Friday, November 4, 2011

"You don't evict Oost in one day"

"You don't evict Oost in one day" This was the slogan shouted defiantly by squatters and sympathizers against police who seemed under real threat of not achieving their planned evictions in time. At the end, they did manage to clear the six houses they had on the list in Amsterdam Oost… after more than 12 hours! Hardly an achievement that can be called a great success.

What made this level of passive and active resistance possible, were not only the brave and dedicated people who spent many hours in lock-ons, the people who spent hours building barricades or the people confronting the police with paint and smokebombs. Behind all this also stands the effort of years of campaigning, research, neighbourhood outreach, beautiful creativity and free spirit.
The result of all this work is not only that some young people with low income have a place to live, or that some squatter subculture has it's hangouts. The result is also continuous resonance in the echo chamber of society: Media coverage of the housing problem in the city and the activities of white-collar criminals in the real-estate sector as well as placing those issues repeatedly on the agenda of the local councils. What those campaigns try to create, is a saturation of the public domain with a knowledge about those issues that can breed understanding. This understanding forms the basis of a mutual engagement with the community. The most explicit example of this was the neighbourhood march two days prior to the evictions. The speakers and participants at this march were not only squatters celebrating themselves and preaching to their own crowd, but to a large part renters who have been wronged by their landlords, neighbours who have become strangers in their own neighbourhood because of the plans of real-estate developers and politicians, and even antisquatters who have realized that they are used and abused by illegitimate businesses and their degrading practices.
The squatters themselves had major active support within the neighbourhoods during the eviction wave itself, and this was exactly because of their ability to build bridges on the basis of their continuous and inspiring campaigns. Such ties with the neighbourhood are not only achieved by propaganda, though. Presenting an open atmosphere and friendly face to the community is the important second component of the successes booked there. Groups like the people behind the Blijvertje, the Valreep and Schijnheilig are often maligned as "soft hippies" or "conformist students" by detractors from within other squatting groups. However, it has been proven time and again by those people, that they can also fight and resist, organise demonstations and earn their keep in the "traditional squatter's way" The opposite can not be said of many other continuously working squatter collectives. Many are mostly busy with playing for their own crowd, maintaining a closed subcultural niche where only "their kind" is really welcome. Interaction with the community is very limited and hardly goes beyond the necessary minimum.
This last eviction wave had a list much longer than the two handful of houses in Oost. Very few of the places nominated for eviction elsewhere had a story to tell about themselves or why and how they were evicted or given up. This is not the way how a group of housing activists should be represented in the media: Without real mention, without a cause, without message.
If all the squatting groups in this city would act like the people putting their efforts behind Blijvertje, Valreep, Schijheilig and related houses, then the next eviction wave will fail to meet it's goals, and a larger activist movement can one day grow from the fertile environment created by real community work. I would wish, that the next eviction wave will be accompanied by the slogan "Amsterdam ontruim je niet, nog niet eens in een week" and that it will really be the case too.

No comments: