Activists take over building in Mass.
Sara Zia Ebrahimi
On April 15 a group of activists from various homeless and homeless advocacy groups in the Northampton, Massachusetts area took over an abandoned building on the old state hospital grounds. There were six people actually inside the builgind while several others stood on the lawn holding banners.
Only two emergency shelters exist in the area. One of these, the Grove Street Inn, which in on the same plot of property, was seized through an action very similar to ours about five years ago. A list of demands drafted by the coalition of groups was issued in the park in downtown Northampton as the rest of us were making our way into the building.
We are demanding that the state stop sitting on this property and that this building be turned into a collectively run transitional house that would be autonomous from state service programs. Several appeals have been made to do this through legal means, which have all gone ignored. It is for this reason that we took the direct action that we did.
We held the building for ten hours. The cops came and hassled us, but there were reporters present, which deterred them from taking any action. We spent that time renovating and cleaning the building, which is in excellent condition with the exception of peeling paint and five years worth of dust and dirt. That evening around 8:30 the state police showed up and told us that we had a half hour to leave the property or they would arrest us. Those who could not afford to be arrested left the property, leaving six of us in the house. When the cops gave us our final warning, we went to the smallest room in the house, locked arms and lay of the floor.
When the storm of cops broke though our barricaded doors they told us that if we did not move they would pepper spray us. One member got up. They then sprayed a bit of pepper spray and three more people got up. With two of us left on the ground, the cops doused us with 3/4 a capsule of pepper spray (he told me how much in the station), blinding us and dragging us out of the house.
We got charged only with trespassing, which is a misdemeanor in Massachusetts. We have been getting amazing press coverage (they even published our list of demands and interviewed people in the homeless community who supported us). The mayor has been making statements that the needs of the homeless are being adequately met. But the Grove Street Shelter has a 40-80 person waiting list.
Our goal is to get community, state, regional and national support on this issue so it would look awful if they tried to convict us. More importantly we want the demand for housing to be so pressing that the building will be turned over to our coalition of groups, the Northampton Renovation Collective.
We have a series of actions planned in the area. You can write our mayor, Mary Ford, a lovely letter at City Hall, Northampton, MA 01060. Any form of solidarity would be excellent, whether if be letters of support, publicity, or taking over a building in your city!
Sara Zia Ebrahimi is a former Gainesville resident and graduate of Eastside High School. When she wrote this article, she was a freshman at Hampshire College.
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