SCHOOLHOUSE SQUAT JAIL SUPPORT & PRESS CONFERENCE
WHAT: Press conference and jail support for Schoolhouse Squatters
WHERE: Nanaimo RCMP, 303 Prideaux, Snuneymuxw Territory
WHEN: Sunday October 7, 12:30 pm
Show up to support the Schoolhouse Squatters! If you can’t, we encourage people to phone the Nanaimo RCMP (1-250-745-2345) and demand the release of the squatters, without no-contact agreements. We also encourage people to ask about water, food, sleeping mats, and blankets – all of which the remaining squatters were being denied in jail. Donate to support continued homeless struggle across BC here!
On Friday, October 5, a group of homeless leaders and their supporters took over an abandoned school in Nanaimo and held it for 17 hours until militarized police squads broke in on orders from the Nanaimo-Ladysmith School District. Twenty-five people were arrested Saturday in a massive show of force. Four are still in jail, where, last we heard, they were going without food and methadone. Three unarmed squatters were aggressively taken down by police with guns drawn as they were trying to leave the school in the night. The Schoolhouse Squat has further revealed the deep rifts in Nanaimo’s society, with the police, courts, Province, and hateful bigots standing together on one side, gatekeeping who is and isn’t permitted to live or even be in public, and working class and Indigenous leaders on the other, fighting non-stop for their survival and vitality.
While squatters cooked dinner together and made art with abandoned school supplies Friday night, the RCMP cordoned off the entire school grounds, keeping media and supporters out. While the police were swarming the school, a large crowd of bigots, including the white supremacist group Soldiers of Odin and their leader Conrad Peach, gathered to yell threats and anti-homeless slurs. When one of them headbutted a supporter of the squatters, cops told the group of supporters that they had to leave because they were “inciting violence” – an acrobatic move that insists on criminalizing peaceful demonstrators who stand for the justice, survival, and leadership of homeless people, while buttressing and legitimizing anti-homeless violence. When bigots threatened to burn down the building, the cops did nothing. When they yelled misogynistic slurs at women activists and said “we know where you live,” the cops did nothing. When a group of bigots broke the police line, slabbering their confused rage, the cops did nothing. Yet when a single supporter crossed the police line on Saturday, he was arrested and thrown in jail. The squat was no threat to public safety, but it was a threat to the increasing normalization of homelessness, which is as symptomatic of the crisis of capitalism as the austerity-related budget cuts that shut down the school in the first place. Squatters were resisting the overwhelming message sent by the government: that homelessness is the new normal; that there are no solutions on the horizon; that homeless people are not part of the public; and that sentencing them to death, either in the isolation of prison-like supportive housing or the isolation of night-by-night camping, is not only acceptable, but desirable, because it purges the public of the disturbing sights of homelessness.
Homeless residents of Discontent City have been fighting for housing for the past five months, but rather than meet their basic survival needs, the City of Nanaimo and the BC NDP have issued a court injunction to break up the sanctuary that tent city residents have created for themselves. Homeless people are done waiting for the state to meet their survival needs, and getting only abandonment or hostility. Taking over Rutherford Elementary was an effort to take what we need to survive. For some of us, Friday night was our first night inside, warm and dry, in months. The mass arrest of homeless leaders and their supporters is a clear attempt to crush the collective power homeless people have built over the past five months in Nanaimo. Twenty squatters signed no-contact agreements under duress, in exchange for their release from jail. By enforcing these conditions, the RCMP is attempting to disorganize the Nanaimo homeless community and push them back into isolation and invisibility. But we will not be broken. If anything, the disproportionate police force used to break up the squat and the stark displays of pro-fascist bigotry it brought out reveals the depths of the homelessness crisis, the state’s fear of organized working class and Indigenous power, and the necessity to keep on fighting. The attempts to break our resolve have only strengthened it. When buildings sit empty and homeless people are left to die on the streets, it is clear that laws protecting property rights over homeless people’s lives are inhumane and unjust.
United, organized, and brave, we have no other option but to take what we need to survive.