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’.
From SC Indybay:
Santa Cruz, CA, U.S.A.- November 30, 2011.
The formerly vacant building at 75 River St. is being repurposed by an autonomous group, in solidarity with Occupy Santa Cruz. Formerly a big bank, it was bought out by Wells Fargo. Subsequently, the building closed, and has remained vacant for nearly three years. Today this group has, without breaking & entering, taken the building with intentions of using the space in a productive way that benefits the community of Santa Cruz . The property will no longer be left open by big development companies as a sign of the economic despair in this county, but will rather be used to enrich and teach the local community.
While the middle class quickly falls toward the poverty line, the big banks and the extremely wealthy continue to get rich at the expense of all. Across the United States 1.05 million properties were seized by banks in the year 2010. In Santa Cruz County alone 1,594 homes were auctioned off between November 2010 and October 2011. The foreclosed and vacant buildings in this country serve as a reminder of the ever-growing gap between the ‘rich’ and the ‘poor’. As people are left without shelter and social space due to foreclosures and a declining economy; big banks and developing companies buy out space to simply leave empty.
An existing time-honored U.S. and California law allows for the transfer of a property title when a property is occupied and taken care of by an alternative party for an extended period of time. This law is called adverse possession. The law was born out of the belief that society’s best interests are met when land and property are utilized productively rather than sitting vacant. Today, the building at 75 River St. has been adversely possessed. No longer will the property exist only as an empty parking lot and a vacant building with a sign re-directing people to Wells Fargo across the street. It will be repurposed and used to benefit the community instead of Cassidy Turley, the large-scale commercial real estate company currently leasing the building, and Wells Fargo bank.
Instead of an empty space, there will be a space for community teach-ins, an open library, and discussion forums. The space will be offered to Occupy Santa Cruz as an opportunity to have a roof over its head and allow for more organization to take place. The space will be safe, non-violent, non-destructive and welcoming. The building will be a forum for individuals in the community to learn from one another, and help the Occupy movement grow.
There is a hope to see community support for the reclamation of property and space from the very wealthy, the 1%, back into the hands and benefit of the community.
This action was not decided on by the General Assembly of Occupy Santa Cruz. This press release is not from the Occupy Santa Cruz media team.
A campaign to defend families from evictions and protest foreclosure fraud launches next week
Occupy Wall Street is promising a “big day of action” Dec. 6 that will focus on the foreclosure crisis and protest “fraudulent lending practices,” “corrupt securitization,” and illegal evictions by banks.
The day will mark the beginning of an Occupy Our Homes campaign that organizers hope will energize the movement as it moves indoors as well as bring the injustices of the economic crisis into sharp relief.
Many of the details aren’t yet public, but protesters in 20 cities are expected to take part in the day of action next Tuesday. We’ve already seen eviction defenses at foreclosed properties around the country as well as takeovers of vacant properties for homeless families. Occupy Our Homes organizer Abby Clark tells me protesters are planning to “mic-check” (i.e., disrupt) foreclosure auctions as well as launch some new home occupations.
“This is a shift from protesting Wall Street fraud to taking action on behalf of people who were harmed by it. It brings the movement into the neighborhoods and gives people a sense of what’s really at stake,” said Max Berger, one of the Occupy Our Homes organizers and a member of Occupy Wall Street’s movement-building working group.
The backdrop for all this is a new study suggesting the foreclosure crisis is only half over, with 4 million homes in some stage of foreclosure. Meanwhile, reports of illegal or questionable behavior by banks and mortgage lenders continue to stream in.
Like many of the Occupy actions that have focused on specific policy questions, this one is being organized by established progressive and labor-affiliated groups along with their allies in the movement. Among the allied groups listed on Occupy Our Homes’ website, for example, are the New Bottom Line and New York Communities for Change. On the Occupy Wall Street side of things, members of the direct action working group and the movement-building group in New York have been involved in the project.
Occupy Our Homes’ website (which was registered by a former SEIU official) has the trappings of a slick professional campaign, with videos featuring the stories of families facing foreclosures and a pledge visitors are encouraged to sign stating:
… that until the banks do their part to help homeowners and to fix the economy, by writing down mortgage principal to current home values, I will:
- I will support homeowners resisting wrongful foreclosure evictions.
- I will resist any attempt by the bank to take my home.
- If they come to foreclose, I will not go.
“Now with this Occupy movement ramping up, I think we have a significant chance to keep large numbers of people in their home,” Rameau told Democracy Now earlier this month. “[The goal is to] not only force the banks to allow the family to stay in the home. But also then force policy changes that would help thousands of other people for whom we’re not doing eviction defenses.”
We saw a similar dynamic in the preexisting campaign to extend the millionaire’s tax in New York, which has benefited from new energy and a new banner offered by the Occupy movement.
Will the new Occupy push on foreclosures pick up any steam? I’ll be covering whatever happens on Dec. 6, so stay tuned to find out.
By Manuel Valdes, Associated Press
From The Seattle Times:
Occupy Wall Street demonstrators in Seattle, Portland and Oakland have taken up a new tactic in their protests against wealth inequality: Squatting in vacant properties.
In Seattle, protesters have taken over a formerly boarded up duplex across the street from Garfield High School. They have painted the bare wood sidings with green, black and red paint, and they have strung up a banner that says “Occupy Everything – No Banks No Landlords.”
The red and black anarchist flag also decorates the front.
“Too many homeless. Too many unoccupied buildings. That doesn’t make sense,” is the official stance of the duplex occupiers, said Ariel, a demonstrator who declined to give her full name.
Squatting marks a move away from the public demonstrations that have marked protests in cities around the country. The move is an attempt to re-energize the protests in Oakland and Portland – two cities that have seen violent clashes with police.
“Who knows, maybe squatting will be the next pressure point,” said 42-year-old Arlo Stone, who has squatted in Portland and Seattle.
After its eviction, the Occupy Portland encampment scattered. Organizers have called for members of the movement to occupy foreclosed properties on behalf of the former owners who lost the houses.
Occupy Portland organizer Andrea Townsend, 28, said providing a safe, warm place for former members of the Occupy Portland movement should be a focus for the city, and said squatting is a way to keep attention on the issue of homelessness.
“You’re building a self-sustaining community that’s toward what this movement’s about,” said Townsend, a self-described anarchist.
Occupiers in Oakland have also taken over at least one property and are showing other members how to do more squatting. From “Intro to Squatting” to “Property Law and Squatters’ Rights,” a recent “teach-in” in Oakland featured six hours of lessons for squatters. The lessons were given by the San Francisco homeless advocacy group called Homes, Not Jails.
In Seattle, the duplex occupants declined to allow The Associated Press inside, saying they want to remain “under the radar” – even after the official Occupy Seattle website posted about their actions.
There are between eight and 15 people staying at the house on any given day, Ariel said. She said volunteers are fixing electric wiring and installing insulation among other work.
Volunteers could be seen taking trash to a truck on a recent afternoon. A rainwater retainer sits in front of the duplex. The group took over the building more than 10 days ago.
The duplex these Occupy Seattle protesters have taken over was owned by a couple who held several properties in the region, including a multimillion waterfront home on Mercer Island that has also been foreclosed. One of them died in 2009. It wasn’t immediately clear if the owner had a listed phone number.
The building is located in Seattle’s Central District, a historically African-American and working class neighborhood that has seen gentrification over the years.
Still, Ariel said the main reason they chose this house was because it was vacant for several years.
Garfield High School’s principal hasn’t fielded any complaints about the Occupy house, Seattle Schools spokeswoman Teresa Wippel said.
“He said he has not observed any changes to the school environment as a result of the Occupy Seattle folks being across the street,” she said.
Seattle police are aware of the people squatting, but haven’t received any phone calls about it, spokesman Mark Jamieson said.
Things weren’t as welcoming in Portland.
Police moved in and evicted more than a dozen occupiers in a foreclosed home in northeast Portland more than 10 days ago. Two people were arrested, while the rest left without incident, according to police.
Another three people were evicted from houses on Monday, but Sgt. Pete Simpson said it’s unknown whether the squatters were members of the Occupy Portland encampment that was evicted on Nov. 13.
Simpson said he’s aware that the movement called for people to occupy foreclosed homes, but said it’s difficult to distinguish between the people who would squat in homes as a political statement and those that do it for shelter.
“The vacant property issue is of concern in cities nationwide,” Simpson said. “We’ll treat them all as trespassers.”
Associated Press writer Nigel Duara in Portland, Ore., contributed to this report.
Valdes can be reached at twitter.com/ByManuelValdes
Some worry that camping on private property may invite more extreme police attacks.
A couple of days after the Occupy Portland encampment was busted up by police, 15 occupiers took over a vacant, foreclosed home owned by Bank of America. “We have occupied a bank-owned house in the northeast suitable to house 30 to 40 people (and encourage others to do the same)” they wrote on a flyer left at the house.
Bank of America, the Portland police department and the homeowners of nearby condos were not pleased by the occupiers’ experiment in egalitarian living and on Friday, police battered down the door, kicking the occupiers out and throwing two in jail, the Oregonian reported.
Other cities also haven’t taken it well when occupiers set up camp on private property. Two weeks ago, police armed with assault rifles stormed into an abandoned car dealership in Chapel Hill, North Carolina to arrest protesters who’d taken over the vacant property. “We had breaking and entering of private property downtown. The government has to respond, ” the mayor said in a press conference the next day, unapologetic about the use of military firearms to subdue a handful of unarmed protestors.
After a coordinated national crackdown that dispersed occupations from the public parks and plazas of Portland, Denver, Oakland and New York, occupiers have floated the idea to camp on private space, confronting banks and mortgage servicers at ground zero of their disastrous policies: the foreclosed home.
One tactic is to occupy the home of a family facing eviction, in the hopes that media attention will encourage the bank to rethink whether the homeowners have exhausted their options after all. Another, more radical action is to take over a vacant property, co-opting it for use by a family that’s already homeless (or by occupiers).
There’s a clear difference between the two tactics, but both confront big banks and mortgage servicers’ virtually unchecked exploitation of struggling homeowners, through such shady, or outright illegal practices as pushing foreclosures based on shoddy or falsified paperwork; robosigning; kicking people out of their homes when they are eligible to refinance; starting foreclosure proceedings after just one late payment; and capping it all off by letting foreclosed homes sit vacant and fall apart.
Occupations around the country are already holding actions to aid homeowners threatened with foreclosure, using their bodies — and the TV news vans Occupy actions attract — to pressure banks into negotiations.
Rose Guidel fell just two weeks behind on her payments after a family member who was helping out financially was shot and killed. Despite being served with an eviction notice in September, she’s still in her home, thanks in part to a series of protests that grew larger as members of Occupy LA joined in.
After getting kicked out of Woodruff Park, Occupy Atlanta relocated to the lawn of a police officer who thought his family would be evicted within days. The family ended up leaving the house following threats by the local sheriff that they could be arrested for being accessories to trespassing, the occupiers claimed.
In Ohio, a single mother expecting eviction papers contacted Occupy Cleveland through Twitter, prompting the group to set up tents and stage a sit-in at her house. The action earned her a 30-day extension, which she tells the Cleveland Plain Dealer helped her secure a rental for herself and her two kids.
Right now, members of Occupy Minneapolis live on the lawn and in the home of Monique White, a mother of two who lost her job when her nonprofit employer was hit with budget cuts. When her part-time job at a liquor store couldn’t cover her payments, US Bank moved to foreclose, even though White says she was eligible for a program helping laid-off homeowners stave off foreclosure.
These narratives accompany Breaking and Entering a New World, the story of the occupation of a derelict building in Chapel Hill, North Carolina on November 12-13, 2011.
You’ve been passing the empty warehouse almost daily over the nine years you’ve lived in this town. Giant windows comprise the whole front façade of the building, displaying the dusty remains of some long-abandoned showroom, and to the right a short driveway buts into a flaking silver garage door. You’ve peered in those grimy windows, squinting to see what lies through the empty doorway in the wall of the front room visible to passersby like yourself. Biking home on warm summer nights you’ve wondered how a prominent spot on the main street in town could sit abandoned and rotting for over a decade. You’ve heard grumbles about the wealthy absentee landlord who sits on it from half a state a way, content to let it rot. You’ve mused in fleeting moments on the crazy things that could be possible in such an enormous space. You’ve noticed the snowballing amount of graffiti inside, lighting up the walls of that front room and—you can only imagine—the uncharted expanse that must lie beyond it. And as your bike rolls past it to work in the mornings, and then again on the way home, day after day, your curiosity ossifies into just another dull throb at the irrationality and injustice of life in this town. After all, what could you do?
Then all of a sudden, something has changed. Just a little way up the street, folks have been occupying the plaza in front of the post office with tents and tables and banners, just as people around the world have been occupying spaces in their cities. A rumbling current of outrage against the wealthy who exploit us with impunity has begun to reverberate, even in this recession-proof affluent college town. In blog posts and whispers, we hear of creative actions, conflicts with the police, illicit dreams. Something is changing—could it be our sense of what’s possible?
And then, an evening at first like any other: biking up Franklin Street after a day spent partly at work, partly perusing the anarchist book fair where folks swap books, ‘zines, strategies, and stories about the kinds of resistance they’ve seen or can imagine. Instead of heading home, you pull your bike over on a brick walkway, and there you see a surge of people, banners, a few drums, flowing out along the sidewalk then spilling across the street. There’s a tight sense of anticipation, something crackling through the rowdy crowd, and you’re drawn into it. You scan the street—where are the police?—and then you notice something you’ve never seen before; that same empty warehouse, but this time, with elegant banners spanning those grimy windows.
But wait—those banners are inside the building! And then you see the crowd of which you’re now a part swelling on the sidewalk in front, and streams of people heading through a now-open silver garage door, and a dim golden glow emanating from the long-empty space. As you step onto the sidewalk and then the short driveway, you see shapes of people, friends and strangers, milling about beyond the banners in the front room. Someone to your right hands you a pamphlet, while on your left a bullhorn crackles to life. Across the street Friday night pedestrians are stopping to chat with the red-shirted valet parking attendants, who shrug their shoulders and fold their arms with intrigued smiles. You turn back around to the open door, just a few steps ahead. Through the gloom you can see shapes, outlines of a vast expanse, a canvas of possibility. Do you dare? You approach the doorway, your breath caught in your chest. And then, heart pounding, you step inside.
Vastness. Pure vastness. How can a building be so enormous? A single orange extension cord snakes across a vast concrete floor to a gerry-rigged contraption of silver flood lamps. The warm grey yellow light floods up and outwards to a massive ceiling of latticed wooden beams, casting criss-crossed shadows to the eaves of the roof beyond. The cinder block walls seem to extend out endlessly, an impossible distance, to a back door that must be a football field away. A few graffiti pieces dot the walls, but are swallowed up by the boundless expanse of gray walls and peeling dull green paint. A massive flaking metal marquee sign, splayed across the floor along a side wall, reads “Carolina” in an elegant cursive. Two revelers exchange gleeful shouts, then hoist the twelve-foot long rusty word up and shuffle past you to haul it out front, where a swelling crowd listens to a clean-cut speaker describing various possible futures for a building like this. But this isn’t just a building anymore. This is an experiment. This is an adventure. This is a challenge.
Around you, people wander, suffused with wonder, pointing and exclaiming. Behind you in the front showroom music reverberates and the flicker of a projector has begun to dance across the walls. As you tentatively step forward, you recognize some people from the book fair earlier or from the occupation up the street, but also random folks walking by, hipsters you’ve seen a parties here and there, and others you don’t recognize at all. Some stride out into the massive open space, gesturing animatedly, while others haul speakers into the front room or wooden pallets against the wall.
A decade’s dust coats the floor, and you stifle a cough. But already a cluster of people to your right are chatting about who’s headed out to get a push broom, where they can find a mop, who’s got a can to line with the trash bags someone just dropped off.
Back across to your left in the front room, dozens of people are settling into a semicircle around a performer, whose enchanting voice begins to echo through the rafters, bringing goose bumps to your arms. And in front of you, some fifty yards off into the opposite corner of this massive space, you see a woman whose name you can’t recall, though you know you’ve seen her on the bus before. She is alone, dressed in a burgundy sweater over blue jeans with a billowy white scarf, and she is whirling, dervish-like, to her own rhythm. As you stand watching, bewildered but with growing joy and awe, she twirls and spins, ducking and flowing with liquid grace, while the golden flood lamp light crosses the flickering of the projector against her elegantly moving silhouette to cast dazzling shadows across the empty wall. The voice from the front room rises, electrifyingly powerful, to a hair-raising crescendo, and still the white-scarfed woman crouches and whirls, her back to you, facing her reflection on the dirty gray wall, playing with the delicate motions of her shadow amidst the crisscrossing light.
Your head stretches back and you look up to the dark brown lattice of wooden beams along the massive ceiling, and as whistles and enthusiastic applause waft through the vastness, you feel a sense of vastness inside yourself, an expanding oceanic awe and excitement—a sense of possibility.
And then you realize that the question you resignedly asked yourself biking by this warehouse each day has irrevocably changed. Now you wonder: what could we do? And the possible answers seem to stretch out limitless before you, like dancing shadows dappling the cinder block walls.
This is the story of the occupation of a derelict building in Chapel Hill, North Carolina on November 12-13, 2011, told in the voices of a wide range of participants. While anarchists and corporate media have circulated news of this action far and wide, the experiences shared inside the building have remained a sort of black box. This report opens up that box, just as the occupiers opened up the building, to reveal a world of possibility.
Some of the narratives below are excerpted from longer accounts, which can be read in their entirety here.
Slideshow courtesy of Underground Reverie
In contrast to the occupation movement in some parts of the US, anarchists were involved in Occupy Chapel Hill from the very beginning, sending out the initial call and facilitating the first meetings. The points of unity consensed upon at the first gathering were based on the Pittsburgh Principles, and the group never adopted a nonviolence agreement.
At the second assembly, we debated whether to set up an encampment. Some argued against it, claiming that the police would evict us and insisting we should apply for a permit first. In nearby Raleigh, occupiers had applied for a permit but were only granted one lasting a few hours; everyone who remained after it expired was arrested. A few of us thought it better to go forward without permission than to embolden the authorities to believe we would comply with whatever was convenient for them.
A different facilitator would have let the debate remain abstract indefinitely, effectively quashing the possibility of an occupation, but ours cut right to the chase: “Raise your hand if you want to camp out here tonight.” A few hands went hesitantly up. “Looks like five… six, seven… OK, let’s split into two groups: those who want to occupy, and everyone else. We’ll reconvene in ten minutes.”
At first there were only a half dozen of us, but once we took that first step, others started drifting over. Ten minutes later there were twenty-four occupiers—more than we believed the local police were prepared to arrest—and that night fully three dozen people camped out in Peace and Justice Plaza. I stayed awake all night waiting for a raid, but it never came. We’d won the first round, expanding the zone of the possible.