TIPS FOR SQUATTING AS A POLITICAL ACT by Tom Boland 4-26-98

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Sun, 26 Apr 1998 19:57:47 -0700 (PDT)


*PLEASE FORWARD to people engaged in nonviolent direct action protests for
homeless people's rights and for affordabble housing.--Tom*


SQUAT FOR AFFORDABLE HOUSING by Tom Boland <wgcp@earthlink.net>


People kept down by prejudice sometimes use the tactic of "non-violent
civil disobedience".  Such tactics are familiar to many because those who
marched with Martin Luther King used them to win voting and other rights
for people of color.  Native peoples, poor people and homeless people are
using such tactics to seek justice today.

If conditions for poor people are as bad where you live as they are where I
live (Boston), I invite you to consider squatting buildings as a way to
publicize the need for affordable housing.  This article suggests my tips
if you decide to squat for your rights.

For your information, I am a pacifist anti-poverty activist who spent two
years homeless.  In the last few years, I've been working with groups in
and near Boston that homeless people manage.

One of them, called Bread and Jams, now has many programs.  One program is
a "social action and service center" for homeless people in Cambridge,
Massachusetts.  (That's right, homeless people run there own center here.
The center has been open since 1991.  Maybe a homeless-run center would
also work where you live.)

I distilled the "squatting tips" below mainly from the failures of a three
month encampment for affordable housing in Boston in 1988.  It involved
hundreds of homeless people and allies.

Authorities tricked us into moving our location a number of times, although
we spent over two months camped outside Boston City Hall.  Our protest
ended with a building takeover and over a dozen arrests.  Our nonviolent
direct action campaign was called HOMEFRONT 88.

A decade later here in Boston, a group called Homes Not Jails is squatting
for affordable housing.  Think about squatting where you live.  Ok, here
are my tips:


TIPS FOR SQUATTING AS A POLITICAL ACT


1)  BRING CAMCORDERS, TAPE RECORDERS, CAMERAS, NOTEPADS AND PRESS PASSES

This will help deter police harrassment and, if it occurs, provide you with
a record of it.  It will also help you to document and celebrate any
victories in gaining your aims.

If you are journalist, bring your press pass.  It can help you get access
to sites and information that authorities are trying to keep from the
public eye.  It's amazing how humanely officials can act - when they know
that others are watching.

2)  STAY IN CONSTANT TOUCH WITH SQUATTERS WORLDWIDE

This cross-fertlizers strageties and helps you decide what may work or not
locally.  It also builds morale, especially when authorities are trying to
discredit you and threatening arrests to scare off supporters.

Nowadays, the Internet is an excellent link to other squatters in a world
where over a billion people are houseless--even in wealthy nations.

Homes Not Jails (Boston chapter) homepage is a good place to start, at:

          http://www.geocities.com.CapitolHill/7996/

3)  GIVE EVERY PARTICIPANT AN "EVICTION ALERT PHONETREE"

The list should include contact phone numbers for the news desks of
alternative and mainstream media--local TV, newspapers and radio, plus wire
services such as United Press and Reuters.  Don't forget college papers and
radio stations.

Also include contact numbers for supporters to mobilize quickly if arrests
occur.  Perhaps you can find progressive members of City Council, clergy or
other "notables" to promise to be arrested if you are "evicted" from the
site.

But make sure they do not take over and coopt your aims.  (For more on
this, see point 6.)

4)  REQUIRE NON-VIOLENT CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE TRAINING OF ALL WHO MIGHT RISK
ARREST

To help assure public support, you'll need to make sure there are no
threats, screaming or fights.  Officials or the media may well use such
incidents to deflect attention from the validity of your issues.

Role-play all possible outcomes.  There are fine non-violence trainers,
especially among the Quakers.  You may want to contact Friends Meetings
(Quaker congregations) if you have them locally, or else the American
Friends Service Committee.

5)  CREATE 'LEGAL SUPPORT" ROLES FOR THOSE WHO CHOOSE NOT TO BE ARRESTED

Never "guilt-trip" those who may not want to do civil disobedience. Make
sure they are in a spot where they will not be arrested.

Help them choose legal support tasks.  These include meetings, transport,
materials, cash, outreach, publicity and legal help--to name but a few.

6)  MAKE YOUR SPOKESPEOPLE THOSE MOST AFFECTED--HOMELESS PEOPLE

I think it's a form of "domestic colonialism" when non-poor people speak
for the poor, even when "progressives" do it.  When actions show signs
ofsuccess, politicians and services providers often try to take control,
take credit and take any resources you win (such as housing and cash).

Homeless peoples' aims get lost in such shuffles--as well as the materials
to survive and thrive that homeless people deserve.  Choose your allies
carefully, and let homeless people speak for ourselves.

7)  MAKE DEMANDS THAT LINK THE KEY ISSUES--CIVIL RIGHTS, HOMES FOR ALL,
WAGE-RENT SLAVERY

Be realistic.  Demand the impossible.

What is "politically feasable" today is far short of what people need and
deserve.  Accept no substitutes.  You may get what you ask for--so ask for
everything.

8)  WIDELY PUBLICIZE AND ENFORCE A BAN ON ALL ALCOHOL AND DRUGS ON SITE

People who are high or agitated at your actions will undercut your
credibility with the publics who can help win your demands.  If you see
someone with drugs or alcohol, ask them to take it off the site--first
time, every time.  Fighting drunks will discredit your actions quickly.

9)  GET ADVICE AND SUPPORT FROM CIVIL RIGHTS GROUPS.

One group that comes to mind is National Law Center on Homelessness and
Poverty (which works closely with National Coalition for the Homeless). The
Law Center recently published a report on  police harrassment of homeless
people, titled "Mean Sweeps".  If you use the Internet, you can link to the
Law Center (and other useful information on homelessness) via the National
Coalition for the Homeless homepage at:

          http://www2.ari.net/home/nch/wwwhome.html

Amerirican Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) helped Homefront protesters get
charges dropped.  ACLU is another group worth working with, especially if
people are arrested

10) HAVE SQUATTING SUPPLIES ON SITE AND NEARBY

If you manage to hold a building, authorities may try to starve you out. So
have water, blankets, food, soap and buckets for human waste inside--before
you publicly announce your site.

Also have cell phones inside, so that you can have contact with suporters
outside.  Don't forget musical instruments to celebrate your struggle--and
to accompany you as you sing "We Shall Not Be Moved".

11)  REFUSE TO BE MOVED

Don't let officials off the hook by moving off their turf and out of their
minds.  They will tell you that the problem is somebody else's, not theirs.
If indeed they have power to give what you demand and need, stay where you
are.  Hold officials' feet to the fire, so that they finally "walk their
talk" about helping homeless folks.


EPILOG

Hundreds of people participated in Boston's HOMEFRONT '88.  Yet our gains
were largely nullified by drinking and drugging on site and by public
quarrels (including fistfights) among would-be "leaders".
It also hurt us that we let officials scare us into moving our encampment
from one site to another.

Our cause was just--homes for all.  But our reversion to "chain of comand"
and our lack of "nonviolent discipline" helped reinforce stereotypes about
activists and homeless people.  And Homefront lost it's committment to
direct action, floundered for a while, then died.

You may want to tailor these guidelines for your specific needs. I hope
these suggestions help.

I send my best wishes to all of you fighting homelessness.  Feel free to
e-mail me if I can assist your efforts.

Seeking peaceful means to homeless peoples' aims,

--Tom Boland <wgcp@earthlink.net>

END FORWARD


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