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Diary: 'Can you please just do it somewhere else?'

Ali Tamlit surveys some of the trials and tribulations of squatted sites

For the past two years I’ve been living in a well-known squatted site of resistance. While people usually ask me about the legal situation, the threat of eviction isn’t one of the main challenges for me. One of the biggest challenges for me is the constant flow of new people coming with the assumption that it’s an ‘open site’ because it’s a squat.

‘At the end of the day yeah, it’s just a squat, so you can’t tell me what to do’, is a phrase that I hear irritatingly often. Not that anyone wants to tell anyone else what to do, we aim to organise anarchistically without leaders, but we still want to organise and get stuff done. It is, after all, a project with aims and objectives, there’s a lot to be done, and that requires people working together.

Some people have an idea of anarchism which is highly individualist and which opposes all structure. Fine, but do we really need to share this relatively small space and repeatedly debate these issues? For me, structures and ways of organising are essential. Not only because they help us to get stuff done, but also because they help us to work against informal hierarchies which are harder to challenge if you don’t have formal (but flexible) ways of doing things.

If having structures doesn’t suit you, I’d be very happy for you to live your structureless life. Can you please just do it somewhere else though – where you won’t constantly undermine our project?

Asking people to leave is another huge taboo. Again, because it’s a squat, people seem against defining what can be done on the land. The worst part of this argument is that it reinforces property ownership, because it seems to say that if we’d paid for a piece of paper that says we own the land then it would be OK to define what should happen here.

Questioning property rights is a great part of squatting for me. Property is theft, agreed. But I’m in favour of some kind of use-based rights to replace this, something like ‘as long as the land is being used in a socially-useful manner then your access to the land is secure’, which means you can plan long-term.

I haven’t even touched on safer spaces. Let’s just say that explaining that sexism, racism, and other forms of oppression exist... over and over again... is pretty tiring.

I don’t think that a project being anarchistic means it has to be totally open. I feel you can organise in a non-hierarchical manner while being closed or semi-closed to outsiders.

It’s fine for me if you want to have a bike-repair collective. I’m not going to be at all upset if I can’t join because you don’t have the capacity to help me develop my bike repair skills. If I think what the world needs is a bakery, I’m not going to try to make you change your bike collective. Yet this happens to us so, so often.

For me, the challenge of being so open is extremely tiring. The conflicts that arise within the community have left me with compassion fatigue. I’m sad to say it, but I feel less tolerant of other people than when I first started living in this way. Dealing with these issues while also trying to resist pointless capitalist mega-infrastructure projects, has been Burn Out Central. For me personally, something has to change in order for this to be sustainable emotionally.

I’m hoping this doesn’t come across too ranty and like I hate where I live, because I don’t. There are real challenges to this way of life but there are also many things to be grateful for, and not just the free rent.

I’m so grateful for the fact that every day I can wake up and choose to do meaningful work. Most of all I’m grateful for finding real comrades, in and amongst the chaos, who I can work with on amazing projects, empowering ourselves and pushing so many personal and political boundaries. Long may this continue, whether here or elsewhere....

Ali Tamlit was a member of the Heathrow 13.