Hannah Dobbz, Nine-Tenths of the Law: Property and Resistance in the United States
Oakland, CA: AK Press, 2012. ISBN: 978-1849351188.
Nine-Tenths of the Law starts off with a thorough exploration of the American Indian history of land rights and tracks the various tactics by which the invading colonialists stole land and claimed title. Dobbz then charts acts of resistance over the past 200 years in the USA. Moving into more recent times, she analyses the strengths and weaknesses of the Urban Homesteading movement and assesses the impact of various housing justice groups, noting that Occupy, whilst important, has brought into the spotlight campaigns which in some cases have been in existence for decades. Adverse possession is covered in some depth, with one inspiring case being the example of Steve DeCaprio who has got very close to claiming title to a derelict property in the San Francisco Bay Area. Dobbz then considers housing co-operatives and community land trusts as ways of taking title of property communally and closes with some powerful arguments for a future squatting movement, as part of a more general struggle for housing justice.
There are many fascinating stories. Unfortunately, I only have space to mention just two in brief. Firstly, the Anti-Rent War in Hudson River Valley, New York in the mid-1800s saw bailiffs regularly repelled and in one case forced to buy a round of drinks for everyone. The level of lawlessness (and tendency to wear disguises) seems quite reminiscent of the Guildford Guy Riots, which occurred at a similar time in England. Secondly, I was saddened to read about the state-sponsored assassination of Yoland Ward in 1980. She was a young black activist researching a racist government policy called 'spatial deconstruction' which was designed to break up inner-city communities by scattering families across the suburbs.
In the battle for housing justice, squatting is certainly one important method amongst many others. As a direct action tactic it attacks the notion of private property which is a central tenet of capitalism. Recent moves towards criminalisation in the Netherlands and the UK (where squatting is now illegal in residential...