Angers: a look back at the demonstration in support of the Grande Ourse and the court case

On Tuesday 1st September, the Grande Ourse squat and its inhabitants were summoned to the judicial court by the owner, who demanded their immediate eviction. The collective having called for a rally at 1pm in front of the building and a support march, the afternoon was busy and lively. A quick look back at the mobilisation and the hearing itself.

About a hundred people finally gathered in front of the Grande Ourse. Time for a coffee and the departure was launched by the batukada. All dressed in pink, the percussionists cheerfully lead the march. As soon as the bridge is crossed, the cops lead the small procession. Three vans and a car just for us, the prefecture has spoiled us! The cops, recognising some people, allow themselves unnecessary words and some stupid remarks about their looks. They definitely don’t change… The demonstration then goes through the town centre animated by songs, hastily prepared that very morning (and it shows), drums or slogans about the right to housing. In spite of our small number, we make noise and the passers-by look at us with curiosity. The numerous banners then attract their attention. One can read: “less bourgeois, more roofs; “fuck the mayor and his evictions” or “it’s not the winter truce we want, it’s the truce itself”.

The town centre is quickly overtaken, you arrive in front of the court with a little more than an hour’s notice. The boulevard is then blocked and the pancakes arrive. We settle down quietly for a nice snack on the asphalt and under the watchful eye of the cops. At 4pm, almost the whole of the demonstration is still eating. The “representatives” of the inhabitants, the only ones allowed to enter (because of covid), join the courtroom while the boulevard is still blocked and the banners attached to the court gates.

The atmosphere in the courtroom is no longer the same. The judge twice insists that the proceedings take place in a calm atmosphere. The owner’s lawyer begins with a well-oiled indictment. She first deplores the presence of so many homeless people in the streets of Angers, pointing out that her client does not have to pay the consequences (as if the upper middle classes were not responsible, at least in part, for the poverty). Then, as usual, she confronts the right to housing with the right to private property, insisting on the fact that the latter has always prevailed in French law despite their presence in the constitution. She therefore asks that this right to housing should not be evoked because “this is not the issue”. Several clear lies follow: she accuses the inhabitants of the building of having made up insulting remarks towards her client (invented out of thin air), then she talks about a so-called banner that was allegedly displayed and on which was written “we will not leave until we are evicted” (this is of course the case, but the banner is a new invention). She goes on to talk about an unsanitary building, without sanitary facilities (there are five toilets and two hot showers at the Big Dipper) and bare electric wires “hanging everywhere”. No one knows where she has seen them. One hopes that such a web of lies without a shred of evidence will be dismissed by the judge on reading the file…

According to her, the inhabitants of the squat are “not in a vulnerable situation”, since they are only single men. Apart from the fact that there are women and children living in the Grande Ourse, being a man alone on the street, without any resources and, for some, not speaking the language would not be a situation of vulnerability… Fortunately, there are courts to hear such absurdities. She also refers to the health crisis, talking about a place “without the slightest measure of hygiene” and a potential vector for the spread of the virus. Then she ends by asking for the removal of any delay before eviction, claiming that the demolition permit has been granted and that work is due to begin soon. This permit only concerns the roof of the building and one facade being classified as a historical heritage site, so obtaining the full permit is not for tomorrow. It also relies on the pseudo existence of an assault (breaking and entering), again without proof, to request immediate eviction.

Maitre Malawi, lawyer for the building’s occupants but also supporter of the collective, answers her point by point. Not mentioning the right to housing, he insists on the work carried out by the members of the collective to help the most destitute and goes so far as to say that “if he had their age and courage, he would do the same thing”. Without going back on the lies of the opposing party, he proves the good faith of the occupiers by presenting to the judge the precarious occupation agreement that had been negotiated with the owner and was ready to be signed at the end of January. As the unilateral break-up of the negotiations followed by the summons to court was his doing, he could not accuse the collective of ill will. He also recalls the bailiff’s report, noting the presence of women and children in the building and showing no break-ins. The situations of the inhabitants, which prove their very precarious situation, and therefore their vulnerability, speak for themselves: more than 30 documents in the file! Concerning the virus and the current situation, he asked the court: “Is it better to have dozens of people on the street rather than a squat to stop the spread of the covid?”. He ends by asking the court to show sympathy to the inhabitants who risk spending the winter on the street.

The judge in charge of the case is new to Angers. Starting with a high-profile case like this one, interwoven with political and social issues, is no easy task. Faced with this and with two voluminous files to examine, he begins by setting 30 October (two days before the winter truce!) as the date for deliberation. The landlord’s lawyer insisted on bringing the date forward, but he ended up bringing it back to 16 October. The winter truce seems to be getting closer and closer!

After an oral report and a standing ovation to our lawyer, the demonstration takes this time the road to the prefecture to stay there a little hour between music and speeches before returning to the Grande Ourse. In spite of the low attendance, it was a beautiful afternoon.

See you on 16 October to find out what the authorities will eat us up with!

La Grande Ourse
6 quai Robert Fèvre, 49035 Angers, France
cpam [dot] occup [at] protonmail [dot] com

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