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Dear Dan Mangan: From the evicted ghost of the Bicyclette Rouge collective house

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
Dear Dan Mangan: From the evicted ghost of the Bicyclette Rouge collective house
 
 

The following open letter is a GUEST POST  

In three days, a collective house that's been a fixture in East Vancouver's political landscape for a decade will come to an ignoble end - evicted by musician Dan Mangan and actor/producer Kirsten Slenning. Renters will be gone, their community organizing displaced. In a last faint hope of changing this outcome, I was asked to post this open letter from the evicted ghost of the Bicyclette Rouge collective house
 
Dear Dan and Kirsten,
I want you to understand what you are destroying.
 
This is not just a matter of who deserves housing. The six or seven people who live in this house deserve the home they live in and have put hearts and hands into creating, as much as you deserve a new home, but there is much more to this house than simply a property or a residence.
 
When this place gets dismantled and you come in to start your new life, I want you to be aware that, like walking on coral reef at low tide, your feet are crushing something beautiful that took time to create. Years of love and thoughtfulness, planning and relationship building, have made this space. Those are our version of 'scrimping and saving' and they build for everyone, not just for us.
 
Unlike the characters in 'the drive' webseries, we are not a group of scrappy young people with middle class parents trying to 'make it on our own' - be successful - in a competitive capitalist bootstrapping world. What we are, or are striving to be anyway, is so much bigger than that, so much bigger that it seems invisible to you.
 
The house is, as Anthony has said, a node in a network of mutual aid that stretches across the country and into other parts of the continent.
 
Mutual aid is not charity.
 
Please do not be surprised if you find you wake up occasionally to see that someone has slept on the backyard platform we built, under the rainshelter we built. Everyone who knows this house knows they are welcome to show up any time and sit under the cedar tree or make a cup of tea or have a nap. This house hugs you when you come up the stairs. People feel it. Many people have come here for healing. This house, seasoned over many years, has built an entity, a spirit that holds those who enter.

 

 
The people here believe in, and actively live our beliefs in, solidarity and mutual aid. Not charity. Not 'fundraising for a homeless shelter' which is at best a liberal bandaid that, as your letter demonstrates, just masks the systemic issues that keep poverty and displacement growing without equalizing relationships.
 
Property separates us from each other. Money separates us from each other. Mutual aid and sharing the basic material necessities of life, across differences that normally do not get bridged, allow a physical vulnerability that softens those divisions and brings us back to being able to see each other fully as human beings with vulnerable bodies, protecting vulnerable places.
 
Because visitors can walk here from food and coffee and event spaces, because the other radical spaces are near here, this house can be useful for people.
 
 
This week as your father was leaving surprise notes on our door (and then entering our kitchen and bedrooms without consent), we were hosting a land defender from Colombia, part of the Beehive artist collective that make those beautiful giant posters telling histories of land defense, who was sleeping on the pullout couch. He had come on tour with two organizers, friends we know from other collective houses in other parts of the country, who we had arranged to host at another house a five minute walk away, because they are having a baby and needed a proper bed within walking distance. We were able to draw chalk arrows between the two houses because we have built relationships of trust and mutual aid between houses in this neighbourhood.
 
Geography, physical proximity to the other houses and community spaces, is our strength, as well as the beauty of the house.
 
 
When they needed to borrow some mixing equipment, we were able to put word out to our community and the equipment they needed was offered in five minutes, a six minute walk away, because this neighbourhood still contains a tightly, densely woven web of mutually supporting material relationships. Not just friend relationships who have a nice time together and return to their separate bubbles of middle class comfort. And not relationships of charity, either, which put the 'giver' above the 'receiver' but keep people separate. These relationships are ones of mutual aid.
 
The week before, staying on that same pullout and the living room couch were land defenders who are working to connect struggles in the north and south and were travelling through.
 
In between, a friend showed up who makes food for movement spaces across the country, who taught us skills for eating healthy body-nourishing food for almost no money by harvesting food grown and found on her travels. Food is medicine, and the skills shared here make all of us safer and less reliant on expensive commercially produced food. Meanwhile, a former housemate came by who is from a farming family in Quebec, and who routinely brings maple syrup and cheese made on her farm, and teaches us skills that most of our culture has forgotten.
 
We gifted some of that maple syrup this summer (along with applesauce from a hidden orchard this old housemate had shown us) when the hereditary chief's family billetted here as part of talks to support saving the Maurice river and the Unist'ot'en traditional territory, or yintah, from pipelines that risk destroying the river and the land. When they left we found they had gifted us smoked salmon from the river, and blueberry and huckleberry jam from berries picked in the traditional territory.
 
To offer this house to land defenders is a very small relationship, a small crack in the complex settler-indigenous relationship that normally is so disconnected. Sharing a space is a very small thing to give back compared to the tremendous sacrifices being made to save the earth, and we learn a great deal about our role as settlers through doing it. That space - of material relationship building and learning to understand and support that struggle, across gulfs in life experience - is being taken away, too.
 
Earlier in the summer we helped host the detroit-based editor of a collection of radical movement-based science fiction who came to speak as part of a queer literary series in the city and to expand the reach of emergent strategy, a movement that is at the heart of changing our world for the better, not just by making art but by making art that directly takes on the heart of power through active social movements that build self-love in the most marginalized communities while directly challenging the massive violence of institutional anti-black racism and sexism in a heterosexist, white supremacist culture. The dignity and strength of those fierce, loving black movements are incredibly inspiring, and the house allowed us to lend one small form of tangible, material support to that work, as one node in a big extended network.
 
 
This has also been home to people we care about facing this city's housing crunch in need of a place to stay for a few days or a few months or as long as they need. It is a refuge small and large. Were you to ever need a place to stay, as someone who is friends with our former housemate, our doors would be open to you. I wonder if you can imagine how that feels, if you have ever bothered to imagine what it might be like to not have what you need, and to not have family to take care of you, and to discover your community will help take care of your physical needs.
 
Have you noticed that every time you or your representative comes - whether to evict us, to take rent from us, to invade our personal spaces - they meet people who are not tenants, who do not actually live here, who are cooking or sleeping or sitting on the steps planning their next event? That is not some random coincidence, it is how this house works.
 
 
For people who are not particularly comfortable in the noise of the city, this house provides a refuge because of its beauty and the forest in the backyard. When only you, your family, and your elite group of chosen friends have permission to enter and enjoy this home, as in most 'family homes' which is what this will now become, you will have killed the free safe access to this precious community space our overlapping community currently enjoys. What we have heard from folks as we approach the day you take our house apart is that they cannot imagine this neighborhood without this house, that just knowing the house is here has made them feel more at home. This place has a role in the community that is part of the anticapitalist imagination of this neighborhood.
 
If you want to join this space, be one of the many. I know the drive community is actually made up of several micro-communities; you belong here, and so do we. But the way you have taken up this physical space is erasing us. Find some balance; be part of the substance of this part of the community. Learn about us. The entity that fills this place and gives it meaning is about more than just struggling to make it as middle-class artistic young people who can get out of being broke with a call home when they get sick of struggling. We value seeing one another's humanity across differences, and sharing material things, personal space, time, food, shelter, listening, to be present and human with others.
 
As your letter made clear, you are right that the mainstream media would probably love your 'young family' more than it would like a house that directly challenges the capitalist system by having open doors to non-family members, sharing all our food equally, and telling everyone we trust to come use the space any time without needing to ask first. This house, its very timber, has been seasoned by relationships like an old cast-iron pan. That is the special feeling you get when you walk in.
 
You're right, the mainstream media would see you, and would not see us. You are probably right, because the dominant culture in North America is capitalist and individualist, that the dominant culture would recognize you, the property owner and the young white hetero family, as a more valid entity. So let's just be clear here that it is sheer power of social normativity and a brutal capitalist system that you are rallying behind to justify your claim to this space. An eviction is not a neutral act, it is pulling up roots, intentionally and willfully allowing the abstract paperwork and money of the capitalist system to pull up our very real and material and physical roots.
 
Though our histories and identities are more complex than might register in a quick set of assumptions based on what is immediately visible to you, it is absolutely true that people who live here have many forms of privilege. The dinner table conversations happening here have centred on examining our own (extremely varied and internally very divergent) forms of privilege as well as yours; these do not 'cancel each other out' in some oppression calculus, but are instead complex and interwoven. The people who have lived here are part of the system – we all are. Our choices are either to be complacent while actively benefiting, or to recognize and work actively to change our roles.
 
Everyone here has worked for years to become more aware of unearned privilege, and to work to counter it everywhere they can: to listen, to be accountable and to do the slow steady work of building genuine relationships that solidarity requires. We do not pretend otherwise, because doing the work to become conscious of the effects of privilege and being accountable is a big part of the work of making a better world. It is bumpy and beautiful. Those bumps, the conversations together about facing privilege and learning how to counter it and act in solidarity, even when it is hard or scary, are the ways humans learn; the hard parts are the 'cracks where the light gets in.' I wish you would offer us the same reflexiveness and self-examination to see your own unearned privileges. I have not heard that kind of consideration on your end as of yet.
 
You cannot have it both ways. You cannot destroy strong community spaces to serve your own individual family needs garnered through million-dollar bank loans and still be a 'lefty struggling artist.' If you choose to destroy this space, at least own up to what you are doing. Part of the reason you were not outbid on this house as you were on the others is because we spoke with each and every person who came to the open house, to tell them what this house means and ask them to allow us to find a new landlord or a coop as the next owner. This is east van; many people respected our wishes and left without putting in an offer. You chose to trample us in your haste to buy your dream home and thus got in ahead of the many other neighbours who admired what we've built here and were more respectful after hearing from us at the open house. Or did you think it was just magic that made there be so few bids for this place?
 
This has been fractious; there is still time to create more mutual care and understanding. You have made it clear you do not wish to dialogue; that was, in retrospect, clear from the first times we met you at the open houses and explained what this house means in this neighborhood and asked you to pick a different place to start your home, one that had not had ten years of cultivation. But there is still time for hearts to change. We have not as yet felt heard.
 
As always, though I no longer believe you ever had any desire to see us fully across the lines that separate us, we are open and willing to rehumanize all of the people in this situation by inviting you, us, and some loving skillful mutual friends who wish to be there, to a community meeting to try to see the values and strengths of both 'sides' and find you a different house where you can start your new chapter in a fresh space, not on the ruins of an east van institution.
 
Love,
The ghost of bicirouge past present and future
Written upstairs, looking out at the cedar tree
 
November 25, 2015
                                                                                               
 
p.s.: The house wishes to pass along deep thanks for the many messages, letters, visits, and support from this neighborhood that have come along since the eviction notice was first taped to our front door. We also want to pass along solidarity with everyone facing displacement in our neighborhood as our homes increasingly are playing pieces in a monopoly game with ever-higher stakes. Wherever this entity goes next, we hope to work to strengthen the bonds of support and solidarity, and thank you for walking this walk with us – with love."

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nora_samaran (Nora Samaran)
Montreal, QC
Member since April 2009

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Cultural theorist; PhD in Canadian Literature with a focus on race theory, nationalism, and newspapers; geeking out and/or organizing around all things speculative fiction, independent media, migrant justice & antiracism, radical mental health and social change since 1999. Blogs at norasamaran.com

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