Download the PDF of the We Won’t Go September 2018 Newsletter
A PEOPLE’S PLAN FOR METROTOWN
A year ago, as the City of Burnaby was about to displace thousands of Indigenous and working-class residents with their destructive Metrotown “Downtown” Plan, the community was already organizing to push for a different vision to save their homes. If the city council and its city planners did not care about tearing down people’s homes for profit, the people had to imagine a radical alternative to this crisis.
During 2017, a number of meetings were planned in the neighbourhood and The People’s Plan for Metrotown emerged as a solid path for both the residents’ survival and dreams. Charting a future without predatory developers for the people of Metrotown, it shows a genuine path to development without displacement.
The People’s Plan proposes three steps to increase density without displacing existing residents. First a plan for development : the city should rezone single family homes in the southern part of the neighbourhood to build non-market housing; move Metrotown renters into these newly built buildings; then spot rezone the emptied apartments in Metrotown and rebuild them as non-market housing .
This proposition relies on a range of solutions to propose affordable housing including non-market housing and the use of the 1.8 billion City budgetary surplus as a form of redistribution, as well as new policies to protect the current residents. The neighbourhood losing its ratio of 90% of renters will lead to the accentuation of a violent gentrification.
However, none of us will be safe from the forces of the market while capitalism and colonialism remain. As long as land is treated as a commodity and our homes as an investment, developers, landlords and politicians will find new ways to destroy our homes and sense of belonging.
This is why the People’s Plan is the rallying cry of the displaced residents . It is addressed to the community – not Burnaby City Council. The plan was presented to mayor and council multiple times in the summer of 2017. They sat there, yawning their way through the presentation, no surprise as they are the reason why we are fighting today.
The People’s Plan for Metrotown will have to be enforced by the people that need it. It is a call for action to the community, with strategies to collectively organize and resist displacement. To people facing threats of eviction everywhere we stand by your side.
THE WESTERN CAPE ANTI-EVICTION CAMPAIGN:
CONNECTING OUR FIGHT ACROSS COLONIAL BORDERS
By Zoe Luba
“When somebody is evicted I try and tell them they are not one in a million, they are not alone in Cape Town. We try to tell them that they are part of people all over the world dealing with the same problem.” – Ashraf Cassiem, a coordinator with the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign.
The Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign is a grassroots agglomeration of organizations across the Western Cape province of South Africa, working together to build power and fight evictions, water cut-offs, poor health services, police brutality and xenophobia. Although no longer as active as it was at its peak, the campaign was an unrelenting force for around 15 years following the end of Apartheid and the rise of neoliberalism. The campaign began organically in 2000, when a family was at risk of eviction from Talfesig,a Cape Town neighbourhood of mostly social housing. When the police arrived to evict the family, community members blockaded the housing settlement and from there decided to build an organization to fight evictions.
Through organizing with the Western Cape Anti-Eviction campaign, poor people facing displacement have forced the state to concede to their power. In 2001, organizers pushed the City of Cape Town to declare a two month moratorium on all evictions. A fight in Gugulethu, a township in Cape Town, resulted in 146 of 150 families being put back in their homes. Leading up to the 2010 World Cup, six families facing displacement from the changing rooms of a stadium where they had been living fought back and were re-housed.
The Western Cape Anti-Eviction campaign uses unconventional tactics, tailored to the needs of each specific community campaign. For example, one campaign called “The Vahalla Park United Civic Front” protested and negotiated with the state to successfully get electricity that had been cut off turned back on. Additionally, residents wanted speed bumps built in their community because of an increase in traffic accidents but the government refused to build any. So residents took matters into their own hands and worked together to dig a hole across the road in the middle of the night, which disrupted traffic and stopped morning commutes. The government fixed the hole and constructed speed bumps for the community later that day.
The Western Cape Anti-Eviction campaign demonstrates that when communities physically disrupt displacement and state neglect, they can not only win material gains, but build power and regain the humanity that capitalism and colonialism attempt to strip from them.
EXPANDING INDIGENOUS LAND DEFENCE BEYOND BURNABY MOUNTAIN
By Emily Luba
While the resistance on Burnaby Mountain against the Transmountain Pipeline must be supported, it isn’t the only land being defended in so called “Burnaby”. Burnaby exists on the occupied Musqueam, Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh, Katzie, Kwantlen, Qayqayt, Semiahmoo, and Tsawwassen territories, and this includes urban centres, such as Metrotown. Events such as the arrest of Kanahus Manuel from the Secwepemc First Nation and Tiny House Warriors, anti-pipeline marches with thousands attending, the injunction order for Camp Cloud, and the Federal Court’s decision to reject Trudeau’s pipeline agenda have seen much media attention. However, the dominant media narrative narrows the scope of Indigenous activism to solely the environmental movement.
As powerful as the leadership of Indigenous people within anti-pipeline struggle is, it isn’t the only area of anti-colonial resistance. It’s impossible to examine land without thinking of land relations and housing. An Indigenous understanding of land relations states that land remains with those living, using and respecting it. This model will overturn the power of the market. Our current colonial and capitalist system prioritizes developers profiting from land, rather than people having access to it.
Indigenous homelessness isn’t defined solely as lacking a structure for habitation, but severed ties with land, water, place, family, kin, each other, animals, cultures, languages and identities. Conversations about land defence in Burnaby must consider how luxury condominium towers and resulting evictions in Metrotown are preventing individuals from remaining on land they have been living on for years, including how this impacts Indigenous tenants.
For urban Indigenous people, being forced from one’s territory due to ongoing colonialism could result in defending land which one is also a guest on. However, it is still land which should be fought to remain with those who are living on it, as we work towards a new system of land relations.
DIRECT ACTION FOR HOUSING IN CHILE
By Sean Phipps
As we struggle against mass evictions in Metrotown, it often feels as if we’re attempting the impossible, to build a movement strong enough to take on a government and economic system which cares so little about our lives. However, there are many examples throughout history of people doing exactly that. We spoke with a Metrotown resident, who wishes to remain anonymous, about the power of collective action growing up in Chile. She spoke to We Won’t Go about how in the 1960’s in the city of Chillán, her community organized to seize land from the government and force them to build housing for working-class people.
“I remember my grandmother and my aunt, they went in to sit in an empty space for days and days and days. We went home just to get changed. Until the government built the housing. That’s the way we got the housing.”
According to her the occupation was initially met with state repression but the government was unable to remove people. “They tried to kick it [the occupation] out but the more people came, the more it grew, they couldn’t.” Through numbers and organization the community was able to resist the government and eventually force them to concede. Not only were the families living there able to stay but managed to force the government to build them housing. The housing the government built was neither market housing (residents couldn’t sell it for profit) nor government managed social housing but non-market housing controlled by the community itself.
Key to the success of the Chillán housing movement was the strong sense of solidarity among community members both before and during the occupation. It is this sense of community power that sticks with her today. “You have your group, your community. Everybody came together and made it happen.”
Her story shows us the power of working-class people to get the housing they need through direct action and community solidarity. For working-class and Indigenous tenants in Metrotown their example can act both as a lesson and an inspiration for our ongoing struggles to resist displacement and dispossession.