“Nine-Tenths of the Law” by Hannah Dobbz provides a comprehensible history of property resistance in the US while weaving through her own experiences with squatting. Dobbz offers little-known property resistance history such as how New York used to be owned by the Dutch, the anti-renters movement in New York, and the occupation of Alcatraz in 1969 by Richard Oakes and forty other Native Americans. The book begins with a timeline of property related developments in the US since European settlement beginning in 1773 with “King George III prohibits setting further west than Appalachia” and ending on Dec, 6, 2011 with “Occupy Wall Street and Organizing for Occupation stage a demonstration in which they publicly and successfully claim a foreclosed house in East New York. Embarrassingly, the house later turns out to not be a foreclosure after all, and the remaining squatters are evicted in April 2012.”
Dobbz’s writing is personal, she speaks about how people who are foreclosed on become dehumanized by the banks and society. Having personally experienced foreclosure recently, I too noticed how some people’s reactions were on par with the Ayn Rand mentality of responses such as, “You should have paid your bills.”
Although Dobbz is not a lawyer, she writes with preciseness, providing details of property laws from the past and present. Dobbz’s research is impressive and thorough, “Nine-Tenths of the Law” is easily comprehensible but one can tell she spent a great deal of time in dusty archives decoding microfilm.
The credible and respectable attribute to Dobbz is that she has passion behind property rights and resistance. All too often, the bridge between academia and action does not get built but Dobbz is an experienced squatter and has dealt with police officers, violence, and the consequences of being a squatter.
On the topic of foreclosure and displacement Dobbz states:
“Constructing new housing, despite the existing glut, is like constructing new histories despite our existing ones. All of this said, the repurposing of abandoned properties is not only pragmatic, but it also keeps the story unfolding, If we don’t maintain a periscope to the past, we may just forget how we arrived at the present”
“Nine-Tenths of the Law” By Hannah Dobbz is a crucial source for anyone interested in US history, activism, squatting, and cultural resistance. Dobbz gives a voice to the unsung side of history making her comparable to Mike Davis, David Harvey, Seth Tobocman, and Howard Zinn.
Hannah Dobbz recently answered some questions regarding her new book, the Idaho Springs eviction, and squatting:
CS: What are your comments are on the recent eviction of a woman in Idaho Springs who was confronted with a SWAT team when activists came to help her squat her home?
HD: There is simply no justification for employing the state to defend the private interests of banks, particularly when using such a baffling degree of force. In light of the recently announced bank settlement of $10 billion for foreclosure victims—to which U.S. Bank was party—it is no secret that foreclosure processes are frequently corrupt. That said, sending a SWAT team to any eviction is outrageous and inexcusable.
CS: As mentioned in your book, Europe differs with culture and law in regards to squatting, what tactics could be used to give the United States a more open mind to squatting?
HD: Many places in Europe have strong squatting cultures that are frequently buttressed by popular support. Only by making such movements relatable will squatters in the U.S. be able to garner that support needed to drive such a squatting movement on this continent. But in order for any of it to work, Americans need to be willing to challenge and reshape the way they think about property.
CS: Do you feel Occupy Our Homes and Occupy Wall Street has helped the squatting movement and/or aided in promoting awareness?
HD:Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Our Homes, and other organizations drawing attention to issues around private property have been beautiful catalysts for a mainstream discourse on what property is, what it should mean, and how it should function. Countless Americans affected by the foreclosure crisis are now in a position in which they can relate to issues of housing injustice—ideas that perhaps had never occurred to them before.
More information on Hannah Dobbz’s book http://www.akpress.org/ninetenthsofthelaw.html