Oakland: La Idea squatted social center served eviction order

On May 29th, 2015, an eviction order was served to La Idea, a squatted social center near the Dimond District of Oakland. In two weeks, the Alameda County Sheriff will put the house on its list of upcoming evictions and will dispatch an armored personnel carrier and several armed men to the house to clear everyone out at gunpoint. In this regard, La Idea is not exceptional and thousands of people have been evicted in the same manner all over Oakland. It is simply the normal functioning of capitalism.

View a short film on La Idea presented by the Cinema Committee

Since the building was squatted in June of 2013, real estate prices have gone up dramatically. Where the house was once valued at $300,000 in 2011, it is now valued at almost $600,000. After the building was squatted, the legal owner was contacted and eventually gave verbal permission for people to live there, provided they clean up anything considered to be ‘blight’ by the City of Oakland. Throughout July 2013, the legal owner of the building stopped by every-other-day to check on the clean up. In the beginning of August, the legal owner showed up in his truck for the last time. After that, he did not attempt to reach any of the residents. Contact with the legal owner was only kept up by running into him on the streets of the Dimond District.

During one of his visits to the house, he observed a Black Panther chant written on the wall of the second unit. The chant went, “the revolution has come—off the pigs!—time to pick up the gun—off the pigs!—no more brothers in jail—off the pigs!—the pigs are gonna catch hell—off the pigs!” Upon seeing this chant written in red upon the wall, the legal owner expressed his approval and proceeded to monologue about how the US was a police state that we were all trapped inside. Later he would explain how the 60s and 70s were the best time of his life and how he spent those years in Oakland. From these interactions, it appeared that the legal owner was a friend to the revolution and supportive of liberation struggles.

However, nearly two years later, the legal owner has signed a legal eviction order for La Idea and the house will eventually be surrounded and stormed by armed men. As it is, the legal owner was pressured into this by his younger brother.

In January 2015, directly after the national uprising against the police, La Idea received a visit from an Alameda County Sheriff. He was accompanied by a code enforcement official, the legal owner, and the legal owners younger brother. They informed everyone they would have to leave. At first, the legal owner pretended not to know the residents, but eventually he was forced to admit that he did. After this visit, there was no contact with law enforcement or the legal owner for nearly two weeks.

The next visit brought the legal owner, his brother, and two Oakland Police Department officers to La Idea. After a lengthy and pointless conversation, the legal owner and his brother decided to talk to the residents directly without the police present. During this conversation, it was revealed that the brother wanted to sell the house so he could provide for the legal owner. According to him, the legal owner was broke and needed the money. However, it was obvious that the brother wanted to cash out before the bubble burst. The house had been paid for by their mother and father, built by people in the community, and left to the legal owner after her death. With the legal owner approaching 80, his younger brother has a clear interest in selling the house sooner rather than later.

During the fall of 2014, a hostile group of people began to sabotage the house in various ways. After threatening the house with weapons, a hostile individual installed a person in the backyard without the permission of the long-term residents. Two of these residents were threatened with death if they remained in the house and quickly left. Within a month, another person had been installed under the protection of firearms. Knowing we would not call the police, this hostile group began forcing itself into the house. It quickly became clear that something devious was occurring. One of them tried to pit everyone against each other over the course of a month. During this time, they also kept their space heater and sink running all day, spiking the utility bills to almost three times their normal amount. They were in constant contact with the person who installed them, reporting the movements of the people who lived above her and those she would block in with her car.

The hostile group began to leave a large amount of waste all over the backyard. Around this time, another hostile person made a ‘blight complaint’ to the city. When the code enforcement official arrived there was no one home at the property. The official blighted the property and left a notice to that effect. This notice was then taken by the hostile group without any of the long-term residents seeing it and the ‘blight complaint’ was not addressed.

The person installed in the backyard was eventually kicked out after they repeatedly spread lies among the residents in an attempt to pit them against each other. When they were asked to leave, they brought two people over who immediately started a fight with residents of the house. During this confrontation, the hostile person was punched in the face. The second hostile person was later removed after the person who installed them attempted to force a resident out with a shotgun. Once the entire hostile group had been removed, one of them began a six-month long crusade of malicious lies against the house.

When the code enforcement official returned to La Idea, it was because the hostile group called the city and informed on some illegal construction that had gone on in the backyard. The official placed a stop work order on the construction, informed the residents of the ‘blight complaint’ and threatened to fine the legal owner. After a period of negotiation, the city waived the fines and allowed the residents to deconstruct the two illegal apartments without penalty. Once this deconstruction and ‘blight abatement’ had been finished, the city was satisfied. Now lacking two extra apartments, the residents quickly constructed a three story modular house. But just as construction of that house was complete, the owner and his brother arrived with a code enforcement official and the sheriff.

Everything described above was (in no uncertain terms) an act of sabotage conducted by a hostile group against the residents of La Idea. It involved the brandishing of weapons, physical violence, space-heaters and faucets left running all day, and selective snitching to the city. The parties involved will go unnamed, but there is now a clear and identifiable pattern to their behavior and the methods they use to undermine and destroy autonomous spaces.

Currently, the residents of La Idea are facing an eviction after two years of holding the space. While the residents of La Idea will not go quietly, there are few options when it comes to facing down armed men. There are no intentions of defending the house with guns, and such a thing would hardly keep this house from being put on the market or destroyed. However, it should be clearly stated that the only ways to stop an eviction are through the force of arms or through mass-popular support. Neither of these options are viable for the house at the present moment. Until autonomous movements are capable of defending themselves, they will always be scattered and precarious.

We release this statement in the hope of generating support over the next two weeks. As was stated earlier, there is nothing exceptional about the circumstances we face. But it is a chance to challenge capitalism at a specific location on the grid of the city. The house has been clearly identifiable as an anarchist space for two years and the neighborhood is familiar with our goals and aspirations. Several squats have and continue to exist in the greater area, so the idea is nothing new to the neighborhood. Challenging capitalism is possible and our eviction will provide another opportunity.

Over the past two years, La Idea has housed 26 people and dozens of guests from across the planet. We are and have always been a multi-racial, multi-tendency, and multi-gendered house. We are as varied as Oakland itself. Currently, over half the residents grew up in Oakland and white people are in the minority. An unquantifiable amount of projects have emerged from this house. We are involved in a wide variety of projects in Oakland and many of you will most likely be familiar with one of us.

We do not have a community land trust offering to purchase the house, nor do we have a popular movement able and willing to hold the building. We are open to both of these options, but we prefer the popular movement to any form of capitalist relations. It is important that some free housing remain in Oakland before it is all eaten up by the bubble. Please consider helping us prevent La Idea from being seized and rendered back into capital. We will be releasing more information soon.

In love and struggle,

The residents of La Idea

*After this text was composed, two residents of La Idea contacted the legal owner at his house. In his own words: “The matter is out of my hands. Its up to the powers that be.” To us, it is clear that he has been pressured by someone.

Watch the video here.