I'm a part-time graduate student. I work for an NGO. I volunteer with a children's charity. I'm an environmental campaigner. And I'm a squatter.
Without the last thing, I would never be able to do the others. Squatting is not something I do on the side; its fundamental to this mode of existence. It's not my way of dropping out of society, its what enables me to engage with it. My income would not even cover the rent on a room in a shared house. More and more young people are finding themselves forced to stay in their parents houses well into their twenties, and when they finally do manage to get out it's generally by working in a job they don't like, to live in a house they don't want to live in, in an area they can't wait to get out of.
Squatting is not just back in the news, it is also fighting for its existence. At the same time as the coalition government is cutting jobs, benefits, and services, they are also quietly looking into ways to make squatting more difficult, preferably impossible. The Big Society, as has been much observed, basically involves the rich telling the poor that it's time for them to look after themselves. Community projects will no longer be funded: if people believe they are important, they will have to work for free. If young people would like the privilege of an education, they will have to be prepared to take on tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt. Every two minutes someone is losing their home, as housing benefits are slashed and mortgage defaults climb.
As squatters, we can work for free in our communities, looking after each others' kids, growing food, helping fix each others' houses, running workshops and exhibitions. We can set up free schools to teach ourselves - we can even get accreditation for our free degree programmes, and challenge the institutional stranglehold on "official" higher education. We can keep roofs over our own heads, without having to be dependent on the goodwill of the state to provide us with housing benefits or council housing. We can make choices for ourselves, a privilege usually reserved for the rich, about where we want to live, what we want to do with our days, and what we want to eat.
Property ownership is a radically skewed and unfair institution. Women, ethnic minorities, and young people are proportionally unlikely to own property. Our government of wealthy white men is determined to steal from the poor and give to the rich, and their attacks on squatting are just as much a part of this agenda as their cuts to essential services. The virulent defences of private property which come up whenever the press report on someone moving into an empty building are the enforcement of the interests of the rich, powerful, and generally white, male, minority. But together, we can build communities that we want to live in, and lives that we want to lead.