Saturday, November 19, 2011

Statement from Free Franklin DC

On November 19th, a group working to Free Franklin occupied the vacant Franklin School building at 13thand K St in NW Washington, DC. Inspired by and participating in the Occupy/Liberate/De-colonize movements taking root across the country, we are a group of organizers, activists, and DC community members involved in local struggles around affordable housing, homelessness, and many other movements. The occupation of Franklin School is an action in solidarity with this movement and a call for justice from the 99% here in DC!

The Franklin School building, owned by the city, has been vacant since late September 2008 when the DC government closed the homeless shelter that was housed there right before the beginning of hypothermia season. Despite promises that all of the residents would be given permanent housing, the majority wound up in other over-crowded shelters away from downtown, far from physical and mental health care and other needed services, or were put out onto the street. Three years later the city continues to break its promises to house and shelter DC residents, under-funding housing and shelter programs, including cutting $3 million from services for DC’s 6,500 homeless individuals and $20 million for affordable housing last year alone. The DC government refuses to ensure the most basic human right to housing for everyone in our community.

The closure of Franklin Shelter was not an isolated incident; it is part of a wave of austerity measures and structural adjustment policies that are mirrored all over the U.S. and globally, the policies of capitalism pushed by the 1%. Structural adjustment locally and nationally has removed land, plants, buildings, and other community resources from the hands of the people into corporate control. The U.S. government spends trillions of dollars to perpetuate imperialist wars and occupations overseas, and to unjustly imprison millions of people, criminalizing the activities of immigrants and people of color, in a ballooning prison system. Then, the federal and local governments push austerity measures that most impact poor and working class people by slashing funding for basic services for our communities. The crisis of homelessness in DC is part of a larger crisis of affordable housing, with years of rampant gentrification displacing low-income people of color from their homes and from the city, and the foreclosure crisis caused by un-checked banks who continue to rake in record profits while more and more families lose their homes.

Our government has failed to address this crisis, so we are taking action to do it ourselves. The Occupy movement decries the corporate control of our government, which includes corporate control of services like housing, education, and healthcare through ever increasing privatization, creating a system where basic human needs are seen only as potential for profit, denied to those who can’t afford the price. But now, communities are fighting back! By occupying public spaces, de-comodifying land, redistributing resources, and practicing direct democracy, we can provide for each other and our communities, and begin to build the more just world that we envision.

The Franklin building is a public building that belongs to the people of DC and must be put to use for the benefit of the community to meet the greatest community need. It is not surplus, and the people of DC will not allow the government to give it away or sell it to private developers to turn it into a boutique hotel! DC residents are denied statehood and budget autonomy, a disenfranchisement fueled by racism, and are acutely aware of the importance of having control over our own resources. Therefore, we demand Franklin be put to more productive use and a genuinely participatory process for DC communities to determine what is most needed. We can’t forget that the building first became a homeless shelter thanks to an occupation carried out in 2002 by a community group actively taking control of public property to put it to use for the public good!

We invite DC community members who have a stake in and are interested in the future of the Franklin building to come to a public meeting on Monday, November 21st, at 6:30 PM, at Asbury United Methodist Church (11th and K St NW) to talk about community needs and your vision for the future of the Franklin building. . It could be re-opened as a homeless shelter or drop-in site (there was previously a proposal made by former residents to do sweat equity to fix it up), an adult education center, a public school, a free health clinic, a community center, street legal clinic, etc. Bring your ideas and vision for how to develop this space under community control, and in collaboration with growing movements for social and economic justice in DC and beyond!

We call on other members of the Occupy movement, in Washington, DC and around the world, to join us in reclaiming unused spaces. We will not allow a few people to determine the use of our community property. We demand a truly participatory process and we will model the future we believe is possible.