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Are There Any
Valid Arguments
Against Squatting?

On Homeless People
Abandoned Buildings

By Punkerslut

From Radical Graphics, Squatting Category
Image: From "Squatting" Category,
from Radical Graphics

Start Date: June 12, 2010
Finish Date: June 12, 2010

"I recall a boy who had worked steadily for two years as a helper in a smelting establishment, and had conscientiously brought home all his wages, one night suddenly announcing to his family that he 'was too tired and too hot to go on.' As no amount of persuasion could make him alter his decision, the family finally threatened to bring him into the Juvenile Court on a charge of incorrigibility, whereupon the boy disappeared and such efforts as the family have been able to make in the two years since, have failed to find him. They are convinced that 'he is trying a spell of tramping' and wish that they 'had let him have a vacation the first summer when he wanted it so bad.' The boy may find in the rough outdoor life the healing which a wise physician would recommend for nervous exhaustion, although the tramp experiment is a perilous one."
          --Jane Addams, 1909
          "The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets," Chapter 5

     Squatting is sleeping in an abandoned building, most often done by those who have very few other options. It is a preferable choice to sleeping on the streets or living in tents in the woods. It is a more immediate option than any other, since homeless shelters tend to have a slow and overloaded registration process. It is sometimes the only option for those who are evicted -- unemployed and barred from their former home, they may have nowhere to go. Family, if it is available, may not have all the opportunity to afford their lost youth. For many, it is an option to move back in with their parents, seeing the preference of a warm and soft place to sleep to the outdoors. But for many others, that option doesn't exist.

     Sometimes, it is an economic argument that pulls a person away from where they normally sleep and eat: layoffs and unemployment, rising and lowering with the booms and busts of the economy. Rent, however, does not proportionally rise and lower with land values or income rates; like any other industry, landlords exploit as much out of renters as possible. To doubt the landlord's willingness to increase the rent and evict those who can't pay is like doubting the government's willingness to tax its people and imprison those who don't pay. This can push the unemployed laborer out of their home, onto the couches and floors of their friends and family, into cramped living and breathing spaces.

     Just as an economic authority can take away a person's right to shelter, so can social and cultural authorities. A child might be dominated by abusive and violent parents, or an adult in a relationship may feel threatened by their partner's behavior. Or, someone could belong to a family that is enmeshed in a destructive, violent, and sexually-abusive religion, such as authoritarian communes with secretive cults, or Catholicism. Our present system is infected with a corrupted and misdirected department of family services, coupled with apathetic and cunning politicians. There are endless reasons why a person may find their living space uninhabitable; there are many reasons why someone why choose the risk of sleeping outside to being within the confines of others.

     What is the harm done by squatting? Does the land lose value, or does the owner lose any money? No, this isn't true, since the housing is abandoned -- it is not in use as a rented home, a business, or any type of industry. This is what allows squatting to become so widespread in certain areas: it may be months, or even years, before an owner is aware that one of their unused properties is being inhabited by homeless people. The building might be damaged in gaining entrance by the new occupants, but this is an insignificant value: a landowner would have to replace a hinge or a knob on a door, and that's it. For such a small cost, the squatters would be willing to pay for it if it allowed them a safe place to sleep for months or years. They sleep in places that don't belong to them, but are unused; just as they breath in air that belongs to no one, but in doing so dispossess no one else.

     Is there any harm done to society by squatters and the squat community? The private interests of the property owners are not seriously threatened, nor must they fear for loss of profits or income by the presence of unknown tenants. But, is there a harm being done to the wider community of society? Instead of people sleeping outdoors, in shanty towns, or under bridges, they are indoors. Perhaps it is not heated, nor provided with electricity, nor even safe for long-term inhabitation; but it provides the greatest protection available from the elements to those with nothing. Rather than taking from society, squatting provides a place to sleep for its weakest and most neglected members. It doesn't hurt the community, but it provides for those in need.

     The Liberal policymakers ask us to put our faith in laws, in parliaments, in constitutions, and in particular forms of government combining with other particular forms of government. We are asked to believe that these government-managed institutions of schooling, poverty relief, and public works will prevent the possibility of homelessness and unhealthy living conditions. Education and economic regulation: these will be the saviors that uproot poverty, abolish hunger, and outlaw misery. Followers of liberal ideology do not intend to propose a solution for today, but somehow through "the combined effects of market forces and public regulation," housing will be provided for all; and the question of squatting will not need to rise up.

"Look at them herded together in dark, damp cellars, where they never get a breath of fresh air, clothed in rags, carrying their loads of misery from the cradle to the grave, their children running around the streets, naked, starved, without anyone to give them a loving word or tender care, growing up in ignorance and superstition, cursing the day of their birth."
          --Emma Goldman, 1896
          "Anarchy and the Sex Question"

From Radical Graphics, Squatting Category
Image: From "Squatting" Category,
from Radical Graphics

     "To end homelessness, we must first respect private property, encouraging our police everywhere to arrest and imprison those found squatting." This is the attitude and methodology of Liberal governments, whether called "Liberal" or "Conservative," "Democrat" or "Republican." They intend to accomplish what no other government in the history of humanity has done: the elimination of poverty through legislation. They speak of themselves as "practical reformers," who are weary of anything that might be too radical or threatening to private property.

     Here is the contradiction: we, revolutionaries and anarchists, are considered radical for saying that the people have a right to bread and housing. Every has a right to eat and live, not tomorrow, not the day after that, not "sometime in the future," but today, right here and right now! We are called "idealists" for saying that everyone should take and have what they need to live. The Liberals and Conservatives, who believe in "gradual social evolution," ask us to put blind faith into the laws of markets, which somehow state that we are doomed if we allow the homeless to sleep in unused buildings.

     We demand the real right to bread and housing, even if it must be taken from when it is in disuse; while the Liberals demand constitutions, elections, legislature, police, and government. We work towards the real needs of every human being: liberty, bread, and opportunity. They work towards the real needs of just a few: the state, private property, and social domination through laws. Like many other social issues, from environmentalism to anti-racism to feminism, it is only within revolutionary groups that the sentiment is genuine -- while its mainstream, subsidized, and privatized form becomes weak, apathetic, and finally, incapable of making any changes.

     If the right to squatting is ever going to be recognized, it will need revolutionary power -- not parliamentarian power. It will be enacted by the congress of the streets and the media of community groups. The state always represents the interests of the few over the many. It is most certain that its deputies, its magistrates, and its politicians will always become corrupt, because they are isolated sources of power. Laws and their enforcement always support the rule of property over the liberty of humanity. The people, on the other hand, are dispersed and divided, and when they enact as a power, they are unbribable: the truth of their liberty instills an unbeatable enthusiasm, and there are too many with equal power for bribes to have any meaningful effect.

     If squatting is going to be legalized, it is going to be done by non-authoritarian, non-hierarchical organizing -- it is going to be done by libertarian and cooperative activism, not by orders and commands. The laws cannot enact squatting as a right. We should struggle to unite everyone in a fight for housing, rather than convince voters to support one politician over another, when they are all almost equally corrupt.

     The situations where people must flee and leave behind a warm home are despicable. For whatever preventive measures society has created, they had a wide enough gap to allow millions into homelessness The people are hungry and all they have to consume is bread that is burnt, black, or rotting. Those who believe too greatly in the "nobility and honor" of man might say, "It is better that they starve than indignify themselves with such miserable sustenance. They are better than that, even if it means they are making their own unmarked grave." To tell the people that they must eat, or starve to death, is not an endorsement of the situation of famine; it is a realization of the practical necessity to existence. Perhaps more than that, its existence is proof that our social organization is not built to meet the most basic needs of all of its members. Like widespread hunger creating lowered standards of food, squatting is simply a reaction to the natural instinct of any individual to their economic situation.

"They will not wait to expropriate the holders of social capital by a decree which necessarily would remain a dead letter if not accomplished in fact by the workers themselves. They will take possession on the spot and establish their rights by utilizing it without delay. They will organize themselves in the workshops to continue the work, but what they will produce will be what is wanted by the masses, not what gives the highest profit to employers. They will exchange their hovels for healthy dwellings in the houses of the rich; they will organize themselves to turn to immediate use the wealth stored up in the towns; they will take possession of it as if it had never been stolen from them by the middle class."
          --Peter Kropotkin, 1880
          "The Commune of Paris," Part III


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