Listen to the Episode — 59 min
Clara: The Ex-Worker;
Alanis: An audio strike against a monotone world;
Clara:A twice-monthly podcast of anarchist ideas and action;
Alanis: For everyone who dreams of a life off the clock.
Clara: Welcome back to the Ex-Worker! Today we’re going to take a look at squatting… from an anarchist perspective. We’ll hear interviews from squatters fighting eviction in Oakland, California and also participants in the ZAD, a conflictual land occupation in northern France. We’ll also have a review of the book “Nine Tenths of the Law: Property and Resistance in the United States.”
Alanis: And of course, news, prisoner birthdays and upcoming events. I’m Alanis…
Clara: And I’m Clara, and we’ll be your hosts. Visit our website at crimethinc.com/podcast for the show transcript, more info about everything we’ll cover today, and more hyperlinks than you’ll ever know what to do with.
Alanis: Got something to say? Hit us up at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave us a message at 202–59-NOWORK, that’s 202–596–6975.
Clara: Let’s get crackin’!
THE HOT WIRE
Clara: We’ll begin with the Hot Wire, our look at resistance and revolt happening around the world. Alanis?
Alanis: In Haiti, protests raged against poverty and government corruption, as thousands of demonstrators chucked rocks, smashed car windows, and built barricades of flaming tires…
Clara: …while in northwestern China, demonstrators outraged by government discrimination against the ethnic minority Uighur community attacked a police station with axes; nine attackers and two police were killed.
Alanis: A small Colorado mink farm is shutting its doors for good after a November 14th raid by the Animal Liberation Front. While most of the mink were unfortunately recaptured, the farm will not be making enough profits off the recaptured mink to justify continuing their inhumane operations next year.
Clara: Five anarchists, originally from Chile, Argentina and Italy, were arrested this month by anti-terrorist police in Barcelona, Spain. The five are being accused of involvement in the bombing of a notorious fascist church monument in Zaragoza, Spain, a well-known meeting place for fascists. Two of the detainees, Mónica Caballero and Francisco Solar, are anarchists from Chile who were prosecuted and detained in the Chilean Bombs Case. The Spanish state is using this as evidence against the two, although both were fully acquitted of all charges in 2012.
Alanis: In Zadar, Croatia, Nazis sabotaged the Infoshop Iskra, or “Spark,” for the third time in less than two years. The fascists smashed the glass windows and mottled the walls with fascist graffiti and symbols.
Clara: On November 15, anarchist and hacktivist Jeremy Hammond was sentenced to 10 years in prison for his part in the major LulzSec hack against Strategic Forcasting. If you want more background, we covered Jeremy’s case extensively in our last episode.
Alanis: And some good news!
Alanis: Alex Stuck, an anti-fascist anarchist from Indiana who was serving time for [ahem] knocking some sense into a gathering of Nazis near Chicago, has been released!
Alanis: Alex’s 4 co-defendants are still behind bars though, so drop them a line– we’ve got a link to their addresses and more about their case on our website.
Clara: And some more good news– Los Angeles animal rights activist Tyler Lang has been released from jail in Illinois! Tyler took a plea deal that granted him time served and no probation– which is still ridiculous, given that he was taken into custody in the first place simply for being pulled over with tools in his car…
Alanis: Aaand the bad news: his co-defendent, Kevin Olliff, had his plea deal rejected, and is still sitting. He’s still facing years behind bars, so write him a letter, throw him a few bucks for vegan food, or get creative and show some solidarity. You can find the address and more updates at supportkevin andtyler.com.
Alanis:And now it’s time for listener feedback! Let’s see what’s in our inbox… aha. We received this critique from one listener via an anonymized guerrillamail email account:
*“I love the show and usually find it engaging and insightful, but your last episode featuring “Deserting the Digital Utopia” reeked of false metaphors and psuedo intellectual bullshit. Programmers are not a ruling class. Programming is a skill and not a property relationship. The tyranny algorithms hold over processors is necessary for the proper functioning of all your electronic devices. Applying political language in this way to inanimate objects is similar to when people refer to property destruction as “violence”.
Telling people to “desert the digital utopia” is reactionary. Ignorance is a poor strategy for survival in a world of mass surveillance, where governments are hard at work building flying robots to drop bombs on whomever they decide is the enemy. You should be telling people to use Tor and strong cryptography, and to learn to code so that we can hack the drones and launch a campaign of mass electronic sabotage against state power.
In solidarity, your loyal listener.”*
We referred this one to some of the contributors to the original “Deserting the Digital Utopia” essay that appeared on the CrimethInc blog, and here’s what they had to say:
It seems like you’re looking for us to take a stance “for or against” digital technology, when we are trying to make a more nuanced argument about what vision should guide how we approach it.
To quote the feature, deserting the digital utopia “doesn’t mean ceasing to use digital technology. Rather, it means changing the logic with which we approach it. […] Instead of establishing digital projects intended to prefigure the world we wish to see, we can pursue digital practices that disrupt control.”
Such disruptive practices could certainly include drone hacking and electronic sabotage, as you suggest. Nobody is arguing for “ignorance” here. The text introducing the feature on crimethinc.com argues that “the Net is indubitably the front line of the battle against enclosure, and it is essential to fight on the territory it presents.”
But the point here is that digitization itself won’t necessarily benefit movements for liberation. For a couple years, it was popular in some circles to assume it would; recall the “Thank you Facebook” sign famously photographed during the 2011 uprising in Egypt. In fact, Facebook and Twitter were modeled on explicitly anarchistic projects such as indymedia and txt.mob—they fulfilled earlier visions of a “digital utopia” in a way that undermined the radical potential of the originals. This should caution us against affirmative narratives that can be hijacked by our enemies.
The Snowden revelations drove home to the general public what anarchists had already assumed about government surveillance. Social media has been used to target rebels around the world, and a recent wave of successful prosecutions has dispelled any illusions of hacker invulnerability. The shifting of our lives onto an increasingly mappable digital terrain is unlikely to position us better for the next round of social struggles, nor will it automatically produce a more egalitarian society. So what do we do? Our argument is that the struggle for online freedoms is inseparable from the struggle against capitalism and the state. Attempts to champion “digital democracy” will ultimately play into the hands of those who rule via old-fashioned regular democracy. The alternative is to approach the digital terrain with the explicit intention of disrupting all mechanisms of control. Perhaps, as the saying goes, “information wants to be free,” but it only will be when everyone is, and that means destroying state power itself.
Finally, you assert that “programming is a skill and not a property relationship.” That’s true, but property relations are not the only mechanism that imposes power differentials. Today’s programmers are not a ruling class in the traditional sense, but programmers have disproportionate power over the structures through which everyone communicates. As anarchists, we believe it is important to identify currencies of power besides property and finance capital. Is what we want a digitized society in which power is distributed according to programming ability? That may be exactly where we are headed. Today, programmers face a crucial choice: they can accept a privileged position as the new architects of a stratified society, or risk everything in a revolutionary movement to abolish it. So that’s why we say: desert the digital utopia.
What do the rest of you think? Weigh in by sending us an email to podcast [at] crimethinc.com.
Clara: And now it’s time to share a piece of the CrimethInc Contradictionary. This episode is brought to you by: haunt and private property.
For more explorations of the war in every word, visit crimethinc.com/contradictionary.
Walking in leaves. Plywood being ripped away by a crowbar.
Alanis: Hello? Anyone in here?
Clara: Seems like it’s all clear…
Walking noises, shuffle, THUD.
Alanis: Shhhh caaareful, are you alright?
Clara: Yeah, sorry.
Carefully walking up stairs, sitting down in squeaky chairs.
Clara: Let’s do it.
Lights a match
Alanis: Ok… it’s about 2:30 am on tuesday, and we’re… in an abandoned house right now. We looked into it on our town’s GIS database, and this one happens to be owned by a bank and not a person, so nobody should be checking up on it anytime soon.
Clara: We’ve… well, allegedly… we’ve just cracked this building, meaning we’ve opened it up. The next step will be changing the locks. This is probably the most risky part of squatting a new building– breaking and entering is a much more serious crime than simply trespassing. So this is the part we have to be the most careful about.
Alanis: This building will be squatted openly– meaning that we’re not going to sneak around like this all the time. We’ll start working on the house during the day– bringing materials in and out, acting like we’re supposed to be here, getting friendly with the neighbors. Depending on the circumstances, this isn’t always possible, but I prefer to have good rapport with the neighbors. It can really come in handy later.
Clara: Anarchists have been squatting – or, occupying or using a building or land without permission – for a long time. In Europe and in the Americas, squatted collective houses and social centers have allowed generations of anarchists, autonomists and other lefty-politicals to live for free and focus their energies on opposing capitalism, rather than getting caught up in the work - rent cycle.
Alanis: But obviously anarchists aren’t the only people who squat– by some estimates, 1 in 7 people worldwide are squatting.
Clara: Wait, really? How is that possible?
Alanis: Well, the person who came up with that figure was mostly talking about massive shantytowns and slums in poorer, densely populated countries, such as favelas in Brazil. But with the foreclosure crisis, squatting as a political or practical act has risen in popularity in western countries– many people are even re-occupying houses that they formerly owned and were evicted from.
But today we’re going to mostly talk about squatting as it pertains to anarchists. Because it’s a big part of our culture… which makes a ton of sense if you think about it– we’re critical of work and wage labor, ownership of private property, and the law. In one fell swoop, squatting abandoned buildings put us in constant, direct conflict with all these things, and allows us to experiment with new ways of living together and meeting each other’s social and material needs.
Many major cities in Europe have at least one squatted anarchist social center. They sometimes include Cafés or bars, libraries, free stores, or gyms, and can hold political events, parties, meals, movies and concerts. People usually live in them too, and the fact that these spaces don’t have to focus on staying financially viable creates space for people to meet in a non-commercial setting. Events are usually donation based, and funds raised can go to collective projects, supporting prisoners, or upkeep of the space.
Clara: Squatting has historically been less prevalent in the US, because anti-squatting and property rights laws are a lot stricter here than in the EU, or the UK…
Alanis: Well… at least up until last year, when squatting was finally criminalized in the UK. And some really big, famous squats in Europe have been evicted… a few years ago there was the huge battle for the Ungdomschuset, or “youth house,” squat in Copenhagen, and the Greek state has really cracked down on anarchist squats since the December 2008 revolts… Villa Amalias and Skaramanga and others have been evicted, but not without a good fight. And friends in other places in Europe have said its gotten a lot harder to squat than it was, say, a few years ago…
Clara: Yeah, you’re right. Well, anyways, there was a major squatting boom in New York City in the 1980’s, when massive real estate divestment left up to 80% of the residential properties in the lower east side of Manhattan abandoned. This lead to the creation of dozens of do-it-yourself punk and art spaces, such as the infamous ABC No Rio and C-Squat.
Alanis: Beginning in the 80s and continuing through the 90’s, many of these homes and social centers suffered brutal evictions. In 1995, hundreds of riot cops armed with assault rifles, helicopters and a tank invaded East 13th Street to evict three squats. These battles with authorities, as well as the internal battles within the squat scene, are chronicled in graphic novelist and former squatter [Seth Tobocman](’s book War in the Neighborhood.
Clara: Squatters, like those on the lower-east side, often have to wrestle with the question of gentrification. While the squatters themselves might be living in conflict with property owners and police, their presence can be a signal to the city or developers that the neighborhood is ripe for revitalization.
Alanis: Another big question, especially in places where squatting is more culturally accepted or has less-strict laws is the question of legalization. Municipal governments will sometimes award ownership of a space after it has been occupied for a set amount of time, or they will broker a deal with squatters.
These arrangements carry a lot of problems though… if your intention in squatting is is to be conflictual, than legalizing sort of defeats the purpose.
Clara: Sure, maybe the stability afforded by legalization could be a boon to projects in the space, allowing for more confidence that long-term infrastructure won’t go to waste… But the losses can be devastating, including the strong bonds that are often forged when people fight for something together.
Alanis: This is why, for the state, legalization can be a more effective repressive strategy than bringing in the tanks.
Clara: Yeah, exactly. For me, the most interesting part of the occupy movement (or whatever you want to call it) was how sharing a conflictual space in the park strengthened my relationships with other people. It brought our mutual hatred for the mayor, the cops, and the whole social order into quick focus, and it gave us a sense of urgency.
Clara: Squatting in the United States nowadays is basically relegated to people taking advantage of small, legal loopholes that exist in property and foreclosure law… and while it’s probably impossible to re-create big european-style squatted social centers here in the US, we can keep cracking squats and planting the seeds to see what kinds of things grow.
Alanis: Squatted spaces are notorious for being anarchist or punk subcultural ghettos. And that’s not entirely a bad thing– sometimes it’s important for us to carve out our own spaces when we obviously have mutual hostilities with the world.
Clara: However, in some places in the U.S., like Chicago, where the foreclosure crisis has hit particularly hard, anarchists have put aside some differences and are working with housing rights activists and foreclosure defense groups, starting discussions, sharing building materials and providing support through the inevitable eviction process. Squatting isn’t an end in itself, but it can be one tool for opening up these spaces of conflict and communication between us and with the people around us.
Seth Tobocman: “I think that there is, like, this amazing high of like, breaking into an abandoned building, and making it into something, feeling that you can create something out of this empty space, that, you know, you can, the feeling of authorship over life, which I think every real political movement gives people, is the chance to say ‘Ok, I’m gonna make things different by my efforts, if I participate in this I will actually have an effect on this.’ And I think the squatters movement is particularly strong in that regard because it’s not just going out and affecting some political issue that’s distant from you, it’s actually, you know, affecting your own life and your immediate surroundings and those of the people around you.”
To continue our exploration of squatting, we’ve got an extra special double Mugshot for you this episode. First, we’ll travel out to Oakland, California to speak with two folks from a squatted urban social center there, and after that, we’ll check in with someone from the ZAD, or Zone a Defendre, a large section of squatted rural land in western France. As different as these locations and struggles are, both squats involve resistance to development, complex dynamics with neighbors, and collective daily living in resistance to the rhythms of the state and capitalism. In both of these interviews, we hope to give you a sense of what anarchist squatting projects are like, through both a discussion of the issues involved and an intimate glimpse into the hilariously sketchy hijinks that comprise squat life. We hope you enjoy them and find inspiration for your own projects and struggles. Off we go…
MUGSHOT: OAKLAND SQUATTED SOCIAL CENTER
Alanis: This is Alanis from the Ex-Worker, and I’m sitting here today with two folks from a squatted social center in Oakland, California who are going to talk to us a little bit about squatting and what their experiences have been and how squats fit into broader social struggles. Could y’all introduce yourselves?
Agnes: I’m Agnes Rivers Valentine…
Cora: …and I’m Cora.
Alanis: And can you describe a little bit the place that we’re sitting in today?
Agnes: We’re a squatted social center. We have two separate houses, an event space, a big garden, some shacks, a couple of tree houses, lots of chickens, and soon to be a future infoshop.
Alanis: How long have y’all been inhabiting this space? How long has it been squatted?
Cora: Maybe a little over three years at this point? Close to three years.
Alanis: And how did it come about?
Agnes: Well, folks opened the space originally as an intentional queer safe space. It started with just one of the buildings and then about ten months later the second building was opened, and about ten months after that the social center was opened.
Alanis: About how many folks are living here?
Agnes: Anywhere between twelve and thirty.
Cora: Yeah, it varies, a lot.
Alanis: And what kinds of folks does the squat attract?
Agnes: Literally all kinds of folks - which is a really awesome aspect of it, that we just have all these different folks from all these different backgrounds, and different marginalized groups, and different political standings… but it can also be challenging. But definitely we have a myriad of types of people.
Alanis: In terms of the politics, is it an explicitly anarchist space, or is it… what are the politics like?
Cora: I think that it might be explicitly anarchist, but it’s hard to say, actually.
Agnes: There’s a lot of people who are in it just because they need housing, and that’s all. And that’s cool. But I would say the most vocal voice within it is the anarchist perspective, and a good amount of us definitely identify as anarchists. That’s definitely how we’re portrayed to the larger political strata.
Alanis: What kinds of events and happenings go on at the social center?
Agnes: Different events that we’ve had… definitely a mixed bag of lots of different shows: punk shows, hip hop shows, drag shows, just about any show you can think of. Sometimes they’re benefits, sometimes not. We have a lot of discussions and movie screenings and people coming to use the space for their own group meetings, fundraisers, barbecues – we’ve had a couple of really epic neighborhood barbecues.
Cora: Also there’s a free store. I forgot to talk about the free store! That’s maybe a crucial element. It’s just full of clothing - yeah, people bring donations of clothing, household appliances, whatever. And then people just come to the gate and ask to get let in and take some free stuff.
Alanis: Can y’all talk a little bit about your relationships with folks in the neighborhood?
Agnes: I would say that it’s also kind of a mixed bag. Luckily we don’t have a lot of neighbors that live directly next to us, because some of our events are pretty loud. And those that do maybe are less happy- but I would say our closest relationships are with the people collecting cans, and the people hustling, and the people who also partake in less-than-legal activities. We all support each other more than the weird new “neighborhood committee” of white yuppies. They don’t like us.
Cora: Yeah, it’s really hard to say “the neighborhood” or “this community” because there’s so much in that. Like she was saying about the new neighborhood committee that hates us and has tried to “beautify” our space really hard. They collaborate with the police really hard; they have these “community meetings” and your beat police officer comes… That’s not our community, but that’s our neighborhood , those are our neighbors.
Alanis: There’s been a lot of conversation about the relationship between squatting and gentrification, and how squats that attract largely white folks and counter-cultural folks sometimes pave the way towards subsequent development and things like that. Can you talk a little bit about dynamics of race and gentrification as they play out through the squat and in the neighborhood?
Agnes: If you’re white and you move into a poor ghetto, you have some role in gentrification, period. The way I see it, though, gentrification is something that’s much larger and bigger than all of us. I mean, you can just look at the twenty year West Oakland redevelopment plan and realize that this squat had nothing to do with what’s happening to the neighborhood; it’s big business, it’s been planned for a long time. The company that we are fighting for our house will most definitely rip it down and put up condos. We’re keeping the property value down, we’re making the neighborhood blight-worthy - and we don’t like the fucking cops, you know?
So often the critique of radical scenes is this really inherent whiteness but our house actually doesn’t have only white people. There’s a lot of people of color, and it’s really detrimental when people just identify the space as a white space, because that furthers the silencing and lack of acknowledgment that people of color get on a daily basis. So our house is really diverse.
Cora: A huge part of the space being anti-gentrification is being in direct conflict with the forces that are trying to gentrify this neighborhood and resisting the development and changing of this neighborhood.
Agnes: Yeah, whether it be with our graffiti propaganda murals that we put on the wall to the ongoing court battle we’re actually in to defend our house. We got sued last year and went through an epic court case that we actually ended up winning, which is kind of unprecedented and insane. But we now have the space indefinitely; we’re going to have to keep fighting. As all squats go, or most squats go, we will lose it eventually, but while we’re here it’s really important for us to preserve the neighborhood as it is.
That’s why it’s really important to us to hold on to the space as long as possible and fight fucking hard for it. Because I think a large social hub for lots of different people will be gone when this place is gone, and maybe as far as a liberated space where people can come and use it for free and attempt to be this autonomous disconnect from the capitalist paradigm, I think it’s going to be far-fetched to think it could happen in West Oakland again. So…that’s a bummer.
Alanis: Can y’all talk a little bit about your personal motivations for squatting in the first place?
Agnes: I mean, I first came here to the space about a year before I moved in and just immediately felt something really, really special here. There was just so much fucking life in the space, and so many people and so many animals and so much activity… it just inspired me so intensely that I just knew at some point I would live there. I moved in because I couldn’t afford rent anymore, so that was my basis for squatting. I don’t know if I would even identify myself as a squatter because I feel like kind of in order to do that you have to open your own house, and since I just moved in, maybe I’m a “squatterette” or something.
Cora: Yeah, I think that I am here in this house pretty much out of not having any money and needing a place to go. Maybe feeling a little weird about myself in Oakland when I came here, and then spent time at this space and then was like, this is great, this space is so magical and if I’m here I want to be doing something that I can feel like is not contributing to all of this gentrification I can see everywhere. And I feel like at times this space has really, really strongly stood against gentrification in so many ways, and I feel like that’s really important.
Alanis: Do y’all wanna share any stories from your experience about funny squatting moments particularly exciting things that have happened since you’ve been here?
Agnes: I mean, one of the greatest things about the space is the liberation of time that comes with squatting, when you’re not constantly trying to make money for rent or constantly trying to secure housing, your time is freed to do many other things. It’s been really great for the people who live here, creatively and personally and socially and politically. And I feel like squats are the place where people can… are you laughing?
Cora: No, I was just thinking of how much fun we have here: we have so much fun! We have so much fun.
Agnes: I mean, definitely squats are in a different realm than, say, a rented house because maybe potentially food fights could happen whenever you want. If you get angry, maybe you can swing a hammer into the wall, no landlord’s going to tell you to pay for it. There’s a lot of perks to squatting!
Cora: I think the food fights are a really great memory. Or simulated riot scenes among housemates in the houses is really good.
Agnes: Maybe there’s been a fireworks battle or two; maybe a mattress has been set on fire. I’m not gonna say…
Alanis: Do you have any advice for listeners who are interested in squatting themselves?
Agnes: Do it! Do your research as far as like squatting goes. Old unpaid back taxes are a really good sign; blight notices are a really good sign. Comb your neighborhoods; go look it up at the assessor’s office, see what the sales history is. Be careful; it’s illegal. Getting into the house is really sketchy, but fuckin’ do it! Squat everything!
MUGSHOT: THE ZAD
Alanis: We’re speaking today with a guest from the ZAD, the “Zone a Defendre” in western France in Notre Dame des Landres. Could you introduce yourself?
Cami: I’ll be speaking today as Cami; Cami is the name that we use for all interviews with journalists so that there’s not a spokesperson.
Alanis: So the ZAD stands for the “Zone a Defendre,” the Zone to be Defended. What is being defended, and from whom?
Cami: So it’s a large scale land occupation; it’s about 4,000 acres. It’s a wetland and agricultural area, mostly dairy farms, that’s being defended from the multinational corporation Vinci, which does construction all over the world, and from an airport. So Vinci and the Socialist Party want to build a “high quality environmental airport,” a high-speed train, a tram, and a four lane highway through this area. And that project was started – they started talking about it about 40 years ago. And the locals have been fighting it ever since. And there was the occupation that started about five years ago after a climate action camp.
So a big thing in this campaign is “against the airport and the world that goes with it.” And getting out of a traditional thing of “not in my backyard,” we’re against the airport because there’s noise or pollution or congestion, but we’re against the airport because of the world that goes with it and the world that it makes possible. It’s a massive infrastructural project which makes flow and things in general easier for capital, for goods to flow throughout the world, for people to flow throughout the world. And it’s also a big project that’s involved with both urbanization and gentrification, because they want to move the airport from next to the city, so they’re going to build out and expand the city into the countryside and then and gentrify the inner city once the noise nuisance from the current airport is gone. That’s the plan.
And also to fight against imposed decisions: it’s a really strong current there. To be against the fact that people in Paris are deciding what happens on the land of people who have been there for seven generations farming, and the general idea of people making decisions about your life that you don’t know that you have to abide to.
And also it’s really practical, just tactically: it’s a free place to stay, you don’t have to work. By not working, then you have more time to do all the fun things you want and more time to think up creative funny ways to block the project. And it’s also practical because we’re in the place where they want to build the airport. So we’re there when they start coming for work or doing environmental studies or snooping around. People are there and they can see it happen and they can go block it. And also that people are there physically so that they cannot build the airport until they remove the people, it’s just impossible, and the people have no intention of being moved.
Alanis: What have some of the most significant moments in the struggle over the past few years been?
Cami: Well, there’s really been a lot. I think most of the strongest moments are not the ones that have been in the paper. There’s a lot of conflict with the police and actions that get a lot of media attention, but I think the strongest things are having discussions with the locals, and people that were not at all interested or tolerant of certain tactics or certain ideas becoming more understanding and starting to use those practices or advocate for them. And there’s been - for example, there were public inquiries that went on several times a week for weeks, which normally were a time for confrontation with police, but also a time to eat dumpstered soup with other people in the community, and a lot of talking being done. Drillings, coming to do environmental preliminary studies, were really strong moments, because there was a lot of confrontation with the police, people getting hurt and it being really scary. And also about a year ago… so for a couple of years people were leading a campaign of action out of the squatted areas. And last year in October there were evictions where the military came, 1,200 military troops against 200 squatters, and destroyed the 30-something squats that were there. And about a month later, almost everything was rebuilt by 40,000 people that came for a demonstration.
Alanis: The ZAD is obviously very different from some of the other squats we’ve looked at in this episode, which are generally one or two buildings in an urban area with twenty or thirty or so people living in them, whereas this is anywhere between dozens and thousand of people living in the countryside in a wide variety of buildings and fields and forests and things like that. Can you tell us a little bit about daily life on the ZAD and what squatting is like for folks who live there?
Cami: Well, I think a typical day is kind of like: you wake up and go outside, and you run into someone and they’re building a house; so you go and start building with them, and then the hammer breaks, so you have to go find a new hammer somewhere. So you go off on your bike and then your bike breaks, and you go to the bike workshop and then you fix you bike, and then you go and find the hammer and you bring it back, and by then they don’t need the hammer, and then it’s time to cook dinner. And that’s pretty much how most days go.
So there’s lots of different logistical groups: people that take care of the internet, people that are medics; there’s a mechanic workshop, there’s blacksmithing, lots of farms and gardens, a really incredible legal team, a goat dairy, a cow dairy. There’s meetings all the time about everything, there’s a pirate radio, internal newspaper for workshops and happenings of the week, and an external newspaper that’s more theoretical that goes to all the people that live in the surrounding area. There’s a bunch of libraries… there’s just all the kinds of things you need to live, not really depending on… It’s basically just like a little city. There’s lots of different groups of people, lots of people that disagree with each other; I mean, at this points there’s fifty-something squats, so most of the people don’t even know each other. It’s kind of like a city except that almost everyone’s an anarchist and it’s in the country.
Alanis: So if folks want to learn more about the ZAD or support the struggle against the airport, what can they do?
Cami: So at the moment, coming and visiting is not the best way to support the struggle. There’s a lot of internal conflicts and pretty much everyone speaks French. But there’s over 200 collectives of solidarity all over France, and they organize things together, and sometimes they organize action days. So those are on the website: it’s zad.nadir.org. And it’s all in French; but on the right-hand upper corner you can scroll down and there’s a way to turn it into English, or you can put it in Google translate. Any sorts of solidarity are welcome. There’s Vinci offices in every state in the US – that’s the company that’s building the project - and even just a banner drop… To my knowledge, there’s never been any solidarity actions in North America for the ZAD, so the more the better.
Alanis: In keeping with our theme in this episode, today we examine a recent book from AK Press about squatting, titled Nine Tenths the Law: Property and Resistance in the United States. Hannah Dobbz, a filmmaker, writer, and former punk squatter, has compiled a book full of history and facts about property and law in the United States.
The book kicks off with a brief discussion of indigenous struggles, particularly the American Indian Movement’s occupation of Alcatraz Island. It goes on to explore the history of land squatters in the 18th and 19th century, whose conflicts with both state authority attempting to regulate them and the indigenous inhabitants of their lands formed one of the core dynamics of early American history. From there, it shifts to the 20th century saga of urban housing politics, from white flight and spatial deconcentration to urban homesteading and Lower East Side squatters. Subsequent chapters take on the housing market and the 2007 foreclosure crisis, the tenuous possibilities of adverse possession and other legal rights relevant to squatters, and an assessment of the costs and benefits of obtaining legal title to a squatted building. Dobbz concludes with discussions of cooperative alternatives such as land trusts and contemporary strategies of squatter and housing justice activists.
There’s a lot of facts and figures in here; the book mostly manages to avoid coming across as dense or technical, though depending on what your interest is, you may find yourself skimming some parts. To me, the history sections proved the most lively read, and even the drier sections are peppered with vivid anecdotes that bring the material to life. The book usefully distinguishes the US context for its unique cultural, historical and legal circumstances, shedding light on why European squatting movements operate so differently. She insightfully assesses squatting as a phenomenon that simultaneously attracts and repels both left and right wing impulses in the American political imagination, which helps explain the harsh condemnation but persistent fascination it has attracted throughout US history. Another plus to the book is its range of appendices, including a detailed guide to researching potential buildings, the ins and outs of relevant property laws including a state-by-state breakdown, a glossary of terms, and more.
However, the book’s politics leave much to be desired. Dobbz seems to miss the significance of squatter conflicts with the state as a potential catalyst of broader revolutionary upheaval. For example, after discussing the brutal eviction of the radical Danish squat Ungdomshuset in 2007, she refers to the Copenhagen city council’s subsequent offer of a new social center as “serendipitous,” saying, “All in all, it wasn’t a terrible trade.” Likewise, she dismisses efforts by Occupy movement protestors to seize buildings in Seattle and Portland as “poorly planned,” “hot-headed,” and “frustrating to local organizers who lose footing when young squatters seem to relish in the conflict of squatting rather than making plans that work.” She doesn’t appear to grasp that a squatted social center isn’t just a building for concerts and workshops, but a site that mobilizes resistance against state and capital, not just in the content of its programs but in its very existence; this basis in structural defiance of the law marks the difference between a pacified faux-radical target market and an actual culture of resistance. As we mentioned earlier, the legalization of compliant left-wing social centers across Europe (in tandem with the violent destruction of non-compliant ones) threatens to dismantle the social movement that makes the infrastructure relevant to actual social transformation. The building take-overs of young Occupiers in the northwest might have been hasty or poorly planned, but they knew better than the career activists that the radical potential of the Occupy moment lay in the opportunity to legitimize taking action and seizing resources without permission, not in whether a single family regained access to a private dwelling.
This oversight makes more sense when you read the author’s account of her time spent in an Emeryville squat with the full knowledge and support of local police and the building’s owner – who credited the mostly young and white squatters with “keeping the riff-raff out.” In this cheerful vision, the state and private owners shared mutual interests with an unthreatening counterculture, leaving the underlying power relations untouched. If we understand the ultimate purpose of squatting as a means to secure cheaper housing, the book’s focus on the pros and cons of getting a title and navigating the legal labyrinth of different ownership options makes more sense, as does the frustration with confrontational political squatters who seize buildings they can’t hold. But as I see it, the most interesting potential of squatting lies in creating conflict with authority on the terrain of our most basic needs, and establishing and defending zones outside of state power and capitalist exchange. By this criteria, what does it mean to make “plans that work?” Perhaps it looks less like successfully holding on to affordable housing or building an activist organization’s political sway, and more like setting an example of rebellion against private property and the rule of law that has the potential to spread contagiously.
In the end, the book’s nominally anti-capitalist politics lead us towards a critique of monopoly and absentee landlords rather than ownership itself and the violence that upholds it. It advocates a kind of fuzzy cooperativism that mostly avoids the question of the state and its role in enforcing homelessness and poverty through the legitimacy of the law.
So if you’re considering squatting in the US and you want practical legal advice, or you’re interested in the colorful history of squatting and conflicts over property in US history, “Nine Tenths the Law” will prove a useful resource. But we hope that in your projects you’ll surpass this book’s limitations, and look to the legacies of conflictual squatters who reclaim empty buildings and land as part of a broader vision of a world without property.
NEXT WEEK’S NEWS
Alanis: And now it’s time for next week’s news. What’s coming up, Clara?
Clara: Not too many announcements for early December… but remember that New Years Eve is traditionally a time for festive noise demonstrations outside of Jails and Prisons. So, start planning something in your area now. And don’t forget the fireworks! And the chants. Send us good chants if you’ve got any.
Alanis: Hell yeah, New Years noise demos are always so good. I can’t wait. Ok, so as we mentioned last week, we’re asking you, our dear listeners, to write, call or otherwise let us know what you think anarchism means.
Clara:We’ll be including these submissions in our first episode of the new year, where we’ll be going back to black and doing a whole episode about what the heck this whole anarchy thing is about. You know the deal: podcast [at] crimethinc.com.
Alanis: And, last but certainly not least, we have a lot of political prisoner birthdays this month: On December 2nd, Cody Sutherlin of the Tinley Park 5.
Clara: On December 5th, Tsutomu Shirosaki, a Japanese national imprisoned for 30 years in the US for participating in a mortar attack on a U.S. embassy.
Alanis: On December 12th, Zolo Agona Azania, a black panther convicted of a 1981 bank robbery that left a Gary, Indiana police officer dead.
Clara: On Decmber 15th, Fred “Muhammad” Burton, accused of waging a deadly attack on a police station in Philadelphia and serving a life sentence for murder.
Alanis: On December 17, Connor Stevens, an Occupy Cleveland activist who was entrapped in a government-concocted plot to blow up a bridge on Mayday 2012.
Clara:And also on December 17th, Chelsea Manning, a US army intelligence officer who leaked evidence of military atrocities to the media.
Alanis: So send these prisoners a birthday card or organize a letter writing night. We have their up-to-date contact information and more about their cases on our website, crimethinc.com/podcast.
Alanis: Wait, there are a couple of events coming up this month!
Don’t forget about Queerpocalypse in Los Angeles on December 6th , 7th, and 8th ; it’s a radical queer and trans gathering organized by anarchists that coincides with the LA anarchist book fair on the 7th.
And also the Toronto Anarchist fair takes place on December 13th through 15th , with workshops, assemblies, a book fair, a really really free market, and lots more.
Alanis: That’s it for this episode of the Ex-Worker. As always, thanks to Underground Reverie for the music you’ve heard.
Clara And thanks to folks for coming on the show!
Alanis: For more information about everything we’ve covered today and an archive of all our past episodes, you can check out our website at crimethinc.com/podcast. And if you need to get a hold of us, you can send us an email at podcast [at] crimethinc.com, or leave us a voicemail at 202–59-NOWORK, that’s 202–596–6975.
Clara: We’ll be back next episode with a very special… holiday… uhh special? Right. Uhhh, remember, you can subscribe to the podcast in iTunes, and if you have an extra second, why not give us a rating?
Alanis: This has been a production of the CrimethInc. Ex-workers Collective.
Clara: Until then…
Alanis: Squat or rot!
Links and references from this episode of The Ex-Worker:
From our feature: most towns have a GIS database that can be used to look up ownership and other information about properties. Try searching “GIS” along with your city or county name and see what comes up. This information can also be found IRL at your local assessor’s office. Squat zine, while a little dated, has some really good practical information about opening and holding squatted spaces.
Nine-Tenths of the Law, our chopping block review.
Start planning your New Years Eve noise demonstrations outside of Jails and Prisons!
Don’t forget to let us know what anarchy means to you. We’ll be including submissions in our first episode of the new year. Podcast [at] crimethinc.com.
Queerpocalypse, a radical queer and trans gathering organized by anarchists that coincides with the LA anarchist book fair, will take place in Los Angeles on December 6th , 7th, and 8th
The Toronto Anarchist fair will be December 13th through 15th , with workshops, assemblies, a book fair, and a really really free market.
Prisoners with upcoming birthdays:
Cody Sutherlin #M34021
13423 E 1150th Ave
Robinson, IL 62454
Tsutomu Shirosaki #20924–016
FCI Terre Haute
P.O. Box 33
Terre Haute, IN 478089
Zolo Agona Azania #4969
Miami Correctional Facility
3038 West 850 South
Bunker Hill, Indiana 46914
Fred “Muhammad” Burton, #AF 3896
1590 Walters Mill Rd
Somerset, PA 15510
2240 Hubbard Rd.
Youngstown, OH 44505
Bradley Manning #89289
1300 N Warehouse Rd
Ft Leavenworth KS 66027–2304
(Please address envelope to “Bradley” and inside letter or card to “Chelsea”)