community involvement

Vacant DC Building Claimed As ‘Public Property Under Community Control’

Make every day 'May Day.'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]

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About the author

A writer and editor of this website from 2006 to early 2012, Ken Layne is occassionally seen on Twitter and writes small books and is already haunting you from beyond (your) grave.

View all articles by Ken Layne

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98 comments

  1. nounverb911

    "Vacant DC Building Claimed As ‘Public Property under Community Control’"
    The Capitol Building? No one seems to be using it either.

    1. dadanarchist

      Amen.

      I've long advocated transforming the building into something useful, like a homeless shelter or a trash dump.

      As it stands now, it's the world's most elaborate jerkoff shack.

  2. BaldarTFlagass

    "Well call a locksmith or do the work yourself,"

    Locked door, meet my friend, 8-pound sledge hammer.

  3. philpjfry

    Can't the poors find someplace else to eat their hobo beans? Lobbiests need a place to sleep too after their busy day of screwing the 99%. What do they think this country is fair or compassionate or something?

  4. sati_demise

    DC just wants them to get a corporate sponsor first.

    They should have put Exxon, Verizon or Nike on that banner, then they would be allowed to stay..

  5. memzilla

    Can't decide whether homeless encampments should be called "Boehnervilles" or "Cantortowns." I do know that you can find "Boehner" in the dictionary, right between "bastard" and "bulls**t."

    1. jus_wonderin

      Is Cantor in the dictionary? I know, it takes creative alphabetical physics but I bet it would be between cancer and canker.

  6. Master Janitor V572

    All right, all right, Ken — I'll rent your vacant house. How much a month do you want, and how big a security deposit do you need?

  7. paris biltong

    Plenty of vacant premises here in Paris, some them quite spiffy. Many get taken over by "des squatters" on a fairly regular basis. The rule is that the authorities cannot kick anyone out of where they live – lawfully or otherwise – from October 15 to March 15, or thereabouts, as it is considered too cold to sleep under the legendary bridges during the winder months.

    1. Ken Layne

      Always amazed me that European cities have variations of this rule, written or unwritten, and winters are generally a lot tamer than they are on the U.S. Eastern Seaboard. We are a nation of motherfucking scumbags — or, we've let them decide everything for, uh, hundreds of years ….

      1. prommie

        Our national character traits are resentful, mean, and truculent. Mean, in the older sense of cheap, miserly, and nasty in general.

        Here in Amurrica you won't find us coddling our hobos by letting them sleep in abandoned buildings, oh no, here in Amurrica our youths actually engage in the sport hunting down and beating up hobos.

      2. paris biltong

        Speak for yourself, Ken, some of my best friends are Americans. Meanwhile I believe this is one of the differences between a market system and a social model.

  8. coolhandnuke

    This disorganized community (OWS) is really starting to get their squat together. Now if only another Community Organizer (a few blocks away) could get his shit together.

    1. flamingpdog

      In my town of residence, they tore out the wall between an abandoned Wal-Mart and the adjacent abandoned Albertsons grocery store (Joe Albertson was a Mormon), fixed up the outside a little, and turned into a Church-of-What's-Happening-Now-Jeebus megachurch (alleged membership of 10,000). That has to be some wierd feng shui.

      1. Negropolis

        Same thing happened where I live. A Detroit-based Farmer Jack supermarket (which went under in 2007) where I lived had sat empty for years before some megachurch bought it up and renovated it. The neighborhood didn't want it, but the city stopped fighting it after the church threatened to sue.

  9. hagajim

    This is the tragedy of the commons – that it's all for fucking sale. I have an idea, why don't we just start burning all the vacant buildings to the ground….worked in Detroit – sort of.

    1. Numbat_Dundee

      Aren't there torture factories in Northern Viginia? You, know, where they make the things that go buzz on Latin American genitalia. Occupy them and arm the OWS people with interesting buzz things to reply to the next pepper spraying.

  10. TeaNuts

    I say we start Occupying the police stations, after all they appear to be vacant minded, free coffee and donuts for everyone!

  11. SorosBot

    "Of course the police are treating this victimless, peaceful use of empty structures as the worst type of felony. "

    Won't you have some compassion for the needs of the real estate speculating slumlords?

    1. Biel_ze_Bubba

      "City-owned", but if the residents of the city try to use it, it's a crime. What's wrong with this picture?

    1. Pres.Libunatic

      There's a country club/golf course complex on my commute to work that went bankrupt a few years after the foreclosures started and people couldn't keep paying their dues with their credit cards. Over the past year I have watched the once perfectly manicured greens and fairways visible from the road go back to nature. It's really quite beautiful now – tall grasses, wildflowers, deer – almost like one of those "After Man" teevee specials.

  12. BarackMyWorld

    Why isn't the invisible hand of the market lowering the prices of these properties to the point where people can afford them and live in them?

    Haha, I'm only kidding. We all know market forces go out the window as soon as the needs of financial institutions aren't being met.

    1. Numbat_Dundee

      It is lowering the prices. But because it's invisible, no-one's noticed and they're mistakenly valuing them too highly. I have the same problem with my porn-star sized invisible genitalia, the girls just don't have faith in me when I tell them about it.

      1. Biel_ze_Bubba

        "Valuing too highly," except when they're selling to Wall Street speculators for a dime on the dollar (and a piece of the action.)

  13. ttommyunger

    OT: Did you know that every time a newbie hits their first golf ball a Demon gets his fucking wings?

  14. SayItWithWookies

    So it's okay if a building is an abandoned, useless eyesore — right up until someone wants to do something with it. Or, I guess, the real indignity is that they want to do something with it for free — that's a real outrage to our capitalist absolutist overlords.

      1. jus_wonderin

        I fear the national game "telephone" that will inevitiably become the common communication. The message will travel the actual airwaves from DC to Oakland, but we can't insure what message will come out on the other side.

        Though, we still have Hobo chalk and fence markings.

  15. Mumbletypeg

    Hmm, very clever, these Occupy K street ninjas rehab'ing old Franklin School. Prudent, too. Whereas the gimlet-eyed Tea Partiers might throw a hissy over shared use of "Taking our country back" etc. — somehow I doubt they'll run interference within spitting distance of an institution of learning.

  16. not that Dewey

    Occupiers are gonna have to gonna have to duke it out with the Land Banks, who would prefer just to make money selling vacant buildings to be demolished. This way there's no risk of poor people living in them. You wouldn't want people to live in affordable housing, now would you?

    1. Negropolis

      I don't know. Where I live, the vast majority of land banked homes are actually renovated and resold, and this is in a rustbelt city with a weak housing market. I guess not all land banks are created equally.

      1. not that Dewey

        Maybe NPR was trying to make them look bad? Dunno. I hadn't heard of the process before, and I was quite appalled when I heard the NPR story. Here were houses that could be bought for $5k, but only if people aren't allowed to live in them? One would think it wouldn't be so different in northern Ohio versus southern Michigan.

        Hmm. [scratches chin]

  17. Callyson

    Is there a vacant eyesore in your neighborhood that could do with a community makeover?
    Well, DC is not my neighborhood, but the House of Representatives could use a good community makeover. Ditto for 200 West Street in NYC.

  18. Nothingisamiss

    Ken your recent novel is coming true.

    Btw, I have family in the Victorville/Joshua tree area, and that place was well cast as a fucking wasteland.

  19. owhatever

    Dear Acme Pepper Spray, Inc.
    They've gone all Maypole on us and we may can't hold out much longer. Please increase production.
    Thank you, the Police.

    cc: Commander, XX Corps, 3/5 National Guard (Heavy)

  20. lochnessmonster

    Maybe they could set-up a few cots for the congress ppl who use their offices as apartments at the taxpayer's expense, rather than finding a real place to live in DC.

  21. snoopyfan2010

    Again, call me Ms. Cynical but you would have though that this type of activity would have served us better under the Shrub. How convenient that everyone is at their wits end while we have someone else in office. I would have sincerely paid to see this happen ten years ago, because there were homeless people around then too.

    1. Negropolis

      Yeah, and there are now more of them. Go figure, right?

      Perhaps, you forgot that the economy kind of collapsed, totally, in the latter part of 2008? Not that everything is going swimmingly before then, but that really was something new, a real shock to the system. And, maybe you're kind of missing the point of the protest. It's not against a president, at least not singularly, it's a protest that's arisen against a system whose faults have been laid totally bare.

      I couldn't care less when this was happening so long as it's fuckin' finally happening. We've got more to worry about than some singular politician's future.

      1. snoopyfan2010

        So what you mean is that most of us were able to ignore poverty back then. Got it. What would Jimmy Carter say?

        1. Negropolis

          If you don't get how an economic collapse is a shock that will open people's eyes to long simmering inequalities, that's your own cognitive problem.

  22. Pat_Pending

    I'm here in Silly-Con Valley, and I've been seriously considering an Occupy Google movement. They're buying up most of the empty office buildings in Mountain View, and they offshore their tax burden. Yeah, I prefer their search algorithm, but that hardly makes me their slave…

  23. babyeinstein

    So many shenanigans with police tape that night. One thing anarchists are always good for is thinking of hilarious police tape jokes.

  24. Negropolis

    I'm more partial to "crackden", myself. It sounds…classier. Mayhaps, the suburban, McMansioned forclosures should be called "crack chalets".

  25. DahBoner

    Damn hippies squattin' in your mud huts.

    Don't you know the highest form of Real Estate Self-Actualization is when you build a skyscraper full of bankers, lawyers or lobbyiests..

  26. HelmutNewton

    That's the thing about pigs. Their job isn't to protect ordinary citizens. It's to protect "property". And the more property you own, the more protection you get. And all subsidized by the public that they pepper spray and lock up in jail!

Comments are closed.