Everywhere, there is vacant real estate. Vacant storefronts, vacant warehouses, vacant McMansions and barns and especially big-city buildings stuck in some twilight of redevelopment or property speculation or repossession. The collapse of the Great Global Real Estate Bubble may have destroyed a lot of theoretical wealth, but it also left an abundance of places to live, places to build neighborhood gardens and playgrounds, places to be human. There are about six million unoccupied single-family houses in the United States, for instance. It is a moral disgrace that a single human lacks a place to live in this house-heavy country of vacant foreclosures. And, happily, the Occupy movement has begun to take abandoned buildings and return them to the communities. Of course the police are treating this victimless, peaceful use of empty structures as the worst type of felony.
What should be done with a former homeless shelter that was closed by “civic authorities” so that it could be turned into a hotel for K Street lobbyists? To OccupyDC, the answer was self-evident:
Occupy K St./DC liberated the empty, city-owned Franklin School. The school was closed several years ago and initially reopened as a homeless shelter. Despite widespread public opposition, the city government later closed the shelter. Next — in blatant disregard of social safety net programs that are necessary for the very survival of the people who are most directly impacted by economic injustice — announced plans to turn the building either into luxury condos or a hotel for the 1% lobbyists on K St.
In a move similar to other recent building occupations in Oakland, Chapel Hill, New York, and London, dozens of occupiers entered the building with sleeping bags and food and declared their intent to stay indefinitely. Occupy DC announced plans for an open forum to be held at a church next Monday to discuss uses of the building with the public. Inside, they began cleaning the building to make it usable for the community. From the roof, occupiers chanted “We are the 99%!” as others dropped a banner reading “Public Property under Community Control” over the school. Meanwhile, hundreds rallied in support outside.
Public property under community control. In less-wordy times, we would’ve just called it “the commons.” But that’s all right, you go to war with the wordy language you have, not the tersely poetic language you want.
What did the DC police do about this terrible outrage of claiming a vacant building for the people? Oh, the usual. Washington cops shut down several blocks, arrested everybody, and threatened onlookers with felony arrest. Protect and serve, etc.
Is there a vacant eyesore in your neighborhood that could do with a community makeover? Maybe you need a playground for the local kids, or a community garden, or a place to eat popcorn and watch movies with your neighbors on Friday night? Well call a locksmith (they do take cash) or do the work yourself, and do your part to make America beautiful. Christ knows it needs the help! [OccupyWallStreet]