need to create a crisis in public consciousness, but the movement also needs to be able to drive specific changes.

As a new frontier for action, Occupy Our Homes raises a variety of difficult questions: How can we make sure that protests at a home or bank are actions that get real results instead of merely momentary occurrences? And how do we scale up so that we are not just addressing the problems of a few homeowners but instead making an impact that can resonate throughout the national economy?

I will be devoting two columns to these pressing questions.

To begin to understand the tactics and prospects of Occupy Our Homes, I spoke with Steve Meacham, organizing coordinator at City Life/Vida Urbana in Boston. City Life is one of the groups that has long been at the forefront of grassroots anti-eviction actions, and I was excited to get Meacham’s insights.

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How To Squat

January 31, 2012 at 8:51 pm (Building Occupations, Housing Occupations, Squatting)

From Squat 2 Own

Adapted from Survival Without Rent

We will go through a step-by-step guide on how to find your building, what to look for, and the cheapest and easiest ways of making it comfortable. Once you are in the building, you will have to deal with the law eventually, so we have included a section covering some basics to keep the police from messing you up. We aim to show methods that you can use to live more comfortably and safely than on the street. We believe that — even if you have no money at all and don’t want to have anything to do with other people — you will still find these ideas useful. It may be less work and in some ways more comfortable to live in a shelter. However, we believe that if you can manage to take an empty building, you will have a home with more self-respect and more independence than just about anyone. You can get off the street or out of the shelter and make a decent home for yourself very simply. If you do, we hope that you will use whatever political, legal, or other means you can to keep the powers that be from making you homeless again.

You can improve a vacant lot without being busted for trespassing — insist on your right to squat on unused PUBLIC property.

Contents
How to Form a Group
Finding a Building and Investigating It
Getting In
Emergency Repairs
Light, Heat, and Fire Safety
Makeshift Toilets, Water, and Cooking
Legal Hassles

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Announcing: Occupy Everything: Anarchists in the Occupation Movement 2009-2011

January 30, 2012 at 4:33 pm (Building Occupations, Housing Occupations, Land Occupations, Squatting, Student Occupations, Workplace Occupations)

From LBC Books

Anarchists in the Occupation Movement 2009-2011

Since the first day that Zuccotti Park was occupied there has been a shadowy figure haunting Occupy Wall Street. The anarchist. Who is this anarchist? What role has she played in the Occupy Movement? What would Occupy be without him?

This is a book where anarchists, in their own words, express how and why they engaged in Occupy, what methods they used, and evaluates the success of Occupy on anarchist terms. It also expresses the flexibilty, energy, and experience that anarchists brought to The Occupy Movement as it moved beyond lower Manhattan onto the docks and streets of Oakland, the town square of Philadelphia, and abandoned buildings around the country.

The anarchists’ way of operating was changing our very idea of what politics could be in the first place. This was exhilarating. Some occupiers told me they wanted to take it home with them, to organize assemblies in their own communities. It’s no accident, therefore, that when occupations spread around the country, the horizontal assemblies spread too.
-From Nathan Schneider in The Nation

Contributors: Antistate STL, Anon, Ben Webster, Cindy Milstein, Crescencia Desafio, Crimethinc, David Graeber, Denver ABC, Dot Matrix, Ignite! Collective, ingirum, John Jacobsen, Phoenix Insurgent, R.R, Serf City Revolt, TEOAN, Tides of Flame, TriAnarchy

Edited: Aragorn! publishes books at Little Black Cart, edits The Anvil Review and writes on popular culture, nihilism, and identity. He also blogs and does technology consulting.

Buy: Now
250 pages, Digest
$15
ISBN 978-1-62049-000-6

Purchase at Little Black Cart


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On Move-In Day

January 29, 2012 at 3:33 am (Building Occupations, Squatting) (, )

From Applied Nonexistence:

There is something to be said about the response of state apparatuses against an escalation in what is being billed as a popular, broad-based movement’s progression of objectives.  This afternoon was a rather sobering experience for the activist-left in the East Bay – and it’s probably for the better in terms of the evolution of tactical praxis which will ideally follow today’s events.  This afternoon’s action can be read in multiple ways yet we believe that the two most pertinent points are as follows:

ONE:

The sheer impossibility of Occupy taking and the immediate defense by OPD of the Kaiser convention center, proves that the timbre of Occupy Oakland’s demands moving into the realm of the acquisition of private property (indoor space in particular) is much more confrontational, and by extension more desirable, than the tamer stages of Occupy’s initial forays into the repurposing of the public commons.  If the implicit threat of taking an abandoned building was enough to warrant such a response which, tactically at least, completely nullified any potentiality which may or may not have existed in seeing this objective to its fruition, then it is telling that it is precisely along these lines which such energy needs to be propelled and proliferated.  In national states which have a much more visible squatter’s culture (The Netherlands, Germany, Spain and Greece for example) the actual laws around the legitimacy of squatter’s rights and the legality of acquiring previously dormant physical spaces are actually much more lax than what we have here in the US.  Seen within this context, in the United States the occupation of private property with the aims of creating spaces for a distinct sociopolitical body is at once almost guaranteed to be impossible – but nonetheless desirable precisely because of this impossibility.

TWO:

Aside from the obvious critiques in terms of errors in the “on-the-ground” tactical maneuvering (i.e. bottlenecks at Laney/bridge-crossings, self-imposed kettling on E. 14th, linear confrontational exchanges in front of the Oakland Museum) we’d still like to make the case (the same redundant shit we here at AN always say) for “exploring” sites on the periphery.  While the carnivalesque atmosphere can often fulfill latent psychological manifestations for some individuals it often is not the most tactically sound site for engagement.  If anything it creates a veritable vacuum around the locus of contestation itself – and this is not something which has yet been explored in conjunction with high-profile events like today’s (this would look like “X” happens here, while “Y” happens here – where X is the much more high-profile and accessible action which commands ALL the resources of the authorities, and “Y” are a disparate number of smaller yet higher-stakes actions happening far away from the main spectacle).  While the locus always has an undeniable magnetism, laden with the desire to participate in narratives of resistance, the periphery is always more vulnerable and higher-stakes during such carnivalesque moments.  Explore the periphery.

Solidarity to the friends arrested and hurt. Solidarity to the FUCK THE POLICE 5 march about to pop of right now.

From Oakland with Love,

TEOAN

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Seattle: Water House Evicted

December 25, 2011 at 8:02 am (Building Occupations, Housing Occupations, Squatting) (, , , )

Police arrest three squatters in Central District

From The Seattle Times:

Three men were arrested late Friday night for unlawfully entering a house in the 1900 block of East Spruce Street and apparently damaging the interior with graffiti. They left garbage and open containers of food, and were cooking in the house with a portable gas stove, according to Seattle police.

Officers responded to a 911 caller who said multiple men and women were occupying the residence, which police said is under renovation. It is near a house at 23rd Avenue and East Alder Street that has been taken over by members of the Occupy Seattle movement since November.

Occupy Seattle protesters said those arrested in the Spruce Street house were also members of their group. About 30 of them gathered outside the house to voice support for those inside as police, including SWAT team officers, surrounded the house.

The protesters, who said their occupation of several houses around Seattle is a demonstration against foreclosures, repeatedly heckled the officers and chanted things like “this is what a police state looks like.”

Someone commented on the Central District News blog that people have been occupying that house since Dec. 12.

The suspects will be booked into King County Jail for charges including criminal trespassing, property damage and weapons violations.

Police raid home at 19th and Spruce, 3 alleged squatters arrested:

From Central District News:

Three men were arrested in a nighttime raid of a house at 19th and Spruce December 23 after neighbors told police people were squatting in the under-renovation house.

Occupy Seattle got word of the eviction out, and several people showed up to protest.

The three people arrested were booked into King County jail on charges of criminal trespassing, property damage and weapons violations, police say.

@ThatGirlKatt was there and tweeted photos from the scene:

SPD says they first got reports of the occupants December 23, but a CDN community post from December 21 suggests several people (and a dog) have been living there since December 12.

According to King County records, Mountaincrest Credit Union purchased the house out of foreclosure August 28.

Here’s SPD’s take on the raid:

In the afternoon hours of December 23rd witnesses called 911 to report multiple male and female subjects who had unlawfully entered and occupied a residence under renovation in the 1900 block of East Spruce Street.  Nobody was currently living in the house and the witnesses knew that the subjects occupying the residence did not to live there.

Officers arrived on scene and broadcast over their public address system for the subjects inside the house to come out.  After the third public broadcast by officers was ignored, officers made entry into the residence and discovered two adult male suspects inside who had no legal right to be there.  Another male suspect was attempting to enter the house when contacted by officers.

Preliminary investigation indicates that the suspects entered the house and subsequently damaged the interior of the house with graffiti.  They also left garbage, open containers of food, and were cooking inside the house on a portable, gas-operated stove.

Officers took all three adult male suspects into custody for charges including Criminal Trespassing, Property Damage and weapons violations.  Other criminal charges may be forthcoming.

All three suspects will be booked into the King County Jail.

This remains an active and on-going investigation.

The Occupy Seattle Twitter account questioned the police action shortly after the raid ended:

Squatting has become more and more common (or more conspicuous) as part of the Occupy movement. An unfinished duplex at 23rd and Alder has been occupied by a collective of people since mid November. That group of unnamed defendants have been summoned to court for eviction. The court date has been set for December 28.

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Occupy Atlanta Helps Save Iraq War Veteran’s Home From Foreclosure

December 19, 2011 at 10:54 pm (Building Occupations, Housing Occupations, Squatting) (, )

A scene from Occupy Atlanta's first housing takeover in Gwinnett, Ga.

By , The Huffington Post

WASHINGTON — In a tangible victory by the Occupy movement, Occupy Atlanta has successfully helped save an Iraq War veteran from foreclosure.

Activists began occupying Brigitte Walker’s home on Dec. 6. By the end of that first week, JPMorgan Chase, which owns her mortgage, began discussing with the activists and Walker the possibility of a loan modification. Chase’s modification offer became official Monday morning. The offer will result, Walker tells The Huffington Post, in hundreds per month in savings.

Before Occupy Atlanta set up its tents on her lawn, Chase had set an eviction date for Jan. 3. Now, Walker, who lives with her girlfriend and her two children, will get to stay in her Riverdale, Ga. home.

“I strongly believe Occupy Atlanta accelerated the process and helped save my home,” Walker says. “If it had not been for them standing up, I probably wouldn’t be having this happy ending.”

Chase did not return a request seeking comment.

Tim Franzen, an organizer with Occupy Atlanta, credits Walker and her story with bringing Chase to the bargaining table.

“Her story is compelling,” he tells HuffPost. “I think that’s one of the things that drew us to her home — just very clear injustice on a woman who had literally been injured in one of our wars and suffered legitimate hardship. When Chase suffered their hardship, they were just given all this money.”

Walker, 44, joined the Army in 1985 and had been among the first U.S. personnel to enter Iraq in February 2003. She witnessed fellow soldiers die and get maimed. She saw a civilian embedded with them get killed. “It was very nerve-wracking,” she says. “It makes you wonder if you’re going to survive.”

Walker’s tour in Iraq ended in May 2004 when the shock from mortar rounds crushed her spine.

Doctors had to put in titanium plates to reinforce her spine, which had nerve damage. Today her range of motion is limited, and she still experiences a lot of pain. She struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder. Loud noises and big crowds are difficult for her to face. Even the Fourth of July is a challenge.

She settled in Riverdale, a town outside of Atlanta, after purchasing a house in 2004 for $139,000. She has a brother who lives in the area and enjoyed it when she would visit him. “It seemed peaceful and quiet,” she says. “That’s what I needed.” Her active duty salary covered the mortgage.

The house, she says, means a lot to her. It was her last big purchase while she was still on active duty.

In 2007, the Army medically retired Walker against her wishes. “I thought I was going to rehab and come back,” she said. “But they told me I couldn’t stay in.” Walker now has to rely on a disability check.

After retiring from the Army, Walker used up her savings. She got rid of a car to help pay her monthly mortgage payment. “I didn’t have problems until they put me out of the military,” she said. “It was just overwhelming.”

By April of last year, she was starting to fall behind on her mortgage. Chase began foreclosure proceedings.

Occupy Atlanta did not crowd Walker’s lawn when they moved in. On the same day that Occupy Atlanta moved into Walker’s property, the activists had also begun occupying another family’s home in downtown Atlanta. Occupiers had deemed the Atlanta property in more imminent jeopardy and devoted more resources there. Walker had only a skeletal crew defending her turf. They never had more than eight people sleeping at the Walker home; on some nights, they had as few as three sleeping on site. At the peak, they had 15 working in Riverdale.

The handful of activists proved more than enough. Within the past two weeks, activists repeatedly canvased the neighborhood’s more than 240 homes, helped identify 15 abandoned properties, conducted graffiti removal, and helped spur a neighborhood watch program. In one instance, the activists said they recovered stolen goods stored in one abandoned home. “We knew where to look,” Franzen says. “It was one of the homes we had cleaned up already.” They started an Occupy Riverdale and began holding general assembly meetings in Walker’s garage.

A recent meeting in Walker’s backyard this past Saturday brought out about a dozen neighbors who addressed local issues like juvenile crime and those abandoned properties. Occupy Atlanta is hoping to convert one of the properties into a community center.

The vacancies have become Topic A. “Neighborhoods have all these empty shells,” Franzen says. “It holds the neighborhood hostage. Many had windows boarded up. Many have been havens for crime. Many have been empty for five years. They are empty because the banks make a little bit more on the insurance.”

The canvasing and birth of a suburban Occupy group replicated Occupy Atlanta’s efforts in Gwinnett County. In early November, Franzen and Co. had taken up residence with the Rorey family in an attempt to save their home from foreclosure. The effort proved unsuccessful but helped them identify other families in need.

The lessons learned from Gwinnett paid off in Riverdale, Franzen says. “This brings our protest out of the symbolic and into an actual, practical, tangible win,” he explains. “Wins like these are going to be so important. We don’t just want people to root for the symbolism of what we stand for. We want people to be empowered to save their own homes.”

Franzen says Occupy Atlanta would be looking to takeover another home at the beginning of the new year.

Walker, who hadn’t decorated the house for Christmas because of the foreclosure proceedings, now is looking for a tree. She has one in mind: “A live tree — one of them nice big fluffy ones that smell like pine. I don’t want no fake trees. I want it to be real.”

Watch the video: A Day in the Life of Occupy Atlanta

 

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Occupying housing from the Pope Squat to Occupy Toronto

December 19, 2011 at 10:48 pm (Building Occupations, Housing Occupations, Squatting) (, )

The Pope Squat building of 2002. Photo: The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty

By Mick Sweetman, Rabble.ca

It was a sweltering afternoon in late July 2002 when the armoured vehicles of the Toronto Police Emergency Task Force pulled up in front of our building. Quickly we started barricading the door with an old desk, if they were coming to kick us out we weren’t going to make it easy for them. We waited tensely as the cops approached the door with submachine guns drawn. Our crime? We dared to take over an abandoned building in the middle of a housing crisis. We all survived that early raid and were eventually allowed back into the building where we lived for the next three months — dubbing it the “Pope Squat” as we occupied it during the pontiff’s visit to Toronto.

Almost 10 years later, squatting is on the agenda again as Occupy activists who have been kicked out of public parks have started taking over empty buildings. At the end of November, the “Occupy Toronto squat team” occupied the basement of a city-owned building at 238 Queen Street West and asked for the building to be leased to them for 99 cents a year. They were evicted by police a mere eight hours after going public. The same problems that we faced a decade ago are still here and a new generation of activists are taking up the fight.

Under orders from Mayor Rob Ford to cut costs, the City of Toronto recently sold 706 homes owned by the Toronto Community Housing Corporation. Meanwhile, waiting lists for social housing in the greater Toronto area have hit 87,715 people according to a 2010 data request by the Ontario Non Profit Housing Association. A report from the Wellesley Institute notes that spending on social housing at the federal level was cut from 43 per cent to 29 per cent between 1989 and 2009 and one in eight Toronto households involuntarily pay 30 per cent or more of their income on housing.

Threats of in-your-face public squats returning as a regular protest tactic echoed off a large boarded-up Victorian house at 240 Sherbourne Street during a rally for housing on Nov. 26 organized by Stop the Cuts and Occupy Toronto. As activists unfurled a banner reading “Housing now! Occupy! Resist!” from the front railing, Liisa Schofield from Stop the Cuts held up a megaphone and said, “Today we’re talking about the idea of occupying housing. We want to build towards the potential of actually taking them over, holding them, and defending them.”

When the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) took over the Pope Squat it wasn’t the building itself that was the most important aspect but rather the work that went into winning people over in the neighbourhood. We produced 10,000 copies of a newspaper featuring articles on the housing crisis and how squatting should be legal and distributed it door-to-door. It was actually through talking with the staff of a Parkdale agency that we first found out about the old rooming house at 1510 King St. West that was abandoned by its owners after failing to pay taxes owed to the city. Ultimately, it was through building public support, not a make-shift barricade, that we were able to keep the squat as long as we did.

“The Pope Squat really rooted us as an entity in that neighbourhood. After the Pope Squat you saw a lot of the OCAP membership not only organizing in Parkdale but living in Parkdale.” said Mike DeRouches a long-time organizer with OCAP, “People made friends in the neighbourhood and began to see themselves as residents there. People who lived there their whole lives were drawn into organization and the work that OCAP was doing. The Pope Squat in Parkdale really deepened the work that we did in that neighbourhood.”

Activists in Quebec City also took over an abandoned city-owned building in 2002 demanding it be turned into social housing. Nicolas Lefebvre Legault, a coordinator with the Comité populaire Saint-Jean-Baptiste recalls, “One of things we learned the hard way was if you don’t know how to negotiate yourself someone else will, and you will end up betrayed and used by other people or groups. If you’re going to start a struggle then you need to go to the end, which means that if you’re occupying a public building then the landlord will eventually be the city. We just used the media, we never asked for a meeting, we just said ‘Here’s our demands, read them, that’s all.’ And very soon the housing co-op negotiated behind our backs.”

A few years after the squat was evicted, one of the buildings was torn down by the city but the planned housing project that was negotiated by the neighbouring co-operative never happened. So Legault helped organize a committee of people who formed a new housing co-operative and started a long-term campaign to build social housing on the land. It took six years but today Legault’s family of four live in an apartment in the 80-unit complex on the site of the squat, as do two former squatters. Tenants in 40 of the units pay 25 per cent of their income in rent and the rest of the units rent below the average market rates.

“If you really want to win something at some point you need to get in contact and negotiate with the competent authorities.” said Legault, “You can do that transparently and publicly, you don’t need to do it behind closed doors, you can do it democratically and up-front and that’s what we did. The campaign was less flashy than the squat but it actually won.”

The need to win actual housing is acutely felt by Brandon Gray who is busy scouting empty buildings for Occupy Toronto protesters to squat. Sitting in a gritty diner on Roncesvalles Avenue with classic rock playing over the tinny speakers, one thing that worries Gray is the fact that there’s no legal protection for squatters in Canada.

“That’s one reason some folks who have found some potential squats are keeping it quiet and are really worried that if they go public they’ll get them snatched away from them by the police.” said Gray as he warily stirs his coffee when asked where the buildings are located.

“It’s tough when you have potential squats that you don’t want to make public because they’ll be taken away and on the other hand you have people screaming at the general assembly that they’re freezing every night and they need housing right now.”

One idea floated by Gray was a dual strategy of secret and public squats. Some squats would be kept quiet for the roughly 30 people from Occupy Toronto who are homeless. Meanwhile, a public squat which has a much higher risk of being evicted would be used for general assemblies and to protest the sell-off of social housing.

Whether the housing occupations will increase as the temperature drops or start fresh in the spring isn’t clear right now. Regardless, as Occupy transforms itself from a movement of people sleeping in parks into one that ensures that everyone has a roof over their head, it’s vital that we take the lessons of past occupations and apply them to the ones to come.

Mick Sweetman is rabble.ca’s news intern. He is based in Toronto.

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