Here is my attempt to give you a picture of the squat’s activity until this evening. I got here in time for a meeting that I thought would be interesting, and caught up with my friends who’ve been here for a while. Here is what’s happened as I’ve heard it.
Someone told me it was ‘one of the most unorganised stormings of a building ever – anarchy in the most common sense of the word’. Towards the end of the Brighton anti-austerity march this Saturday, people passed the bank and a large contingent took the space; knowing it had been abandoned. The bank had been squatted before: Barclays left in January and a group of squatters had already moved in and been evicted by the police.
The building was a complete tip on Saturday. People cleaned up loads to begin with, as there was clutter scattered around everywhere. Whereas there’s now a huge open space for meetings and meals, there once was a floor covered in litter and broken furniture. It was initially pushed into corners and is currently being taken away or remodeled into something useful. The abundant graffiti is being steadily painted over in white.
It has been decided that different rooms should be for different things, and today a chill out room was established. The purpose is to give people a space to relax in peace and quiet if they want to remain in the squat but be out of potentially intense discussion (either privately or in meetings). Somebody with experience in mental health care has volunteered as a go-to so people can speak confidentially about anything they want to.
There was a general meeting between everyone involved on the Saturday night (and there has been one every night since). The meetings are democratically led with a facilitator keeping tabs of who’d like to speak next, and a minutes-taker writing notes on decisions that have been made and things people have said. The general assembly on Monday night decided that the group would draft a statement of intent. Individuals drafted statements and then one was used a skeleton with sentiment included from all of them. Everyone present reviewed a polished statement at the next general meeting and this blog was launched with it last night.
Generally attack isn’t on the collective mind but there is a constant security effort. This is fairly low level: a 24 hour watch for which people freely sign up on a rota. Being part of the squat is being part of making this space into a community space, in these early days this predictably consists in being particularly defensive of the space and particularly wary of entrants. There’s an open door policy in that anyone is welcome to come and look around, but not literally an open door. Aside from this logistically being impossible right now, we also have a couple of social rules on tolerance and a no-drugs and alcohol policy.
Today was the first day a majority of the occupees went to work so people felt as if they were down to the bare bones of occupation. There’s always a shiny dog called Tessa exploring and using the space in her own way, though she pees in the bathroom like everyone else.
This evening people got together for the first officially theoretical discussion. It was admitted, ‘we all have a different perspective on what we’re doing here: theory means to discuss our understanding of this occupation’s purpose.’ It was also the first agendaless meeting, which had tangible pros and cons. A couple of people voiced frustration at not knowing exactly what a theoretical meeting would entail, what the group was trying to do in a meeting of that nature at that time, and whether it is actually useful to have one at all (‘perhaps we should be focusing only on practice and progress?’). Others felt that it was crucial to get discussing ideas. Ideas being understood broadly as including questions from: ‘Who will use the space?’ to ‘What does it mean to be radical?’
If anything, the lack of agenda provided a space for people to express how much they would like theory explicitly to be involved in the ongoing space. We can be comfortable that theoretical discussion is not seen, right now, as crucial to the continuing development of the squat into a social space. Some people are more enthusiastic about having theoretical discussions than others. In the near future, perhaps these discussions will have a little more focus and because of this people will join them as and when they feel interested.
Aside from disagreement, the meeting testified to there being a lot of harmony in people’s experiences of the squat. People might have found the disagreement over the inclusion of theory stressful precisely because all activity until now has been so spontaneous and free-flowing. Everyone involved in the squat since Saturday have been getting along really well. The direction of the space has been enthusiastically consistent and there have been no arguments.
As I’ve been writing, huge, colourful balloons have been hung up all around me amongst the ongoing noise of power tools and laughter.