Welcome to the Squatter’s Digest, a new column for Freedom News, highlighting the ongoings of the squat scene in London and beyond, along with providing opinions on the politics of said goings-on. Quality and coherence are not guaranteed.
The 29th of October saw 150 high-court bailiffs and police descend upon the Tidemill Community Garden in Deptford, London, at 6am, pulling people from their tents, dragging them out of tree-houses, and laying waste to the entire occupation. Occupiers climbed the trees and refused to vacate, while outside fights broke out between the supporters and bailiffs (County Enforcement, well-known to squatters, see Corporate Watch’s latest article on them), who of course were protected by members of the Metropolitan Police force. At some point in the afternoon the last squatter was removed from the trees and the garden was all but lost. But this didn’t stop the people outside from trying for one last push to regain entry to the site. Rushing for the fences, people were thrown to the ground and detained by bailiffs and police, but also linked arms and refused to allow their fellow protestors to be taken to the arrest vans, defiant to the last.
The Tidemill Garden was the latest flashpoint in the struggle against developers and councils pushing the gentrification agenda, and was another example of squatters and local residents working together to resist. There have been many such episodes throughout the last decades, some more successful than others (success these days tending to mean the building of positive relations between different groups rather than the securing of ongoing possession of properties). Tidemill has seen campaigners go from attending council meetings to ask the council to reconsider allowing them to stay, to attending council meetings to smash-up a councillor’s car. Not to say that was the squatters’ influence. But I digress. The collaboration between different social groups at Tidemill has felt like those of the 2014/2015 campaigns at the height of the housing crisis (who am I kidding, there will be no height of the crisis, it’ll keep getting worse). More collaboration I say, but I will return to this point in a bit.
Tidemill, despite only being a squat for 2 months before eviction, was a long-standing cultural space for the people of Deptford, and is yet another victim of neo-liberal capitalism. The removal and destruction of similar places seems to be trending right now internationally. Recent news see the ADM squat of Amsterdam, Netherlands, given its marching orders after 20+ years of being the focal point of much counter-cultural activity in the area. Similarly Villa Vegan, perhaps the most famous squat in Milan, Italy, was due to be evicted at the end of October. Villa Vegan has not yet been evicted, and to their credit they have continued to put on events and keep the squat functioning as usual, while also hosting meetings for supporters to get involved in the next steps. The Swamp in Utrecht, Netherlands also faced eviction just over one week ago, with the police and bailiffs prepared to put people’s lives in danger to ensure the eviction took place. And while we’re on the topic of communal spaces being taken away, the Centro de Cultura Libertária in Portugal (not a squat but an important anarchist centre) is facing eviction due to parasitic landlords (and squatters know all about that).
Not all is hopeless though! Earlier in October in Mannheim, Germany, activists involved in the Hambacher Forest protest site took occupation of the “eichengarten” or oak garden, and the adjoining buildings. They released a couple of communiques in solidarity with the Hambi protesters fighting against the RWE coal miners who are destroying ancient forests to further their profits. And in Montreuil, France, squatters took over a building used by artists as they were handing back the keys and have turned it into an autonomous community-based squat.
Aside from Tidemill, it’s hard to say that there has been anything to write home about in London these last months. There was of course the (Not The) Anarchist Bookfair Afterparty at the end of October, in which a large building and set of railway arches was taken over for a punk and techno party that raised loads of money for various causes, and that’s (nearly) always a good thing. And there appears to have been the gravitation of squat crews toward each other, at least in two locations in East and South-East London. Having multiple crews in an area can do wonders for mutual aid and support in trying times. Of course there are plenty of other squats out spread out across London and people should keep an eye out for any in their area to improve relationships and create local support networks. Mainly though it has been a bit of a quiet period in the squatting scene in London, at least from your writer’s perspective, a low tide if you will.
But after the low tide comes what they call the flood tide. Of course we don’t have a spare moon handy to do all the hard work for us, but we do have the ability to utilise the resources at our disposal. A previous Freedom article, by contributor AB, discussed the need for pulling ourselves out of crisis planning, and instead focusing on long-term organisation. But how do we do this while the system is geared massively in favour of property owners here? Our court system processes claims within a couple of weeks, and the bailiffs can act almost immediately upon the granting of a possession order. As AB says, it’s hard to keep track of people or organise together when everyone is moving every few weeks.
What we can do is take advantage of the more permanent spaces that we do have. More permanent squats tend to be ones that keep their heads down, and anyone caught peering over the parapet is liable to cop a swift arrow of court justice. This often means projects get put on hiatus or are abandoned altogether. There is much to be said for the temporary nature of squats, but having a space that people can go to and know it will always be there, and something that they can feel a part of, can make a huge difference.
There are social centres, anarchist or otherwise, in most cities around the UK. London has the 56a Anarchist Infoshop, the London Action Resource Centre (LARC), as well as Freedom Bookshop (or Decentre), and of course the Advisory Service for Squatters, which resides in the same building as Freedom. These are places that, for the foreseeable future, are not going anywhere, and the benefit of people using the space would be reciprocal. Seeing these places as not separate from the squat “milieu” but as an integral part of the political and cultural environment would allow for greater collaboration (I told you I would return to this point) between people of similar mindsets for mutual benefit (this of course comes with an anarchist bias, and it should be acknowledged that people squat for many reasons, and it should be seen as a tactic to address social issues rather than an identity to which to conform).
Participating in spaces that are active with groups of varying focuses can be a breath of fresh air when things begin to stale, and the fight becomes tedious or perhaps overwhelming. It’s important that people still look to organise amongst each other in squats, but also important to not get trapped in a bubble that fails to recognise the value of intersecting struggles and leaves us without support in times of need. It would be great to see more people feel like they could swing by their local social centre and be able to throw ideas about together about how to improve things and fight back. Being based in London, I would invite people to come down to the Advisory Service for Squatters, and rather than seeing it as an office from which a few people do legal work, see it as an “Idea Store” in which people can come down, pitch ideas to each other, work on projects together, and utilise the information available to them. People’s very presence would be putting back in to an organisation that has helped countless people over more than 40 years.
But it’s not just about the A.S.S. Wherever people are there will be other groups, whether they be housing, anarchist, or other sociopolitical leaning, who will be hopefully meeting in communal spaces. By linking up and developing relations with these groups we can start to work toward that long-term organising, and not just deal with crises as they happen. Let’s cause a flood that will drown the bastards (drowning cops, bailiffs, and landlords in spit does seem to fit a stereotypical crusty squatter aesthetic, thanks for the inspiration Bob).
Hopefully that’s got some of you up to speed with what’s going on in London and the wider squat scene. If you have any complaints or if I have missed out a particular topic or event that relates to squatting that you’d like covered in this monthly piece please get in touch at squattersdigest(at)riseup.net and I’ll do my best to make it happen.
Photo: Save Reginald Save Tidemill