Squatting: The Audacity of Taking Up Space
The pandemic-induced eviction crisis should bring back memories of a movement that fought for free housing for all
In Sisterhood and Squatting in the 1970s, Christine Hall gives a dystopian yet accurate description of some boroughs in London. “To walk through Islington, Camden, and Hackney in the early 1970s was to walk along street after street of soot-blackened, late Georgian and Victorian terraces and villas boarded up and left semi-derelict.” Our collective consciousness isn’t trained to think that such a description could be attached to any area in London, so, how’d that happen?
After World War II, Britain had to map out how entire cities would be rebuilt because German bombing had inflicted significant damage to urban areas. But because of a shortage of house-building material, the rebuilding process went too slowly for upper-middle-class residents, so they left for better pastures. These better pastures were newly-built urban areas with new housing facilities in the suburbs on the outskirts of London so that Inner London inhabitants could relocate. This massive exodus left thousands of housing facilities empty and derelict, most of them lacking the three essential household amenities: exclusive use of their water supply (including hot water), a bath, and an indoor toilet. When the ones in charge of London’s rebuilding process realized these areas were up for grabs, they saw fit to simply demolish these empty houses to build better, more expensive housing, shopping centers, and more. And that’s when the squatters come in.
In the late 60s, squatters took it upon themselves to repair and live in those places for many reasons, but let’s focus on the marginalized people that make up the bulk of those squatters: homeless people, women, working-class people, and those who meet at some of those intersections.
In 1970, the Women’s Liberation Movement emerged with force in the U.K. This second-wave feminist organization emerged with force as they analyzed women’s roles in society and defined their first demands at the first National Women’s Liberation Conference to establish social and economic equality for women. But while this movement was massive on its own, it wouldn’t have been as successful if it…