Volume , Number 0
There are no articles.Commentary
There are no articles.Culture
There are no articles.Features
On Second Street
Henry A. Giroux
Slippin' & Slidin'
Deliver Us From Reverends
There are no articles.
NOTE: Z Magazine subscribers and sustainers have access to all Z Magazine articles here and in the archive. The latest Z Magazine articles available to everyone are listed in the Free Articles box at the top of the table of contents, and are starred in the list below. Questions? e-mail Z Magazine Online.
South End Press, Cambridge, MA 1999
Review by Alexander Dwinell
Theres a verse of Woody Guthries popular anthem "This Land is Your Land" neglected by most school assemblies. It goes:
Was a big high wall there that tried to stop me
A sign was painted said: Private Property
But on the back side it didnt say nothing
That side was made for you and me.
The people who dare go behind the sign and the ideas that motivate and support this action are the subjects of Anders Corrs new book, No Trespassing!: Squatting, Rent Strikes and Land Struggles Worldwide.
Resistance towards private property and the reaction against being locked out of that system takes many forms. The method of resistance is often dictated by the situation, but the variety of actionsbe they occupying unused, marginal farming lands for subsistence crops and housing, reclaiming an unused building for a shelter, or refusing to pay rent until repairs are madeall challenge the traditional order of property ownership. It is the ties between such seemingly disparate actions that Corr addresses.
No Trespassing! starts with in depth analysis of two different paths of resistance. First is Homes Not Jails (HNJ), an activist housing group that believes it is wrong for buildings to stand empty and fall into disrepair while people live homeless. By using such commonplace tools as bolt cutters and crowbars HNJ reclaims unused property and turns it over to whoever is in need. Through a combination of covert and public takeovers HNJ has been able to provide both emergency housing to those in need and to draw public attention to the housing crisis in San Francisco. They also, working with Religious Witness, were able to save 466 housing units on the Presidio for affordable housing.
Moving from the urban squat to the rural land occupation, Corr explores how the indigenous Tacamiches in Honduras resisted Chiquita Brands to secure a place to live. In the midst of a labor strike Chiquita Brands closed a banana plantation rather than negotiate with the workers. This closure threw thousands out of work, including some whose roots went back generations, and economically abandoned the community. The workers and their families moved onto the abandoned banana fields, started to plant crops, and build a village. One year into the settlement Chiquita moved to evict the squatters. When a first attempt failed they returned with an army of 500 and bulldozers. They destroyed the crops, houses, and three churches. The Tacamiches continued to resist, garnering international attention and support. In 1997 Chiquita and the Honduran government rebuilt the village and invested money in starting small industries in Tacamiche.
Anders Corr uses these two success stories to illustrate that by taking direct action, squatting does have the power to create change. But taking that first step, going over that private property wall often requires a radical rethinking of commonly held values. Even when people can identify with a particular situation and recognize the necessity and the inequality that created the situation it is difficult to apply such concepts to the totality of property ownership and distribution. Corr characterizes and dissects three main arguments that people use to defend the existing systems of land ownership and to oppose squatting; the personality theory: property is a necessity for individual freedom; the labor-desert theory: the belief that property stems from hard work; and the utilitarian theory: the current distribution is the most practical arrangement for the welfare of all.
No Trespassing! is about taking action and the book is intended for practical use. While not giving specifics on squatting techniques (urban squatters are recommended to consult Survival Without Rent available from the Shadow in New York), it provides the philosophical support for using direct action to challenge property distribution. Through an overview of squatter actions No Trespassing! creates a history of land struggle which crosses national boundaries (as it ought); a history which gives a sense of place to current struggles. This survey also serves to educate people engaged in land struggles. It explores what tactics and situations have led to success and it reveals what type of repression can be expected and what can be done to minimize the fallout. In chapters titled: "Tell It to the Judge," "Violence and Cycles of Reform," and "Tactics and Mobilization" and illustrated with scores of examples Anders Corr provides an accessible and knowledgeable history of land struggles.
As the squatter enters forbidden territory and makes it habitable so to does Corr, crossing the philosophical border that divides Western, Urban Squats and Southern, Agrarian Land Occupations. Corr discusses how the occupations of Alcatraz created a more unified network of Native American activists. Curiously he neglects to discuss the prominent role squatting took in the campaign to halt the M-11 motorway in England. Anders Corr also departs from the pure view of "squatting" by including rent strikes in the definition. Rent strikes, some may argue, stretch the term too far as they do not directly challenge the notion of ownership. Corr makes the important point that rent strikes, like squatting and land occupations, are tactics to bring about changes to the property system, not solutions in themselves. By its very nature squatting challenges capitalism and invites repression and therefore cannot continue to exist without changing the system.
For people who think they pay too much of their income in rent or for mortgages, for those without housing, for those engaged in local struggles looking for broader connections, for people in search of support for their instinctual reactions against the inequality of property, No Trespassing! offers much. Anders Corr has contributed an important work to the fight for a just life. Z
Alexander Dwinell is a Boston-area activist.