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Jeudi Noir does it again… and takes over “the Impasse”

Thursday, 24 April 2008

For two months, some thirty Jeudi Noir —or Black Thursday—activists have occupied an abandoned building in the heart of the Marais, in the third arrondissement of Paris. It’s an amiable squat to protest the real-estate speculation which prevents the “ nouveaux précaires ” from finding housing. Photo and video gallery at Politis.fr

Impasse Saint-Claude is not only the place for ultra-hip art galleries; behind a small unassuming wooden door lays a gorgeous building of more than 200 square meters. It is here that a group of students, young activists, families, and artists are living illegally. Two months ago, the members of the Jeudi Noir collective decided to take over this space that has been abandoned by its owners for ages. Their objective: to bring awareness to the vacant buildings that weigh down the real estate market and the ever increasing rent that denies them decent living conditions. It’s a follow-up attack to the victory won at rue de la Banque where Jeudi Noir, Macaq and Droit au logement (Right to Housing), at the end of 2006, filled the headquarters of the “Ministry of the Housing Crisis”: the HLM (affordable housing) office for the city of Paris just bought back the 1000 square meters that these activists occupied to transform them into social housing.

At Jeudi Noir, they are trying to break the “ punk à chien ” squatter image which doesn’t blend well with the activist goals of the collective. Instead, they prefer to talk of “citizen requisition” or of “political squatting,” according to Manuel, graduate of Centre de formation des journalistes , and one of the spokespeople of the collective.

If the building was a luxury warehouse for the designer Pierre Cardin ages ago, the owners, two brothers, left it vacant more than five years ago. Some squatters took up residence there some months before Jeudi Noir arrived, but the collective is trying to move past disturbances caused by the previous “tenants” in order to renew ties to the neighbourhood…

Second-hand furniture, salvaged from Emmaüs, makes for cosy décor in the “salon” of the “the Impasse ,” a very practical rendezvous spot to discuss the actions to come… On a yellow board hanging on the wall of the common room, one resident drew a plan of the immense building and made note of the rooms occupied, at this point almost all of them.

The ground floor was transformed into a workshop for the members of the collective, the “Second Wing,” which hosts artists, musicians, or designers in the making. Showings will soon be organized for Open House days. William, an artist, recalls how he came to the Impasse after a stint at the interdisciplinary squat “ La Générale ,” in the 11th arrondissement, where the residents had been expelled.

Claire, a twenty-three-year-old student of comparative literature at the Sorbonne, decided to come live at the impasse with her husband, a young Latin and Greek teacher, and their two-year-old child. She explains the reasons that drove them to join Jeudi Noir.

How long will the activists be able to keep Impasse Saint-Claude alive? If the mayor of the 3rd arrondissement announced his support of them, the steamroller that is real estate speculation can only make ordinary heroes of the members of Jeudi Noir…