People Want to Talk about Squatting

ACORN Citizen Wealth Financial Justice

Oakland    Over the last several days of screening THE ORGANIZER, I’ve noticed something interesting that is piquing peoples’ interest more and more about the movie.  Our friends in Bulgaria translated the movie so that they could run captions in their language at a screening in Sofia, and I skyped in for the Q&A.  Again, in big town Los Angeles and then along the central coast in the smaller city of San Luis Obispo before and after the screenings, people picked up the same thread.  Everyone wanted to know more about ACORN’s tactical experience with squatting.

On many levels I’m not surprised.  We’re in an affordable housing crisis.  People everywhere, not just in Europe or California are coming to grip with the changed reality of housing supply and finance.  Ownership is increasingly out of the question except for the one percent or those moving that way in many countries, states, and cities.  Public or social housing that is government run and subsidized is increasing inadequate and off the table as a realistic alternative for millions of families.  People are embracing predatory installment land contracts in “as is” condition without a clue, because it’s what they can afford.  Rents and evictions are off the charts.  Housing and developer trade associations are well the funded, localized equivalent of the gun lobby nationally and in many states make rent control and better housing regulations almost impossible to win for anything but the strongest organizations and most unified campaigns.  The list could be even longer and still not be all inclusive.

Documentary viewers are either being reminded or introduced for the first time to ACORN’s efforts beginning in the 1980s to squat in housing that had gone vacant and, in our slogan, “put houses that need people with people who need housing.”  They see the militance of ACORN’s leaders and members as they demanded change, broke through the boarded doors and windows of abandoned houses and moved in.  They see the encampments ACORN called “Reagan Ranches,” in various cities and on the ellipse of the White House in Washington, D.C. They see footage of Congressman Henry Gonzalez and the announcement of the passage of a bill that legalized the transfer of such houses to low-and-moderate income families.  Turns out squatting is not only an exciting tactic but offers a path to victory.

Perhaps that’s what we need to do now:  start squatting again!  This time the squatting should not just be in our own neighborhoods but in the exclusive enclaves of the rich in city after city so that the housing crisis is seen by everyone not just as our problem but a problem for everyone, and a problem that must be met and resolved.  People are clearly more than curious.  They are desperate for a winning tactic and strategy.  They see ACORN squatting working, and they want a piece of that.