From The Oregonian. Dec 17:
Occupy’s future: Will the movement follow in Europe’s footsteps?
By Garth Massey (guest columnist)
As Occupy encampments are being disassembled nationwide, supporters and opponents are asking, what next? One answer: occupy activists are inserting themselves as a physical presence in home foreclosures. They are protesting the injustice of banks forcing people to vacate their homes as a consequence of the Great Recession.
Millions of homes sit idle across the country while millions of people need homes. Millions more, including many foreclosed families, are moving in with relatives or into small rentals, with the prospect of homelessness not far off. Often experiencing unemployment and poor health, the last thing people with serious problems need is to be thrown out of their homes. The logic of foreclosure only computes for a financial system heavily tilted in favor of a prosperous and powerful elite, the euphemistic 1 percent.
Resisting foreclosures by refusing to decamp, or moving into a house or apartment where no one lives, is part of a well-established social movement tactic in Europe, often described as squatting. Of course, squatting is also widespread in this country but seldom discussed. Condemned apartment buildings and abandoned houses are filled with individuals and families who need shelter, with or without running water and electricity.
The secret that bankers and landlords don’t want discussed is that evicting squatters is no easy matter. Unlike public parks, the home is protected from unlawful entry with myriad laws and statutes, to the point that killing intruders is recognized as a right. Determining who is a lawful occupant can be time-consuming and expensive. When squatting is widely practiced as a strategy of resistance, it gums up the works of the financial world. Squatting youth can be a real nuisance.
In a broad sense, the Occupy movement is a reaction to the war on the young. All the misery-trend lines that began 30 years ago now hit youth with the greatest force: unemployment and job insecurity; stagnant and declining wages; growing inequality of incomes and material well-being; families dependent on food stamps and free school lunches; personal debt; the loss of affordable college education, home ownership and health care; the proliferation of faux food and the obesity epidemic; and a threatened natural environment.
Across Europe young people are building what are often called new social movements, of which squatting is an integral part. Whole communities of squatters are developing an alternative culture that scoffs at the superficial joys of consumerism and the hollow promises of upward social mobility. Movement activists reject conventional schooling, the mainstream media and the drudgework that globalization has left them to do. And they ignore the laws that deny people a decent place to live; they squat.
The outlook embraced by many European squatters reflects their diminished life chances. They are disenchanted with established political systems, and many favor a hostile politics of despair. It’s no surprise that many Greek, British and Italian youths raise the anarchist flag as they rage against globalization, government austerity measures and international gridlock over the prevention of environmental catastrophe.
In this country things haven’t gone that far, but every young person suspects the economy really doesn’t need him for anything except to buy stuff, much of it made in China. When new graduates of our best colleges are consigned year after year to low-paying internships, forced to give up the promise of their education by taking minimum-wage jobs, or have to go abroad to find work, our young people know something is fundamentally wrong.
The Occupy movement is moving in new, uncertain directions. For now it embraces the belief that — bad as things are — they can be made better. Thank goodness. In successfully standing up for families and preventing their being sent into the streets by bank foreclosures, the young activists are moving beyond slogans and effecting real change. If their efforts fail, however, they may themselves take to squatting, with consequences not unlike what has happened elsewhere.
Garth Massey lives in Portland and is the author of “Ways of Social Change: Making Sense of Modern Times.”