Sydney: A better squat eviction

For 3 months some homeless students, anarchists & workers had been squatting the massive 3 story St Michael’s Cathedral in Darlington, Sydney and had plans to turn it into a social centre and accessible accommodation. The occupiers had been able to build a properly functioning kitchen for community dinners, had rigged the electricity to provide lighting and fixed many of the rooms to create a liveable space out of a building that had been empty for some 7 years or so.

On September 14, security guards employed by the catholic church, who claims ownership over the building, discovered that there were people living in the cathedral. They lied to the occupiers about a number of issues, most importantly promising that they would open up lines of communication with the arch diosese. Instead they immediately called the police creating a confusing and more vulnerable situation for those living there.

The building was considered by the squatters to be in a prime location for a social centre. It is easily accessed by public transport, close to the city, on a major roadway on Sydney University property and it could have housed up to 50 people. After putting so much work into the building for so long the squatters did not want to leave without a fight. They barricaded the doors, stairs and ground floor windows, attempting to making it as hard as possible for the state to make this insurrection go away. The resistance was made as public as possible, there were multiple banners dropped from the building and surrounding areas, mainstream media were contacted and calls for solidarity were made to the anarcho squatting community (and wider). The emphasis was on making links between everyone’s housing crisis. All renters, and mortgagees are subjected to decisions on their living situations without their consent and squatting is no different.

On the day of the eviction, the squatters woke to find that they were surrounded by police and security guards, so they occupied the roof where they would be most visible. The location of the premises was on a popular student route to the main grounds of Sydney University and, ironically, the spectacle of the police attack on the people on the roof brought many supporters along (almost 1000) to observe what was happening.

After many hours, the police removed the 7 squatters off the roof and charged them with entering without permission on the premises. Beyond this, two others were charged, one with retrospective trespass, and the other for behaviour on the street below.

Currently all those arrested are in the process of dealing with their court cases. They are calling for the courts to drop the charges against them. This process will probably last until the end of the year, wearing those individuals out unless we who politically support actions like this can provide effective political solidarity with them.

The biggest thing is that once again, some more people have lost their homes. Usually this is an invisible part of capitalism. The beauty of this occupation was in the highly visible resistance to the state and church. Housing struggles aren’t just the concern of squatters. Renters are forced to pay week by week to live in houses that the owner refuses to upkeep and can have their rent increased until they are unable to afford it. Mortgagees can have their homes repossessed at the banks’ whim. Our homes need to be our own. It’s time for more empty buildings to be made liveable, it’s time for rent strikes, it’s time to smash the banks into rubble and it’s time to occupy our town centres. It has been for a long time.

Anarchists & anti-authoritarians

[Originally published in Mutiny #62.]