We are the occupiers of the Gala Bingo Hall. By “we” let it be clear that we mean all those present here, and many others who supported this project; since its aim was to open a space for the whole community to use and enjoy. Instead, we find ourselves today in front of yet another empty building condemned to remain shut and disused, at the same time local as people, musicians, artists and community projects struggle to find places to meet, practice, perform and exhibit.
We need to make it clear that the closure of this space is a political act, and that last night’s eviction is a political eviction. For four days we proved in practice that a community can come together, reclaim a space and turn it into a resource for all. No occupied social centre has closed its doors because of a failure of people to run it and manage it collectively. What happened here is not a failure of our vision of free spaces. What happened here is a deliberate political attack on this ideal, in support of the absolute right to private property, using any available pretext, and backed up by the threat of imminent police violence.
We were evicted yesterday under the pretext that the building was unsafe to use. It is of course ludicrous that a building designed as an entertainment hall, and later used as a cinema and bingo hall as recently as last May, cannot be made safe for the community to use. When we received the visit by the authorities last night, their aim was not to make this project safe, but to evict us no matter what. It was made explicitly clear to us that if we attempted to open the fire escapes we would be arrested for criminal damage, and if not we would be arrested for staying in an unsafe building. This impossible situation, backed up by heavy police presence, was designed to criminalise our actions, prevent the course of justice and due process, and hamper our ability to use the spaces that are empty in town. With no consideration to any legislation protecting people from eviction, we were asked to vacate the space in 30 minutes, or face criminal charges and police violence, under the pretext of our own safety. This is simply a farce.
This eviction is also a stark reminder of how property is seen by those in power, and those who own it for profit. For us, property, of our homes and belongings, is a means necessary to achieve the safety for each individual. Property to them is a means of making profit. When social spaces become unprofitable, they are to remain closed and inaccessible no matter what the impact or the needs of the surrounding communities are. The role of the police, and the complicity of the fire authorities in this eviction, also demonstrate the role the state and its institutions have in upholding the view of property for profit. We believe that community control of property and social spaces is a prerequisite for our freedom. As have all social movements in history, we claim the right of our communities to control their social spaces, as a prerequisite for us to say that we live freely.
This is a just one episode in our ongoing struggle for free spaces. Over the last few days, as before in other social centres, we witnessed how many share this vision. As we walk through the streets of Cambridge, filled with empty spaces we fill them in our dreams with what we think they could become: spaces of freedom to build our communities. And from today onwards we want to make very clear our commitment to realise these dreams, and fill those empty shells with life again.