(2012) The necessary squats [ENG]

Sábado 22 de septiembre de 2012, por Miguel Angel Martinez

Todas las versiones de este artículo: [Español]

Martinez Lopez, M. A. (2012, September 22). The necessary squats [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://www.miguelangelmartinez.net/...

It’s been an exhausting day. When a squatted building is evicted, one has to speak with many people, move furniture, write, and continually meet and think about what to do from here on out. Many planned activities have been thwarted. All work and resources invested in making the building livable have been plunged into sudden darkness. Vacancy and dust again have taken over the space.

Yesterday, September 19, 2012, the CSOA (squatted and self-managed social center) Casablanca was evicted after two and a half years of squatting. Actually, Casablanca was the continuation of four earlier projects initiated in 2006. But Casablanca certainly was the one that lasted longest, probably due to its confluence with the 15M movement. Its central location, the size and quality of the building, the hard work of self-organization and care through the assembly, plus an effective legal defense strategy, helped to win over the thousands of people and groups who have used it. Until the last day we discussed whether to set prices for drinks, because almost everything was free or at affordable prices to help the self-organized projects people put forward. The more time passed, the more social diversity circulated through Casablanca, sticking to the daily work required to extend the self-organization. We did our best to “break the ghetto.” In the middle of the city, in the heart of property speculation, an oasis emerged for the expression of much that is censored, marginalized and excluded in our society. Just listing the hundreds of projects, debates and festivals we have hosted is sad, for these lists can provide only a glimmer of the political and personal enrichment that has been generated at Casablanca.

A few months ago the Royal Spanish Academy of Language agreed to incorporate the term “okupa” [squat] with “k” in their dictionary. And it was about time. The recent boom in squats since mid-2011, fueled both by the economic crisis and by the strong response of society in the faces of those who govern through deceit, has only highlighted a practice which has a long history in Spain. It has been going on for at least three decades, sharing discourses and forms of politics from below, independent of institutional politics, and radically anti-capitalist. The legitimacy of entering an empty property without permission of the owner, however, has not always enjoyed mainstream social support. And that is why squatters have always denounced speculation by absentee landlords while at the same time meeting the needs for residential and social space for those who fall outside the rules, who cannot afford market prices, or are victimized by the arbitrary way governments deliver public goods. Obviously, more and more people are facing the tragedy of homelessness, and thus are increasingly accepting that squatting empty buildings which have no immediate use is a handy option for survival. At least for a while.

The Spanish Penal Code of 1995 made squatting from one day to another into a crime. What one day was a simple civil lawsuit, the next day was supposedly going to be a serious crime. But generations of squatter activists would not believe that story, as they have continued to challenge criminalization and liberate spaces. However, the sword of eviction and possible criminal conviction hangs over every new attempt. Against all odds, the Casablanca CSOA had drawn this dangerous card.

A year ago, the legal complaint filed by the proprietor, the real-estate company Monteverde, against the squatters of Casablanca was permanently closed by the court. The presiding judge did not identify any individual author of the squat, nor any crime in the activities that had been developed there. The Monteverde company – which, like many other real estate developers, has been accused of encouraging political corruption – tried again in June of this year. And another judge in the same court decided to forget about the existence of the previous record, and to take no notice of the hundreds of people who would be affected by something as serious as a judgment of eviction.

This forgetfulness is too convenient. There are altogether too many illegalities not to deduce that there is someone behind the curtain screaming “get them out somehow and soon.” Maybe they fear the call of 25 September to surround the Spanish Parliament, which is only a few blocks away. Or maybe they want revenge because so many committees, meetings and working groups of the 15M movement made Casablanca their principal residence. It may be that some malicious authorities are deceitfully following their own attack dogs on the right-wing media who have been braying that the squatters “directed” the outraged masses of “indignadas” [indignant ones of 15M]. This despite the publicly open and horizontal assemblies that run all 15M affairs.

The squat Casablanca had brought to light that the Yoopro company acquired this building in 2001 for about 4 million euros, and sold it in 2004 to Monteverde for about 12. The first company, as if by magic, succeeded in qualifying the old school building as a residential building, so that the new investors could profit from selling rehabilitated apartments at astronomical prices, no less than half a million euros each. Unfortunately for them, they went into bankruptcy before the work was finished, and the place became a ghost building for more than a decade. If only for that squats are necessary.

However, squatting is something else that an accusation against real-estate speculators. It also goes beyond giving new live to a dead building. An it is also something that involves more issues than the threats to the security of activists who risk themselves to defy the law. The next step of squatting is always cheerful and creative. It’s about building life alternatives, egalitarian social relations, non-commercial entertainment, struggles of many social movements, direct democracy, cooperation and learning. None of this is a crime. All of it can help to wake up a whole lot of people from an endless nightmare. And squatted spaces, recovered, released and self-managed, turn out to be fruitful incubators for collective welfare experiments, counter-power and autonomous management of everyday life. For this squats are also essential.

Even now, when people have so many signs of the depletion of the chimeric hyper-mortgaged ownership society, the error-ridden path we have enthusiastically followed along from the developmentalism of the Franco era, it is surprising that the absolute conception of private property continues to govern the destinies of those who need an affordable place to live or to socialize with their peers and others. The squatting movement confronts the dogma of private property, but leaves open many doors. Those without power have power. The old slogan still applies in the real estate and financial debacle into which the ruling classes have thrown us. There are manuals of squatting, experienced people, and abundant vacant properties which are a scandalous waste of collective resources. Squatting will follow claiming legitimacy if there are no other feasible alternatives for housing people in need. Neither the current strength of the Penal Code nor the recent abusive reform of the regulation on Renting can stem the needs – and therefore the social rights – of those who do not own any property. In Casablanca we have shown that we have won the battle for political legitimacy. We had even won the legal battle before someone decided to play dirty. Those were our weapons. The authorities, headed by the State Government, have opted to use their weapons, which are much less dialectical, and to increase repression with all the means at their command. In Madrid this year, the CSOAs la Osera (the Den), la Salamanquesa (the Salamander), and la Cantera (the Quarry) have all been evicted using similar expedited tricks. Now our turn has come. What has changed is that with each eviction there is more and more unity among social centers, various self-organized groups and a population disillusioned with this massive scam called “the Crisis.” So our struggle has just begun.

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