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(en) US, SF Squat Action - Squatters Demand Government Focus on Housing, Not War - By Liam O’Donoghue

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sun, 21 Mar 2004 23:11:36 +0100 (CET)

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Leary of the chaos that consumed Market Street and much of downtown
last year, at the dawn of Gulf War II, swarms of police wearing riot
helmets and wielding billy clubs were prepared to contain Direct
Action to Stop the War’s 7 a.m. gathering at Justin Herman Plaza and
subsequent Bechtel Headquarters protest. But when a sub-group that had
continued marching up Market turned onto Page Street, the police where
caught off-guard. Occupied by keeping people on the sidewalks,
distracted police were unable to prevent a group of about 25
squatters’ rights activists from storming through the entrance of an
unoccupied building at 47 Page Street. The Autonomous Collective*, a local
anti-capitalist group, orchestrated the morning-long stand-off in order to
draw attention to the affordable housing shortage and
rampant homelessness that continue to plague San Francisco.

“Last night was the first time I slept in a bed in a month,” said
Purple, a homeless youth, from inside the cavernous squat. “It’s really
encouraging to see people unite to demand shelter, because this place is a
lot better than Golden Gate Park. That crazy place is full of junkies who
want to fight all the time. It’s not safe, plus if I can’t afford a place
to sleep, how am I supposed to afford a ticket for sleeping outside?”
Halting ticketing and harassment of the homeless is a major priority of
Autonomous Collective, whose members are also involved in other direct
action campaigns related to guerilla gardening, forest defense, and
workers’ collectives. Evicted from a squat at 2161 Sutter Street in
Pacific Heights last January, members of Autonomous Collective continue to
occupy vacant buildings throughout the city, but demand a more permanent
solution for San Francisco’s homeless population. Although the
high-profile nature of the March 19 protest will almost certainly
eliminate the possibility for further use of 47 Page Street, one
organizer, Salim McCaron, believes that this confrontation was necessary
to further the Autonomous Collective agenda. “It’s a constant cycle of
finding places and getting kicked out,” he said, from a fire escape
balcony, as 11 individuals were being arrested below for blocking traffic
in an act of civil disobedience. “We need direct action to provide shelter
for the poor, because the City’s not providing it. This building is
scheduled for demolition. Their letting developers gentrify neighborhoods
with luxury condos while people are dying in the streets.”

The squatters hoped to make the connection between the anti-war
protests and the building takeover clear with a “$ for Warfare means Squat
for Housing” banner, which hundreds of onlookers and the
mainstream media could see hanging across the façade of the building. The
purpose of the small tree adorning the balcony and hay scattered across
the sidewalk was not as blatant, but Camala, a bandanna-d
squatter carrying several potted plants up to the rooftop, explained, “The
Bush administration wants to spend our tax dollars on bombs,
instead of housing, education, health care and social services. By growing
your own food, you can be less reliant on the neoliberal
corporations that facilitate our government’s irresponsible actions, so
that’s why we’re trying to start a garden here.”

Within two hours, the squatters were non-violently vacated and the banners
torn down by police, but amongst the graffiti and bird shit, the empty
mattresses and water bottles, the plants remained. The permits have
already been issued for the demolition of 47 Page Street, but maybe one of
the squatters will return before the wrecking ball, to gather the plants
and bring them to a new rooftop, where a new garden can have a chance to


pictures at http://www.basetree.com/photography31.html

* [Ed. Note: Autonomous Collective is an antiauthoritarian group]

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