[This report is distributed for a variety of reasons: to celebrate the summer of 1995 in NYC, to assist in the general demolition of spectacular separation and to open a dialogue on key issues and situations. This report was not written by a squatter, but by someone who lives in the traditional bourgeois fashion, that is, rents an apartment (on E. 14th St.) from someone who has proper title to it. And so this report can't help but miss the mark to some extent: it was written by someone with no first-hand experience of the events that have taken place at the squats on E. 13th St. since May 25 1995. First-hand experience is, of course, essential in all matters, this one being no exception. And so, from the start, we're aware that this report can't help but have certain inevitable weaknesses and limitations that could only be overcome if the writer had actually squatted a building in the East Village this past summer. But these facts are not reasons enough to delay the writing and distribution of a report through these channels. It's a mistake to assume that someone who isn't currently a squatter is automatically an "outsider" with respect to the lives of people who are currently squatting buildings. Such assumptions always distort and mislead: to be an "outsider" (to even have an "outside"), there have to be "insiders" and an "inside"; there has to be a stable dividing line, a wall, separation. But how did it get there? Despite appearances, both sides are deceived: the outsiders could produce or discover their own "inside scene" at any time, but do not realize it; the insiders depend upon the outside to gauge the effect they are having and to determine the direction of future actions, but what they know about it is fed to them by compromised sources. And so, where there was once a crowd capable of recognizing itself, there are now actors and spectators, the same tired old show in which no one really knows what they want. In the case of squatting, such a situation is especially self-defeating: the significance or meaning of squatting -- getting inside of and living in a formerly sealed and unused place -- would seem to be the simple fact that it makes walls and separations seem as unnatural as they really are.]
The ultimate in disposing one's troops is to be without ascertainable shape. Then the most penetrating spies cannot pry in nor can the wise lay plans against you. -- Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Squatting is an immediate and practical solution to an immediate and concrete problem: you need a place to stay and you don't have one. After it has been located, unsealed, entered and rendered relatively habitable, a formerly abandoned ("squatted") building solves the problem. Thereafter, other problems -- both abstract and concrete -- present themselves and need to be solved. Indeed, squatting a building allows you to more easily solve those secondary and tertiary problems. Squatting rather than renting a place to stay allows you to save whatever money you have for food and clothing, or -- if you have enough -- for "luxuries."
There is nothing inherently "spectacular" about squatting. It has been done in New York City, indeed, in this very neighborhood, for more than 130 years -- that is, ever since the 1860s, when urban development became an observable, cyclical process (of construction, inhabitation and use, abandonment, dereliction and destruction) that repeated itself every 30 years or so. Squatting, as either an individual act or as a "movement" of some kind, drew very little, if any, attention in the world of surveillance. In a certain sense, squatting -- in the strict sense of acquiring title to a portion of public land, under the regulation of the government -- had for a long time been official federal policy in the western territories. Under the Homestead Act of 1863, people who had "settled" -- that is, squatted -- portions of the public lands, without first securing the right or title to do so, were entitled to the opportunity to secure ownership of those portions through purchase at prices set by the government. The general similarity to the legal concept of adverse possession, which is another method of acquiring complete title to land (as against all others, including the record owner), is clear. Adverse possession differs from homesteading in that the former presupposes the uninterrupted failure of the owner to utilize his or her property and to prevent others from utilizing it, while the latter presupposes the desire of the owner to see the property developed and used as soon as possible. But the core of the two concepts is nearly identical: if you live in and work on it in a uninterrupted fashion, you have the right to own it. It matters little if you are squatting an abandoned building in a city or land "abandoned" by the Native Americans: in either case the property has come into the possession of the government, that is to say, the taxpayer-voters, and goes undeveloped or unused. Tolerance of squatting was also the de facto housing policy of the City of New York during the height of immigration to the United States from Europe in the early 20th century. The squatters were tolerated because 1) if it meant living in America, they were willing to live in derelict buildings, which saved the City from the expenses of demolishing unsafe old buildings and constructing new tenement blocks; and 2) they were alerted to and helped into these derelict buildings by family and friends who had already settled in the neighborhood, and were thus not likely to be "rootless," that is, much less likely to eventually need assistance of some kind from the city or state governments as they became employed and otherwise socialized to life in America.
Beyond this, the squatting of buildings in the heart of New York City was not a spectacle for the reason that the squatters and the media/police apparatus (itself barely out of its infancy) were mutually uninterested in each other: the locus of class struggle was on the job, not in the home. The squatters -- and everyone else, for that matter -- did not see the way they lived as a "something" that begged for generalized attention. There may have been nourishingly strong familial and interfamilial bonds, and a rich appreciation of the promise of a new life in America, in the partly squatted tenement buildings, but there wasn't the external impression or the internal pretense that there were a group of people within the buildings and the neighborhood who had discovered or established some kind of unusual social protest or alternative lifestyle called squatting. No one was an "insider" or an "outsider" to "the scene" because there was no scene to be "inside" or "outside" of. Strictly speaking, if you had a place to stay of any kind, you were "inside"; only the homeless were "outside," and this wasn't a metaphor.
I would not pretend to be able to divine when the activity of squatting in New York City became a spectacle. But I can say with certainty that squatting could only become spectacular after several historical conditions had been met: 1). when the locus of class war had been expanded into the home and the entire realm of everyday life, as well as into the workplace (a condition met in the 1930s and '40s); 2). when squatting had become an effective socio-political negation of and attack on modern urbanism and the colonialization of everyday life, as well as a practical solution to a concrete problem (met in the 1950s and '60s); 3). when the media/police apparatus had developed to the point that both its functionaries and squatters discovered the value of constantly updated information on each other's tactical positions, both in the city itself and in the abstract space of "public opinion" (the 1970s and '80s); and 4). when a sufficient number of buildings in the same neighborhood had been abandoned -- as the result of both irresponsible property speculation and default on property taxes -- for the beginnings of a real "squatter's community" to form in and around them (also in the 1970s and '80s).
One observes that the meeting of these historical conditions has coincided with the internationalization of the images of both squatters and squatting. In his introduction to a recent Autonomedia translation of Cracking the Movement, a book about squatting in Holland in the 1980s, Steve Englander reports that,
"Throughout the 1980s the squatters' movement in Northern Europe exerted a powerful attraction and fascination for squatters in New York and other American cities, for those familiar and interested in that milieu, and for activists predisposed to autonomous political action. . . . To hear or read about the spectacular actions perpetrated by European squatters was for many in North America, and in particular, New York, an encounter with their own desires and fantasies realized in distant parts; it reinforced their own pride through feelings of solidarity, as well as their own righteous certainty: 'if it happened there it can happen here. . . '"
The element that was apparently lacking -- riots and other direct confrontations with the media/police apparatus -- was supplied in the summer of 1991, when the NYPD rioted during its city-mandated evictions of homeless people from Tompkins Square Park, injuring a number of people and generating many complaints about police brutality. By and large, the only people who supported the homeless people who were forcibly evicted were the squatters and activists who lived in nearby tenement buildings. As a result, the situation in the East Village has been increasingly spectacular ever since: the squatters fear, distrust and dislike the cops, and the cops fear, distrust and dislike the squatters. Both groups mythologize and, no doubt, derive some ideological satisfaction from recalling the events that took place in the Park, because "that was when the shit went down." But the events of the last four months or so have produced a public show so visible and noisy that all of New York no doubt has heard the words and has some feelings about "the squatters," just as all the squatters must have strong feelings about "the police" and "the media." In such a situation, it is quite understandable that "the squatters" are suspicious of reports about their activities and conditions (no doubt police/media spies are everywhere these days), even or especially one written by an activist predisposed towards autonomous action. This may not in fact be the time for "autonomy," but for "solidarity."
Precisely because they do not constitute a "movement" nor a "subculture" of some kind, the squatters of the East Village -- there is no point in singling out those on E. 13th Street -- radiate out conflicting messages on these subjects. The rhetoric of "DEFEND THE SQUATS" -- a slogan that has been spray-painted all over the East Village -- implies that one knows which squats are "the squats," that both squatters and bourgeois renters alike are called upon to defend them, and that no explanation for why one should "defend" the squats (as opposed to squatting in general) need be given, because "we all know why." And yet the creation and maintenance of a specialized, relatively-easily identifiable "squatter lifestyle" -- which is more than just a decision about where and how to secure shelter, and encompasses such largely irrelevant matters as choice of clothing, style of dress, public behavior, and ideological-cultural commodity preferences -- , though far from being enforced or universally practiced, are common enough to discourage day-to-day contact with squatters when an "action" isn't taking place, and thus to warrant some attention on the part of individual squatters.
Certainly the internationalization of the images of both squatters and squatting in general has, ironically, contributed to the homogenization of the "squatter look" in the East Village, just as it did in the 1980s in Holland, Switzerland and Germany, where there is still a disquieting conformity (a form of isolation) among squatters. A dead-end is certainly reached when New Yorkers, in an attempt to look "authentic," adopt the gesture of wearing Palestinian scarves in mimicry of Amsterdam squatters who adopted the gesture of wearing Palestinian scarves, which were originally worn for practical reasons, as a symbol of their own struggles against conformity and isolation. But this dead-end isn't simply aesthetic or theoretical in nature. What works on the practical level in Amsterdam may not work on the practical level in New York City, precisely because the two cities are located in two very different legal cultures.
Under Dutch law, one is successful in proving adverse possession of a squatted building if the uninterrupted period of "illegal" occupancy has been a quiet one in which no one -- especially the property's owners -- has noticed, much less objected to your presence. But under American law, adverse possession is proven if, during the period of uninterrupted occupancy, the "illegal" possession has been visible, open, "notorious" and "hostile" (as prescribed by statute). Some of the implications of this difference should be immediately clear. The American system encourages, perhaps even necessitates a turn towards the "public eye" and the general spectacle, while the Dutch system nearly rewards turning away from them. Given the fact that abstractions such as the "public eye," "public opinion" and the spectacle of "consensus" are obviously manufactured falsehoods, the American system effectively traps squatters, while the Dutch system allows a certain margin for escape. In America, you are either "out of the public eye" (and thus not entitled to squat with the expectation that the property will become yours if you inhabit it without interruption) or you are "in the public eye" (and thus constrained to live by its inhuman rules, despite the fact that you have, by squatting, presumably freed yourself from one of society's most powerful constraints on living).
Ironically, a solution to the American problem can be found in the controlled use of tactics tried out and found to be effective in Amsterdam and other European cities. The solution begins with the insight that both the police and "the media" (considered as a bloc) deliberately and continuously say what they know to be absolutely ridiculous things about particular groups of squatters and squatting in general, with the intent of doing two things at once: fixing distorted images of squatters and squatting in the "public eye" (thereby defeating in advance their attempts to construct positives images of themselves); and summoning, daring, even provoking the squatters to produce "the truth" about themselves and squatting in general. Too much attention has been focused on the first goal, and too little on the second, which is in many ways the most important of the two. If squatters take the bait, and try to define (for themselves and for the consumption of others) "the truth" about themselves and squatting in general, they automatically do damage to the essence of who they are and what they are doing -- whether or not "the truth" they produce and relay for mass consumption is spectacular or "mediagenic" enough for "the media" to recognize, accept and broadcast it. For the squatters have begun to conceive of themselves and their activities in ideological ("expert") terms: this and that won't be reported by "the media" and therefore won't help us gain the support and approval of "the public"; consequently, those "things" must be de-emphasized, while these "things" here -- which will help us gain control of "public opinion" -- must be brought to the foreground. On this stage, one abstract monolith ("the squatters" or the "squat community") meets and faces off against another abstract monolith ("the media," "the police" or "the public"). Whatever "happens," the category of the abstract monolith wins. In the meantime and inevitably, the things that have been temporarily de-emphasized (i.e., certain concrete particularities, unique to squatting and to squatting on, say, E. 13th Street) -- because they are "just not what we need right now" -- are on their way to being completely forgotten. Conversely, that which has been temporarily foregrounded (i.e., actions, images and rhetoric intended for mass consumption) is, in the meantime and inevitably, on its way to becoming "second nature."
If "the truth" squatters have produced for mass consumption is in fact spectacular enough for the media to recognize it and accept it, they will find that they have inadvertently assisted the general spectacle in keeping in motion the dizzying -- and ultimately counter-revolutionary -- enterprise of continually fixing, circulating and condemning "newly improved" distorted images of people who are hostile to the way life is currently organized and lived day to day; they will find that they have provided this enterprise with more cannon fodder, and have done nothing substantial to help their own tactical positions. As for the general spectacle, it has -- by being given the opportunity to present "the public" with a deliberately distorted image of the squatters' careful correction of "the media's" first distorted image of squatting -- once again (two times in a row) prevented the squatters from constructing a positive image that "the public" can understand and sympathize with. And yet the spectacle has, by allotting the squatters a place (any place) on its stage, given them a (false) reason to believe that next time "the media" will get it right and allow them to finally clear their names, let "the truth" be known, and win the "support" of "the public," which was "really" on their side all along (only they were deceived and didn't know it).
Quite obviously, there are great temporary rhetorical advantages to entering the spectacle at precise times and places. But any gains made from such contact can be quickly reversed into long-term losses if one doesn't enter the spectacle (at a precise time and place) as a clear enemy of the spectacle itself. There are examples, I'm afraid. Though "Bear" is no doubt not a spokesperson for anyone other than himself, he has felt free to conduct himself in a fashion that has ultimately (and rather quickly) had effects on the images of each and every East Village squatter. Though "Bear" makes the gesture of masking his face when he is giving TV and press interviews, he is obviously no enemy of the spectacle. User of a pseudonym or not, "Bear" has made a name for himself and has consequently satisfied the spectacle's need for an image, indeed, any image, of an East Village squatter. As will be discussed in the chronology that follows, his decision on the night of 4 July 1995 to grant a live television interview with WCBS-TV reporter Rose Arce and anchorperson John Johnson may have been ill-considered. But it was certainly a serious tactical mistake for him to grant both television and print interviews with reporters on the night in September 1995 that the NYPD raided a beer party in La Plaza Cultural (9th Street and Avenue C) and ended up fighting with and arresting 25 people (to whom the news media referred as "punk rockers," "skinheads" and "anarchists," without the slightest concern that these names have nothing in common with each other and have very little to do with the people at whom they were thrown). "Bear's" presence in the spectacle -- whatever his original intentions -- was obviously used to say something along the lines of, "These skin-headed, anarchistic punks are so bad even the squatters don't like them (and we all know how much we don't like those good-for-nothin' rent-stealing squatters, don't we?)" But his presence did more than that. It showed that "the squatters" must not really be so bad; after all, they don't like those skin-headed, anarchistic punks either. The damage is two-fold: distorted images have been fixed and distributed for both "the squatters" (bad, but not the worst) and "the punks" (the worst); a spectacular separation has been imposed between "the squatters" and "the skins/punks/anarchists," though there might actually be instances of and room for more genuine contact between them.
In November 1994 the State Supreme Court slapped the Guiliani Administration with a restraining order intended to prevent the city from going forward with its illogical and vindictive plans to try to evict -- rather than grant adverse possession to -- over 100 squatters from buildings on East 13th Street between Avenues A and B (537, 539, 541 and 545 E. 13th Street). Some of these squatters had been uninterruptedly occupying these tenements for as long as 10 years. They had accomplished a lot in that time: the immediate neighborhood was and is no longer a market for drugs nor a place to use them. The squatters had clearly indicated their willingness to fit into the neighborhood, as well as their desire to eventually gain adverse possession of some of its buildings, by obtaining permits to have water and electrical services installed or repaired, and by paying Sanitation and Fire Department-issued fines against them (just as if they were like any other group of residents).
The Guiliani Administration has changed its official reasons for evicting these people as the situation (political expediency) has called for. In November 1994 it was still advancing the claim that the squatters were preventing the City from renovating the tenement buildings and turning them into 41 low-income (below $24,500 a year) apartments, thirty percent of which were to be reserved for people currently housed in the city's homeless shelters. But it is clear that the real reason for the Guiliani Administration's determination to evict the squatters has been a very personal and wounded desire for revenge against the very people (or at least their friends and sympathizers) who were beaten up in the Tompkins Square Park police riot and had the nerve to file lawsuits against the City (most of which -- thanks to "amateur videos" recorded during the riot -- stood a very good chance of being settled in the plaintiffs' favor if they went to trial). The City has no doubt determined that the squatters were and are a source of continuing "instability" in the neighborhood, largely on the basis of exaggerated claims from the neighborhood Community Board, which has been generally unsupportive of the squats. In April 1995 the City manufactured what it took to be a great reason for the immediate eviction of the squatters in at least two buildings, 541 and 545 East 13th Street: they were in danger of imminent collapse. On 20 April, the City issued the squatters an (illegal) eviction order. State Supreme Court Justice Wilk knew a piece of illegal bullshit when it was thrust in front of him -- how could the same buildings the city wanted to turn into apartments only a few weeks ago now suddenly be in danger of imminent collapse? -- and ruled against the City, which appealed to the federal Court of Appeals. On 25 May, the appellate court stated that it would rule on the city's claims about the buildings' safety in September 1995; in the meantime, the restraining order against the City was lifted. An attempted eviction was sure to follow. Rather than simply abandoning the buildings, the majority of squatters decided to stay and to prepare to fight against any attempt to evict them. The precise date and time of the intended eviction was leaked by the police in an attempt to intimidate the squatters. It seems to have failed miserably. The cops realized this, and took appropriate steps.
The prior evening and throughout the early morning of 31 May 1995, a number of very creative measures were taken by the squatters to slow the police's passage through the streets immediately surrounding the area, including the placement of an overturned car on the East 13th Street. At around 4 am or so, and in the style of the Amsterdam squatters, an eviction tape was played really loud and the squatters' neighbors, friends, fellow squatters and other supporters turned out to attempt to fill the street with bodies, dancing, noise and a generally festive atmosphere. Before the police moved in, they (the cops) made sure to gather and hold together in one place ("the pen") all the journalists, reporters and TV crews who'd come down to cover the eviction. As a result of this very effective post-Gulf War tactic, the police were able to get and maintain a chokehold on the flows of information in and out of the area. There were also free to, once again, commit brutality and other criminal and civil violations with impunity.
The police certainly came prepared, as prepared as any army. Their primary attack force consisted of 250 fully-clad riot police; a 25-ton armored vehicle -- reputedly called "Anytime, Baby" -- that saw action in Korea, presumably against the communists; three police helicopters; and assorted police vans and squad cars. Because the pretense that the "crumbling" (NY Post) buildings were in danger of imminent collapse had to be maintained -- even as that pretense was completely undermined by the rumblings of the tank -- , the primary attack force was accompanied by fire engines, sanitation trucks and other "emergency service vehicles." (Ostensibly, the police were there to accompany and ensure the safety of the officials from the Buildings Department, but it was obvious that the Buildings people were there to accompany and justify the presence of the police.) Perhaps most importantly, the police also arrived with their own camera crews and videotape recorders. They filmed everything and everybody, not only to have the means to answer and disprove allegations that they were guilty of police brutality, but also to have the means to identify anyone who might elude arrest or do something illegal (like resist arrest). But the squatters intended to be nonviolent in their resistance to the eviction, and they succeeded in not being provoked by the police into a pointless and no doubt violent confrontation. The centerpiece of their plans was the creation of a human chain around "their" buildings. The tactical advantage of the chain was that it (further) delayed the police's efforts to arrest the protesters. In the end, 31 people were pulled away from the chain, roughly handled, and taken to the 9th Precinct as arrestees. Most of those arrested were not from the evicted squats, but from the surrounding buildings. This suggests that it is much easier to "defend the squats" on an abstract level (those situations in which it is not "your" squat but someone else's that is threatened), than it is on a concrete one (those situations in which the most important thing is to save your ass first and then worry about everything and everyone else later). The concrete defense of a squat requires people acting directly on their own behalves: violence may be inevitable, given the stakes.
The local newspapers, of course, weren't the least bit fair or kind to the squatters in their treatments of what happened. Making a point it would repeat again and again over the course of the summer, The New York Times ranted:
"Unlike the poor immigrants who have taken over city-owned buildings in the Bronx and elsewhere as an alternative to homeless shelters, most of the squatters on E.13th Street are artists, musicians and poets whose stance against the city is as much about politics as about the need for housing. Most are white, most have jobs and, over the years, they have carved comfortable spaces out of the dilapidated properties that the city owns because the previous owners defaulted on taxes."
Though this passage relates a few basic facts, its tone is outraged. It is not describing reality, it is objecting to it! In particular, it is objecting to the simple but apparently inconceivable and unacceptable facts that, in the words of Community Board member Lisa Kaplan, "these are younger people living in a very free-wheeling style with other economic choices." In other words, the spectacle of squatting in the heart of Manhattan (as opposed to any other borough of New York City) is not about obstacles to the building of low-income housing developments or finding places for "real" homeless people, but about the "economic choices" made by these "middle-class misfits" (to quote a NY Post editorial). The damage done by the squatters is not to the buildings, the neighborhood nor the tax revenues of the City of New York, but to this whole society's image of what "happiness" is. That's right: here are young people from middle-class (code for "white") backgrounds who have soundly rejected all the things that being young, middle-class and white in America entitle you to! Mayor Guiliani knows very well the threat these kids pose, not only to other young, white, middle-class kids (who might also "drop out"), but to all those poor immigrants and working-class stiffs out there who think that the most important thing in life is getting exactly what all those young, white, middle-class kids have already got, because those are the only things that can bring true happiness in America, right? Wrong, say the squatters. "This world was made for them, not me: let them keep it!"
Approximately one month after squatters launched a failed attempt to re-take (or re-squat) 541 E.13th Street, another attempt was launched on the 4th of July, commonly called Independence Day. No doubt the first attempt failed in part because the police had taken steps to "secure" E. 13th Street and turn it into an armed camp (a "restricted zone" into which only "respectable citizens" with a damn good reason for being there could enter). News reports in June contended that at least three press photographers and one radio reporter who had tried to enter this "zone" were relieved of their press credentials by police officers who were no doubt concerned about their personal safety. But by July -- and especially during the July 4th weekend, when hundreds of thousands of people were descending on the lower East Side of Manhattan to watch Macy's annual fireworks "spectacular" -- the police's grip on the neighborhood was forced to loosen up a bit. The squatters' collective sense of timing was brilliant.
At 10 pm -- that is, as the meaningless fireworks display was ending, sending thousands of people meandering through the East Village's streets -- the squatters began to re-take 541 E.13th by kicking through the barred and closed windows. By midnight, they had destroyed the security system put in by the cops, re-taken the entire building, booby-trapped its floors with tar so as to slow up and fuck with the officers who would later get into it, unfurled a series of very mildly worded banners -- "OUR HOME," "FREEDOM," and "ESTAMOS, QUEDAMOS" (Spanish for "WE ARE HERE, WE STAY") -- and ascended to the roof, from which they yelled to their supporters, who'd collected across the street, and yelled at the riot police and police helicopters circling around them. But the police had been completely caught off guard, and could do nothing to stop the squatters. But that wasn't all, as they discovered when they finally broke down the door and entered the building. There was no one there, no one at all: they had been completely out-foxed. All the police could do was beat the shit out of or arrest anyone and everyone who didn't run away in response to their raised clubs and "protective" shields. Significantly, the police eventually arrested only 18 people, a mere 5 of whom they claim they can prove were in the building just before they arrived and found no one there. The police were evidently more interested in beating the heads of sympathetic protesters across the street, uncooperative neighbors in adjoining buildings and, of course, innocent bystanders (wherever they were) than in making arrests and getting convictions -- despite the fact that there were rumors they were going to charge those squatters who threw things from the roof with attempted murder. But the police weren't the only ones completely out-foxed by the squatters: so were "the media." All of the local TV stations had sent their live crews to the East Side for the fireworks display, which began at 9:15 pm. The strategy of their 11 O'clock news reports was obviously going to be their tried-and-true one: rely on pre-taped segments on the general spectacle of "the Fourth of July" and then, for a bang-up closer, go to scenes from the "spectacular" itself and get a quick live report. The re-squat ruined these plans with little trouble. By 11 pm, the competing and very compelling spectacle of the re-squatted squat was in full swing: it was news! More than that, it was news with a hook: you know, the independence thing. The local TV stations had no choice but to interrupt a spectacle of their own making for a spectacle of someone else's making. Instability must have broken out in boardrooms all across the city. To interrupt or not to interrupt? Which spectacle is the most spectacular? Think of it: to interrupt themselves, the TV stations had to re-locate their live TV crews or send out a second set to cover "the late-breaking developments on the troubled lower East Side of Manhattan." In either case, it meant confining their "award-winning news teams" in "the pen" that the police once again created and maintained by force and intimidation. In the meantime -- tick, tick, tick: time is money -- valuable advertising revenues might be lost; indeed, the advertisers might not be happy that the stations decided to cover the re-squat at all. But if they didn't cover the re-squat, their competitors might have ate them alive. Oh! what to do? what to do?
It is at a time like this that you don't let someone as earnest as Peter Spagnuolo get on a cellular phone and talk to the Associated Press. For the same reason you would like to escape at the last minute and leave the police all alone in an empty building, you would like to maintain total "radio silence" until something big is set into motion. If you are going to let your actions do the talking for you (and this was a brilliantly eloquent action), keep your fucking mouth shut. If you are going to put banners up that use lackluster phrases, don't bore everyone to sleep by paraphrasing them aloud on the telephone. (If The Daily News is content to say that the squatters "also unfurled a banner, although police would not say what it said," go ahead and let them.) If you are going to say anything at all, you might as well say the most irresponsible things you can think of. Say that the prisoners are being murdered in the prisons! Call for a permanent universal rent strike! Call for a general wildcat strike! Declare that people should never work! Yell out, "Come on over, baby, we got shakin' goin' on!" It is quite conceivable that, in their confused state, the media will broadcast these messages, precisely because they irresponsible. "Be reasonable: demand the impossible." But don't let someone like Peter tell the world reasonable rubbish such as "we've done this to re-establish our homes." Though the strategy (we've got to show the people we love HOME as much as anyone else) may seem sound, the tactical position required by it is untenable: if you act like you don't want to be a "rootless" squatter (that you want to be kicked out of "your" squatted home), you completely undermine the idea that you are, in fact, a squatter. Explanations are required: it seems that revolutionary squatters would only symbolically return to buildings they had once squatted and been evicted from; that they would find another building in which to stay and re-establish "the squat," even if they were involved in litigious efforts to return to the old building on the grounds that adverse possession had been attained before the eviction took place. But maybe I'm wrong. Who am I talking to, anyway?
[Author's note, added 22 February 1997: just as I feared, this pamphlet -- precisely because it is based upon newspaper accounts and not eye-witness accounts of the major events it describes -- contains some serious errors. For example, Peter Spagnuolo did not in fact have a telephone conversation with the AP during the 4 July action, and so could not have said the things that I criticize him for saying. And so it was a mixed blessing to learn that this pamphlet has been translated into Dutch and published in the Dutch magazine Mba-Kajere (issue #1 Spring 1996).]
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