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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Informal Update On Situation In Seattle

December 19, 2011 at 3:52 am (Building Occupations, Housing Occupations, Squatting) ()

This account is the personal reflections of one irregular resident of the Turritopsis Nutricula house and down not reflect the collective as a whole.

The Turritopsis Nutricula house (named after an immortal jellyfish), located on 23rd and Alder in the Central District of Seattle, has now been in existence for a month. Within the span of that same month, over a dozen squats have also sprung into existence in as diverse places as Bellevue and White Center. One of them has recently set up a screen printing studio. An informal network of people from Occupy Seattle consistently brings food and supplies to the house on 23rd and Alder. The food is free for everyone who comes through the house.

The Turritopsis Nutricula house is the only one of the squats that is public and open. The person who owns the building is a man named Denmark West, current executive at BET and former employee of Goldman Sachs, Microsoft, and MTV. Because of his sympathy for the movement, he has taken his time in starting an eviction. However, the city has now threatened to fine this Harvard graduate 100 to 1000 dollars a day if he does not move to evict the residents of the house. It is unclear how long the next legal process can be drawn out, but regardless of legality, there is a core of over 100 people who would respond to an eviction.

From the upper floors of the house, one can look west and see the towers of Downtown rising up from behind the hills. Below the towers, cresting down the hills, is a view of the Central District. It is this area in particular that has witnessed an invasion of outsiders over the past 15 years. Looking westward from the top floor of the squat, one can see in the expansion of wealth and capital moving over the hills from the financial core of Downtown.

Recently, there has been a high-profile instance of graffiti in the Central District. An ugly cubist-fascist-brutalist style house had the superior wood of its fence tagged with the phrase GENTRIFICATION KILLS. This caused some controversy within the gentrification community. The last time there was graffiti in the neighborhood (several tags giving the time and date of the Port of Seattle shutdown), a scared man went on the news and read a statement of condemnation against Occupy Seattle and the hooligans who would dare to tag on a church. All in all, given the massive success of the port shutdown and the continued existence of the Turritopsis Nutricula, the people who throw a tantrum after every instance of graffiti are appearing more absurd to the neighborhood as time goes by. One of the massive banners within the march to the Port of Seattle now hangs on the outside wall of the squat.

Seattle is very wealthy. Just as in all major coastal cities, massive amounts of capital flow through the Port of Seattle every day. Viewing the towers of Downtown as luminous crystallizations of capital (which they are), the view from the top floor of the squat takes on a new meaning. There are multiple squats in existence and each one of them, whether public or clandestine, is an assault against the logic of the economic system that powers the lights of the skyscrapers.

Many have found that simply throwing oneself into an effort at mass-squatting has now born far more fruit than expected. The desire and the intention to squat was there among a diverse group of people that formed its bonds and trust within the chaos of the now imploded and destroyed Capital Hell Commune. The experiences of mass-squatting are now multiplying and the new bonds and trust and skills that will be developed amongst this new group of people during their efforts will be even more powerful. In addition to this, another group connected to Occupy Seattle is starting an anti-gentrification campaign in Capitol Hill against the never ending condos that continue to be built in the bohemian neighborhood. The barricades at the Port of Seattle and the previous takeover of a warehouse are collective experiences that continue to power everyone forward.

This author would like to encourage everyone push for similar efforts and initiatives. The interest is most likely prevalent in cities that have had large occupations. We believe all that is lacking is a committed effort to establish and maintain various squats and building occupations. If more cities make similar efforts, the idea of taking over property will continue to take root in the minds of others and if it becomes generalized, it will be far easier to maintain occupied houses along the west coast. In the meantime, we hope everyone can stumble upon more tactics and innovations that they can spread and share.

More photos here.

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The Sacred Law of Private Property

December 17, 2011 at 9:41 pm (Building Occupations, Housing Occupations, Squatting) (, )

From Tides of Flame #12 – Read or Print

Once upon a time, long, long ago, land was not property. It was simply land. At its edges it met the sea. It was a soft, wet rug of leaves underfoot; it was snow-capped and loomed high above the grassy plains. Water wandered through it, sometimes rushing and plunging off cliffs. Animals lived on the land and water, exchanging energy with them in seemingly endless cycles of life and death, creation and destruction. Some of these animals were humans.

Today, after centuries of brutal warfare, land has been transformed into property. It is bought and sold, excavated, blown-up, built-upon, paved, and irrigated. A few square feet over here is more expensive than an acre over there. Some of it is called “Super Fund Site,” some is “nature preserve”; other parcels are called malls, schools, roads, farms, and houses. It’s all called property. Some of it is called “public property” but people are not really free to use it however they’d like.

“Public property” is really “state property” and the laws of the state delineate its proper use. Sometimes this means: no camping, singing, sleeping, blowing bubbles, writing with chalk, sitting on the ground, gardening, panhandling, smoking, or drinking alcohol. What is and is not allowed can change on a whim and is generally influenced by the desires of the wealthiest businesses and residents nearby.

In general, one must pay to inhabit the space one inhabits. Most exceptions to this rule are illegal and precarious. All liberated or reclaimed space, be it urban or rural, is hemmed in on all sides by private property. The people who occupy these free spaces are under constant threat of violent eviction and imprisonment by the faithful servants of the owning class, the guardians of private property: the police and military forces. Yet land struggles, slum rebellions, and housing occupations erupt and persist every day across the world. They persist because people’s freedom and dignity depend on their unmediated access to their most basic means of survival: our home, the earth.

From medieval heretical sects to the present-day indigenous Mapuche land struggle, instances of the dispossessed fighting like hell for a free life are countless. And when fighting has not been an option, people have struggled the retain the memory of freedom, passing stories and “old wive’s tales” to their children in secret, hoping that one day, the strength will come. In response, the elites have formed various state and proto-state institutions to criminalize the dispossessed and their traditions, to kill those who resist, and to steal whatever they can as fast as possible. Just as there can be no plantation without its slave-catchers and Fugitive Slave Acts, there can be no private property without the law the protects it, the police that enforce that law, the courts that sentence the lawbreakers, and the prisons that contain them.

All over the world and throughout history, people have attempted to create autonomous, egalitarian communities where land is held in common. Wherever this way of life existed before imperial/capitalist invasion, many people fiercely defended what they had in an attempt to avoid the imposition of waged labor or total annihilation. We are told that domination is human nature, but it seems that the urge to struggle against domination is its inseparable, enduring twin.

In Europe, the transition to capitalism saw peasants battling the nascent capitalist class and the enclosure of common lands. Many of these rebels were accused of evil sorcery, and hundreds of thousands of accused witches were murdered in a killing spree that spanned two centuries. “[The killings] spread fear, destroyed networks and resistance and did not stop until the population was sufficiently subordinated and the emerging state, capitalist social relations, and church had got their claws into the lives and psyches of the people.”* Later, after the Black Plague, a significant labor shortage occurred, which, coupled with a glut of unoccupied land, led to unprecedented peasant power and better living conditions for the lower classes. This caused a crisis in accumulation for the rich, who then turned their eyes towards the so-called “New World.”

European colonial expansion was a direct response to the this crisis. Conquistadors and “explorers” brought to the Americas their own conception of land: as an abundant resource to be exploited and a source of capital to be accumulated. The war on native people was necessary for the privatization of the land, just as the centuries of war against the European peasantry were necessary to ultimately enclose the commons and push the poor into wage labor.

In the Americas, indigenous ways of life were incompatible with the invaders’ desires for greater and greater wealth. Thus, the threat they represented had to be eliminated—first through mass murder, then through cultural genocide and assimilation. This giant land theft project, along with the enslavement of African people and the indentured servitude of poor Europeans, is what this country is built upon. Every nation has a similar history, and though the methods may have evolved, the process of enclosure continues to this day.

Private property is the foundation of capitalism and the state that protects it. It is upon this foundation that wage labor and the entire network of domination find their foothold. Our minds have been colonized for so long that many people accept private property as sacred law, believing it to be the safest harbor for personal freedom. But they are wrong.

To be clear, we are not opposed to personal property, to having personal possessions. We don’t want to share your underwear or your toothbrush. We do want the freedom to choose where and with whom we live, we want free access to what we need to survive, and, most importantly, we don’t want our choices to be limited by the laws of the market or the state. Put simply, we don’t want bosses, cops, prisons, banks, or landlords.

Throughout the history of the United States, the elites have bought off rebels and uncontrollable workers by giving them access to the fruits of plunder—land in the west, a place at the table, pineapples, bananas, the right to vote for their own masters. And when those fruits were rejected and rebels forged bonds of solidarity and multiracial alliances, the hangman climbed the scaffold and the prison cell doors slammed shut.

But they could never snuff us all out.

It seems that something new is happening at last, after these long years of heartbreak, half-measures, and defeat. More and more landless folk are going on the offensive, taking back what has been stolen from us. The roles the police and politicians play in protecting the interests of the rich are becoming clearer by the day. The state is dropping the pretense of taking care of even the middle class, and greater numbers of people are being forced to rely on one another. As such, the idea of stealing back one’s life is catching and spreading like wildfire. May we see the proliferation of free spaces ungoverned by the laws of state and capitalism and ever more daring acts of sabotage and self-defense!

* To learn more about the witch trials, patriarchy, and the birth of capitalism, check out “Burning Women” at ZineLibrary.info or Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation by Silvia Federici.

tidesofflame.wordpress.com
tidesofflame@riseup.net

The next submission deadline is January 13.

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Seattle: Second Squat Evicted, First Squat Still Going

December 17, 2011 at 9:35 pm (Building Occupations, Housing Occupations, Squatting)

Turritopsis Nutricula is still inside the unfinished duplex at 23rd and Alder

Mainstream media report from Central District News:

Police kicked out five people squatting in a boarded-up house near 12th and Jefferson December 14. The people squatting in the house identified themselves as part of Occupy Seattle until their camp at Seattle Central Community College was closed this week.

The occupants left the house voluntarily, police said.

Here’s SPD’s take on the eviction:

“On December 14th at approximately 1:00 p.m. a property owner observed at least one subject entering a vacant and boarded up house in the 1200 block of East Jefferson Street. The witness knew that the residence was unoccupied and no one should be inside. He subsequently called 911.

“Upon arrival officers noted that the rear door handle of the house was unlocked and easily turned. While waiting for additional units to arrive officers discovered that the rear door had been locked. An officer relocated to the front of the house just as the occupants began to exit. Five subjects (three males and two females) voluntarily exited the house with their hands raised.

“The lead subject was holding a shiny brass key in his right hand and kept repeating, “we have the key”. All five subjects immediately identified themselves with the “Occupy Seattle” movement.

“Inside the house an officer located a brand new (still in the box) door lock/deadbolt assembly, which was submitted to evidence. When the officer I exited the house, one of the male subjects said, “Oh, hey, you found our lock set”. The subjects admitted to officers that they were intending to change the locks at this residence.

“Because officers were unable to establish contact with the legal property owner, SFD responded and secured the premise.

“Officers identified and released all five subjects with a request for charges by the city attorney’s office for trespassing.”

Meanwhile, the group at Turritopsis Nutricula are still living in the unfinished duplex at 23rd and Alder, nearly one month after taking the space over. While police and the Department of Planning and Development have signaled their intent to evict the occupiers there, Publicola reports that the property owner (Denmark West) has some concerns about liability should there be a police raid.

Other vacant houses could see groups of squatters moving in. An article in anarchist newspaper Tides of Flame (posted on the Puget Sound Anarchists website) has some helpful tips for those looking to occupy a vacant home.

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Olympia: Rachael Corrie Community Center Now Open

December 17, 2011 at 9:28 pm (Building Occupations, Squatting) (, )

Facing a 12 midnight eviction threat tonight, Occupy Olympia held a party with a few hundred supporters to defend the camp in Heritage Park. Live local hip hop artists played music and people spoke over the sound system.

Soon the idea of occupying one of the many vacant buildings in the area spread and people marched down 5th Ave towards an unoccupied building. The one at the base of the 4th Ave bridge with the boarded up windows and until yesterday had a bunch of street art on it. People gathered in the parking lot and Mic checked about the bold new step they were taking. Then with no theatrics of a broken window or nothing someone opened the door that was already unlocked. Many people hesitated about crossing the line of the door at first. Once it was deemed safe most people took a look inside. Food, water and first aid supplies were quickly organized. People amassed a pallet and dumpster barricade out front. It was later announced that the building was now the Rachael Corrie Community Center, named after slain Olympia peace activist Rachael Corrie.

More photos here.

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Anticapitalist activists convert empty bank and vacant lot into community spaces; police threaten reprisal

December 16, 2011 at 12:37 am (Building Occupations, Land Occupations, Squatting) (, )

Santa Cruz activists convert a vacant lot into a community garden. Credit: Creative Commons/Margaret Killjoy

By leila peachtree, The Precarious

SANTA CRUZ, CA- Santa Cruz raised the bar of what it means to “Occupy Everything” in two separate actions last week. Community members organized to convert two unused spaces into gathering places.

“I think it is important to directly reinsert ourselves as communities who need space to connect and share, to connect with one another outside of commercial space and monetary exchange,” said one protester, who like all who attended this action chose not to their names due to legal concerns.

Santa Cruz maintains strict laws: It is illegal to sit within 14 feet of any building, public bench, public telephone, public trash can, drinking fountain, bus stop, open air dining area, street or intersection or piece of public artwork; to sit on benches for longer than an hour; to blow bubbles; to hacky-sack.

Rejecting these laws and the broader capitalist system, hundreds occupied a vacant bank and turned an empty lot into a community garden.

Nearly 75 hours at 75 River Street

Covering the city, posters called for a Nov. 30 march that would lead to an empty property. “While many people are denied basic needs like shelter and social space, capitalism forces numerous spaces to remain empty and unused,” the poster read.

Around 2 p.m., Nov. 30, people assembled near the Occupy Santa Cruz encampment. Less than an hour later, approximately 75 people marched to the sounds of Lady Gaga and Dead Prez.

At a nearby Chase bank, protestors held a brief picket line before moving toward an empty bank at 75 River Street.

“I think some people thought we were going to picket Wells Fargo, but then we went to this one. A smaller crowd took to the building with a lot of excitement but a lot of them seemed hesitant. Within the hour a lot more people took it seriously,” said one protester.

As soon as the crowd moved into the bank, protestors unfurled two banners from the roof: “Occupy Everything” and “Reclaim Space, Reclaim Our Lives.”

Everyone was “running around like chickens with their heads cut off,” commented one protester, as they painted signs, erected barricades, claimed rooms and passed out candy that still stocked the vending machine.

By the time dozens of police arrived in full riot gear, the crowd had swelled to around 200. As the police tried unsuccessfully to enter the barricades, about 150 people linked arms to block the officers. After 20 minutes the police left with no arrests.

“Once we did that, we felt like we had it. It was this tiny victory that felt enormous,” said one occupant.

Over the next days, occupiers strategized with what to do next. Many wanted to turn the empty bank into a community space, but others found that action incompatible with the way the building was designed.

Dec. 3 occupiers decided to vacate the building. “It was this labyrinth, a cavernous space that wasn’t conducive to creating a community space,” said one participant.

The official reason for leaving was because it appeared that police were targeting individuals not involved in the occupation.

In a press release, Santa Cruz Police Chief Kevin Vogel stated that the actions were, “senseless and childish and diverted our limited resources.” He also stated that the department intends to work with members of the District Attorney’s Office to identify those responsible for the trespass.

Despite the threat of police reprisal, the occupants of 75 River Street left inspired.

“I think that collective confrontation is a liberating thing, the sense of community that comes from reclaiming space is different from anything else,” said one participant.

The former Coast Commercial Bank was purchased three years ago by Wells Fargo and since has been left empty.

A Garden is Built

The same day the bank at 75 River Street was vacated, a new space was being created on an abandoned lot on Pacific Street in downtown.

Gardeners wearing orange vests and carrying sledgehammers arrived Saturday morning to find an empty lot full of cigarette butts, broken glass and concrete slabs.

Others decked in Santa hats and dressed as candy canes gathered on the same corner for the Annual Downtown Santa Cruz Holiday Parade. They asked the gardeners what they were doing. The reply: working on a city beautification project. Passerby vocalized support and even stopped to dig and break apart concrete.

Before the gardeners arrived, “it was horribly ugly looking. It was shocking how ugly it was; they put in a lot of effort and made it really beautiful really quickly. It really speaks to the vibe of Santa Cruz,” said one observer.

Supporters dropped off mulch and horse manure. The growing, evolving crowd cleaned up trash and broke the cement slabs into smaller pieces from which they built raised garden beds and benches.

By the end of Saturday, they had transformed the lot into a community garden replete with four raised beds planted with apricot tree seedlings, succulents and other drought tolerant plants.

“It helped to make that part of town nicer, which is what we need. It was a place for someone to stop in and read a book and relax,” said Arden, who owns a jewelry and art store across the street.

The space was only half finished. Sunday plans to create four more beds were put aside until everyone had a chance to recover.

“There wasn’t really the energy to finish it on Sunday,” one gardener said, “We were exhausted by the past few days. Some people were hanging out but nothing else was done.”

At 2 p.m. Monday, Datum Construction based out of Boise, Idaho, was scheduled to demolish the garden. Word spread and by 1 p.m. nearly 60 people had gathered to protect their new community center.

Protestors’ presence stalled the bulldozers for the day. Early the next morning, fences and police surrounded the garden.

“They planted a garden on private property and we took it out because that property is under construction to be improved anyway,” said Jason Reisinger, the construction manager with Datum Construction. He would not comment on what the planned improvement was.

Santa Cruz has a long history of radical actions. The most recent was a series of student occupations at University of California, Santa Cruz in 2009 to protest tuition hikes.

At that time in 2009 the words “Occupy Everything” were far from the public consciousness. Since the start of the Occupy Wall Street Movement Sept. 17 the words have gained widespread recognition.

“These continuous actions have sparked a certain use of language that began as kind of illegible by the broader population, but now they are part of the common discussion. It shows a movement building upon itself,” said one gardener. “I think that actions like this will serve as a form of experimentation, in terms of continuing to take spaces and hold them for longer, and we can learn to create something more cohesive and long lasting, here and everywhere.”

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Occupy Our Homes: Take Back the Land Has Lessons For Home ‘Liberators’

December 14, 2011 at 1:20 am (Building Occupations, Housing Occupations, Land Occupations, Squatting) (, , , , , , , )

Max Rameau is led away by a City of Miami police officer when he was arrested during a protest against the evictions being carried out at an apartment complex on June 15, 2010 in Miami, Florida. Rameau, who is the cofounder of the activist movement Take Back the Land, tried to prevent the eviction of tenants from the complex but was unsuccessful. According to the activists, the bank, which now owns the apartment complex, is forcing the current residents out and they have no other homes to move to. (Joe Raedle, Getty Images)

By , Huffington Post

MIAMI — Two years ago the Ramos family moved into a small house in the Little Haiti neighborhood here. They did so without a title, a lease, or permission from the property’s owner.

After the father’s construction company shut down, a victim of the housing crash, they couldn’t pay their rent. Their possessions were literally thrown on the street.

“For a time we were basically living in our car or at our friends’ houses — pretty much without a home,” Mr. Ramos said.

Now the Ramos family, naturalized citizens who spoke through an interpreter and asked HuffPost not to use their first names for fear of being kicked out, have succeeded in making the house a home. They cleared out the trash that drug users had piled in mounds. With a leafy lawn and a couple of dogs barking happily, the place looks pretty comfortable.

“For myself as a mother in the United States, this is the place that I’ve been the happiest in,” Mrs. Ramos said. “And in my consciousness this feels right. Instinctively it feels right.”

Many would simply call it squatting. But Take Back the Land, the Miami-based group whose members helped the family move in, calls it a home “liberation.”

According to the Census Bureau, in 2010 there were 1.6 million homes sitting vacant in Florida. A 2010 report estimated that 57,643 people go homeless on any given night. In between that unused capacity and unfilled need stands the law, which protects banks’ and other owners’ property rights.

On Tuesday, Occupy Wall Street will take the group’s unorthodox anti-foreclosure tactics national. Activists will move to “Occupy Our Homes” in a nationwide series of civil disobedience actions, challenging the big banks over the thousands of vacant homes across the country that lie empty even in the midst of a homelessness and foreclosure crisis.

“Here we have a chance to occupy and liberate: it’s a one-two punch and that’s what works,” said Max Rameau, the Haitian-born activist who has braved and sometimes endured arrest while defending families from eviction as part of Take Back the Land, a group that he helped found. The group is now listed on the Occupy Our Homes website as an “ally.”

Rameau’s “liberations” mostly helped people of color. “The Occupy side,” Rameau said, “has mainly happened with young whites.”

Now he hopes that with the help of the Occupy movement, community groups like his can mainstream their fight against the banks. But as Occupiers move into neighborhoods hit hard by the foreclosure crisis, they will be greeted by a confounding knot of problems that Take Back the Land has been wrestling with for years: race, responsibility and property.

Take Back the Land’s struggles in Miami started in a vacant lot in Liberty City. Fed up with gentrification, the group moved on October 2006 to set up a makeshift village of shanties made from shipping pallets and cardboard. They quickly rebranded the plot Umoja Village; the first word is Swahili for “unity.”

They were responding to the human impact of the housing bubble, what Rameau calls a mentality of “gentrification: buy low, fix up, sell high.”

In April 2007 the village burnt to the ground in a furiously quick fire. No one was seriously harmed. Just as it was forced out of its Liberty City lot, however, Take Back the Land was expanding its scope. The group’s playing field had become the whole state of Florida, hit hard by the foreclosure crisis.

In February 2007, even as foreclosure filings dropped nationally over the previous month by 4 percent, Florida’s shot up by 63.5 percent, according to RealtyTrac. It was a harbinger of things to come.

After Mary Trody’s mother stopped making payments on the family’s house northwest of Miami, her family was evicted in February 2009 — but Take Back the Land and another local group that Trody is a member of, the Miami Workers Center, very publicly moved them back in, with TV stations, a crew sent by filmmaker Michael Moore, and the Miami Herald looking on.

The eviction was halted.

“If it’s worth fighting for, yes, I would say the same thing: take arrests,” Trody said. “That’s the only thing that’s going to make a difference. If we organize. If we stand together and try to show the world.”

The struggles Take Back the Land has encountered since late 2007 in legalizing their “liberations” may serve as lessons for the people taking part in Occupy Our Homes. Trody’s family house, for example, has seen a parade of four owners since the eviction defense, none of whom have been willing to settle on terms to let them stay.

Today, Take Back the Land has stopped moving in families to newly “liberated” properties. Rameau and other core members have left or are leaving Miami for other opportunities.

“We haven’t won homes. We haven’t changed people’s lives,” Rameau said. Without more public pressure on banks, he said, Take Back the Land’s successes could only be incremental.

“We were only doing defense,” Rameau said.

On Tuesday, with the help of Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Our Homes will begin. Activists in dozens of cities — some members of the Take Back the Land affiliates that have sprouted in Atlanta, Chicago, New York, Portland, Washington, DC, and more — will be following the group’s example. They hope to shame banks into cutting mortgage payments or creating a “right to rent” foreclosed properties.

As actions begin, however, Take Back the Land members say the Occupiers should know what they’re getting into.

“Leak in the roof, water, electricity’s out, whatever minor issue — I think it’s something we did not necessarily foresee as becoming our responsibility, in terms of providing social services, which is what it ended up being in addition to it being a political organization. And that’s very stressful,” said Mamyrah Prosper, another activist with Take Back the Land.

The toll on families who move into “liberated” houses, too, can sometimes be taxing. Since Trody’s family defended their house, they have been living in it without any sort of agreement from its owners, under constant threat of eviction or arrest. The Ramoses have had their house broken into twice.

If occupiers are white, meanwhile, they may also end up moving into the black or Latino communities that have been hit hardest by the foreclosure crisis.

Rebecca Wood, a white, 30-year-old self-described anarchist who is a supporter of Take Back the Land, said the group “was very intentionally black-led and focused on working within black communities and working towards self-determination for those communities.”

“I think that that’s a pretty different goal than continuing the occupation through the winter,” she said.

Rameau drew a contrast between the mostly white “occupiers” and the more diverse “liberators.” The occupiers, he thinks, should take actions like sitting down in banks in “direct confrontation with core parts of the system.”

“How does that manifest itself for the liberate side?” he asked. “That manifests itself in home liberations.”

If and when the Occupiers move families into houses that they have not previously inhabited, they will be running up against some very strongly held beliefs about ownership.

The goal of Take Back the Land, Prosper said, was to change the framework: to make people think about “moving away from what’s legal versus illegal into just versus unjust.”

“Some of us just challenged the whole notion of private property, period,” said Prosper. “If you go that route so radically, you’re going to ostracize yourself.”

Still, there is precedent in the United States for squatters taking possession of homes. On New York’s Lower East side, residents were able to eventually gain control of buildings on East Seventh Street.

The Ramos family would welcome any help it can get. At the mention of the Occupy movement, Mrs. Ramos beams. She doesn’t ever want to leave her house, she said, “because as human beings we have the right to live dignified in a home.”

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75 Hours in #75River

December 11, 2011 at 2:16 am (Building Occupations, Squatting) ()

From Surf City Revolt:

“Hopefully this group isn’t representative of a new aggressive movement.” —Zach Friend, SCPD Spokesman

The march was called only a few days before, billed on fliers as a march to picket banks and then to occupy a building (in some places it was a “foreclosed home”, in other it was merely a “vacant property’). The day of the march, November 30th, people began gathering at 2pm near the Occupy Santa Cruz camp. By 2:45, when the march left, about 75 people had assembled. A mobile sound system arrived, playing among other things, a lot of Lady Gaga. The march left towards Chase bank on Water and Ocean for a brief picket and speeches. The picket felt a bit tense, with a strong sense of anticipation for the announced occupation.

After the picket, the group moved back down Water, past the Occupy camp, and over the Water Street bridge. In the intersection of Water and River, the group paused. Then, instead of continuing down Water along the announced route, the group turned left on River. All of the sudden the doors of 75 River were open; people began elatedly yelling “We’re in!” and a flier was distributed within the group to announce the new occupation.

“I don’t think it’s that we have the right to (take over property,) it’s that we have the ability to do it.”

Immediately, office furniture was re-purposed into barricades. A group of individuals had gained roof access from the outside and began hanging banners. One read: ” Reclaim space. Reclaim Our Lives.” The other: “Oocupy Everything” (sic and siiiick). Soon, roof access was gained from the inside out to let these people down into the building. The building itself is fairly labyrinthine and people immediately began exploring. A group of people took over the vault to smoke a celebratory blunt while others opened up a candy machine, netting about 50 dollars in quarters. The majority of the group began organizing the space, putting up signs and moving in furniture.

One person was arrested for allegedly moving a traffic cone.

Hours later, at about 6:30, the police showed up in force. They immediately attempted to gain entry to the building, but were repelled at the barricades. 20 or so people were inside with about 150 on the outside. The sound system from the march was still present, providing the soundtrack for the confrontation. People linked arms against the police, three or so lines deep. The cops fiddled with the barricade, trying to gain entry. They were unsuccessful. After much verbal harassment on the part of the protestors, the police left–nominally to protect against human harm. After this, the occupation took the form it would take every night for the next three nights: one part organizing, one part festival, and constant anxiety regarding a police attack. Shifts were organized to patrol the area for police, some making forays to areas that the police might be staging in. Organization and destruction of the space happened simultaneously, racing at about a dead heat.

The sound of traffic starting up again Thursday morning was the first sign that the occupation might have survived the night.

Thursday

The next day, which wasn’t really demarcated from the previous day, started (continued?) with a clean up from the night before. Plans were made mid-day for a social gathering that evening. The idea was to have a potluck with small group discussions, followed by dancing. What actually happened that night was a bit different. DJs started spinning at around ten with the dubstep scene out in full force. More blunts in the vault, more moderately destructive exploration of the space. A community atmosphere prevailed, if only in a vague sense. A repeat sexual assaulter was ejected from the space. A favorite new activity was discovered: pretending to rob the bank. Groups of sometimes up to twenty people would play through different scenarios. Other individuals practicing jumping over the teller counters.

Late in the night, between two and five a.m., the windows along River Street were barricaded with sheets of plywood nailed to each other, backed with pallets and filing cabinets. After the first altercation at the barricades, people were fairly confident that they could hold the barricades at the doors. So the emphasis shifted to the bottom floor windows and a contingency plan for an attack from the roof. Barring extreme measures by the police, occupiers felt confident they could hold the space. Those who didn’t sleep at the space trickled out at around 5am, sure the space had survived another night. At least  one occupier had work as soon as 8am.

Friday

Meetings were organized to clean the space (“keeping the space clean felt like carrying water with a sieve” one occupier offered). The entire space was re-organized. Shifts were drawn up for scouting and copwatch. Mid-evening, the property owner shut off power, plumbing, and gas to the building. A call-out for flashlights went out over twitter. Later that night, a scare happened when cherry-pickers were seen assembled on Ocean Street, but it was later determined that they were there to repair power poles from the last fews days of heavy wind. Occupiers slept soundly–the occupied bank had a feeling of home and, counter-intuitively, safety.

Saturday

At the mid-day meeting people decided, less than unanimously, that it was time to leave the bank. The decision was multi-faceted and a bit controversial. A fear that a small group of peripheral (or just plain not-involved) individuals were going to be blamed for the whole of the occupation was central to the discussion. The incompatibility of the space with people’s desires for the space seemed to underpin much of the dissonance in the discussion.

Mid-evening, one last blunt was passed in the vault. A circle of twenty or so people who hadn’t already left sat in a circle and shared their feelings about the end of the space. A Plains Indian who was present sung a song and shared a prayer. Then, little by little, folks trickled out. Leaving wasn’t at all climactic. Some people, upon leaving, would see others still within the building and go back in. By nine or so, everyone was out.

Uncontrollability

The old Coast Commercial bank at 75 River is a fucking beast. The vision of an orderly community center  was completely at odds with the unmanageably large space. The same unmanageability was also one of the most beautiful attributes of the space. Almost immediately, every person in the space felt an ownership of the occupation. Every day, one could hear others calling their friends and referring to “our occupation” or “the bank that we took over.” The sense of ownership over the space was contagious and took many forms, many of which were directly contradictory. Some felt the best thing to do was to hold meetings, some wanted to party, or to expropriate, or to vandalize. The root of many of the conflicts within the space was that everyone felt like the space was theirs to use as they wanted. Some people flipped out when others asked them not to smoke (cigarettes) in the main space, some flipped out when people didn’t come to their meetings. An occasional individual showed amazing sangfroid amidst these conflicts.

Self-Management

An occupier activity that was fairly unpopular but overly vocal was the management of other occupier’s activities. Obviously, it would be sophomoric to call every conversation about the boundaries or shape of the space “management.” Moreso, it was the tendency of some occupiers to loudly judge the activity of others in some vague moral terms of “rightness”, “wrongness”, or, worst of all, “down-ness.” This sort of behavior peaked early and had disappeared almost entirely by Friday.

Vandalism

One occupier activity that was widely popular and loudly condemned was vandalizing the space. Many people didn’t want their future community center vandalized. Other people had a quite natural reaction to a bank (the most common interface with the violence of capitalism)–the urge to fucking destroy it. If people ever chose to occupy a vacant prison, it would be a travesty if people didn’t rip out all the bars and write slogans on the walls. Of course, in a nonviolent political sense, vandalism might be bad strategy. In a human sense, it is one of many beautiful reactions to the misery of the world. Also, it’s fun.

Forward!

The significance of the occupation is mostly unclear and individual analyses are widely divergent. Everyone, though, wanted 75River to inspire occupations in other locations. Some participants never wanted to set foot inside an occupied space again, many wanted to re-occupy immediately. Differences like this shouldn’t be seen as frustrating future occupations. Future occupations, here and elsewhere, will depend on the autonomous actions of committed individuals.

Find a space. Find your friends. Do the damn thing.

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