Thursday, May 30, 2013

City Government Moves Again to Evict Squatters at Albany Bulb

Osha Nuemann's most famous statue, 'Goddess.'
Albany seems like more of the type of town that would have the last racially segregated farmers market left in the US - not a place where a vibrant squatters and radical artists community calls home, but it is. While the East Bay is blessed with both People's Park and the Albany Bulb, the two spaces are remarkably different. Located in Albany, which is found just North of Berkeley and right next to the ocean on Buchanan Street, the Albany Bulb is a peninsula that overlooks San Francisco and the greater bay area. Like several of the other peninsulas that dot the coastline, the Bulb was created out of a landfill that included bits and pieces of the BART system such as large slabs of concrete and rebar. Much of this debris can still be seen to this day. In 1984, the city stopped using the area as a dump directly into the ocean and as the decades wore on, nature began to come back slowly. By present day, the Bulb is a sanctuary for many endangered birds, a wide variety of plants, and various animal species. As the East Bay Express wrote in 1999:
Communal library at Albany Bulb.
Then, around 1993, a new species began to call this place home. A small group of squatters moved in and erected a tent city among the weeds and ten-year-old saplings. Pioneered by young punkers and urban deep ecology anarchists, a settlement slowly grew. For a time, dog-walking locals strode past this scattered collection of isolated shanties deliberately constructed to blend in with the environment-and never knew it. Everyone had an acre of peaceful open space to themselves, living a strangely rural existence surrounded by the stunning vistas of an urban metropolis. Open-air raves were held in a nearby pit called "the amphitheater," and enterprising artists welded the rebar into disjointed, compelling shapes.

Graffiti mural at 'The Castle.'
In 1999, the city of Albany moved to evict the homeless people and the subsequent legal battle was chronicled in the documentary, 'Bum's Paradise.' Afterwards however, many people moved back to the Bulb and despite repeated eviction attempts, a strong squatting community remains. Walking around the Bulb, I was impressed by the complexity of many of the shelters and homes that exist on the land. There is little trash and garbage; people obviously take very good care of the area. Many of the homes are largely hidden. If you walk along the trails and don't pay attention, by and large you won't notice many of them. There is also a large amount of infrastructure and communal common space that people have made, such as a library building and an amphitheater. On the tip of the Bulb, someone has has also created a 'castle,' which is covered in graffiti and different murals and overlooks the golden gate bridge.  

For many though, the most infamous part of the park is the art, much of it created by materials found on the landfill itself. Most iconic of all the art are the the statues, many being created in part by Osha Nuemann, a former member of Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers! and later, Black Mask, two early anarchist groups from the late 1960's. "It's art without restraint," says Osha of the art. "Art coming out of nature, without having to look over its shoulder and ask permission." Graffiti artists also are a part of the Bulb's rebel culture, with pieces popping up from anarchist writters such as GATS, and SWAMPY, as well as underground legends such as OLD CROW. One group, based out of Oakland, called "SNIFF," also created a series of art installations around the Bulb, including many paintings.  

The future of the Bulb though, like everything in the bay area, is in question. Two things threaten the wild anarchy and self-organized nature of the area. The first is from developers, who are salivating at the thought of turning the area into condos and shopping malls. One developer, Rick Caruso, has already attempted to develop the land, although his plan was turned down.

The Bulb is also threatened by the city government, who currently wants to try and turn the Bulb further into an official state park. While technically the entire area is a park already, the city could come in and add new roads, fences, and other developments to the land, which in turn would mean the destruction of the art and the eviction of the squatting community. At a recent city council meeting in early May, the Albany city council directed police to once again enforce a 'no-camping' policy at the Bulb, starting in October of 2013. According to the Albany Patch website, these sweeps against the homeless would be coupled with "the Mayor, Vice Mayor and City Manager meet[ing] with East Bay Regional Park District and State Parks to begin a process to make the Bulb area a public park." Such development would mean an end to everything on the Bulb that makes it what it is for so many people. The art, the dogs running around off-leash, and the squatter's homes. As one blogger commented:
I'm just going to say that the place has become a jewel - simply by being ignored by the authorities. For years, it was allowed essentially to self regulate, plants grew without being tended, animals and birds arrived, reptiles and rodents emerged, rose bushes bloomed hidden between concrete slabs dumped 40 years ago, artists came and left a treasure trove of outsider art, the homeless moved in for over 10 years. And now, they have started the process of destroying that imagination, to replace it with something that can be controlled, contained and coerced into compliance with a 'park plan.

What is beautiful about the Albany Bulb is that is is self-organized, user-controlled and directed, and wild and free. It is an interesting collection of graffiti artists, squatters, and also dog-walkers and park goers. Most who use the space enjoy and appreciate it's wildness and it's this sense of autonomy and self-organization that brings hundreds to the park. It's also beautiful to see the natural world reclaiming something toxic that human beings have foisted into the ocean.

It should be clear though, that the government is interested in much more than just clearing out the homeless from the area or stopping graffiti artists from painting on concrete. They are interested in control. Just as University of California Police moved quickly to break up the short occupation of UC Berkeley land in Albany over the last several weeks, the city of Albany is looking to finally clear away squatters from government owned land. While the popularity of the Albany Bulb is without question, it's rebellious and illegal nature are problematic for the power structure. The Bulb if anything is a clear violation of the logic and laws of class society: people live without rent, create without permission of government authority, and exist together and with the earth on their own free will. In a society where such ways of existence are always criminalized and seen as threatening by those in power, this is exactly why the Albany Bulb is important and should be defended.  

The question remains, what vision of the park will win in the end? Will we who enjoy the freedom and self-governance of the current state of affairs be able to defend this way of life, or will power and capital win the day? Better yet, how can we expand such forms of life and ways of being? How can such actions and occupations link up and support each other? Out only reply is the same of the anarchist groups of the 1960's, 'Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers! - We've Come for What's Ours!'  

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

March and Rally Held at SF State Despite Police Harassment of Students

Less than a week after the SF Commune, a squatted communal house in San Francisco was raided by police, leading to several arrests, some of the same police beat and arrested some of those evicted while at a friend's dorm on SF State Campus. (It should also be noted that despite the repression, that night people took to the streets in a march against the eviction.) At the eviction of the SF Commune, police appeared with autonomic rifles and also a remote controlled 'tank-like' robot that was capable of shooting either bean bags or wooden pallets. This extreme show of force for what would normally have been a civil matter, shows clearly that SF police must be getting direction and funding from the Department of Homeland Security in order to deal with 'potential threats' to national security.

Rally at SF State.
Such connections between the federal government and local police departments mean big bucks for local cops - and beefed up repression on radical organizers. The SFPD Homeland Security Unit also recently attempted to even get drones. Local police also are getting training from Homeland Security and are trained on how to gather information on 'terrorists,' working through the SF Fusion Center, which works to coordinate police, FBI, and other law enforcement information gathering. In the build up of the demonstration at SF State on Tuesday, May 21st, against the recent dorm room attacks, police continued to harass students who where organizing for the event. As someone on the facebook event page wrote: 
Me and two others were just detained for over an hour for taping a flyer to a wall. Officer Ruiz threatened to use violence against me and said "If you do not sit down, I will beat you down" to me twice. After expressing concern about this blatant threat he laughed in my face. Three friends seemed to have heard what was going on and came over to make sure everything was okay. When one of my friends took out his phone to record police activity, Officer Ruiz lunged at him, grabbed the camera from his hands and illegally confiscated it. As I stood by to witness the event and make sure my friends did not get hurt, Officer Tang walked up to me and said that if I didn't leave he would issue me a stay-way order from the school campus. It being finals week, I complied and started walking to the library to study for said finals. Halfway there, Officer Ruiz approaches me in a car continues to harass me. He issues me a conduct violation, California education code: Title 5. s 41301(d) for simply walking around the school which I attend as a student. He said I looked "suspicious" and like "I was up to no good".
What kind of school has police officers who harass students for walking?

Welcome to San Francisco Police State University.
Another student was questioned about having an Occupy design on their jacket and then followed. Several people have also been arrested outside of the jail in SF at 850 Bryant for staying on the sidewalk in support of their friends arrested in the dorms last week.

SF State has a long history as a radical campus. In 2009, students occupied one of the main halls that overlooks Malcolm X Plaza during the student occupation movement. In 1968, students went on strike for five months, leading to the creation of one of the first ethnic studies program in the United States. While SF State plays up this 'radical history,' it still works closely with the police to ensure that the actions which would give rise to another such uprising are put down before they can begin. Just as in the past, struggles by workers and students will come up against the rich and powerful in society, and thus, their police.

Despite the repression on SF State campus, today between 50-75 people rallied and marched on the campus to call for the intimidate release of the 'SF Commune 5,' and that those arrested receive medical treatment for their wounds. Around 2pm, students and supporters rallied at Malcolm X plaza and several people addressed the crowd to talk about the situation at the school and the harassment that people have endured in the build up to the rally.

Following a sound system, people took to marching throughout the campus, stopping around the student housing building where the initial attack took place before marching on the police station. People wearing black masks painted slogans with spray paint during the march. Upon reaching the police station, news was read that those in the jail would be released that night, with felony charges dropped to misdemeanors. Upon receiving this news, people then marched back to the plaza to head out to the jail to greet their friends.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Anarchist Hip-Hop at Anti-Gentrification Block Party in San Francisco

Police Shut Down BART Entrance; Pour Into Mission during Block Party against Gentrification

Kids space at the plaza.
On Tuesday, April 30th, police were stationed across Valencia, in cars, on foot, walking the beat. No, they weren’t involved in a massive Sit/Lie sting, they weren’t out looking to find the next Kenneth Harding evading a fare on Muni, they were trying to, “Prevent another May Day riot,” as they told a friend of mine who they questioned about their presence. Another person that was interviewed stated that they were questioned by police, “Why were they wearing black?” Last year, marching from Dolores Park, anarchists wearing black with masks to cover their faces from police and video cameras, attacked affluent shops and police along Valencia Street, seen to many as the epicenter of the hipster invasion of the Mission and an extreme symbol of gentrification of what used to be a largely lesbian enclave in a working-class Latino neighborhood. 
Eddie Falcon
Several weeks after the riot, I sat down with a friend that had grown up in the Mission and asked him what he thought of the riot, which quickly was understood as an attack on gentrification based solely on targets alone. “I thought it was fucking great,” he remarked. “Fuck the caviar Left and their denunciations, everyone I know understood it exactly what it was, a riot against gentrification in the area.” Flash forward to present day, several weeks ago I stood in a donut shop on Mission Street, staring at a poster for an upcoming block party against gentrification. An older white man noticed me looking at it and I asked him his thoughts were. “Have you been to Valencia lately?,” he asked me. “It’s fucking disgusting. Those people just sit there on their phones. They’re destroying the Latino culture here.” It’s clear that the police agreed, and they chose very clearly what side they are taking. In the aftermath of the riot, affluent business owners were furious that the police, who have a substation on Valencia, seemed to be powerless during the assault on their property. Several months later, anarchists again rampaged in the neighborhood, attacking the police station, businesses, and banks after SFPD shot a young man close to 16th and Mission. Judging from the police presence that was stationed on the street on Cinco de Mayo, May 5th, police weren’t pulling any punches this time, or should I say, letting anyone else throw them. 

BART Station was shut down.
Walking up to 16th and Mission on May 5th, I was not prepared for the amount of police. I’ve been going to protests and demonstrations in the San Francisco bay area for over ten years. I remember the marches after 9/11 decrying the invasion of Afghanistan that now continues via Obama’s drone strikes and somewhat secret “kill-lists.” The mass marches against the Iraq war (round 2), which continued Clinton’s string of extended air strikes and sanctions which left hundreds of thousands dead and shut the city down when the war started. I handed out flyers to bus drivers and riders against MUNI fare hikes; I took the streets against the police killings of Kenneth Harding and when BART tried to shut down limited cell phone and internet service after people raged following the police murder of a homeless man. I’ve seen the police in this city do a lot of shit, but for a block party? 

View from the plaza.
In the run up to the block party, internet blogs such as ‘Uptown Almanac,’ played up the fact that there would be ‘Google Bus Piñatas,’ instead of the fact that this would be the first public demonstration in the Mission District specifically against gentrification in several years. One person even emailed the group asking, “Where can I buy a ‘Google bus piñata’ for my own party?” Reading the reports on Uptown Almanac and others that did cover the block party seemed to focus solely on this aspect: the Google bus piñatas, so much so that they miss the whole story of the event, the police repression that it brought, and what made it interesting. According to the Almanac blog, only 30-40 people attended, which is way off the mark. By around 1:30pm, about 50 people had gathered in the plaza, and throughout the 3 hours that the block party went on, up until about 4:30PM or so, over 150 people had passed through the space and enjoyed the food, speakers, and music. It seemed that what media was there, was mostly only interested in a photo op of the Google bus smashing. At the plaza, people had placed banners up throughout the square, in both Spanish and English. Banners read, "No Condos in the Mission," "Stop Evictions and Displacement," "Ellis Act is Racist," and "Save the 17 Reasons Building." Various groups had tables, including anarchist distros, the newspaper FireWorks, SF Needle Exchange, Homes Not Jails, and the Housing Rights Committee.

At around 1PM, the same time that the block party was to start, police were built up around the 17 Reasons building, which was recently bought by a new landlord who is currently trying to evict some of the tenants. The landlord, Rick Holman, was close by, chumming it up with the cops, and also stationed private security which checked id’s at the building and placed surveillance cameras around it. One of the spaces there, In the Works (ITW), which is a ‘Community and (Anti) Art Space,’ was served with an unlawful detainer. During the block party, large amounts of police were stationed all around the building, perhaps in their minds, to prevent an occupation of the building. Clearly, there was a level of coordination between the landlord and the police in trying to keep the block party from happening and also trying to attack ITW at the same time. Police kept a strong presence around the building throughout the day, as well as across Valencia Street. Police were trying to attack the block party and hinder people from participating in it.  

Tommie Mecca
The block party itself drew in a lot of people, both from the street, who were already in the plaza, and who had come just for the party itself. Dee Allen, a long-term anarchist and poet who has published several works of poetry was the MC for the event. Several people performed and also spoke. Among the first people to perform was Tommi Mecca, of the Housing Rights Committee. Tommi unfortunately played several acoustic songs about gentrification. I say unfortunately, because his song with the chorus that goes, “Yuppie, yuppie, yuppie, stole my pad, yuppie, yuppie, yuppie, bad, bad, bad!,” is still in my head. Tommi’s recent editorial that ran in The Guardian, sums up the spirit of much of the entire event. 
“Where is the building-by-building organizing of renters? Where is the street outreach in every neighborhood? Where are the blocked doorways of those being forced out of their apartments by pure greed? Where are the direct actions against the speculators and investors who are turning our neighborhoods into a monopoly game? Where is the pressure on the Board of Supervisors to pass legislation to curb speculation and gentrification rather than approve tax breaks for dot-com companies? Where is the pressure on state legislators to repeal the Ellis Act and other state laws that prohibit our city from strengthening rent control and eviction protections? Every moment we wait, more people are displaced from their homes, more neighborhoods become upscale, more small businesses are lost….It's time to take back what's left of our city.”
Dee Allen’s opening speech was also on point: 
"Since the 1990’s, we have seen thousands of people displaced, evicted, pushed out, and gentrified from the Mission and in the greater San Francisco era. Using tools such as the Ellis Act, landlords have been able to remove whole families from buildings and then covert them into condos – making millions. In recent years, these evictions have only gone up, not down, with the Mission one of the hardest hit neighborhoods. Local businesses have closed due to high rents, while others have been forced to declare bankruptcy and shut their doors. AIDS patients, those on a fixed income, senior citizens, and the working poor are especially hard hit, and many have become homeless.”
POOR Magazine
Also speaking at the event were representatives from POOR Magazine, Esperanaza Gardens, a community garden which is facing destruction from developers who want to turn the area into condos, as well as Homes Not Jails, who weekly meets to find housing for homeless people through the illegal act of squatting vacant buildings. Having gone to several of their meeting, I know that every week they go out, seeking to place in vacant homes homeless people who are interested in starting and keeping squatted spaces. I especially enjoyed the talk given by Kevie, a San Francisco native, who talked about the history of gentrification in the city, as well as background info on the developers who recently bought the 17 Reasons building. Performing at the event where two anarchist hip-hop acts, MC Lovelle and Eddie Falcon of the 40 Thievez. I’ve seen Eddie perform at 16th and Mission several times, the last time being outside of the part of the anarchist bookfair several months ago and Lovell at a graffiti festival in Modesto last year. Both of the artist’s game has improved a lot, and the crowd definitely loved both. I talked with Falcon after the performance, and asked him what the local 16th and Missioners thought. “I got a lot of support. A lot of people asked for cd’s,” he responded. Many of Falcon’s songs reference the Mission area. Eddie is a long term member of Iraq Veterans Against the War and became an anarchist after returning to the US following tours of duty in the army in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

MC Lovelle
Food not Bombs also was on hand, doing a fine job of feeding the gathering with homemade tacos and donated pizzas from the worker-cooperative Arizmendi, which is part of the NoBAWC group, which includes worker owned businesses ranging from ‘Mendi which slings pizzas, to the union strip club, ‘The Lusty Lady,’ made famous from the documentary, ‘Live Nude Girls, Unite!’ Food not Bombs, which has a rich history in San Francisco, and also helped spawn Homes Not Jails in the early 1990’s, serves free food in the 16th and Mission plaza several days a week.

By around 4:30pm however, the police had had enough. Just as the last Google bus piñata was being dramatically smacked down by a large wooden stick and Dee Allen was delivering a fiery set of poetry, the gas on the generator run out. Police then stepped in and stood in front of the generator – and also confiscated the gas can. When asked why they had also decided to shut down part of the BART station, they replied, “Someone threw a bottle at us.” It was clear that the police were done with the event and were ready for it to come to an end. As event organizers tried to squirrel away sound system before the police could take it away as “evidence,” around 20 police officers spilled into the plaza, in effect, shutting the event down. What was saddest of all was that talking with people that were there at the event, the open mic portion was about to start and many people who came to share their thoughts did not get to do so. I wish that more people had come to the event, and that even more would have stayed. It’s clear that the high numbers at the start of the block party kept police at bay for the first several hours of the event. Unfortunate as it is that the open mic did not happen due to police harassment, still a clear message was articulated to the Mission neighborhood on May 5th: condos are coming in, gentrification hasn’t stopped – it’s gotten worse. Ellis Act evictions aren’t a thing of the dot-com past, they have continued and this year, reached their highest yet. Clearly the police presence in the neighborhood and also around the 17 Reasons building is a clear reminder that the state understands and supports the side of wealth and power. They are organized and have made their plans. Those that stand with poor and working people have got to start making theirs. 

Food Not Bombs serving food.
It’s important to keep in mind that displacement and removal of people – and resistance to that displacement and removal in the Mission District is nothing new. Ohlone people fought and died in what is now the Mission District to stop colonization and being forced onto Missions. Radical labor organizers and militants have called the mission home for decades, using the neighborhood as a staging ground for action and resistance, including the San Francisco general strike. Since the 1950’s, people have clashed with everyone from BART to yuppies to stop the flood of upper-class residents and developers in the neighborhood. Using and collection of tactics from marches, to arson, to postering, people have fought the removal of thousands of poor and working people from their homes in the Mission District and struggled against Ellis Act evictions and landlord greed. What happened on Cinco de Mayo isn’t anything new, but it is part of a history of resistance against something that poor and working people have been fighting against for a decades. 

Read more on the history of resistance in the Mission here and recent history of the fight against gentrification here