An Eviction Free Zone may look great on paper, but it will only be transformative if it sees evictions as a symptom of something deeper.
The anarchist and anti-authoritarian tradition has its roots not in high theory but instead the actual on-the-ground work. This often traces itself as a sort of reaction to lived experiences; a way of synthesizing a practical theory that has been excised from trial and error. David Graeber notes that this really helps to separate schools of anarchist thought from Marxism, seeing the diversity of theory really in the diversity of practice.
“There are Anarcho-Syndicalists, Anarcho-Communists, Insurrectionists, Cooporativists, Individualists, Platformists…None are named after some Great Thinker; instead, they are invariably named either after some kind of practice, or most often, organizational principle. Anarchists like to distinguish themselves by what they do, and how they organize themselves to go about doing it.” (1)
This is the foundation that really separates the revolutionary character of anarchism from the various ideological strains that attempt to subvert the system: it is an effort to realize a movement and a world as it could be. Anarchism, with its focus on direct action and direct democracy, sees the methods to fight hierarchy and create revolution are exactly the social systems that should be in place once the major hurdles have been laid. The methods for getting to a new world should be inherently the institutions of the liberated society.
Prefigurative politics play directly into this theory of practice in that we see our large protest and counter institutions as capable of being a model for future social systems. The neighborhood assembly, tenants unions, and systems of mutual aid that can defend neighborhoods during anti-foreclosure work can plant the seeds for the systems that can maintain community control over housing in the future. This can often lead us to go even further as to say that our tactics can become steadfast institutions in and of themselves since they are in use to create this countercultural force. The problem with tactics, as Noam Chomsky often says, is that they don’t make movements.
The paradox that often erupts when we think of our organizing project now as prefiguring the society of the future is that our politics today exist largely as performance, often dealing in relative absolutes. An example of this has been brewing in foreclosure defense work where the term Eviction Free Zone has often been used tactically. The idea here is that we give a movement a set parameter in a city, often where affected families have been dense. We declare this area “off limits” for foreclosure and forcible eviction, attempting to create community bonds of solidarity so strong in those communities that it literally becomes a difficulty for banks to actually execute foreclosures on certain blocks. This projects is often associated with various slogans focusing on ending evictions altogether. This steadfast language is a great sign on a lawn to detract developers, but it does not reflect the reality of how a healthy neighborhood functions.
As difficult as it may be for those in anti-capitalist movements to say, some people simply should be evicted.
In any given neighborhood there will be dozens of homes owned by developers who are refusing to pay their taxes. Foreclosure, and by default eviction, is going to be logical to almost anyone else in the community, especially if we are talking about vacant slumlords who are living an insulated upper class life.
Secondly, there are numerous situations where people in a neighborhood may be creating dangerous situations for the people surrounding them. Domestic violence, drug issues, and a whole range of coercive social relationships can create problematic situations that create neighborhoods entirely alienated and unable to find a nurturing social space. There are a host of reasons why a community might want to ask someone to relocate, though we do not frame it in the terms that we currently associate with eviction. Even under the most basic scrutiny this principle of “no evictions” fails to be a universal axiom that we could stand behind in any and all situations. A community should be able to come together and demand that an abuser or fascist organizer be forced out.
This type of sloganeering, while incredibly useful as a way of creating absolutes during an organizing campaign, is one that confuses values with tactics. Tactically, we are declaring an area an eviction free zone. The values that drive this campaign, however, run much deeper than a simple legal hurdle.
In our communities. evictions almost always reflect a class inequality, not a forced removal because a person’s presence has become unsafe or violated some type of community trust. Evictions reflect the failure of a person to live up to what is economically demanded of them, which is not the same as moral failure in any regard. The resistance to evictions is not about the act itself, but the very basic inequities that it represents in our social life. Eviction is a tool of class exploitation, and by confronting this manifestation we use it as an area to develop class struggle. Evictions become incidental to a larger matrix of intersecting forms of oppression and attacks made by ruling class institutions. It’s easy to vaguely see that there is a class inequality in society, but there has to be a vessel in which to confront it. The struggle around housing is a direct manifestation of these class antagonisms, and therefore eviction resistance becomes a front in which to counter the logic of this capitalist steamroller. Foreclosures become especially ripe for harvest as we have come to see that banks do not even want to play a rigged game anymore: now they simply reach out and take what they want.
The goal here, as with any social movement that wants to really force a new set of social relations, is to cripple the current class institution and shove in something more humane to replace it. Popular institutions of community control can obviously meet the needs of the people of any given street better than the sharpened blade of a commercial bank, and the only way to do this is to strip the power from those who are currently in control. Their strength comes from their ability to declare ownership, get the support of the police, and force people out through an eviction. Until we say no. Until we won’t go.
The problem here is not with using the kind of absolutist language, especially since it is this kind of rhetoric that wins campaigns. The real issue forms when people base a culture and praxis off of this simple campaign goal rather than the values that stand behind it. Working on an Eviction Free Zone is only useful in as much as it is used to strike back against the banking class and to create counter-institutions that have the ability to open up new possibilities. Without that it is simply charity work and a really hip Band-Aid on a growing social wound. We do support an end to evictions as a tool of adversarial social class, as a weapon to end the stability of families and threaten homelessness, and as method for destroying communities. These are in line with a set of values that are in stark contrast to the way that housing functions today. Here we can begin to create a long-term vision that moves beyond the individual campaigns and has the ability to actually create the world that we imagine during long meetings and community rallies. In these moments we get a glimpse of what we could build simply from the fire and solidarity among neighbors, and what could happen if we identify a crack in the system and decide to take pickaxe to it.
(1) Graeber, David. Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology (Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press, LLC), 5.