Category Archives: Spring 2011 (01/27/11)

The enjoyment of singing justifies itself (if others enjoy the song, that is a bonus)

I think anarchists should give up the notion of trying to make a difference within society. I do not mean that I think the anarchist-identified do not make any difference within society or that they should necessarily give up doing the things that they do; what I mean is that I think anarchists should do what only anarchists can do. Anarchists must informally attack society, and without a plan for the future. Modernity is a systemization of control, an entanglement of automation, which is much too large to contemplate or exist within in any meaningful capacity. Individual freedom cannot exist alongside society, but is brought about by the process of challenging society’s mandates. By introducing ourselves as personalities — living individuals with needs that are absolutely opposed to the needs of capital and the state — we supplant the detachment and isolation imposed on us with meaningful relationships informed by individual character. The liberal statists offer us change, and the leftist tendencies of our milieu set about changing change. However, as activists inaugurate society’s reform, they mostly only reform themselves into models of the alienation they set out to challenge. The system is efficient at imposing its mechanical silhouette across the lived experience of its subjects. The point of entry into political discourse is the willing resolution of innate antagonisms against the existent, and a propensity for self-deprecation. Whereas politics is the recuperation of interpersonal relationships by the state, activism becomes the descent into the shallows of surrogate activities.

It is not that I think anarchists should give up activism, but that they should give up activist work — and that is only because I am set at odds with the institution of work. I see the distinction as a matter of both perception and motivation. I think people should do nice things for other people, and I think people should struggle to stifle repressive elements of the status quo; but at the same time, avoid the urge to fill up their time with “productivity” or the ubiquitous “getting shit done”. Giving up the aptness to sacrifice ourselves in service of abstractions calls pretty much every justification for control and domination into question.

Let us not talk about politics. Political conversation is uninteresting because it is a consideration of power that does not end with the determined conclusion to destroy power. Let us instead talk about each other. Let us instead talk about ourselves. Let us instead talk about how it is that we will live together and against this world. So then, what is to be the point of our conversations? To experience joy. To come together with others. To fulfill our needs as humans. To engage in total liberation. To destroy society.

It seems naive to hope that this world is ever going to be anything more than it is presently. Even as we grow physically, as our relationships with each other grow and develop, everything around us departs this life and turns to dust. Each day we collectively experience such a tremendous loss that thoughts of the future are much more akin to a terrible nightmare. Surely, anarchists are not the only ones that dream of freedom. Our style of living and our ideas about how to live intersect within our daily actions. In fact, friendship and the theory of friendship — which can be lived as the same thing — are the essential element of the impulse for limitless association. Too often, we forego dialogue and experiences that would help to explain the complexity of our relationships, and instead opt for alienated forms. Through actual conversation there is the spread of shared affinities — of mutual desire communicated through similar frustrations. We want to pursue radical discourse that does not conclude with the inception of played out projects or the formation of impersonal collectives.

Jean Weir says, “Anarchists are judged by other comrades according to what they say and do, and the coherence between these two factors, not through diatribes about their personal — real or invented — attributes as practiced by organizations that rely on charismatic leaders…”

By striving to become as unique as possible we directly subvert the irrelevance that we have inherited; when we meet with others on those terms we can form meaningful relationships that are in conflict with the present social order in every aspect. Deepened self-knowledge and the consideration of personal needs instigate conflict with the existent. Alienated forms form alienation, whereas diminutive forms encourage the experimentation of freedom and participation in liberation.

All we can really do is hang out with our friends, break stuff, open cages, lie to authority, cheat the system, steal everything, and talk shit about the people we do not like. Nothing is going to change about society.

Everybody Sing!

Singing in groups has been a part of culture as well as resistance movements since people learned to sing — it brings folks together, it’s participatory, moves your attention to the present, and brings emotion to the surface. And yet if you’re like most modern people, when was the last time you sang at a protest or political meeting, other than happy birthday? Have we become so cool, so dominated by ipods and instant individual electronic music gratification that we’ve forgotten how to sing?

In the 1930s, you could sing “Which Side are you on” on the picket line and everyone knew “The International” in one or more of 57 languages. The civil rights movement had “We Shall Overcome.” When I was a teenage activist in the anti-nuclear movement, we sang “Study War No More.” The Industrial Workers of the World still publish their Little Red Songbook, but a lot of the songs feel dated. Earth First! has lots of campfire songs.

And yet I don’t remember singing anything at the WTO protest in Seattle in 1999.

Slingshot collective has discussed singing before or after meetings as a way of shifting the mood and bringing the group together, but then we realized we didn’t all know any songs that would be appropriate for that sort of thing.

So I’m hoping folks will write in with suggestions that we can publish in the next issue. What songs do we all know (or could we all learn) that we can sing together at the next free skool meeting, bike coop repair class, or street occupation against global warming? It isn’t bad to recycle old songs but it would be extra exciting to figure out some modern songs that could become popular and acquire the ageless quality of a really amazing song that everyone knows and that we feel powerful singing together. Please send your ideas to Slingshot, 3124 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94705 / slingshot@tao.ca.

Reject Fee Hikes

Newly inaugurated California Governor Jerry Brown began his rule by announcing a $12 billion cut to services, with $1.4 billon coming from higher education. This new round of cuts creates an opportune situation to build for a March 2 statewide day of action for public education in California, and to include disenfranchised members from the community in the struggle for public services — education, pay, pensions, healthcare, an end to police brutality and repression of students and impoverished workers. Brown’s cuts follow an 8 percent fee increase for University of California (UC) students, which led to protests at the UC Regents meeting at UC San Francisco on November 17. Protesters piled police barricades in a heap and stormed the meeting building, causing police to use pepper-spray. UCPD Office Kemper pulled a gun on unarmed students after he got separated from his squad.

Now, students are facing repression from both the state and the UC system, all because we refuse to accept the myth of “shared sacrifice” that the state likes to use to legitimize austerity. The claim is that “everyone needs to make sacrifices” so that the state can function. The implicit message conveyed through Officer Kemper’s use of force is that students must pay their fees, or the police will shoot. Police repression is nothing new — these displays of force are aimed frighten new activists from involvement in the struggle.

The recent round of student repression includes student conduct charges against a UC Santa Cruz student who was arrested after charging and entering the building at the UCSF protest, two misdemeanor charges against a UC Berkeley student who allegedly assaulted a police officer by stomping on his head and chest (even though a video only shows the student’s head, and his shoes fell off in the maelstrom), a felony charge against a student from UC Merced who allegedly removed Officer Kemper’s baton (aforementioned) and beat him over the head with it (although there is a video that shows Kemper dislodged his own baton and sent it flying through the air), and student conduct charges against students at UC Riverside for chalking up the school with anti-budget cuts propaganda.

I spoke with a student organizer from London recently who told me that the protests in the UK are successful because students are working closely with other disenfranchised members of the community — laid off or underpaid workers are going to organizing meetings with students and sharing their personal stories, and students are responding with rich fervor and anger. Here at UC Berkeley, Chancellor Birgeneau recently announced the layoff of 150 employees. Ultimately, those are the people we need to reach out to build struggles akin to those in other parts of the world.

Students have an increasing amount of financial pressure to deal with, and many are being empowered by the actions of committed activists who are finding new ways to reach out to these newly disillusioned members of the university and beyond. In order to keep the movement going, activists need to see the victories that have come out of the struggle in the last two years, and be able to take advantage of the fact that there is a liberal in office to show students that both dominant political parties don’t give a shit about public education or services. The only way to organize against austerity effectively is to continue to organize outside of the administration to create a base of radical activists who are devoted to the fight against our repressive system.

There are hundreds of committed activists working on the Berkeley campus, and thousands worldwide. We have reached a new period in the struggle; we need to keep it positive and creative in order to build this base of committed individuals — from students, to workers, to community members, in order to empower people as a whole to take control of our situation. Fuck a slice — we want the whole cake.

For more info, check mobilizeberkeley.com.

Students Push Back – public education, not privatization

Students around the US are building towards a National Day of Action for public education on March 2 to maintain and expand public education and oppose plans to defund and dismantle it. State budget shortfalls caused by the recession are being used as an excuse to undermine public education by laying off teachers and staff, dramatically increasing fees for higher education, and pushing privatization. There are also growing attacks on education workers, their unions, and their pensions.

Students are pushing back — March 2 will feature student strikes, marches and direct action. In addition to demanding free, quality public education from pre-K to graduate school by taxing the rich and corporations, student are seeking meaningful participation in governance of the educational system.

Students at the 10-campus University of California (UC) system will confront the UC’s governing Regents at a March 15-18 meeting at UC San Francisco. The Regents are appointed by the governor and have no accountability to students.

The overall shift of the UC system and other public universities around the world is towards a more privatized model with more money coming directly from corporations to carry out research for private, not public, goals. Struggles against privatization at universities represent a conscious challenge to the trend towards corporate control throughout society.

Governments around the world are instituting austerity measures that attack social services including public universities. Students in England facing a tripling of tuition to 9,000 pounds took their outrage to the streets in coordinated national actions. They broke into Torie headquarters and a group attacked Prince Charles’ car when it blundered into the protest. Someone yelled “Off With Their Heads!”

In Italy, students took over a highway, invented the bookbloc, and occupied the Leaning Tower of Pisa (!). Puerto Rico is seeing increased activity around la Universidad de Puerto Rico. Venezuela has had its own series of student protests. And this is barely the tip of the iceberg of the global fight for public education.

Without a doubt, we cannot rely purely on the spectacular actions — there is no moment of instantaneous change. This points us towards is the importance of sustainability. How can we create a culture of resistance that will prove most fruitful in the long haul?

Student activists have contact with hundreds of people. Some people are sympathetic while others aren’t. And even more haven’t formed a definite opinion. As we have seen in the Americas and Europe this past year, students are ripe with political rage. It is important to try and gauge where people are at through conversation. Asking questions like “Have you heard about March 2nd?” or “What do you think about the regents meeting?” can bring one to realize either that exciting things are happening or that some energies need to be spent disseminating information. I focus on information because I believe it provides something that is important: presence. Without a perceivable presence on campus (or anywhere), it becomes difficult for anyone to get involved in exchanges and activities surrounding issues of concern.

People working together is powerful. There is no doubt that energies are high around the world. Our goals should include sustaining our acts of resistance and solidarity at the university and beyond.

We are all artists

Art is by definition something that has been created with intention; it can be a story, performance, design, sensation, picture, object or relationship. It can also be a number of these things layered on top of and interacting with one another. Art pays attention to emotional aesthetics but can look like anything, using a myriad of methods, media and forms to achieve its desired effect. When it is interesting and valuable, it has the power to engage creative faculties and inspire the focused thought and attention of those who experience it as creators, critics, or readers. When it is boring, it replicates dominant cultural forms and conforms to expectations about what is defined as beautiful.

In the last few years I have been thinking a lot about creative work, trying on the one hand to place enough emphasis, value, and focus on my own creative projects (whether visual or written, culinary or relational) so that they develop but also struggling with conflicting feelings about what it means to do art and think of myself as an artist or writer. I have tended to shy away from calling myself an artist or my creative work art. Instead, I’ve tried to think of myself as someone who notices things and for whom weaving the things I notice together into patterns of work and narratives of place and relationship feels very important. More recently I have started to call my creative work art because it connects me more easily to other people who are also thinking seriously about their own creations. I do, however, remain critical and ambivalent about the way that people engage with the concept.

I guess that part of my ambivalence is due to the perceived exclusivity of the artist. There is a danger that conversations about art begin to reek of a bourgeois narcissism in the way that the concerns of the individual artist are amplified while their connections to others and the political implications of their circumstances are often ignored. It can be tempting for a certain kind of earnest radical to reject art all together as if following an expressive impulse and taking it seriously is synonymous with the narcissistic individualism inherent in post-modern capitalism. Doing that, however, cedes a lot of rhetorical ground and ignores the importance of creative autonomy in any liberatory moment.

I am interested in the space that is held for creative work by people who call themselves artists but I am not interested in the idea of an artist as part of an elite class, or the way that ‘artist’ and ‘art’ (or writer, dancer, poet, musician etc.) are often used to describe people and works that are highly specialized and separate from the vast majority of people; narrow fields of rarefied interest and exertion that most people have little access to. If art as a concept is going to have any currency with me, then it has to be as something that is considered universal.

Unfortunately there is often a disconnect between the creative impulses of most people and the kind of critical feedback and focused energy that can exist in communities of self-conscious artists. Figuring out how to do art, of any sort, without contributing to this sense of exclusivity can be challenging. Being critical of the way that a piece is received and still being enthusiastic about the quality of the work itself is difficult to do at the same time.

It can also be difficult to find a way to express appreciation for someone else’s art without also separating them from the world. It is not surprising that cults of personality can tend to spring up around creative people. The distance imposed by even small scale celebrity reinforces a narrative around talent and ability that encourages most people to think that they are not artists; that some people have the ability to creatively transform the world while most of us do not. Many people who do not see themselves as artists either stagnate in or give up on crafts and projects that might otherwise have connected them more fully to themselves because they are not in communities where those things are taken seriously and considered valuable.

Another reason that many people do not end up following their creative impulses is because they do not have enough time. Time and space are needed to do any sort of focused creative work: time for both reflection and composition. People reflect on what they have experienced and turn those reflections into something else. Whole episodes and sets of conflict with people can be reframed and understood better in light of patterns that we recognize in ourselves and things become visible that we could not see several days before.

Often, the price of living means that you either have no time left beyond the most basically recuperative or that the changes you make in order to buy the time and space you need are traded for anything that might serve as inspiration. It is also easy for more commercially viable enthusiasms to take over the time we do have and for self-doubt to convince us that pursuing our creative impulses is not valuable.

One of the most important functions of art for the artist is the way that composing a piece allows for thoughts, ideas and impulses to be worked out. Living in a world where everyone has the time and space to be creative and reflective in these ways would necessitate a radical transformation of the world. The fact that we don’t live in such a world has more to do with the interests of powerful systems than it does with the limits of our own capacities.

A continuing problem for anyone who wants to remain critical of hierarchical domination is figuring out how to negotiate the desire to be fully human with systems of power that seek to chop us up and squeeze us into their machines. People who are trying to be artists in the world often resort to selling their art in some way in order to buy themselves the time to continue pursuing the questions and projects that interest them. This is not necessarily a bad strategy, and there are many examples of people who make it work, but it does come with a price. If your ability to eat depends on your ability to be paid for your art then a certain part of your creative output must conform to what is a marketable commodity in the context of capital.

Many people do not seem to question the larger societal power dynamics that subtly shape their efforts; conforming their work to the demands of the market and encouraging a limited aesthetic definition of what can be considered beautiful. Thinking of art primarily as something with cash value encourages people to see themselves as either producers or consumers of artistic products, to equate monetary compensation to motivation and to link the value of the work to the price paid.

Breaking out of this logic is difficult to do. Whole aesthetic movements built in opposition to this commodification have been successfully repackaged and sold to people as an elite taste. One thinks most iconically of Dada and Surrealism but I am reluctant to believe that any art scene has escaped this entirely. I find myself falling into patterns of not valuing things that I am not doing for compensation of some sort, where the productivity of the work is clearly measureable; if not rhetorically, than in the seriousness with which I pursue them, in the sense of being accountable for work accomplished.

Despite this, many people do find ways to do creative work that is not recognized or encouraged by the market in any meaningful way. The art that I am interested in creating and experiencing is not principally about hustling or productivity, whether or not some hustling and production has gone on in order to bring it into the world. The art that I am interested in is about being emotionally engaged with life in intuitive and irrational ways and communicating the power of that engagement to other people who, like all of us, often struggle to find it in their day to day lives.

When we are able to live in ways that allow us all to be creative producers without immediately turning that production over to the economic machine, we actually begin to build spaces where social relationships and existential experience can be transformed. So much of our lives are marked by a poverty of the imagination; of not being able to conceive of lives and relationships that do not revolve around meeting the needs of the system. In many ways, the value of art is its ability to feed that imagination and make all sorts of things seem possible that otherwise wouldn’t.

There is no reality worth living in that does not allow people to engage their creative faculties. Well crafted words, music, visual and tactile art grabs hold of conceptual space and fixes the spinning shifting beauty of the universe in time in an intentional way.

There is a connection between posture or affect and falseness that is often mentioned, but I am also interested in the connection between how we carry ourselves and sincerity, especially when it involves transformation and becoming. Physically, when we stretch and try to have better posture, we can often breathe more deeply and our joints and vertebrae are less prone to dysfunction. Creatively, when we stretch to imagine new projects and hold ourselves as if those projects are possible, we are transformed into beings of our own creation.

On some level, doing creative work of any sort is about deciding that the work you want to do is worth doing. This involves developing some system for assigning value and meaning to the world. If we are critical of institutions of power and have rejected the narratives of those institutions, then we must form our own subjective systems of value based on the strength of our own power and informed by the stories we choose to tell ourselves about what is possible and important. Living our lives as works of art has the power to salvage the concept of art from obscurity. Doing this allows art to be something that reminds us all of our own creative power

It is important to emphasize that there are radical artists who do creative work in ways that are expansive, who remain critical of hierarchical systems of value and carry themselves through the world as if everyone that they encounter has a story or emotional charge that they could compose and express.

I want to live in a world that affirms the autonomy and creative power we all have and is also critical and self aware enough to force us to refine that power and shape those creations in ways that continue to challenge us. Spaces and communities that are intentionally creative can certainly be pretentious and banal but they also have the capacity to make the worlds we inhabit less exclusive, specialized, and marketable and to allow for the collaborative development of new and amazing ways to think about and transform our experiences with each other.

Squatting 4 Dummys – Creating radical infrastructure through housing liberation

Abandoned homes tell a story of violence. These forgotten buildings tell us that this capitalistic culture would rather throw it all away than to allow us a shred of human dignity. They are a visceral reminder that the dollar takes precedent over human rights and common compassion.

During this period of recession our landscape is dominated by these acts of violence. While the system shows its true colors, there is an opportunity to visibly resist the violence of this system, but also to build an infrastructure of resistance, which we can defend. Housing occupations, long-term squatting, and other land actions allow us to publicly and in very real terms reject the system of private property while creating alternatives and a network of support for others who resist. We have no chance of changing the world if we lack a space to organize and lay our heads. Nor do we have a chance if we are slaving our lives away to pay rent.

A successfully defended squat (especially one rooted in its neighborhood community) could provide the spark of inspiration leading to a surge of reclaimed and occupied spaces. As occupied spaces have a vested interest in the defense and survival of other occupied spaces, strong networks of solidarity could be created that in turn could be applied to liberation struggles outside of the squatting / occupation scene.

If you’re interested in rent free living, finding an abandoned building will be easy. Finding the right abandoned building, and the right people to collaborate with can be hard, so make sure to be picky with both. Ride around town on your bike with a pen and pad. Jot down address of houses you think are abandoned. Some clues are overgrown lawns, overfilled mailboxes, and boarded windows. A nifty trick is taping the door to the doorframe somewhere discrete and coming back to check if the tape had been broken. Search on-line for a city blight / board-up list which has properties that the city had to clean or board up.

Research the spots you scope by using your local on-line assessors map to find the parcel number (APN), and use that on the county tax record site to view its tax history. Some counties won’t let you get owner’s info on-line, so just call the assessors office. Relevant information would be the current and past ‘owners’, and their address (don’t stress, people ask for this information all the time and for many different reasons). If the goal of your occupied space is longevity then consideration must be given to what the chances are of owners coming to the space (be they banks or individuals). If the goal is to defend the space then it should be considered what type of owner would be more universally resisted (probably a bank).

It is not illegal to enter a building if it’s wide open, but I doubt you will be that lucky. It might be a good idea to scope it out during the day to get an idea of what tools you might need. Most would agree that exploration should be done at night. Be mindful of light and noise. It might be wise to minimize your time carrying tools as they can be hard to explain should someone ask. If the space is to your liking it could be a good time to change the locks. If there isn’t one already, put up a mailbox and have mail sent, in your name, immediately. It will be useful later.

Often, the first major trial for a squat is the initial police encounter. The longer you’ve been established before this encounter the better. As it is often suspicious neighbors that will call the police it is extremely important (and neighborly) to communicate with those living in the area. When the police do come, your attitude of legitimacy, proof of occupancy, and knowledge of local law will be your greatest tools. Keys to the house (to prove access) and mail (addressed and stamped) can be considered the bare minimum but utility bills add to the legitimacy. Research of state, county, and city law can be done over the internet but your local law library can be an invaluable resource. Try looking up state civil codes that deal with occupancy. The saying that ‘possession is 9/10ths of the law’ applies in some states where occupancy is considered ownership (unless proven otherwise).

City building and coding people can be a wild card. They have the power to declare a building unlivable and have people evicted immediately. This is more of a concern if the building lacks any utilities (many areas require a building have water, electric, and gas to be considered livable). Officials will most likely just look at the meters (and meters can be hard to get) so its preferable to chose a building with the meters preexisting.

In these days of economic upheaval, the iron is hot for us to take back our lives. Working a job to make your landlord rich is slavery, and squatting is nothing less than emancipation from the system of debt peonage. Collective revolt can happen if we know a better world is possible, and we can prove it with squatting and solidarity.

Story of an unsafe house – an Oakland squat makes a stink

When I dropped into Oakland 8 months ago my plan was to hang out for a week or two, catch up with some friends, and continue south to Mexico. But not long after I arrived some friends and I took a liking to a well abandoned building. For 7 months an average of 15 people, 2 cats and 3 dogs called that building home.

At first only a few people from our greater community desired to live in and repair a building that had more than its fair share of feces, syringes, and garbage. Trash was bike carted out, toilets snaked, walls scraped and painted. Months of work went into the yard, now a flourishing garden. It took weeks of constant labor to get the plumbing functional and $280 for the water meter. We gathered wood to fix floors, make tables and bunk beds. We secured donations of windows and doors, and the house lit up more with each week.

It wasn’t long before the police kicked in our door, claiming we were burglarizing the place. We presented mail, keys, a water bill and an ID with current address; overwhelming evidence of legit occupancy. California civil code §1006 clearly states that occupancy is sufficient title of ownership unless it’s contested in court by other title holders. The burden of proof is on the non-occupants: a perceived owner must contest the ownership of the occupants in court. It is possible to get legal title of the property through 5 years of uninterrupted occupancy (and paying all back taxes) in a process called adverse possession. In the months to come we would be visited more by police, a city building inspector, and eventually people claiming to be the long absent property “owners”.

Once the house was established it removed much of the ever present risk that all we had created would be taken away without warning. It was easier to find people willing to work on and live in the space. Before long water flowed where none had before for over 15 years. The yard of head-high thistles and weeds was transformed into a garden of edible plants and flowers. Rooms once filled with rubble housed artists, lovers, travelers, animals, builders, and revolutionaries. We transformed silent and lonely spaces with conversation, music, and laughter. Projects were thought up and enacted. Plans were made. Life created.

We were able to achieve a lot in the following months, but we lacked resources for some bigger projects. Although donations from neighbors helped us make some structural repairs to the house, certain areas, such as the roof, were not repairable. For the roof we settled for some plastic sheeting to cover the bigger gaps temporarily for the rainy season. Electricity too, was a difficult situation. The meter had been completely removed by the electric company and to get a new one we needed to present a title proving ownership of the building. We used LED light arrays, wired to batteries in the mean time (although many wanted to keep the house off the grid permanently).

A main goal was to open up the first floor, a large open space, and the garden into a community center. Projects for the space included a radical library, free store, DIY bike space and event hall. We hosted garden work parties, often helped the neighborhood kids work on their scraper bikes, invited people to look through our free store, and held an event to raise funds and awareness for Black Mesa, but a lot of work and resources were still needed in order to open the doors to the public.

Snafu

It was around this time that a man claiming to be one of 8 owners of the building appeared in our back yard. At the time we had no reason not to believe him since his name did appear in the county records although later the issue of ownership became increasingly unclear due to numerous contradictory statements by the alleged owners. He had decided to check out his property while passing through town. He was surprised but friendly and told us how trashed the house was when he was last there, nearly a year ago, and how good it looked now. We told him how we had improved the house, protected it from being scrapped many times, and how we brought the house out of blight by following the directions of the building and coding inspector (replaced windows, cut down and disposed of high weeds, painted the front of the building).

He told us a bit about his family, black Muslims that had lived in and around the Bay Area for generations, eventually accumulating a fair amount of real estate. Later, his sister and co-owner also came to check out the house with two of her daughters. They seemed pleased and excited that the house was getting put to such inspiring use. Their liability was their main concern, so we drafted a waiver of liability, ready for their next visit. Everyone in the house was excited that the owners turned out to be so supportive of what we were doing. They assured us we were not going to get kicked out without notice.

That excitement was short lived. Another co-owner and family member came, and he was much more business minded. He said they were to sell the house, but the process wouldn’t be started until January, so we had that much time to figure things out. He came back soon after, the day before Thanksgiving, and told us we had to be out in eight days. We called him many times in those eight days, both directly and via a third party. We offered many alternatives, from working with a professional in bringing the house up to code in exchange for staying there, to rent-to-own agreements, to just plain paying rent, and all were rejected blankly. We brought up that we were legally entitled to a minimum of 1 month notice before getting evicted. They didn’t care, and claimed that they would be there that day with cops and friends to evict us.

We figured our worst-case scenario was that the cops would come, declare we were trespassing, and we would barricade inside and eventually be arrested. The situation was made more difficult because over half of the house’s full time occupants left to travel, coincidentally, just weeks before the eviction. We created a phone tree and invited friends to occupy with us.

On December 2nd the owners came with the police, as promised. The police asked us for proof of residency and we presented our water bill. The police then told the owners that they would have to file an eviction notice and packed up to leave. Before they had left unidentified associates of the owners (thought to be a combination of friends, relatives, and people they hired) hopped the fence to the back yard and succeeded in removing the barricade. What followed was truly chaotic and can’t be fully described from any one point of view.

After the hard barricade was broken and they gained entry, occupants were repeatedly assaulted and battered. The occupants, without much conversation or planning, sat in and around the back door forming soft barricades. During this time, individuals non-violently forming the soft barricade had book shelves thrown at them, were slapped on the face, had a dish rack with cutting knives thrown at them, and were trampled, in one case resulting in a concussion. Personal items were smashed and stolen, along with tools. Furniture was destroyed and thrown out the back door down a flight of stairs to the back yard. Veggies and bushes growing in the garden were ripped out of the ground and the donated lemon tree was trampled.

As people were being attacked many of those present including house members and supporters urged the police to be called. Despite our general distaste for the state, many felt we had no other option in response to the escalating violence. As the police liaison, I was responsible for making that call. When the police returned all those being most violent quickly left except one who was arrested. That owner, who himself tried to have us arrested, was put in handcuffs, and later cited and released.

In the days after we issued a statement on-line and continued to try and open dialog with the owners. They responded with threats, often made on the comments sections of various on-line articles. One of the owners’ associates, who was also very aggressive and violent at the attempted eviction, stalked the house and one night punched a house mate in the ear while he was entering the house. Those days were tense, as were the discussions on what to do.

Around a week later, in the middle of the day, a group of 8 or so men armed with bats and hammers stormed the house forcing the few people that were there out on to the street. Out front on the sidewalk the owner’s extended family, including middle school aged kids, were there to insult, degrade and threaten those they were evicting. They allowed some people to go in one at a time to gather belongings from the house but those people were intensely intimidated while inside and alone. Many personal items were stolen, and they damaged the house itself (ripped out walls, broke windows) apparently to make it unlivable. A group of friends and housemates were punched and slapped while they were leaving, a few blocks from the house.

The building, what we call the Safehouse, is still there on 3277 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Oakland, trashed and empty. It’s hard to explain in words what the Safehouse was to those who had the experience of creating there. It was living proof that we indeed had the power to change the world (or a very small part of it) in a very real way. Things left wasted by our society could be reclaimed, reshaped, and used in ways thought impossible in our day and country. We may have failed at creating an overt, long term, squatted, community space and radical housing project (no small feat in the USA), but we now know that such projects are not only possible but inevitable if we can learn from our mistakes.

Another space is possible – infoshops and radical spaces

Here are additions and corrections to the list of radical spaces published in the 2011 Slingshot organizer. The definition of a radical space is necessarily rough and imprecise — it can include infoshops with activist resources, bike workshops, alternative all-volunteer show spaces, and other physical spaces seeking to build community and promote social change, rather than just seeking to make a buck. Many people are creating new spaces like this all the time because we know a different kind of world is possible — one organized on ecologically sustainable grounds to promote pleasure, beauty and freedom through cooperation between many different kinds of people. Check out these spaces and let us know if you know of more spaces we should list, or if you have found errors in the Organizer.

Harmony House – Lincoln, NE

An child-friendly urban homestead with a radical feminist library and a focus on community herbalism and permaculture. 320 C St. Lincoln, NE 68502, 402-438-4880

Boneshaker Books – Minneapolis, MN

A new all-volunteer radical bookstore featuring bicycle delivery. Some folks from the recently closed Arise Books have worked to open the new space. 2002 23rd Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN 55404, 612-871-7110

Bike Works – Silver City, NM

A community bike work space with tools to fix your bike. They also sponsor a free yellow bike program. 815 E. 10th, Silver City, NM 88061

River West Public House Co-op – Milwaukee, WI

A new community owned bar opening this spring with profits going to start more cooperatives in town. 815 E Locust St. Milwaukee, WI 53212 Riverwestpublichouse.org

Ex Nihilo Infoshop – Lancaster, CA

They have a lending library, free store, space for events and a music venue. They want to start a free skool. 43302 45th St. West, Lancaster, CA 93536

IWW Headquarters & Infoshop – Chicago, IL

Industrial Workers of the World (Wobblies) storefront. 2117 W. Irving Park Rd., Chicago, IL, 60618.

Black Hand – Richmond, VA

Activist house that hosts radical mental health events. 3112 Woodcliff Avenue, Richmond, VA 23222 (804) 334-2203

Hub Bike Co-op – Minneapolis, MN

A worker owned bike co-op with two locations, one of which has a DIY bike repair room and sells used parts. They also provide classes. 3020 Minnehaha Ave. 
Minneapolis, MN 55406 
612-729-0437 or 
301 Cedar Ave S.
 thehubbikecoop.org

Etnikobandido Infoshop – Pasig City Phillippines

They have a library and host films, workshops and Food Not Bombs. They are seeking literature and donations. 157 Ilaya E.Mendoza St.Buting Pasig City 1600, etnikobandido@riseup.net

Glassfabriken – Malmö, Sweden

A cultural center with meeting space, a vegetarian cafe featuring workshops, films study groups, art and music. Kristianstadsgatan 16, Malmö, www.glassfabriken.net

Utkanten – Malmö, Sweden

An open space for alternative cultural, social and political activities, “free from the capitalistic and static society that has invaded and corrupted our lives and tries to smash all our dreams and hopes that anything ever could be different than the present.” Industrigatan 20, Malmö, www.utkanten.net

Hallongrottan – Stockholm, Sweden

A queer, feminist, anticapitalist bookstore and hangout. Bergsundsgatan 25, 117 37 Stockholm Sweden, +46(0)8-658 13 20 www.hallongrottan.com

Info and record shop ROMP – Luzern, Switzerland

They publish a cool looking zine. Steinenstrasse 17, P.O. Box 6633, 6000 Luzern 6, Switzerland, www.romp.ch

AZ Aachen – Germany

An autonomous Center that offers shows, movies, art exhibits and has a bar. Vereinstr. 25, D-52062 Aachen, Germany

Infoladen Aachen – Germany

An infoshop with a library and vegan food on Fridays. Stephanstraße 24, 52064 Aachen, Germany

Organization of Permaculture and Art – Salvador, Brazil

An art / theater project. Rua do Passo, 62, Bairro Santo Antonio, 40030-020, Salvador, BA, Brazil, 55 (71) 3241-6204, www.opabrasil.org

Corrections to the 2011 Organizer

• Backroom Books has a new address: 750 W. Wyeth St, Pocatello, ID 83204

• The Baltimore Free Farm has a new snail mail address and website: 3510 Ash St., Baltimore, MD 21211, www.baltimorefreefarm.org. They got a warehouse across from the garden.

• Third Space at 783 Debarr Ave in Norman, Oklahoma got closed down on short notice for “fire hazards”.

• The Mopery in Chicago, IL has closed.

• Bad Egg Books in Eugene, OR has moved out of their space and temporarily into storage.

• The Black Cherry in Toledo, OH has shut down indefinitely; it may re-open in the future under new management, or maybe not.

• The Catalyst Infoshop in Prescott, AZ lost their space, then found a space, and then the landlord lost the new space to foreclosure after a few months. They are looking for a new spot.

• Free Radicals at 803 Railroad Ave. Tallahassee, FL no longer exists. It has been replaced by The Farside, a collectively run music venue.

• The address we published for Centro de Media Libres – 34a Actopan in Mexico City may be a walking direction, but it is not a postal address – the postal service wrote to tell us that the address doesn’t exist. If you have a better address, let us know what it is.

• Kulturhuset Underjorden/SPATT in Gothenburg Sweden is not dead: their current address is Brahegatan 11 Göteborg, ujorden@gmail.com, 0704734386

• Blackhole212 in Singapore closed its space. They still exist as a collective and hope to open a new space; if you are in Singapore, the phone #s listed in the 2011 organizer still work to contact them; remember +65 in front. Check: www.blackhole212.wordpress.com

• The Acclaim Collective in Tokyo has changed their address. It now is: 2-39-2-103, Sangenjaya Setagaya-ku, Tokyo 154-0024, Japan

• The Associação Cultural Quilombo Cecília in Salvador, Brazil no longer is at the address listed.

Mail mess

We got packages that we mailed out returned from the following places – we don’t know if that means they are gone or if they just didn’t want to pick stuff up from the post office. If you know, let us know – we’ll try to check when we publish the 2012 organizer:

• Franklin House, Charles, MO

• Confluence Books, Grand Junction, CO

• Blast-O-Matt, Denver, CO

• Furnace Infoshop, Albany, NY

• EarthDiver Book collective, Oshkosh, WI

• Espaco Improprio, Sau Paulo, Brazil.

Share What Ya Got – Resident Control of Cooperative Housing Through the Community Land Trust Model

The single-family house with the white picket fence was never part of my mythology. The American dream of owning a home was not only anathema to my anarchofeminist worldview, it was also completely out of reach financially. I was born and raised in New Jersey in a working-class Italian family, and owning a home was never an option.

When I turned 18 and moved to Berkeley, California in 1974, I moved into a communal house with other women, and lived communally for the next 15 years. During the 1980′s, I lived with a group of 5 close women friends, and we lived together through 4 rented houses. With each house the story was the same: after a couple of years, the owners sold the house to nice, white, middle-class nuclear families and evicted us. This repeated phenomenon was caused by two trends that were on a collision course: ridiculously inflated real estate prices and our penchant for enforcing Berkeley’s rent control law to fight off illegal rent increases. In each house, the property owners would first try to get away with illegal rent increases, and when we would take them to Berkeley’s Rent Stabilization Board and have these increases overturned, they would put the house on the market and sell it. Anyone could crunch the numbers and see that a property owner could make a lot more profit by selling the house to a yuppie hetero-normative family than by renting to queer anarcho-hippy activists who would enforce rent control and plant zucchini and pot in the front yard. After the fourth eviction in 1988, our group could not find another rental house we could afford.

That same year, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to move into a newly-forming Limited Equity Housing Co-op, the Ninth Street Co-op in what was then semi-industrial West Berkeley. This was a five-unit apartment complex of two duplexes and one stand-alone house, with a big yard. It had been built in the 1940′s and had a series of property owners who neglected the place and didn’t do much maintenance or repairs.

An LEHC is a collective form of ownership which allows each tenant to become a home-owner by buying a share in the property. Since our co-op has five units, each household owns one-fifth of the property, but the whole property is owned collectively as a non-profit. Each resident agrees to limit their equity, so the property will always be affordable, and no one can ever make a profit on it. An LEHC effectively removes housing from the speculative housing market and makes it permanently affordable to lower-income people.

This is how it works: when we bought our share, each household paid about $2500 as a “share value” or down payment, and each year our share value increases by 2 percent. At that time each household was paying around $350 a month to the co-op to cover our share of the mortgage, property taxes, insurance, repairs, etc. Now, nearly 25 years later, my share value is worth about $5000. If I move out, I sell my share of the property back to the Co-op, and they choose a new person or family to buy into the property by paying the $5000 down payment, and each household pays about $550 a month. Obviously, that is a very small down payment to buy a home in Berkeley, and an extremely low monthly cost for owning a home. Many people are paying more than that just to rent a room. In Berkeley you can spend half a million dollars on a small home, paying thousands of dollars a month on a mortgage, even with the real estate slump of the past few years. We know that if we had not bought the buildings and had remained tenants, our rents would now be at least $1500 a month. And if we had bought the units as condos, they would certainly cost at least $200,000 each. Because we were all low-income tenants who had never owned property and knew nothing about financing and managing property, we spent years learning everything the hard way. Assistance from other “co-op fanatics,” as we called ourselves, was essential in our success. We had to do 40 years of deferred maintenance such as putting on new roofs, new wiring in all units, earthquake safety retrofits, plumbing, and new heaters, and it was a challenge to learn how to budget for these major repairs and replacements.

It has been a strange experience to be a part of collective ownership of property. As a tenant activist for many years in the Berkeley Tenants Union, slogans such as “Property is Theft” were common and we considered the landlords an enemy of the working class. When Jeff Jordan was running for Berkeley’s elected Rent Board in the late 70′s, he suggested putting a guillotine on the roof of the BTU office to let landlords know how tenants felt about them.

I never imagined it would even be possible to own a home, as housing prices in Berkeley were inflated beyond anything remotely related to the actual value of the property. An LEHC is a way for poor and working-class people to take control of their housing, to own and manage their homes and keep the housing permanently affordable for future generations. I believe that LEHCs are part of the DIY anarchist ethic of people wresting control of their most basic needs away from the capitalist class.

There are 10 housing co-ops in Berkeley, with a total of about 250 units. They range in size from small co-ops with 5 to 10 units, to mid-sized co-ops with 20 to 30 units, and a few large co-ops with up to 60 units. Most were formed during the 70′s and 80′s, the most recent in 1995. Since then it has been increasingly difficult to develop co-ops, for a number of reasons. It is very difficult to persuade banks to give a mortgage to a co-op, as banks don’t understand the concepts of collective ownership, non-profit housing, and limited equity. They especially can’t imagine why owners would forfeit their God-given right to make a profit on their housing, and instead voluntarily limit their equity. Banks prefer to finance traditional home ownership, condos, or rental property. In addition, the high price of real estate in the Bay Area has made all affordable housing more expensive to develop, and without large government subsidies it is harder to build housing that is affordable to lower-income households. And most tenants do not have the expertise to own and self-manage property, so they usually need training and technical assistance to succeed in becoming a co-op.

Five years ago, I was involved in forming the Bay Area Community Land Trust (BACLT), to develop more housing co-ops, in order to provide affordable housing that is resident-owned and controlled. We chose to do this through a community land trust, which works like this: the land trust owns the land, and the residents own and control the buildings on the land. The land trust retains title to the land permanently, leasing it to the residents through a 99-year lease. The land trust has some minimal oversight to ensure two key goals: that the residents are managing the property well and that they are keeping the housing affordable to lower-income people.

When I first moved into the Ninth Street Co-op, I knew nothing about land trusts and did not see why a co-op would need a land trust. However, over the years I have seen many co-ops operate in isolation and run into problems. While our co-op has always kept our annual increase in equity at 2 percent per year, co-ops can legally raise their equity up to 10 percent per year. As a result, some co-ops have allowed equity increases that have escalated their share value (down payment) up to $20,000, making it way too high for low-income people to afford to buy into the co-op. Having a land trust would require that the equity increase be capped much lower to keep the housing affordable. Many other co-ops have been poorly managed because residents have not received training or have allowed a few people to have too much control. Some co-ops have run into financial problems because they have failed to budget for needed maintenance and repairs, or have failed to take action when a resident was involved in drug-dealing or other activities that made residents feel unsafe. Having a community land trust as a cooperative partner in the property provides additional protection for the residents and more accountability to the community.

Bay Area Community Land Trust is currently working with several groups of tenants to assist them in buying their houses or apartment buildings and becoming a co-op. While there are numerous challenges for each project, we are optimistic that one or more projects will be completed in 2011. If your living group or building is interested in pursuing this strategy, contact BayAreaCLT.org or (510) 545-3258. BACLT also provides training for existing co-ops and living groups in facilitation, property self-management, budgets and co-op finances, and conflict resolution. We are also eager to have more activists involved in BACLT, and encourage people to get involved in this exciting project.

If you are outside the Bay Area and interested in the land trust model, contact the National Community Land Trust Network at www.cltnetwork.org to find a community land trust in your area. Their website has a terrific video called “Homes and Hands” which shows land trusts and co-ops all over the US.

Stop police killing in Oakland & Beyond

Police Targeting of People of Color in Oakland

When Oscar Grant III was murdered by BART transit police on January 1, 2009, Oakland residents and allies expressed their outrage with multiple demonstrations and riots. The community had had enough of police profiling, brutality, and murders of people of color.

But Oscar Grant was not the only one to die at the hands of the police, and it’s important that we demand justice for all the victims. In recent years the Bay Area has seen too much blood spilled. Here in Oakland some examples of people murdered by the police are Jody “Mack” Woodfox III (who was killed by police and unarmed), Andrew Moppin (who had a warrant for not paying BART fare and was unarmed), Anita Gay (who was drunk in her home and unarmed), Derrick Jones (who owned a barber shop and was unarmed), Kerry Baxter (who was beaten to death by the two cops who had been involved in his earlier wrongful prosecution in court), Obataiye Edwards (who was 19 years old), Fred Collins (who was shot by at least five cops), Parnell Smith (who supposedly fit the description of a rape suspect), just to name a few. Then there’s Jelvon Helton from San Francisco (who was shot while celebrating the Giants victory this year), Guy Jarreau Jr in Vallejo (who was doing security for a video shoot), and Leanord Bradley Jr. in Richmond (who was shot in the yard of a high school), to list a couple more in the surrounding Oakland area. And it’s not a specific Bay Area issue; it’s happening everywhere.

There is also now a new gang injunction in the North Oakland neighborhood. It’s designated to target 19 specific gang members in designated “safe zones” of the city, but the reality of the injunction is that it criminalizes everyday activities of anyone suspected of being a gang member, meaning black and Hispanic youths. There are gang injunctions in other places, like San Francisco and Los Angeles, which have proven to be unsuccessful and racist.

Despite the blatant racist and brutal actions of the Oakland Police, people are taking matters into their own hands to protect their communities. People in the Fruitvale neighborhood of Oakland have created a People Patrol, a group of sober, unarmed people who patrol neighborhoods for police stops and monitor them to make sure the cops do nothing illegal. There are also Copwatch groups in Oakland and Berkeley which monitor police activity and educate people about their rights. Protests are frequently happening against the gang injunctions, the murder of Oscar Grant, and the murder of Derrick Jones. Local unions are organizing as well as supporting a lot of these actions. Street art is abundant and beautiful, addressing and educating viewers on the issues at hand. Papers like the San Francisco Bayview do continuous research to keep people up to date and offer a refreshing alternative to the other local news sources. This cruel racism and abuse by the police has got to stop, and it will take support and action from all of us to accomplish that.