On The Recent Burnings & Capitalist Development
from the 3rd issue in August 2013:
In the last year there have been a notable rise in fiery attacks directed against projects of capitalist development in the Pacific Northwest, ranging from the movements of the Anti-Gentrification Front in Vancouver, the claimed and unclaimed burnings of apartment complexes and a restaurant in Seattle, and nearly an entire city block under development razed to the ground in Portland which was claimed by Students For Insurrection. These targets vary in the ways in which they contribute to the ongoing war of gentrification, yet remain targets of anarchist rage all the same. These actions have spoken well to those who know how to listen to fires that burn at night, yet an ongoing dialogue around gentrification largely remains to be seen in an anarchist context. This article in no way means to critique the actions or the method of those with fire in their hearts, but instead to develop on the ideas that go hand in hand with the practice.
It must be stressed that simply fighting for an immediate halt to housing and economic development in lower-class neighborhoods cannot be the end-goal of such anarchist praxis and theory. This sentiment reeks of reformist demand and compromise, insisting that if things stayed the way they were people could be satisfied. Such a claim ignores the reality that the neighborhoods in which we live in that are largely made up of poor, excluded and working class people are already party of a much larger mechanic of social control. They are simply mechanisms in which to house workers who act merely as grease within the cogs of the capitalist machine of progress. The neighborhoods in which people inhabit in urban (and even suburban) areas cannot secede from the capitalist functions they perform without the complete and utter destruction of capitalism. Simply demanding an end to encroaching yuppie establishments and housing will not end the daily misery of capitalism.
As an excluded class overall, poor and working class people from the beginning are kept out of well-paying jobs due to lack of certification and knowledge that largely requires years in a university or other academic setting, a certainly unattainable status for those who cannot afford the price. Most of the time the excluded must find work in precarious (undependable) ways such as service work, sex work, hustling drugs, etc. Often this puts people in a small income bracket, actively pushing them out of living in the neighborhoods where so many people find themselves working in. Specifically speaking, housing and rent rates continue to soar throughout Seattle, especially in the downtown area and in Capitol Hill, where there is also a large concentration of venues in which those without an employable expertise find their income. The buses from these neighborhoods that go south at the end of the day into the Central District and Columbia City, notably more poor neighborhoods, are often filled with construction workers and service-industry workers. Those who find themselves homeless also frequent these routes, leaving the more economically abundant neighborhoods where they might convince passerby to kick down some change only so that they may head into the lesser-policed neighborhoods in hopes of a place to sleep. But that terrain is also changing, given that the Central District and Columbia City have proven to be key interest points for developers, and we are seeing an increase in police presence with walking patrols. Capitalist development deliberately separates neighborhoods based on class and financial income.
Not only is this a metaphorical policing of where people are allowed to live and spend their time, it is also accompanied by a literal policing as well. This summer Cal Andersen Park, the heart of Capitol Hill, saw an increase in police patrols as dusk fell, kicking out and harassing homeless people as well as just about anybody lingering around, as happens every summer. A more noticeable change occurred however after the Springtime increase in violent assaults, as the park was assigned two State Park Deputies for patrol. The city’s narrative around this decision was one of maintaining public safety in the wake of such ugly incidents, while shootings in neighborhoods south of Capitol Hill have continued to rise throughout the summer without any kind of similarly allotted “safety measures”. Thus it is easy to ascertain that the city of Seattle’s concern over “public safety” is applicable only insofar as it pertains to neighborhoods of wealthier inhabitants. This does not mean to infer that city officials should be protecting all of “the people” with increased police patrols in every neighborhood, nor “better use of taxpayer money”, but instead to illuminate one of the many laws that has governed class-based society, that the excluded classes have never been in the agenda of those who make decisions regarding the laws and regulations that govern them. The police actively kick out the excluded from wealthier neighborhoods with the façade of “public safety” hanging from their necks, while simultaneously turning a blind eye to violence in poorer neighborhoods. This contradiction is easy to see.
Gentrification goes even deeper than the deliberate separation of neighborhoods based on class. As neighborhoods are witness to a rise in housing rates and commercial development, a network of individuals and committees appears that seems to be the driving force in this mad dash for progress, which can also specifically be cited in Seattle. In the Central District, there are three corners on the prominent intersection of 23rd Ave S & S Union St that are owned by one man, Ian Eisenberg; on one corner stands the restaurants Med-Mix (recently victim of a $90,000 arson) and next to it the Neighbor Lady (formerly the last black-owned bar in the Central District), across the street is a collection of small businesses and a post-office that all sit upon the entire city block that Eisenberg also owns, and across the street from there lies a large empty plot next to the now-closed Wildcat Social Center which is slated for the development of a multi-story condominium development very soon. This one man practically owns an entire intersection in the central-district, a neighborhood ripe for developing.
There is a new development going in at 25th Ave E between John St. & Madison St. by “sustainable builder” Cascade Built who flaunt the fact that their owner Sloan Ritchie has lived in the Central District for 15 years. There are a multitude of “green” certifications and guidelines the developments will pass so that they can be sold as such, but it is easy to see such blatant lies once one has come to realize that there is no such thing as “green” or “passive” development. The development company expects it to be finished around next summer.
The Central Area Land Use Review Committee (CA LURC) aim to create “a positive atmosphere of collaboration with incoming developers. We aim to facilitate community conversations to constructively shape development as it enters our neighborhood.” Earlier this week they hosted a community meeting to give Central District residents a chance to review development plans for a 160-unit housing development on S. Jackson St, headed by the development company Isola Capital, who have been largely responsible for the eviction and destruction of old houses in the Central District in order to build the new, disgusting and utterly horrid looking condos that are seen popping up all over the neighborhood. This committee wishes to facilitate and thereby mitigate conversations between those who live in the neighborhood and those who wish to develop the neighborhood. It is clear they aim to pave the way for developers to not run into widespread anger as they demolish and rebuild.
This is the policing of living conditions and the geography of inhabitance. It is not just the police and the threat of imprisonment who kick homeless people out of parks and off the streets, who violently keep those from procuring more illegal sources of income. There are names and faces to the entities, which aid in creating the suffocating conditions that force people to work, to hustle, and to spend their lives merely surviving instead of thriving. The police work hand in hand with developers and neighborhood committees in their daily assault against the excluded and unwanted and the radar of targets worthy of anarchist violence must not overlook this.
One of the more exciting attacks to occur this year in the Pacific Northwest was when a green condo-development in the Central District that was under construction was brutally burned to the ground followed up by a communiqué claiming solidarity with grand-jury resisters in Seattle. Many critiques of the current social order met at an intersection through this nighttime arson; a hatred of development, a refusal of the lies of “sustainability”, and an authentic desire for solidarity and action.
An anarchist critique of gentrification must also carry a seething hatred for the conditions that already rule our lives, the result of that being a desire for the complete and total destruction of the society that creates and reproduces work in every form, precarious or not. Our lives are delivered to us as if it were a simple board game in which there are only so many paths we may take towards an elevated state of spectacular consumerism. If neighborhood committees and business development agencies are to make 10 Year Plans for neighborhood development, why can’t we? In what ways can we plot long-term schemes in which there are constantly thorns in the sides of developers and city council members as they try their hand at ruining everything in sight? If we truly desire freedom, autonomy and war on our enemies, we must do away with the entire board game and flip the table. For capitalist and economic development in neighborhoods of excluded classes to actually cease, capitalism must cease to exist in its totality. It will always continue to police our living conditions and our modes of transport in ways in which they will grease the modes of production; we can never be truly free with the specter haunting us. Gentrification cannot be stopped as long as capitalism, the state and it’s authorities still exist.