Thursday, April 9, 2009

Take Back the Land!

Interesting things are happening. Meaningful things. Hopeful things. People are catching on. Just now found this newly minted article in the NY Times, More Squatters Are Calling Foreclosures Home. Here's how it starts:

When the woman who calls herself Queen Omega moved into a three-bedroom house here last December, she introduced herself to the neighbors, signed contracts for electricity and water and ordered an Internet connection. What she did not tell anyone was that she had no legal right to be in the home.

Ms. Omega, 48, is one of the beneficiaries of the foreclosure crisis. Through a small advocacy group of local volunteers called Take Back the Land, she moved from a friend’s couch into a newly empty house that sold just a few years ago for more than $400,000.

Michael Stoops, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, said about a dozen advocacy groups around the country were actively moving homeless people into vacant homes — some working in secret, others, like Take Back the Land, operating openly.

In addition to squatting, some advocacy groups have organized civil disobedience actions in which borrowers or renters refuse to leave homes after foreclosure.

The groups say that they have sometimes received support from neighbors and that beleaguered police departments have not aggressively gone after squatters.
This is truly heartening news. The fact is that no one wants most of the abandoned homes. The banks threaten people with eviction, but after the former owners move out, they are often reluctant to take formal possession, because that would mean 1. paying property taxes; 2. trying to sell a house in a dead market; 3. maintaining the house or 4. paying the cost of tearing it down after it's been condemned. So the houses just sit in place and rot away.

I've already written about this absurd situation, where people are now living on the streets or in tent cities while perfectly good houses are sitting empty. Now, finally, we learn that something is being done. Good people are finding ways to work together and make things happen -- without benefit of money.

Let me look it up, this organization called Take Back the Land. Hang on just a second, I'm gonna go to the website . . .

OK, I'm back. Very very interesting site with some really informative videos. I'm gonna see if I can pick one up for us, over at youtube . . . . . .

OK, good, got it:

What a great interview! This guy is saying exactly what needs to be said, with a minimum of bluster, no fuss, but real eloquence. God bless him! But he's not taking it far enough. Because this is really what it should all be about. And by "all," I mean the economy as a whole. You have people with needs. You have resources lying idle. People need homes. Put them in the idle homes. People need jobs. Take over the abandoned shops, stores, factories, warehouses, restaurants, and put people back to work.

However . . .
Local vigilante groups are great for now but they can never be an adequate answer for the nation -- and the world -- as a whole. Government must take the lead. BIG government, yes. The bigger the better. Really really big. Every abandoned house, failed business, failed bank must be nationalized -- and put to work for the people as part of a BIG GOVERNMENT PROGRAM.

Oops, sorry Rush. Isn't there a pill you can take for apoplexy?


  1. Good that things start moving, I guess: people is beginning, just beginning, to take the power in their hands and that's what a revolution really is. Though this is obviously just a minimalist beginning.

    Big Government is surely not the solution: it's obsolete, it belongs to the Fordist phase of Capitalism that ended in the 60s, half a century ago. Even in Cuba, socialism works not so much for the big government but becaise if the grassroots social network. The government knows it and taps into it. Same in Venezuela: do you think that Chavez would be there without a huge mass movement behind? Socialism, when succesful, is not built from top to bottom (at least not mostly) but from bottom to top: the socialist government can only happen when there is a socialist people making socialism at neighbourhood and industry level.

    So guess this is the way to go - at least the way to begin marching. Anyhow you can see that "big government" totally at the service of the corporations and doing almost nothing for the people.

    Btw, I did not like you use of the term "vigilantes" for this kind of organization. As I understand it "vigilante" (in Spanish it means guard or watcher) is some sort of paramilitary group that collaborates with police or take the justice in their own hands when fighting against crime. At the extreme they would be a lynching mob or even a paramilitary death squad, like in Colombia. This has nothing to do with squatting in a politically organized and meaningful form: these people are technically "criminals" in fact. Robin Hood-like criminals but criminals anyhow. It's a different concept, IMO.

  2. from 4/10/09

    Protesters Tell Summers “We Want Our Money Back”

    Back in the United States, White House economic adviser Larry Summers was greeted with a hostile protest during a speaking appearance on Thursday. Earlier this week, the White House disclosed Summers received nearly $2.7 million in speaking fees last year from several of the financial companies that have received government bailouts. In addition, Summers earned over $5 million working one day a week at the D.E. Shaw hedge fund. As Summers addressed an audience at the Economic Club, two protesters stormed the stage with a sign saying “We want our money back.”
    Larry Summers: “You know it’s hard enough to focus on the policy—focus on the policy choices that we have now without focusing—without focusing on—”
    Protester #1: “Larry Summers is part of the problem. He’s a toxic mess.”
    Protester #2: “And I’m out of work.”
    Protester #1: “$135,000 from government bailed-out companies for one day? Your former companies paid you for that? We the people say no!”
    Protester #2: “$5.2 million. $5.2 million this man made working one day a week in 2008 working for a hedge fund. We want our money back.”
    Protester #1: “You’re part of the problem. You’re part of the problem.”
    Protester #2: “Can we have our money back? Can we have our money back, please? Can I have some TARP to go with my stimulus?”
    Protester #1: “I need a bailout for the peacekeepers. That’s right, Larry. You should resign. I am the people’s voice, sir. You should resign. Obama deserves a leader.”

  3. You're an idiot, people want these houses. Do you really think that the people being thrown out of their houses really wanted to get kicked out. So now some deadbeat gets to take over for free while the original owner get fucked with the shit end of the stick. You're a fool!

  4. Maju, what's most important, I think, at this juncture, is to get people thinking, talking and debating about what kind of economy is going to emerge from the current crisis, what sort of systems (or lack of systems) are to be preferred and what sort would be best for the great majority in any given place and also the world at large. So at this point, I'm not bothered by any disagreements we might have, nor am I totally convinced that my own interpretation is correct. I think we all need to keep an open mind and keep talking to and listening to one another.

    That said, as I now see it, the solution that might be best in one country might not work for another. In countries with a history of strong socialist movements, such as Spain, England, Italy, Latin America, etc., grass roots, bottom-up movements based on collective organization and action might be the most effective way to go. Countries with a history of Soviet style "socialism" might, on the other hand, resist it in any form. In a country such as the USA, where socialism has barely been tolerated, and is hardly understood, I don't see much hope for collective grass-roots organization getting beyond a certain point.

    We have to remember also that at many times in the past, such as the Spanish Revolution of the 30's, for example, grass roots populist movements have either bogged down in vicious factionalism or been co-opted, as in the case of the Russian Revolution, by strong leaders who wound up as totalitarian dictators.

    As far as the USA is concerned, there is a hope on my part that the recent elections (which swept a far more liberal group of politicians into power, including a remarkable President who imo could still emerge as a true populist) have tilted the government far enough to the left that we might see these politicians starting to do the right thing more and more as things get worse and worse. Every Democratic official, elected or not, has the model of Franklin Roosevelt before him, and as far as I am concerned, this is the correct model for the sort of top-down change that will be needed in the coming months and years. I could be wrong, but if I am then I see little hope, because imo America is simply not yet ready for the sort of bottom to top socialism you would prefer to see.

    As for my use of the term "vigilante" I did stop and think about using that term, because of its history. But strictly speaking vigilantes are people who take the law into their own hands when legal means would be ineffective in achieving their goals, and I think the term does apply in this case, despite its very troubled history. If you could suggest a better term, I'll go back and change it.

  5. Hi Dave. Thanks for quoting that article, which is very heartening. If enough Americans challenge people like Summers and the rest of the Goldman Sachs crew, and put serious media pressure on Obama to take a good hard look at the financial "experts" he's hand picked to lead us out of the woods, maybe he and the Democratic leadership will be shamed into changing course.

  6. Anonymous, these people were not thrown out of their houses by groups like Take Back the Land or the National Coalition for the Homeless. They were thrown out by the banks. With the cooperation of the Bush administration -- and now the Obama administration. Once the houses were vacated they became the property of the banks, which in many cases didn't want them anyhow because they couldn't sell them and didn't want to be responsible for maintaining them, paying taxes on them or demolishing them. So why not put people into them, especially people who need a place to live and are willing to take care of them. If you read the NY Times article carefully you'll see that most of these same groups are also fighting to keep the owners from being evicted in the first place.


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