Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Occupy Heathrow

I've been meaning to write here about how the Occupy movement has brought an element of wilderness survivalism into the downtown districts of out largest cities. How corporate plazas in financial districts have transformed into undeveloped campsites.

Before I do, though, I'd like to show you how they're doing it in England. Earlier this fall, the New York Times ran an article about England's remarkable squatters' laws:
Currently, it is a crime to occupy a house where someone is living or plans to move in imminently. But squatting in an empty commercial property is a civil offense, and such squatters can be removed only by court order.

Homeowners are allowed to use “reasonable force” to get rid of squatters, though it is unclear what that means. Giles Peaker, a housing lawyer, said no one wanted to do anything that might provoke counterclaims of assault. Violence is out. No baseball bats, no pepper spray, no household weapons...

As for commercial owners, they cannot use any force, not even to break into their own property or muscle their way past the occupiers. Property owners say that the police are loath to intervene, except in the most blatant cases, without formal court orders.
Notwithstanding lurid tales told in the sensationalist British tabloids, having responsible tenants to take care of abandoned and foreclosed properties has generally been a good thing for England during these years of financial crisis. Without the squatting law, England would have more homeless, and more abandoned neighborhoods in terminal decline.

Think of it as an Occupy movement for the dross of the collapsed real estate market.

One prominent squatters' community mentioned in the Times piece is the Grow Heathrow encampment in the village of Sipson, just north of London's massive Heathrow Airport and in the path of a proposed runway expansion.

Citing British squatter laws, the community has successfully cleaned up an abandoned nursery, and turned its broken greenhouses back into functional (and beautiful) spaces for living, growing produce, and organizing activists against the airport expansion.

The proposed third runway at Heathrow has become a national issue in British politics. Ousted Labour leader Gordon Brown had been a supporter of expansion, but environmental activists - many of whom live at Grow Heathrow - have successfully delayed the proposal to the point where even airport executives acknowledge its unlikelihood.

One reason Brown and other political leaders had been pressing for a third runway is because the expansion had been seen as a necessity to preserving London's status as a global financial center.

In this light, Grow Heathrow and other opponents of airport expansion are not just fighting against airplane pollution. They're making a vital contribution to the Occupy movement, by inconveniencing Britain's bankers and hedge fund managers in their pursuit of global commercial domination.

All photos courtesy of Transition Heathrow's Flickr.

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