Sunday, 19 October 2008

Secret defenders

The squatters network does exist, nothing mythological at all or something to sneer at.

SoundsNorwegian invites me along tonight, to sate my curiosity although she herself has a personal stake in the group, having been involved with their work for a long time. Unlike the Book Fair, this group of activists are far more friendly and welcoming. Wearing a pair of torn jeans this time somehow helps me feel less out of place.

We meet in one of their many secret meeting locations. Crammed onto sofas with builders tea to warm them up, the meeting begins swiftly following the passing around of an agenda for every one of us to view and amend. A random guy in a brown hat then nominates himself as meeting chair and off we go. We discuss recent evictions and run-ins with the police. We discuss how best to prepare squatters to protect themselves from bailiffs and ways to humiliate the door-breakers who intrude on properties but with no law-enforceable reason to do so.

We discuss assisting locals who are being evicted from their own businesses and aiding other low-income people in distress, forming solidarity with their campaigns and taking direct action. We discuss possible ways to oppose fascist groups.

The idea of uniting squats via a catalogue, where each one identifies the tools, skills and space they have, in order to coordinate our resources, is welcomed excitedly by all. It's the kind of useful prospect that USgal and I probably would've liked to have called upon in the early days of the electricity 'saga'. And would we have qualified for assistance anyway, considering we live in Tower Hamlets and this network is based in Hackney? (it's local needs first after all).

Another welcomed idea is that of free workshops, where different skills can be shared with others across squats, from plumbing to metallurgy. All very positive and inspiring.

The meeting goes by in two hours, packed with information, local squat news and proposals. It feels reassuring to know that a network exists, that your back is being watched (even if it's a borough away), that support is out there for your protection and education. SoundsNorwegian reckons we have been lucky tonight; some meetings have been known to go on for seven hours!

As we disperse into the cold air -- but as it turns out most of us are all heading for the same local chippie -- with our own squatting stories, to our own squats far and wide across the city, I feel encouraged. A bit more depth about some of the issues and insight into other people's situations. Some of the group gave away a hint of why they squatted, the reasons behind it. We are caretaking these empty properties, and yet the law reacts towards us as though we are illegal even though the law says it's legal.

How strange to be.