Squatting 2.0 – Freedonia and beyond

We have lots of different types of radical friends.  And some of them are fully public in all the things they do and others have to operate slightly below the radar so they can keep doing what they do.  In my travels over the last few months i have had the good fortune to visit a couple of inspiring places i have not been before.  There exact locations are not important, what is critical is what they have learned and what they can teach others who are interested in some aspects of their work.

This mural was partial payment by a band for use of the space
This mural was partial payment by a band for use of the space

Let’s call my comrades place Freedonia.  Imagine it in anyone of the urban centers which have seen hundreds to thousands of houses abandoned over the last couple of decades.  The precise location does not matter.

Squatting 1.0, which i learned in Am*dam and Barcelona goes something like this:  You find a group of friends who need housing.  It is great if at least a couple of the friends are local to the area you are trying to move into.  Then you search – you look for the right place to move into.  The right place is one which is abandoned, unlikely to be used for residential or commercial purposes soon (perhaps because it is run down), but not in such bad shape that parts of it can not be heated (if you are in a climate that requires heat in the winter).

Then you break in.  Once inside you do the opposite of what thieves do.  Instead of looking for things to steal, you look for things of value which someone else might come back for, because if there are too many valuables, someone will come back for them and you will lose the place.  We are not looking to steal treasure, we are trying to use space which is idle to satisfy real housing needs.

Then you settle in.  You find cheap plates and flatware.  You wire electricity from a near by light pole.  Some people drop out, perhaps a new person or three join you.  You figure out security so people can get in and out and if needed not be seen.

But there is a problem with old style squatting, especially in the US, where laws are designed to protect property holders, even owners who are not paying taxes, have abandoned their properties, or are simply speculating.  The problem is the police or private security will come in and throw you out and then secure the place in a way which will make it hard for you to get back in.  Your group with no place to go falls apart and drifts off to other places.

Tool Bench - shared and dynamic
Tool Bench – shared and dynamic

Freedonia has things we have seen at other great squats, like Can Masdeu in Barcelona:  there is a bike repair shop, a printing press, ovens (bread ovens at Can Masdeu and pizza ovens at Freedonia), public workshop and performance space, public gardens,  zine publishing, an anarchist library, dedicated volunteers, support from locals in the area and more.

public bike repair shop
public bike repair shop

But what Freedoonia has that her European counter parts have not figured out is a technique to avoid the group falling apart when they are busted by the police or hired thugs.  This is the 2.0 part.

Before they broke in, they moved in.  They took advantage of the high number of abandoned buildings in close proximity to each other, they scoured newspapers, public records and local inside knowledge to find a place they could occupy legally, a base of operations.  In the case of Freedonia, they found a place which was available for very little money, borrowed what they needed and moved in.  They talked with locals and convinced the owner of a neighboring warehouse that in exchange for fixing parts of the roof and keeping the place secure they could occupy the warehouse, which most of these pictures are taken in.  Well before squatting, they set up a stable, legal, large base of operations, for very little money.

Nano brewery
Nano brewery

When they moved into their first squat, they successfully occupied it for 6 months.  They were like so many 1.0 squats before them busted.  But instead of falling apart, they pulled back to the legal space.  They were tight for a while, they looked for other places to occupy, but then after some months they established that in fact the best place to go, was the place they had already been thrown out of.  They returned, corrected the mistake that got them thrown out the first time, and have been there successfully for almost two years now.

The other clever thing they do in Freedonia is that they brew beer.  They don’t sell it, but they do give it to volunteers and bring it to parties.  Beer is not new.  But it is socially very powerful.  Combined with their high temperature pizza oven which can cook a pizza in less than 100 seconds.  These innovative, dedicated urban dwellers may just re-ignite a viable squatting movement in this country.

dead rat
dead rat in the street outside Freedonia

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About paxus

a funologist, memeticist and revolutionary. Can be found in the vanity bin of Wikipedia and in locations of imminent calamity. buckle up, there is going to be some rough sledding.

6 responses to “Squatting 2.0 – Freedonia and beyond”

  1. leerid says :

    there is a reason some people hate other people’s obsession with turning info over to the internet like this. you have just irrevocably revealed the exact location of the squat to the world without realizing you did it

    • paxus says :

      Dearest LeerID:

      i wrote to the folks from Freedonia and double checked. They loved the post and said:

      Haha this is great. I have no issues with this. Good job! Was it someone from Freedonia that complained? If not, I wouldn’t worry about anything you wrote. Much more revealing info has been put out about us without even asking what we thought, so I’d have to say you done a wonderful job portraying freedonia

      So unless you are from Freedonia and are not in touch with my people there, i am going to feel free to ignore your concern. Please feel encouraged to write me at paxus at twinoaks dot org and you can 1) tell me where you think Freedonia is and 2) What it is that is incriminating (and you get no points if you say you recognize the mural). If the underground folks are not worried about it, i am not worried about it.

      But you might have something i missed and i am open to that

      Paxus in Beantown
      Thxgvg 2013

      • North Star says :

        Indeed, since it sounds like the Freedonia group took the effort to find a location where they could legally “squat”, they have no need to maintain secrecy. There’s nothing to hide, and they aren’t going to be capriciously kicked out.

        This post is yet another example that all kinds of things – including real estate! are available for free, if you are willing to take the effort to locate them and do a bit more work yourself than if you bought at “retail”.

      • paxus says :

        oh there is plenty to be covert about. But your sentiment that finding things for free with extra work is certainly in the spirit of the post.

  2. richard w. lisko says :

    A lutta continua! Thanks, Pax! Happy Thankstaking to all the Stars and the Beloved Communities.

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