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South End Press, Cambridge, MA 1999


Review by
Alexander Dwinell

There’s
a verse of Woody Guthrie’s popular anthem "This Land is Your Land"
neglected by most school assemblies. It goes:

Was a big high
wall there that tried to stop me

A sign was
painted said: Private Property

But on the
back side it didn’t say nothing

That side was
made for you and me.


The people who dare go behind the sign and the ideas that motivate and support
this action are the subjects of Anders Corr’s new book, No Trespassing!:
Squatting, Rent Strikes and Land Struggles Worldwide.


Resistance
towards private property and the reaction against being locked out of that
system takes many forms. The method of resistance is often dictated by the
situation, but the variety of actions—be they occupying unused, marginal
farming lands for subsistence crops and housing, reclaiming an unused building
for a shelter, or refusing to pay rent until repairs are made—all challenge
the traditional order of property ownership. It is the ties between such
seemingly disparate actions that Corr addresses.

No
Trespassing!
starts with in depth analysis of two different paths of
resistance. First is Homes Not Jails (HNJ), an activist housing group that
believes it is wrong for buildings to stand empty and fall into disrepair while
people live homeless. By using such commonplace tools as bolt cutters and
crowbars HNJ reclaims unused property and turns it over to whoever is in need.
Through a combination of covert and public takeovers HNJ has been able to
provide both emergency housing to those in need and to draw public attention to
the housing crisis in San Francisco. They also, working with Religious Witness,
were able to save 466 housing units on the Presidio for affordable housing.

Moving from the
urban squat to the rural land occupation, Corr explores how the indigenous
Tacamiches in Honduras resisted Chiquita Brands to secure a place to live. In
the midst of a labor strike Chiquita Brands closed a banana plantation rather
than negotiate with the workers. This closure threw thousands out of work,
including some whose roots went back generations, and economically abandoned the
community. The workers and their families moved onto the abandoned banana
fields, started to plant crops, and build a village. One year into the
settlement Chiquita moved to evict the squatters. When a first attempt failed
they returned with an army of 500 and bulldozers. They destroyed the crops,
houses, and three churches. The Tacamiches continued to resist, garnering
international attention and support. In 1997 Chiquita and the Honduran
government rebuilt the village and invested money in starting small industries
in Tacamiche.

Anders Corr uses
these two success stories to illustrate that by taking direct action, squatting
does have the power to create change. But taking that first step, going over
that private property wall often requires a radical rethinking of commonly held
values. Even when people can identify with a particular situation and recognize
the necessity and the inequality that created the situation it is difficult to
apply such concepts to the totality of property ownership and distribution. Corr
characterizes and dissects three main arguments that people use to defend the
existing systems of land ownership and to oppose squatting; the personality
theory: property is a necessity for individual freedom; the labor-desert theory:
the belief that property stems from hard work; and the utilitarian theory: the
current distribution is the most practical arrangement for the welfare of all.

No
Trespassing!
is about taking action and the book is intended for
practical use. While not giving specifics on squatting techniques (urban
squatters are recommended to consult Survival Without Rent available from
the Shadow in New York), it provides the philosophical support for using
direct action to challenge property distribution. Through an overview of
squatter actions No Trespassing! creates a history of land struggle which
crosses national boundaries (as it ought); a history which gives a sense of
place to current struggles. This survey also serves to educate people engaged in
land struggles. It explores what tactics and situations have led to success and
it reveals what type of repression can be expected and what can be done to
minimize the fallout. In chapters titled: "Tell It to the Judge,"
"Violence and Cycles of Reform," and "Tactics and Mobilization" and
illustrated with scores of examples Anders Corr provides an accessible and
knowledgeable history of land struggles.

As the squatter
enters forbidden territory and makes it habitable so to does Corr, crossing the
philosophical border that divides Western, Urban Squats and Southern, Agrarian
Land Occupations. Corr discusses how the occupations of Alcatraz created a more
unified network of Native American activists. Curiously he neglects to discuss
the prominent role squatting took in the campaign to halt the M-11 motorway in
England. Anders Corr also departs from the pure view of "squatting" by
including rent strikes in the definition. Rent strikes, some may argue, stretch
the term too far as they do not directly challenge the notion of ownership. Corr
makes the important point that rent strikes, like squatting and land
occupations, are tactics to bring about changes to the property system, not
solutions in themselves. By its very nature squatting challenges capitalism and
invites repression and therefore cannot continue to exist without changing the
system.

For people who
think they pay too much of their income in rent or for mortgages, for those
without housing, for those engaged in local struggles looking for broader
connections, for people in search of support for their instinctual reactions
against the inequality of property, No Trespassing! offers much. Anders
Corr has contributed an important work to the fight for a just life.
               Z

Alexander
Dwinell is a Boston-area activist.