Get into the neighbourhoods, don’t be afraid of hostility, suspicion, quarrels and base passions, that, I assure you, you will encounter. Take advantage rather of the fact that the virtual recuperation penetrates even into those with an empty stomach. Seek out those with no house, salary, health, assistance, hope. Convene a whole neighbourhood and confront it with the idea that it is in their hands to change the situation. Continue to grow, one step at a time, with effective assemblies, free of pompous discourses. Offer reality, naked and harsh reality. And begin to take, take and take, until nothing remains that you don’t manage yourselves. It may frighten, but it is the vertigo before a revolution that begins. You only have to assume it. You won’t be able to? Well at least, dammit, you will have tried. … [I]f they exploit misery, then it is for us to organise it.
Ruymán Rodríguez, Anarquía a pie de calle
We return to the Federación de Anarquitas Gran Canaria (FAGC), with two texts describing the collective’s militant activity and a closing text by Ruymán Rodríguez analysing the politics of okupation …
The housing crisis in spain – the numbers that mask the violence:
- First trimester of 2012: 46.559 evictions, 517 per day
- First trimester of 2013: 19.468 evictions, 216 per day (Wiki)
- Since the 2008 crisis: 600,000 evictions (teleSUR)
- In 2013, there were 3.4 million empty houses in spain (elpais)
- … and so on …
Federación de Anarquitas Gran Canaria: Chronicle of an anti-eviction picket
The cell phone rings. It is 11:30 pm. I have the number registered. Is that of a family that we counseled in February. We gave them legal advice and guidance, but they never contacted us again. The voice on the other side sounds broken and alarmed. I believe that the person is crying. Rita (I chose this name so that we could tell her story) tells me that Thursday (today is Tuesday) she will be evicted; herself, her partner and her four children.
The last months, she has wasted with incompetent lawyers, fruitless negotiations with the landlord (a real-estate speculator with numerous properties) and attending a few meetings with collectives and platforms where she found no response (either because she was a tenant or because they wanted to take her case to the media and the family wanted to avoid the publicity).
The notification of eviction arrived 26 days earlier. The ex officio lawyer and another literate “friend” told them that there was nothing to do, that they leave. The “negotiations” had been made up of pleas and supplications to the owner, desperate but useless efforts. Tuesday, with no further ammunition, a housing activist reminded them of the anarchists. “They are what they are, but they have never failed to stop an eviction”, he told them. But, was there time to do anything, they asked themselves and I asked myself. I told Rita that we should meet tomorrow morning, early. I call the comrades [los compañeros] to hold an exceptional assembly. Almost no one can attend. The majority, informally, don’t see how anything can be done. And I agree. We will however attend the meeting to be better informed.
On Wednesday, Rita explains to us again the case. She reminds us of what she had said in February. Her companion does not speak. Broken, exhausted, he abstains. The landlord is a rentier with many properties. At the age of 50 (more or less), he has acquired various properties, apartments on the south of the island and at least two chalets. Almost everything inherited. He has never worked. He obviously does not need the apartment to live. Knowing the details of the case, I don’t think that we can remain idle. The rest of the comrades think the same. We consult each other and we decide to go forward. The FAGC gives virtual support, but physically, only four of us can go. For reasons of work, or personal matters, it is impossible to gather more people in so little time.
We study the house, the entrances, the kinds of doors, the situation of the street and the neighbourhood. We ask about possible neighbourhood support. It seems minimal, especially with so little time. We gather together material in a hurry and leave everything ready for the next day. It doesn’t look good. Fear, nerves, doubt. It may be the first eviction that we don’t stop. New arrests and new fines. One comrade understands it thus and prefers not to participate. Three of us remain, along with Rita and her companion. Other family members will not be present. They at least accept to take in her children.
There is no time to call a press conference to document the likely lynching. We contact a journalist whom we know. Its too premature, he tells us, he will not come. We are alone.
We sleep little and poorly. On Thursday, at 6 am, we are present. Coffee for 5. The family is anxious. Eyes teared. The atmosphere is tense. More doubts and more fear. Again, it doesn’t look good. However something arises from within: “Lets go, there is no time”. We don’t think. We pull ourselves out of automatisms. We inform the neighbours that we are going to barricade ourselves inside, so that they may leave if they have to. Like professional picketers, like a small gang of workers, we move quickly and well. We move struts, nail tacks and slats, weld metal plates, fix the window. The atmosphere relaxes, the tension breaks. Laughs surface. I play the clown, and it has some effect. It feels as if we are in a sailboat, like in a pirate film. “Reinforce the hatch, boatswain”. Slowly but surely, the fear becomes a strange, contained euphoria. We sing a special version of “A las barricadas”, that we have continued to adapt with each eviction. Those affected are freaking out. We continue to work.
We notify a neighbour, whose window gives out onto the street, to let us know when the judicial cortege arrives. We give her my cell number. And so we sit, waiting for the “wasap” that tells us the baddies have arrived. On the half hour, they appear. There are local police, a judicial clerk and the landlord’s lawyer. They knock. We tell them that we are a picket and that they will never take us out alive (yes, we play on the drama). A locksmith arrives; he can’t open the door even though he breaks the lock. The local police try. Then, an hour and a half later, the national police. They are unable. Heat inside, insults and curses outside. They break hinges. Worries. “Does everyone have the number of the little lawyer in their pocket?”, I ask. All confirm that yes. Waiting for the welding to hold and that the last barricade of junk do so after, so that we can record how they enter. Another hour. Nothing. A paper passes through the lateral slit of the battered door. The landlord’s lawyer wants to negotiate. He offers another 6 months of rent, then they will have to leave. We advise against. The family is delighted, euphoric, they hug each other in joy. They accept. A bitter-sweet sensation. They ask us to leave, but in this case, yes, we impose our conditions. We will do so at 2:00 pm, and when the street is completely deserted. At 2:00 pm, we gather the welding tools and cut the metal plates so that the neighbours may leave. We say goodbye to the couple, very thankful, who feel as if they have won. We don’t celebrate. We are satisfied to have come out unscathed, to have survived.
We continue in this battle of silent warriors, fighting battles that will not be carried in any media and winning some time for the oppressed to be able to breath. One day, surely, we will not be able to. But that day has still to arrive.
“Las Masías” are born
[“Las Masías“: “The Farms”, in Catalonia and Aragon]
These last few weeks, a group of migrant families got into contact, desperately, with the FAGC. They had lived extremely difficult situations of social and institutional racism. They saw themselves without home, without any refuge, living as if proscribed, persecuted, harassed, without any sanitary assistance of any kind, without any network of support beyond their compatriots. Thanks to the latter, they managed to contact us.
In a common labour, one in which they were the first to commit themselves, we occupied two buildings. One is an abandoned chalet and the other is a building with 6 apartments, newly constructed, in the same situation.
The 9 re-housed families (3 in the chalet and 6 in the apartment block. A total of 31 persons, 18 of them children) came to manage, directly, both structures. From the FAGC, we shared with them all of the guidance possible and we provided them with some basic rudiments. But after our own experience, and after also comparing with other experiences of housing okupation in Spain, we decided not to interfere in any way with the internal management of the building. Today, all of the occupations in which the FAGC has intervened are managed 100% by those re-housed. With worse or better results, these have to be assumed as the risks of autonomy and self-management.
Why are they called “Las Masías” (I y II)? Well, the economic situation of the FAGC is disastrous. Fines, seizures, lawyers, etc. But on our last trip to Catalonia, to tell of our experiences, the CNT of Sabadell (and also the PAH from there) organised a fundraising event for our struggle, and thanks to that, we told them openly, these 9 families have a home. With what was raised, we were able, for example, to buy material that allowed these families to have water and electricity.
The FAGC as a collective finds itself in a paradoxical moment. There are fewer and fewer anarchists participating, but more and more people rising up (the more excluded among them), such as those with social or educational concerns who show greater interest in our federation and who approach it to collaborate. Our interpretation is that the anarchists are interested in other things, just at the moment when people need and require our tools. However, this does open up a debate and a reflection within the FAGC. Can there be an anarchist federation without anarchists? Should we convert ourselves into a broader tenants’ union and send the FAGC to the corner to think for a while?
While we look for the answer, we continue to work. And while we can, on the island examples like “Las Masías” will continue to emerge. One can struggle against the CIEs [Centro de Internamiento de Extranjeros/Centres of Internment for Foreigners], denouncing them and protesting, but one can also help to keep people from their clutches. We are in this.
The Chiaroscuro of okupation
To okupy, as a verb, has the connotations of to demand, to claim. It is to take what is not being used, what is abandoned, and give it use. It is to point to the disproportionate importance given to private property over a good that is a first necessity, as is housing. There are however many frameworks through which to interpret it.
I always thought that to okupy had an intrinsically vindictive character and that it was unimportant which house you okupied, as long as it was abandoned. Reality forced me to broaden this perspective.
When we started (the FAGC) to intervene in housing, we specialised in stopping evictions with pickets (even though we had taken our first steps in okupation). We wanted to create an alliance with the local PAH to address the legal aspect and with the Okupy Movement so that they might help us with re-housings. The first were not keen on this kind of work, and the second, even though they tried, were unable to change their dynamic. We thus found ourselves brooding over the Penal Code and specialising in opening houses.
I remember the case of a family with 4 children recently evicted who sought us out too late. We went to a nearby okupied squat to ask if they could house them for a couple of nights until we could open up an emergency house (we didn’t have at that time the surplus of expropriated buildings that we would come to have after). The members of the okupied house told us, doing nothing but opening the door, that it was impossible. The rooms that they had free were for “travelers” (people of the general okupy movement who would come for some music festival, vacations or Erasmus students) and the remainder were spaces of meditation. I realised then how distant this kind of professionalised okupation was from real demands, how distant it was from the streets, of the needs of people in the streets. That night, hurried and anguished for this family, frustrated and pissed off at the insensitivity of those with “consciousness”, I opened a house without taking any precaution and almost, in the process, lost a foot (at the entrance to the door was an enormous hunter’s trap that in the darkness, I did not see; since then I never enter a house in the dark).
To realise that one had to choose who to expropriate was, nevertheless, in part strategy and in part confrontation with reality. Often we sought the complicity of the neighbourhood where we intervened so that the okupation could prolong itself in time. When the house belongs to a particular individual, unless no one knows even her/him, or the house has been empty for decades, the neighbours don’t approve or even call the police. By contrast, in the case of a bank, no one objects, except the politicians. In such cases, the neighbours themselves invited us to enter and even threw themselves into the work of opening the door or providing supplies. It was in this way that we saw that not only was private property attacked in okupying, but that it was necessary to cause damage to financial power, for it showed itself to be important practically speaking.
However, okupation can also be a closed circle in an other respect. When one okupies for necessity, one can be spared much of the nonsense that I spoke of earlier, but other problems arise. To okupy by necessity can also presuppose that when the necessity is satisfied, the okupation may also come to an end, by implication. We believe that mutual aid and sharing the tools of autonomy by themselves assume emancipation, and this is an idealisation. The person whom you help to open a house can denounce you in all tranquility if you tell her/him that you can’t provide electricity. I know what I am talking about. Capitalism has diffused itself in such a perfect way among the population that those in necessity also, when they cease to be so, quickly learn to apply social darwinism. I have witnessed how the old pariah, which thanks to having a house, is able to reunite her/his family and guarantee to her/himself a subsidy, comes to consider her/himself a potentate in having a few sources of income, even modest, that can be completely invested in consumption. I have seen how after this situation is produced, the same person who fled poverty now denies the presence of okupiers, the poor and migrants next door and wants no house expropriated next to hers/his. I have seen how obscure and unfathomable are the innards of persons mass produced by capitalism.
Everything that I speak of is difficult and perhaps surprising if I say that at times, when you know the lives of the people, you can even arrive at understanding the roots of these attitudes. Consider an example: a young man of 20 years who had just become a father contacted us because he did not have a house. After helping him to get one, not only did he not collaborate, but transformed himself into a saboteur that did not hesitate in calling the police when he was contradicted. He became the enemy and no one, obviously, wished to have anything further to do with him. The contempt was mitigated when I came to know his story: we are speaking of a person who suffered sexual abuse since childhood at the hands of almost everyone in his family, whose parents were drug addicts and who between the age of 7 and 18, was in a shelter. He left there accustomed to doing damage just so as not to be crushed, to deceive so as to get a little more, to exploit his equals and to maintain a relation of resentful submission to authority. Periodically medicated, mistreated and humiliated, all of his life developed in a centre that was simultaneously prison, school and NGO; all institutions that should be abolished. They taught him nothing and during the greater part of his childhood and adolescence the only thing that he knew was that he had guaranteed a bed and three meals a day, without affection or empathy, without anything that might stimulate a creative disquiet. Alienated, he never knew from where things came, nor who produced them, nor why they arrived in his hands; his only desire was to make it to the next day, dragging his rancour and to enjoy someday the hedonistic life sold by television. I neither excuse him nor justify him, but what is strange when you extend your hand to someone who has gone through all of this is not that they don’t take advantage, but that they don’t rip your hand off. The people who have so lived, their consciousness produced by the violence of the System, should throw themselves at the jugular of their fellows and tear them apart, and yet they don’t and they resign themselves to mutually devouring each other.
These experiences have convinced me that okupation should be understood not only as expropriation, but also as socialisation. If there is not behind it an aspiration and a revolutionary project that assumes the recuperation of the goods of consumption, slowly or more ambitiously, okupation can become an exclusively onanistic activity. Pedagogy is lacking among those who okupy, but this is not a panacea. Compromises have to be demanded if one wants to receive help, and if there is no compromise, then they may as well continue on alone; anyone can kick in a door. There has also to be a concern with whom the discourse is directed at, if to the converted who don’t need it or those who have needs but who are not convinced. The answer is not easy, but on it depends whether or not okupation is an endogamous activity of self-consumption or an activity, which confronting a thousand challenges and defeats, can minimally transform its surrounding world.
Ruymán Rodríguez/FAGC (08/11/2016)