Today, several students from Universities across the state attempted to occupy the Hibernia National Bank building in San Francisco. This building which has remained empty for years was recently sold for almost 3 million dollars in a neighborhood where thousands live without homes and hundreds die each year while lacking shelter. This space has been left empty because of the profit motive – placing the surplus value that could be acquired over the possible human needs that space could and should have fulfilled. We had planned on taking this space and holding it until later in the afternoon, when a march against homelessness and affordable housing would end in a rally nearby. We wished to take an action that would bridge the various movements that are taking shape from the growing discontent in this country and found it logical that the tactic of occupation be used to illustrate the nonsensical logic that dictates how and who uses space.
After a few hours of being in the building, a motion sensor alarm alerted the building owner who then called the police. As we sat in a room deciding how we should proceed the lights in the building suddenly switched on. We began to hear footsteps and voices travelling up from the stairs and initially attempted to hide in one of the rooms. After we realized that there would be no escape and no possibility of adequately hiding we revealed ourselves to the police. We were met with six loaded guns, yelling at us to put our hands up. Even after we had surrendered ourselves pistols were still aimed and ready to fire. The police questioned us and berated us for our “stupidity”, one officer even scolded another for not shooting us on the spot. This threat of violence shown against those who were seemingly attempting find refuge from a winter storm is ridiculous and displays the criminalization of poverty that exists in our society. Furthermore, it shows the backward values of our community which place the protection of private property above the safety and well-being of people. It is doubtful that SFPD’s response to a report of violence or sex slavery in the Tenderloin would be nearly as robust or timely.
We entered the space earlier in the morning to barricade the doors and with the hope of later creating an open space. The idea of an open and notorious occupation off campus requires a closer examination but should not be abandoned. The creation of liberated spaces in the community is something that we strive and dream for. In our decision to take this particular space as well to publicize it widely we wished to show to the student community the common circumstances that exist between two issues that are normally distant as well as show student support for those dealing with the reality of homelessness and precarious housing. Our failure illustrated to us how much we have to learn from those already involved squatting.
While this attempt was thwarted by the police, we are not finished. While currently in society we are students, we will not allow this designation to confine our action to the University. The issue of unaffordable housing leaves no person unaffected – all people must figure out some way to get a roof over their head. We will of course have to reexamine how and why we squat, but we will squat again.
We stand in solidarity with all of those without homes, those criminalized and demonized by society, and those who have begun this struggle before us.
There will be a march today against homelessness and for affordable housing starting at 11am from Justin Herman Plaza to the Federal Building