We stop forced evictions.
Tom had been living in his flat in Berlin Spandau for the past eleven years. On good terms with many of his neighbours, they regularly spent time together. They talked about rising rents despite a housing administration inattentive to the building’s condition. In the early hours of July 15th 2013, Tom was evicted from his home by a bailiff supported by a police unit. Neighbours and activists from the Platform Impeding Eviction blockaded the entrance with a sit-in action but could only delay the eviction for a few hours. Finally they were pushed, beaten and thrown down a set of stairs by police.
In Berlin, as in many other cities in Europe and throughout the world, thousands of people and families are evicted each year. Changing laws in favour of homeowners encourage this practice and make evictions an ever more appealing option to get rid of less profitable or unruly tenants. The number of people evicted from their homes is rising.
The Platform Impeding Evictions provides solidarity and support to people threatened by an eviction. Through the platform, they join other people who are experiencing or have experienced the same existential threat, as well as grassroots community organisations and long-time activists.
Our activities have made evictions more difficult for public and private homeowners and public agencies, judges, bailiffs and the police alike. As in Spain, resistance against this most violent form of displacement is growing. Unlike in Spain however, where banks evict people from all socioeconomic backgrounds only if they can no longer pay their mortgages, in Berlin, most people threatened or displaced by eviction have longer stories of oppression to tell. People with very low incomes, people with mental or physical constraints, (post-)migrants and people of colour and single mothers are hit hardest by this form of commodification of basic needs called the housing market. In Tom’s housing complex – formerly social housing, but privatised a few years ago – about 60% of residents receive social welfare, and many are threatened by eviction. The same day we were present to support Tom, we learned that around the corner an elderly man dependent on his wheelchair was facing homelessness after his eviction. Yet another tenant was evicted four houses away.
Evictions work so well for homeowners and those of us able and willing to afford rising rents because most people are not as outspoken as Tom. Even if they are evicted for specious reasons, they feel ashamed for supposedly having failed to provide for themselves. It also makes them ashamed to seek solidarity and support. An emotionally paralysing discourse is at work, legitimating the ongoing neoliberal restructuring of society and state.
In many cases, people from the Platform Impeding Evictions have prevented evictions by taking action together. By combining our skills with the inspired resolve of those threatened with eviction, we have written public letters to homeowners, housing administrations, public agencies such as the job centre and many other actors who promote evictions. We aim to create dialogue with all of these organisations and many others to support our struggle. With expert journalism and public relations knowledge, we generate publicity for the stories that could not be heard before. We also connect with communities in other cities and countries, to share and develop our strategies. And we are becoming fierce activists, willing to take action with sit-ins and blockades.
We face many challenges, the biggest being the legitimacy of an order that silently deprives and displaces members of our society so that others may live well. Sometimes it is difficult to mobilise even next-door neighbours of evictees, as they fear repercussions from homeowners who are also their landlords.
Often journalists print downright lies told by police or judges about our group, members and actions. More dangerous for us, however, is an urban police force willing to quench any solidarity movement from the start. Despite the fact that we pose no threat of violence, police still showed up with over 800 officers and a helicopter to a blockade against the eviction of the Gülbol family in Kreuzberg last February. That day, out of about 1,000 people participating in our biggest blockade, many were arrested and charged for things they did not do.
In some cases – those covered most extensively by the media – we could not prevent the eviction. On a personal level, an eviction is traumatising and is followed by more problems. It is extremely difficult to find a new home, as rents have risen dramatically over the past few years. While some evictees are able to stay with friends and family temporarily, others become homeless. For some, being evicted has even meant the end of their lives. When Rosemarie Fliess spoke at one of our meetings it was obvious she could not imagine the pending loss of her home. After several months of fighting for her home, and despite the warning from several doctors that she was physically incapable of moving, the court ordered her final eviction. She died two days later in a homeless shelter.
However, even if we do not succeed in preventing every eviction, we often succeed in tackling more fundamental problems. We may change the self-perception of the person threatened by eviction, because we listen to each other’s stories. Our strength stems from what we create together and it is very powerful: we threaten the frictionless functioning of neoliberal capitalism. We show that empathy and solidarity are extremely effective means to interrupt its mechanics. Thereby we really empower each other and envision new ways of being social.
The Platform Impeding Evictions is a community bringing together people who want to fight rising rents and displacement. Our common goal is to stop all evictions. By resisting every single forced eviction, we make profiting from basic needs more difficult. But more importantly, we change minds so we can redefine what is considered legitimate. After his eviction, Tom was devastated, but he was also awestruck by the common action. He and his friends now want to build a community group in their neighbourhood to resist evictions and rising rents.Tags: Movement Profile