Squatter’s Digest: Festivals and Frontlines

As the riot police continued to batter the last of our barricades, blasting through the structural brickwork of the back entrance to our squat I knew it was time to go. I tried to lug my bookshelf down the stairs to safety, but sadly was forced to leave it behind as I was dragged past the lines of helmets and shields to await my fate in the outside world.

Sorry for the delay, but welcome back to Squatter’s Digest. Stick around as I try to rattle off all the comings and goings in the squat world over the last couple of months.

So we were finally evicted from our squat in East London, overwhelmed by the riot squad, local bobbies, and high court bailiffs. Two of our number were arrested, although have since been released. In the words of the rossers themselves “apparently it’s okay to assault the police these days” (you can taste the bitter sarcasm with which such words were offered).
It may be just coincidence, but it does feel like there has been a push by councils in east London (particularly Newham and Tower Hamlets) to rid the borough of squats. In fact at the time of writing there were no less than four squats either going through court or due to be evicted in the week.

It would be good to imagine the old mantra of “1 eviction, 2 squats!”, but that doesn’t seem like truth to be honest. Some interesting things have taken place in the UK over the last while though, marrying squatting to anarchist politics. Firstly was the London Tattoo Circus, a gathering to explore prison abolition, and provide support to prisoners through raising money and awareness with tattooing alongside workshops, and of course the inevitable squat party to raise money for more affiliated causes. A few weeks later the Anarchist Festival, which most people will possibly be familiar with, took place, and after the swathe of talks, workshops, and other events, another squat was opened for a fundraiser afterparty. There’s lots to talk about regarding the Anarchist Festival, but one thing I will say about the afterparty, and benefit parties in general, is play fair and pitch in whatever donations you can. I’m certainly guilty in the past of pulling the poverty card when I definitely could chip in. If you’ve got £20-plus to spend on drugs, surely you can put in a fiver to the cause. Or all £20 of it, but far be it from me to preach too heavily on such topics.

Further success was had with the inaugural Persons Unknown Festival in Manchester, a weekend full of political workshops and actions centred around squatting and wider anarchist and other related politics. After a cheeky victory in the courts (they come so rarely) the crew in Manchester managed to hold on to the Chorlton Leisure Centre, the perfect squatted venue for such an event. Workshops around housing, borders, forum theatre, and herbalism were had during the day, while the music carried on through the night. A massive success by all accounts, although I must say I was disappointed to not be able to attend myself due to a bereavement.
Here’s hoping to a second year of the festival, keep an eye out.

An occupation that I have not reported yet is the ongoing takeover of the Deptford Town Hall, a building owned by Goldsmith’s University, by a group of students of colour, as a platform for taking on the culture of blatant and casual racism that exists in an institution that puts itself forward as progressive. The students have managed to fight off attempts by security to falsely imprison them, and have secured access for students and supporters to enter the building and participate in loads of events while holding the building in opposition to the university, who have responded by suggesting they would like to consult with the occupiers about their demands (and intend to include Lewisham Council in this, of Tidemill fame). We know how that sort of thing goes. They occupation passed its 100th day and continue to self- organise for black, asian and minority-ethnic issues, with a current focus on Palestine and the treatment of Palestinian students here.

Outside of the UK, not to be outdone by my squat’s eviction, the Fabrikool squat in Bern, Switzerland went and got themselves evicted too in the last couple of months. Dozens of riot police with dogs and bailiffs tooled to the teeth evicted the squat which was an activity hub and also hosted the Furia anarchist infoshop. They spared no time in going about destroying all that
had been built up over the two year period. The response to the eviction however, has been immense. Taking to the streets, the police were greeted with demonstrations, and a night of rage, with militant actions being taken against the political repression that the eviction embodied.

The Berliners tried once again to get squatting going in the capital, occupying a building off the back of the Mietenwahnsinn (Rent Madness) march, where over 40000 people took to the streets to protest gentrification and displacement. The newly-opened squat was then swiftly and violently evicted by the police, echoing the evictions of the Besetzen squats earlier in the year. More recently, a collective took over an ex-police station in Freiburg, although they too were beaten out of it within 2 days. It is good too see attempts to reinvigorate squatting in Germany, even though it tends to result in broken bones.

Meanwhile, in Greece, there have been a load of evictions over the last couple of months. Mainly focused around the “migrant” squats located in the locale of Exarchia, Athens, the evictions were targeted and intended to cause issue through the dispersal of so many people into the streets. My understanding is that the excuse was that the squats were known to be
drug-peddling centres. While far from condoned by the locals, drug-dealing is a separate issue and not one that the anarchists and other residents of Exarchia welcome the intervention of the police in response to – as can be evidenced by the response of the local population. The call by the state to divide is met with a response of critical understanding and a call for solidarity amongst people in the neighbourhood and to not allow the police to undermine the autonomy of the area. Without being there I don’t wish to speak more for the squatters there, as it is a complicated political situation, and likely to get more complicated as their general election comes up next month. I’ll be writing the next update from Greece, so hopefully can provide more insight then.

Another matter I might hope to be able to explain more in the near future is the future, or lack thereof, of Rozbrat, the oldest squat in Poland. Host to thousands of events over 25 years, it is potentially going to be auctioned off. The actual legal position is a bit complicated and I can’t say I understand or am able to explain it here, but they will likely end up spending a lot of money in legal fees if they try to fight the sell-off. I will be there later in the summer after Greece and will try to understand the situation further, but one thing I can comment on from here is that it bewilders me how convoluted property law can be in other parts of the world. In the UK,
property is god. It is the foundation of the capitalist structure that completely dominates the country. With very few exceptions property, and thus squatting, cases are incredibly straight forward – they who own the property have absolute right to it. No need to prove a use for it, or to
go through drawn-out processes that take years. For the most part you get notice of the court hearing a week before, and then you get as long as it takes for the bailiffs to sort their shit out and bust down your door while you’re still sleeping in because you’re the epitome of a lazy squatter and don’t get up til 2pm. But now I’m just projecting and I digress. Hopefully there will be international support for a place such as Rozbrat. The spirit of anarchy and self-organised space-taking lives there, and I look forward to visiting there for the first time in 7 years later this summer.

Right, I’m off for sea and sunshine of Greece. Enjoy the rest of the bollocks weather here, keep organising, keep squatting (three sets of thirty reps every morning), and keep supporting squats wherever you might be.
If you have any comments or topics you would like me to cover (I’m sure I miss loads of good squatting coverage around the globe) please get in touch at squattersdigest(at)riseup.net.