Housing Resistance and Transformation: From Direct Action to Direct Democracy

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Notes From the Black Cat
January 13, 2015

If there is one thing that has marked the libertarian tradition, at least in the classical sense, it has been the focus on transformative organizing. This may simply appear as rhetoric to some people, and in many cases it is. The phraseology is often employed simply to celebrate tactics that are cartoonish or illogical, while at the same time allowing people to decry more traditional tactics as “too reformist.” This loses the fundamental nature of the term and its roots in direct action. As part of the anarchist dictionary, direct action can act as a type of dogma for many people in movements. Its use is for its own sake, as if this is the foundation of transformation both for the individuals and the community. This misses the context for how to approach tactics and what will make them truly transformative.

As we entered the seemingly perpetual financial crisis, and the realities of corporate finance started to crystalize in the minds of the public, it became clear that there were material necessities that were increasingly lacking in neighborhoods. As things are taken away from working people, as collapse becomes eminent, the discussions about how transformative an action is can seem arbitrary. The reality is that people need food, education, and housing. By the time we entered 2010 the housing crisis became the most obvious eruption and the necessity became critical. Since the beginning of the financial crisis, some reports estimate that between 20 and 30 million people will be forcefully displaced by foreclosure in the United States. This is then combined the rising number of rental evictions, the falling standards for rental properties, the slashes in social spending and public housing, and a general climate of instability. Together this becomes an intertwined net of financial failure, one that allows a margin at the top to pillage the rest of us. Here is where direct action has become a marker of transformative organizing because it is necessary simply to live and meet your needs.

It is on this precept that the housing movements we engage in, especially with movements like Take Back the Land and Occupy Our Homes, allows us to feel a sense of the new world growing within the shell of the old. There are two primary realities: the homeless population is growing and there are people being foreclosed on and evicted at record rates. Our response to this? Put people in homes and block evictions. This is not a simple proposition, nor is it one where the details are assumed, but it is on this basic declaration that we build the rest of the housing movement.

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