I’m really proud to have been asked by artist and activist Theresa Easton to write the introduction to her new artist’s book entitled, he Right and Freedom to a Home. She has kindly allowed me to publish my introduction here.
The Right and Freedom to a Home
Everyone has the right and freedom to a home, don’t they? And yet, so many people are homeless in the UK, in Europe, across the entire planet; displaced by war, oppression, climate change and the imperialistic march of global capitalism. The United Nations are concerned: deeply concerned. Deeply concerned about the increasing cost of renting a home, about inadequate protection for tenants and homeowners alike, about millions of mortgage foreclosures at the hands of unempathetic, profiteering banks, and about a lack of decent rental properties. People’s universal right to be able to access adequate, sufficient housing with fair security of tenure – to a home – is under threat, everywhere. But inadequate housing provision is a growing problem. A problem that affects the most vulnerable people hardest: those living in poverty, those on low-incomes, women, children, the elderly, ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples, migrants, displaced people, social housing tenants, people with disabilities, as well as other marginalised groups and individuals. Without a home, a secure place to live, people face exclusion and discrimination.
We must fight for our right to the city – to take back the city. Young mothers set up Focus E15 to fight evictions from their homes in the London borough of Newham: an area in which almost 1,500 houses currently stand empty. The local council removed almost 250 families in 2015 from London completely and many others to outlying areas of the city, and which continues to forcibly evict people into unsuitable properties, temporary housing or onto the street. This is social cleansing: displacement of people to “improve” (read gentrify) areas for profit. Its effects cause homeless, destruction of families and communities, disruption to children and their education, job losses, mental and physical health problems, and more. Focus E15 say: “Social housing not social cleansing”. Others campaign against proposed revisions to the Housing and Planning Act that will replace the principle of planning to be made “in the public interest” with a free-market system that places the interests of private developers, of profit, above all else. The Act seeks to place council estates on the Brownfield Register, making them much easier to knock down or be “regenerated” for private gain, and leaving home owners forced to leave the estates with little in compensation. “Kill the Housing Bill!”
The freedom and right to a home drives people to be creative, to be strong, even in the face of terrible hardships. In Jordan, displaced Syrian people make gardens flourish on land in camps deemed unsuitable for growing. Refugees in camps on the borders of Europe and the border of “post-Brexit” Britain face the threat of racist violence, eviction, deportation, overcrowding and terrible living conditions. Oppressed in their homelands, rejected by nation states who refuse sanctuary, abused as unwanted “immigrants” by xenophobic British people who still believe that white colonisation is “civilisation” whereas immigration is moral disintegration, these refugees are helped as best as possible by legions of volunteers. Student rent strikes protest their exploitation whilst living in already insanitary university halls of residence in London. PROTOHOME – a self-build house built by people who had experienced homelessness in Newcastle.
We are facing humanitarian crises on a global scale – displacement, oppression and exploitation on every street of every city in every nation. And all the while property developers eye their next brownfield targets, social homes plotted as black dots on pretty maps, people’s security and wellbeing cast aside in the rush for profitable gentrification. Our rights and liberties are being eroded at every level, everywhere by states and by state-sanctioned capitalism.
THEY DO NOT CARE.
And what can artists do in the face of the violation of human rights, commodification of space and discrimination by the unholy alliance of state, neoliberal corporate developers, banks and private investors, local governments and many social housing associations? Some artists become the foot soldiers of capitalism; pioneering venture capitalism with smiling faces and colourful workshop games. Others, like artist, activist and founding member of Artists’ Union England, Theresa Easton, uses the traditional community arts practice of printmaking to engage people with issues and narratives. The Right and Freedom to a Home is an important cry for justice and freedom. When will THEY listen?