Last night, the occupiers of 75 River Community Center chose to end their occupation. Just after 9pm the building was left vacant, just as it has been since 2008. Before leaving, signs were hung from every office and conference room door with suggestions for a future community center. Servicess such as free childcare, free drug counseling, homeless outreach and senior speed-dating are just a few examples of what could have been available at 75 River, which aspired to become a community center for the residents of Santa Cruz.
This effort was disrupted and distorted by the Santa Cruz Police, the City Council, and Wells Fargo Bank. The occupiers chose to exit the building since it became clear that police were targeting a small group of individuals not directly involved with the occupation. Besides being a further testament to the ineptitude of the Santa Cruz Police Department, this targeting shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the Occupy organizing model. These targeted individuals acted as observers and monitors of the occupation and communicated to police and media, but were in no way central to the occupation. The Occupy movement has neither leaders nor central individuals.
The violence that occurred at 75 River was entirely initiated by the police. At least four individuals were brutalized by police, one of whom was hospitalized due to their injuries. The appropriation of tax funds for intimidation and unprovoked violence was a waste of money that could be used to fund public services, rather than to disrupt individuals autonomously providing those resources.
The police and some media have focused on Wells Fargo as the “victim” in this scenario. This logic is exactly the problem. Wells Fargo has foreclosed countless families out of their homes (not to mention investing in heinous ICE detention centers, engaging in predatory lending, and yielding profits of over $12 Billion last year). The reclamation and re-purposing of a vacant building valued at $3.5 million is an injustice to no person and no institution. The real injustice is people being pillaged out of homes they spent years working legitimately to obtain, by an objectively greedy and inherently predatory legal entity.
Within the occupied space, a sense of togetherness was created that many had never felt elsewhere. Many also found safety within the building. These are not trivial things for people forced into living on the streets, but rather powerful and beautiful experiences that will remain with those who participated in the bank occupation for the rest of their lives.
It was inevitable that an occupation like the River St. one would spring up, as winter approaches and the core members of Occupy, many of whom are homeless, find themselves needing shelter from the elements (not to mention a place to fall asleep without concern that one is committing an illegal act). Future occupations across the country are similarly inevitable. Marginalized members of this society are beginning to discover their power. Beyond their overwhelming numerical superiority, the people have a vision of society that is compelling and profoundly fairer than the current way of things. Every day we struggle together is a day closer to this vision.
Three days ago, we took a bank. We defended and occupied 75River for over 75 hours. Hearts and minds worldwide were set afire by our reclamation as an inclusive community space of what was otherwise just another squandered vacant landhoarding of the 1% super-rich.
Over the last three days we used this warm and well-equipped building to rejoice in sharing food and resources, to provide shelter and safety for those without, to create inspired art and music, and to organize ourselves through direct democracy. We sparked abundant discussions within and abroad on the problems of private property and wealth inequity, and on modes of community response. Imaginations have soared around how such repurposed infrastructure can benefit grassroots self-organization and serve to meet human needs.
In response to heavy, increasing, and underhanded threats from Santa Cruz city officials and police on our community, we agreed by consensus to withdraw from 75 River Street, and did so earlier this evening. Though our establishment in this physical space was unfortunately brief, our goals were in part successful: to show that through courage, determination, and action, we the disenfranchised can seize our dreams.
The case for community self-empowerment stands stronger than ever. For every occupation repressed, a dozen will rise in its wake.
This is just a beginning.
We express a heartfelt thanks to those who have, and continue to express their solidarity and support for the occupiers of 75River.
This letter is to contest the notion that vacant, unused private property should be ethically or legally seen as the equivalent of an occupied home. The basis for [City Manager] Martin Bernal’s criticism of our efforts to reclaim 75 River Street for the community was that this goes against existing property laws, and that the needs of this community’s poor - notably the homeless - can be met through more traditional methods, such as voting procedures, or by continuing to protest extreme social inequality without breaking the law. This argument suffers from numerous deficiencies, and as it’s been used to justify aggressive behavior towards us it’s worth scrutinizing.
With regard to voting, it should be amply clear from the two major political parties’ decision-making these past three decades that the interests of the masses, the 99%, are not the driving force in political change. Money, corporate interest groups, and international capital have been. As there is currently no political group with poor and homeless peoples’ needs in mind, and the “mainstream” political system is funded to work against these interests, it is entirely understandable that many in our community and others like it are skeptical of voting. This space has been occupied to meet urgent, concrete needs that can’t wait for election time to be met: food, shelter, bathrooms, safety from abuse, and many more.
A related argument that’s been used against us is that positive social change can occur through forms of protest that obey the law. This of course ignores the question: How is it possible to effectively protest our system of laws, while at the same time fully obeying them? Perhaps an answer would be: through mobilizing public opinion. We certainly do believe in ethically mobilizing public opinion, but the issue remains of what to mobilize it for. As stated above, we have no interest in participating in a structurally corrupt voting system dominated by two massively corporate-funded political parties - so a traditional “get out the vote” effort is not the primary goal of what we are doing. We want the public to take direct action and actually join us in solidarity - and if they cannot join us here, to do it by occupying neglected spaces in their own city. As you know, this building occupation has become an object of national, and increasingly international, interest. For people who value human life over private property, it will doubtless serve as an inspiration.
To conclude, we would like to share one very important thought: whether or not this building occupation is shut down, others will spring up. You, the police, have taken a stand against the 99% in the service of an obsolete 1%. In these times of rapid change, it is guaranteed you will lose what support you have by continuing to protect the commodities of the super-elite at the expense of people’s health, well-being, and sense of community. Please begin thinking and acting conscientiously, by joining the 99%!
In a surprising acknowledgment of people power, as the police retreated, they actually asked us if they could leave… we replied to this an enthusistic “YES!”
We took a bank, repurposed it as a community center, and have held it now for over 75 hours. This footage is from the first night when the SCPD riot cops initially attempted to drive us from our space. Through the strength of our barricades and willful supporters linking arms on the outside, we were able to repel the police and defend 75river as a space for community, instead of as a squandered landhoarding of the 1%.
Call to Artists, Writers, Bloggers, Tweeters, Promoters:
Save the world! Make art! Support people power!
We have held this vacant bank in Santa Cruz, California for three days. This has been an exciting, inspiring, harrowing time for the 75river community space.
Barricades are not enough to protect this space, and we’d like to take them down as soon as possible. We need your visions and statements of support and solidarity at this time!
Your immediate contributions of 75river visual art, kind words, and generous cyberlinking are enormously supportive of our efforts. Theme idea: Visions of a future where the community provides for itself.
Please publish to your venue of choice and/or send to email@example.com
Last night we took the Coast Commercial Bank (now owned by Wells Fargo, and three years vacant) at 75 River St. in Santa Cruz, and are establishing it as a community center. These are inspiring and exciting times!
We’ve thus far held several organizational assemblies, have set up a media and communications center, sleeping quarters, a medical station, a library, and a stocked kitchen.
All are welcome! Come join us and share your visions. We very much look forward to removing all barricades, and have begun to do so as we become more comfortable holding this space…
But we are under immediate threat of police eviction. Support and solidarity from the Occupy international movement has kept us strong. Please continue to post, share, retweet, and spread the word to support the 75River community space!
75River was a community space in Santa Cruz, California, that existed between Nov. 30 and Dec. 3, 2011. The occupation began to establish a variety of community projects in the space until occupiers left the evening of the 3rd.
The occupation was set up in the former Coast Commercial Bank, a quite useful building held vacant by Wells Fargo since 2008.
Please help occupations inspire more of its kind by spreading the word! Send your links, art, and support to firstname.lastname@example.org