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Indybay Feature
The Housing Occupation Movement Continues
by nostalgia
Friday Oct 14th, 2011 10:55 PM
In San Francisco, the struggle for housing continues.
Wednesday night's occupation of the Hotel Sierra in San Francisco's Mission District marked the continuation of a week of housing takeovers in the city. The 40-room hotel, which has stood vacant for years, has become a highly contested space in the struggle between San Francisco's low-income community and the building's owner. This occupation, the third takeover of the landmark hotel, follows Monday night's action where a roving march roamed through the Tenderloin, taking over 3 buildings in the struggling neighborhood in a desperate attempt to create housing for people who can no loner afford the rising rents of the city. The doors of the 600-room Cathedral Hotel were opened to the crowd by an ambitious group of masked homeless and precariously housed people who stormed past the security guards that were attempting to prevent their entrance and ran straight to the roof, dropping banners from the windows on the way up. A block away and 2 hours later, a 17-room abandoned hotel and an adjacent vacant building were occupied by the crowd, with free food being served on the street in front of the building.

This bold approach, to directly take what is needed without asking, may prove to be the only way the emerging social movements will be able to withstand the rising poverty rates and continued budget cuts in the deepening of this recession that we were told was over.

These types of housing actions are nothing new for San Francisco, despite the fact that these most recent demonstrations occurred during the era of the Occupy Wall Street-inspired movements. While many in those movements have consistently insisted on being part of a common struggle of the 99%, the marginalized people who took part in these housing takeovers realize that theirs is not a struggle of the vast majority of Americans, but of those who, having been excluded from the relative wealth of American society, have taken directly what is needed for their survival.

Despite the eventual eviction of these publicly occupied spaces (dozens of police spent hours searching the 600 rooms of the Cathedral Room hotel unaware that the occupiers had already moved on to take over another building), every month countless people are housed in covertly occupied squats by housing militants in San Francisco.

It is unfortunate that, despite being alerted of these actions and encouraged to participate, very few people from the Occupy San Francisco encampment were present. If the nation-wide “Occupation” movements intend to become a social force with the strength to reshape the course of history, they would do well to consider occupying not merely sidewalks and parks, but to begin actually taking the spaces that allow people to live and operate with dignity. With over 50,000 homes in foreclosure in California and hundreds of thousands going through the process across the country, it is only rational for any social struggle to support and encourage people to stay in their homes in defiance of eviction notices and to begin using vacant buildings for our own purposes. With increasing rents and rising tuitions, a property that was abandoned when the banks could no longer profit from it would be put to better use as a social center or free school.

Only the course of time will tell if the emergent “Occupy” movements of parks across America will become more ambitious and start taking over more useful spaces, but regardless of what they decide, the building takeovers that began long before the inception of these movements will continue, with or without their participation.
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