The Activist Squatting Movement in the United States often traces its roots back to the European Autonomous Movements of the 1970s, when those seeking social change turned away from the overtly political tactics of ’68, and began to occupy abandoned buildings, creating “autonomous” spaces that attempted to operate outside of the logic of capitalism. This tactic of squatting to create space for social movements began to take hold in the United States in New York City of the 1980s, where activist-squatters transformed abandoned tenements in the Lower Eastside into centers for art, music, and culture that were also organizing hubs to bring recycling and bicycle lanes to the city.
Squatting of this style began to take hold in the San Francisco Bay Area of the late 1990s, as a market-driven housing bubble coupled with negligent public policy led thousands of homes and lots to be left empty in the region. Significant land occupations and squats of have been noted as emerging in the region much earlier, though, such as the fourteen-month occupation of Alcatraz Island by members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) in the late 1960s, and also the occupation of People’s Park, which has been an ongoing struggle since 1969.
Beginning in summer of 2011, Samara Hayley Steele became involved with a number of building and farm occupation projects in the San Francisco Bay Area including People’s Park, Hellarity Haus, Oakland Spring Rising, Gezi Gardens, and Occupy the Farm. In these spaces, the Freegan Movement, the Food Sovereignty Movement, and the American Landless People’s Movement convalesced and reinvented each other, as participants worked to co-create systems for growing food, producing goods, and creating housing outside of ecocidal and oppressive logics.
In spring of 2015, Steele became Development Director of Land Action, a not-for-profit organization providing mutual aid to activists who occupy abandoned land and buildings in the San Francisco Bay Area. Steele launched Land Action’s Microfarm Initiative, an effort to transform abandoned lots into arable farmland, and she worked directly with over a dozen occupation projects to organize public events, fundraisers, and sustainable farming skillshares.