Squatters' 60-Year War Against Private Property
How propertied classes team up with the state to forcibly evict urban squatters.


Publisher:  In The Times
Date Written:  05/07/2017
Year Published:  2017  
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX21112

Over the past 60 years, whenever squatters claimed homes in Western European and U.S. cities, even buildings long abandoned, the state used force to protect private property.



Squatters formed protest cultures, or microcultures. There were squats organized by feminists, anti-racists and anti-consumerists. Many had ties to radical political movements, such as the Black Panthers or the Provos, a radical art collective in mid-1960s Amsterdam. (The group had launched smoke bombs at the 1966 wedding of Princess Beatrice.) They opened cafés and organized art exhibits. They issued manifestos and urban plans, remaking and reimagining the city as a place for democratic, egalitarian communities. The "right to the city," Henri Lefebvre’s famous slogan, was to many of the squatters a lived practice, an assertion of rights to residential space and to alternative identities. Squatters in New York, Vasudevan writes, were "recover[ing] the disappearing use value of their neighborhood’s housing."

Squatters, though unable to create cities free of capitalism, achieved some victories. In Amsterdam, where as many as 70,000 people lived in squats between 1964 and 1999, squatting became a broad political movement. A flashpoint came in 1975 when the city issued mass eviction notices as part of a plan to tear down Nieuwmarkt, a working-class neighborhood in the old Jewish quarter, and replace it with a subway, a four-lane highway and a business district. The neighborhood had stood near-empty since WWII, when the vast majority of the city's Jews were deported and killed. The squatters who had occupied the buildings successfully pressured the city to scale back its plans, construct social housing and include residents in future planning. Squatting was no longer "a symbolic act of protest" but a movement able to alter the city's housing market.
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