Squat the City! Fuck the Rent!

(Here is a little article I wrote for a radical publication at McGill called "School Schmool")

Squat the City! Fuck the Rent!
By Aaron Lakoff

What is a squat, you ask? While some people squat clandestinely in buildings hidden on the outskirts of urban centers, the act of squatting can also be explicitly political. Squatting has strong roots in the tradition of anarchism, and adheres to a simple philosophy: if the landlords keep jacking up the rent, and if the government refuses to build any social housing, people should act to create housing themselves, NOW. Like anarchism, it also challenges the concept private property by expriopriating from the rich what they don’t use, and turning it into a collective asset for the poor. Throughout history, whenever there have been strong anarchist movements (such as in France in the 1870’s, Spain in the 1930’s, and very recently in Oaxaca, Mexico), people have taken over factories, government buildings, abandoned property, and turned them into self-managed, autonomous centers for the community.

Over the last few years in Canada, there have been many interesting examples of political squats which have captured the attention and the imagination of the country. In 2002, there was an explosion of political squats which began to emerge from coast to coast, including the Woodwards squat in Vancouver, the Pope Squat in Toronto, the 7-Year Squat in Ottawa, and the Overdale/Prefontaine Squat in Montreal. Some of these squats, like the ones in Toronto and Ottawa, were made to coincide with major international events (the visit of Pope Jean-Paul II, and the G8 summit, respectively) in order to draw attention to the housing crises in these cities.

In Quebec, the provincial government hasn’t built any low-cost housing since 1994, and in the city of Montreal alone, there are 24 000 households on the waiting list to get into social housing. Many of them will have to wait for years, in horrible private-housing conditions, with little income to support their families. It is clear that the need for squats still exists.

In Montreal, la Pointe Libertaire, an anarchist collective based in Point-st-Charles, is working with the community towards creating a squat and social center some time in the next few months. For more information, you can check out their exciting project at www.lapointelibertaire.org. For more info on squatting in Montreal, you can also rent the film “Squat” by Eve Lamont at La Boite Noire.

Further reading:

(Aaron Lakoff is a McGill drop-out, a community organizer in Cote-des-Neiges, and an anarchist who is inspired by reggae music and good coffee)