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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75River: A Victory for What Will Be

December 5, 2011 at 6:54 pm (Building Occupations, Squatting) (, )

From the autonomous occupiers of the 75River community space:

75River: A Victory for What Will Be

Three days ago, we took a bank. We defended and occupied 75River for over 75 hours. Hearts and minds worldwide were set afire by our reclamation as an inclusive community space of what was otherwise just another squandered vacant landhoarding of the 1% super-rich.

Over the last three days we used this warm and well-equipped building to rejoice in sharing food and resources, to provide shelter and safety for those without, to create inspired art and music, and to organize ourselves through direct democracy. We sparked abundant discussions within and abroad on the problems of private property and wealth inequity, and on modes of community response. Imaginations have soared around how such repurposed infrastructure can benefit grassroots self-organization and serve to meet human needs.

In response to heavy, increasing, and underhanded threats from Santa Cruz city officials and police on our community, we agreed by consensus to withdraw from 75 River Street, and did so earlier this evening. Though our establishment in this physical space was unfortunately brief, our goals were in part successful: to show that through courage, determination, and action, we the disenfranchised can seize our dreams.

The case for community self-empowerment stands stronger than ever. For every occupation repressed, a dozen will rise in its wake.

This is just a beginning.

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We express a heartfelt thanks to those who have, and continue to express their solidarity and support for the occupiers of 75River.

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www: http://75river.tumblr.com twitter: @75river facebook: 75river

Press Release re: End of Occupation

Last night, the occupiers of 75 River Community Center chose to end their occupation. Just after 9pm the building was left vacant, just as it has been since 2008. Before leaving, signs were hung from every office and conference room door with suggestions for a future community center. Servicess such as free childcare, free drug counseling, homeless outreach and senior speed-dating are just a few examples of what could have been available at 75 River, which aspired to become a community center for the residents of Santa Cruz.

This effort was disrupted and distorted by the Santa Cruz Police, the City Council, and Wells Fargo Bank. The occupiers chose to exit the building since it became clear that police were targeting a small group of individuals not directly involved with the occupation. Besides being a further testament to the ineptitude of the Santa Cruz Police Department, this targeting shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the Occupy organizing model. These targeted individuals acted as observers and monitors of the occupation and communicated to police and media, but were in no way central to the occupation. The Occupy movement has neither leaders nor central individuals.

The violence that occurred at 75 River was entirely initiated by the police. At least four individuals were brutalized by police, one of whom was hospitalized due to their injuries. The appropriation of tax funds for intimidation and unprovoked violence was a waste of money that could be used to fund public services, rather than to disrupt individuals autonomously providing those resources.

The police and some media have focused on Wells Fargo as the “victim” in this scenario. This logic is exactly the problem. Wells Fargo has foreclosed countless families out of their homes (not to mention investing in heinous ICE detention centers, engaging in predatory lending, and yielding profits of over $12 Billion last year). The reclamation and re-purposing of a vacant building valued at $3.5 million is an injustice to no person and no institution. The real injustice is people being pillaged out of homes they spent years working legitimately to obtain, by an objectively greedy and inherently predatory legal entity.

Within the occupied space, a sense of togetherness was created that many had never felt elsewhere. Many also found safety within the building. These are not trivial things for people forced into living on the streets, but rather powerful and beautiful experiences that will remain with those who participated in the bank occupation for the rest of their lives.

It was inevitable that an occupation like the River St. one would spring up, as winter approaches and the core members of Occupy, many of whom are homeless, find themselves needing shelter from the elements (not to mention a place to fall asleep without concern that one is committing an illegal act). Future occupations across the country are similarly inevitable. Marginalized members of this society are beginning to discover their power. Beyond their overwhelming numerical superiority, the people have a vision of society that is compelling and profoundly fairer than the current way of things. Every day we struggle together is a day closer to this vision.

We’ll be back.

# # #

Letter to police raiders on behalf of the 99%

Hello SCPD,

This letter is to contest the notion that vacant, unused private property should be ethically or legally seen as the equivalent of an occupied home. The basis for [City Manager] Martin Bernal’s criticism of our efforts to reclaim 75 River Street for the community was that this goes against existing property laws, and that the needs of this community’s poor – notably the homeless – can be met through more traditional methods, such as voting procedures, or by continuing to protest extreme social inequality without breaking the law. This argument suffers from numerous deficiencies, and as it’s been used to justify aggressive behavior towards us it’s worth scrutinizing.

With regard to voting, it should be amply clear from the two major political parties’ decision-making these past three decades that the interests of the masses, the 99%, are not the driving force in political change. Money, corporate interest groups, and international capital have been. As there is currently no political group with poor and homeless peoples’ needs in mind, and the “mainstream” political system is funded to work against these interests, it is entirely understandable that many in our community and others like it are skeptical of voting. This space has been occupied to meet urgent, concrete needs that can’t wait for election time to be met: food, shelter, bathrooms, safety from abuse, and many more.

A related argument that’s been used against us is that positive social change can occur through forms of protest that obey the law. This of course ignores the question: How is it possible to effectively protest our system of laws, while at the same time fully obeying them? Perhaps an answer would be: through mobilizing public opinion. We certainly do believe in ethically mobilizing public opinion, but the issue remains of what to mobilize it for. As stated above, we have no interest in participating in a structurally corrupt voting system dominated by two massively corporate-funded political parties – so a traditional “get out the vote” effort is not the primary goal of what we are doing. We want the public to take direct action and actually join us in solidarity – and if they cannot join us here, to do it by occupying neglected spaces in their own city. As you know, this building occupation has become an object of national, and increasingly international, interest. For people who value human life over private property, it will doubtless serve as an inspiration.

To conclude, we would like to share one very important thought: whether or not this building occupation is shut down, others will spring up. You, the police, have taken a stand against the 99% in the service of an obsolete 1%. In these times of rapid change, it is guaranteed you will lose what support you have by continuing to protect the commodities of the super-elite at the expense of people’s health, well-being, and sense of community. Please begin thinking and acting conscientiously, by joining the 99%!

Sincerely,

The 75 River Street
Community Center

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The founding and defense of the new Santa Cruz social center

December 2, 2011 at 3:01 pm (Building Occupations, Squatting) (, )

By Asad Haider, Viewpoint Mag

There were no broken windows. So that particular liberal defense is off the table. Those who have decided to side with the state instead of this new and radical social movement will find that it is now their illusions that have been shattered.

We had heard murmurings all week about a new autonomous action emerging from the Santa Cruz occupation. The conditions of social life in Santa Cruz involve a visible homeless population, and they have not been absent at Occupy Santa Cruz, which stationed itself outside of the courthouse, right across from the county jail and a bail bondsman. It’s easy for the media to dismiss occupations as a collection of bums, but the truth is that the homeless need a place to sleep; and now, with chilly nights and fierce winds, the activists at the occupation, like the homeless every year, need more than tents.

A general assembly was announced at 2PM at the courthouse. We arrived and were relieved to discover that there would be no GA. Instead, after people gathered, we marched to Chase Bank. A few basic statements about foreclosures, and the hardworking DJ wheeled in the speakers and played the new anthem of Santa Cruz actions.

The march spread to the road, and walked across the bridge. There was no fanfare as the members of the affinity group that organized this action filed quickly into the abandoned Coast Commercial Bank at 75 River Street. The building had been vacant for three years after being being purchased by Wells Fargo.

Immediately the extremely well-organized facilitators of this action coordinated deliveries by vans full of furniture and supplies, which were quickly brought inside the new social center. They issued a statement explaining their project:

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.

Police showed up before long. They may have arrived before getting the call from Wells Fargo, but either way the bank made it clear that they wanted the occupiers out. The police liaison monitored them adeptly, and a banner drop was quickly pulled together. The banner bizarrely read “OOcupy Everything,” which at least had the virtue of entertaining supporters outside. I have since been informed that this was in solidarity with Occupy Oakland, whose hashtag is usually #OO, but perhaps realizing that this was an esoteric reference the banner committee revised the text with a splash of gold paint.

When a small group of five or six officers advanced on the building, occupiers linked arms to defend the entrance, while others waited at the side with cameras ready. The police fell back. They stood watching for quite a while; we spoke with some of them and determined that they were simply confused, with no plan in place for responding to this kind of action.

I went inside to observe the GA taking place. It had already been clearly announced that the space should be respected – there was no vandalism, but the windows had been decorated with informational signs. The GA was discussing the two inevitable questions: first, what should we do when the police make a raid; second, what should we do until then? As the meeting continued, some of us who had been there for several hours left to reproduce our labor-power. I fell asleep. When I woke up this morning the news was incredible.

“I have my own army in the NYPD,” Michael Bloomberg has said, “which is the seventh biggest army in the world.” Fortunately the Santa Cruz Police Department is not so big. Last night, the Occupy movement was bigger. Riot police attempted to take the entrance, but barricades were erected and the police were surrounded. They had to ask for permission to leave. “Hopefully this group isn’t representative of a new aggressive movement,” the spokesman for the SCPD told Mercury News.

Whether their hope is fulfilled is up to us. I walked to the site this morning and found a heavily barricaded building filled with sleeping militants. Two sleeping bags outside the entrance contained people who were prepared to be the first to deal with the repressive state apparatus. A reporter interviewed a calm and collected media liaison.

It’s hard to exaggerate the significance of forcing the police to retreat. Smaller locations often seem cut off from the major actions that take place in New York or Oakland. But these are locations with unique conjunctures and unique possibilities. A wave of occupations in small towns can form a very strong link with big-city port shutdowns.

Even if such occupations are repressed by state violence, this is not a defeat. The occupations movement is cycling geographically. If it leaves one place, it goes everywhere and comes back. Just Monday, November 28, UC-Santa Cruz students carried out an action in solidarity with UC-Davis’s strike against the administration’s practice of police brutality. They formed a picket line outside the Hahn “Student Services” Building – the building containing the offices that facilitate student debt, charge outrageous rents, and discipline students who exercise their right to protest. They had three demands: the immediate resignation of Chancellor Katehi, police off campus, and no fee hikes. This action made it clear that police brutality is not simply a civil liberties issue: it has to be understood as an instrument used by the administration to enforce the exploitation of students and to prevent resistance to this exploitation.

The union representing workers in Hahn determined that its members should not cross the picket line. They were sent home, with pay. As we gathered outside Hahn we received news from Davis. Hearing of our successful picket, they had decided to respond. About 200 students endorsed our demands in their GA and occupied Dutton Hall, their equivalent of Hahn.

When we heard of their action it was difficult to avoid the subject in our own GA – especially since it had been clear since the morning that someone (a sympathetic worker?) had left a window open at Hahn. After some debate we moved inside. A very long GA took place, but the building was held for a night. The next day another GA decided that the ideal step would be to count this as a major advance, but to allow other students to file their paperwork as we build and develop the movement; a comprehensive list of demands was generated, with the promise of future actions. The demands represent nothing like liberal reformism; they represent a very focused antagonism towards the administration, a clear message that we will not permit them to carry out their business.

Even though the occupation decided voluntarily to leave, its achievement was dramatic and profound. It demonstrated that there is a geographic cycle of escalation, a solidarity that spreads as actions ebb and flow in different places. In the Hahn-Dutton cycle this meant a movement within the University of California system, but the action yesterday demonstrated that the building occupation tactic is powerful outside of university activism. This connection between student radicals and the community is another element of the cycle. That the Occupy movement’s next step will involve moving inside has become more and more clear; but just as crucial are that our numbers grow dramatically, and that we spread everywhere.

This morning a comrade stood on the roof of the new occupation looking out for police, who he had seen hovering around the encampment at City Hall. He doubted that they would make a scene in daylight. “Downtown business is too important.”

But every indication is that they will return at night, in greater number and with more instruments of violence. They will return to literally do the bidding of Wells Fargo, draining public funds to pay for repression, adding to the $13 million spent in other cities. If we don’t have the strength to respond, our best option will be to retreat. Let’s not enter into that situation. If you’re anywhere near Santa Cruz, come to the 75 River Street social center so we can outnumber the police again and defend this building. If you’re far away, no problem. Occupy a building near you.


Asad Haider is a graduate student at UC-Santa Cruz and an editor of Viewpoint.

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