Squatters Digest: To our friends, and former room-mates

Summer is waning, holidays have been had, and so we all go back to the grindstone — and by grindstone I mean opening new squats. So let’s start by taking a look at who needs to open a new building.

Location, Location, Location (That’s A Squat Crew Moving Thrice In A Month)

In London, the Church, home to an endless number of benefit parties over the last year, finally met its demise at the hands of the bailiffs just a few weeks ago, leaving a particular void in terms of readily-available squats that are able to host such events (of course it does not escape me how a building can be fairly easily opened just a couple of days in advance of such festivities, but it does entail a whole lot more work). All and sundry are invited to fill this gap, such things are needed as at least one planned fundraiser was scuppered by this eviction.

In a similar area of south-east London, the Charity Shop squat on Deptford High St was re-opened temporarily. Used previously to great effect by the previous crew to organise local action in the neighbourhood, unfortunately the new crew have not been given much time as the owner seems to have gotten his shit together and gone immediately for an Interim Possession Order.

Our friends in Manchester, having just lately had such great success with the Chorlton Leisure Centre, got the boot so to speak just the other day. This squat lasted a lot longer than expected, and as a result was able to host the previously mentioned Persons Unknown festival, along with the associated Persons Unknown punk nights. Often after losing a longer-term place things are a bit unstable and take some time to get back on track, but safe to say I think we haven’t seen the last of the Persons Unknown collective.

XM24, the famous squat of Bologna, Italy, saw its final days this month. After 25 years of working within the community, and as a beacon of locally-organised autonomy, the municipality decided it had had enough. Time to regenerate the area. A fresh coat of paint at the expense of all that everyone had strived to achieve. Squatters took to the rooftops, refusing to come down and allow the bulldozers to do their job, only relenting when other members of the collective engaged with the local authorities and came to a negotiation that would see another building being offered to the squatters to allow them to continue their activities. This isn’t due to happen until November, so bets are on as to whether the council stabs them in the back…

Mexico saw the loss of Casa Naranja at the end of last month, an anarchist space that lasted totally illegally for 13 years. Rather than engage in the legal process they have moved with their heads held high before the state can violently evict them, for in Mexico this may well mean the deaths of many people.

Previously written about due to threat of eviction, this month is the 25th anniversary party for the Rozbrat squat in Poznan. The party will also be paired with a demonstration on September 14th.

Repression Continues In Greece

In the news in the last few days as the police has pushed ahead with New Democracy’s plan to wipe out the autonomous neighbourhood. Four squats evicted in the one morning, with the neighbourhood occupied by police as they arrested hundreds of people, mainly migrants, and relocated them to detention camps. Evicting the migrant housing squats will of course be the first target for the state, and will continue to be so, as the general population is much less likely to take issue with it. However all autonomous and anarchist spaces are now fair game for the pigs there, with attacks taking place against VOX and Steki anarchist strongholds in the last week too.

Massive demonstrations are planned for the weekend and beyond in Athens, and in London on Monday 2nd September there is a demo planned at the Greek Embassy called by the Anarchist Federation in support of all anarchists and squatters in Greece. If this goes to print before then, the demo will be held at 1pm at 1 Holland Park, W11. Bring your mates, your crew, or just join the masses on the day. Otherwise stay tuned for a report back later on.

Taking Back The Land

In Aotearoa / New Zealand there is an ongoing struggle that has taken place over the last few months (well, last few years … well, last century and a half). Ihumātao is a sacred land, one of the first settlements on the island, and now that is at risk of being destroyed for yet more housing. The occupation has in fact been going since 2016 through a group, SOUL, but in the last couple of months people have flocked to the site to protect as the courts issued an eviction notice. Eviction resistance at its best. Police initially attempted to arrest people but then relaxed their presence as people decried that they would not be moved, embodying Whina Cooper’s cry of “not one more acre” during the Maori Land March 40 years prior. The struggle continues as the Prime Minister Jacinda Arden has not yet responded to requests to attend the site (she’s a politician, what did they expect?).

Closer to home, Olsterholz forest in the Rhineland has been squatted to protect the trees there from the Oetelshofen company who plan to destroy the ancient forest. They say they’re willing to leave voluntarily if the deforestation plans are dropped. Power to them, let’s see. Their friends, the Hambacher Forest occupation persists of course, and in a couple of weeks they are holding their skill-sharing camp that lasts ten days. If you get a chance go check them both out.

Hey, You! Ex-Squatter Over There!

Speaking of checking things out, why don’t you come check out what’s going on in the squat world? Far too often I hear people talking about how hard squatting must be these days, how they really enjoyed their time squatting, but could not do it now, or how they wish it would make a comeback. I’m reminded of this article in the Guardian from a couple of years back, in which the author “dream[s] of a gigantic, coordinated, nationwide flash squat of multiple empty sites all at once”. Well, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, but there sure as hell are some things that could be done. In the first instance, there’s no point at all in dreaming about a return to squatting when the concept of squatting itself only now resides in the abstract or the ether of one’s dreams. Whatever laws have changed since you were doing it, however the culture has shifted, we’re still here squatting. It is still a useful tactic for both housing and organising, and not only that, the people you meet in squats may prove to be worth fostering relationships with. There are still many things happening in temporary autonomous zones such as ours. Some places are used to organise arts and performances, some draw up plans for the revolution.

There are a lot of people that do simply long for the old times for nostalgia’s sake, but others have said to me that their physical limitations or non-conformance to the idea of the ideal squatter prevent them from participating in the squat scene. It should be noted that yes, squatting does tend to foster a particular identity and set of expectations that revolve around usefulness, but this doesn’t need to be the case. This should very much be on us to attempt to change the culture, ensure that people of all capabilities are able to participate. Obviously the squatting scene is not one homogenous group, but there is scope for certain subsets of people to look to make things accessible for all. We don’t just need people who can break buildings (and this is speaking as someone who used to think like that). We need mentors. We need people from outside our own little circles to participate, to cross-pollinate, in order to strengthen our ties and our possibilities.

So in mirroring my first call the good part of a year ago for squatters to participate in other local social spaces, this is a call for people who once were participating in activities taking place in squats, or often talk of a desire to, to come and get involved. And it is a call for fellow squatters to think about how to think outside of our little spaces and encourage people to participate once again in the squatting movement. It is of course harder to know where to look, as squatting has been driven further underground, but not all is lost. If you know people who live in squats, ask them what’s going on. Head down to the Advisory Service for Squatters and ask them what’s new (or if you’ve got loads of experience why not volunteer your time helping out?). Get on the NELSN phone tree (text 07575 013-111) and look for events that interest you.

Take for example in just a few weeks, the long-running Temporary Autonomous Arts takes place from September 26-28. 18 years it’s been running, with a mix of squatters and otherwise involved in the creation of the event. Providing a platform for political art, the three day event incorporates sculptures, organically-developing paintings, interactive performances, live music and talks and workshops. It will be held in a squatted building in central-ish London and there will of course be an afterparty on the Saturday. Perhaps someone can paint a picture of the good old days. Or perhaps we can paint utopias of the good times ahead.

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.