“I started working up on the sixth floor replacing joists and doing masonry work. I could see all the way down to the first floor. I was eventually granted a space in the building to renovate as my own apartment. This space had no floor or ceiling, the windows were all just gaping holes in the wall and the walls themselves were bare brick in need of extensive repairs. I had to learn to do everything in order to build this place every step of the way. The highlights were: when I actually had a floor(!); the first window I put in was also exciting — all materials scavenged and the frame built out of police barricades (we used to joke about how we should call a demonstration when we needed to install windows cuz the barricades make such good frames). I learned all the nifty squatter construction techniques based on how to make do with what you can find. Framing out my walls, and running the BX cable (I learned how to do all my own wiring) was also exciting.
Being involved in this whole process, learning the steps of building a habitable space, really makes you appreciate and respect your surroundings. You are not helpless and waiting for a landlord or super to fix something for you and you can suddenly see how much time and money is wasted making repairs that are actually simple; you can see how useless ‘landlords’ are and you can judge the quality of repair work done by professionals against your own (you would be surprised how sloppy many professionals are). The knowledge of how to build and maintain my own living space gave me a sense of calm in the midst of chaos. I figured even if the city threw us out and I lost everything I at least now had ‘the knowledge’ and I would be able to do it all again somewhere else.”
Fly, “Squatting on the Lower East Side.”
“…people living in the squats feel that the empowering aspects of squatting have enriched them two-fold. Classes of usually exploited individuals (the poor and homeless, women, substance abusers, etc.) have discovered within the autonomous spaces of the squats a chance to reassert control over their own lives. And from such experiences of self-empowerment, these individuals have discovered the path of collective empowerment as well. People who would not have identified themselves as ‘leaders’ or ‘activists’ have, through squatting, found the common resolve to help lead the fight for popular control over the Lower East Side. Several anecdotes speak to its effects… Just as squatters create their own housing, so they can use these free spaces to provide services for themselves and the surrounding community without being beholden to the state.”
Andrew Van Kleunen, “The Squatters’ Voices: Is Anyone Listening?”