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Part III: On Cognitive Aspects of the Occupy Protest Movements
While preparing the other posts for this series, I was surprised to see so many writings that emphasized “space” and spatial metaphors — e.g., what it means to occupy a space, make connections, avoid being put in a box, etc. And this was in addition to the usual observations about how the new information and communications technologies alter people’s sense of space (and time).
These writings about spatial orientations represent an innovative turn in theory and rhetoric. They relate to points in Part II about the conduct of the Occupy movement; but they don’t fit easily into that post. It’s done from a TIMN perspective. Instead, these writings relate more to this blog’s other focus: how space-time-action (STA) orientations affect people’s mindsets and behaviors. So, I’ve opted to do this separate STA-related post, and put in its Addendum a large set of readings about spatial orientations by Occupy activists and observers. At the end, I return the focus back to TIMN.
Brief recapitulation about the space-time-action (STA) framework
I’ve not posted about the “STA” (space-time-action cognitive knowledge) framework for quite some time. So here are a couple pages of background. (Readers who want more background can go here and here.)
Imagine all kinds of people with all kinds of beliefs. Next, imagine stripping away their high-level ideologies, values, and norms, until you get down to their most basic notions that still amount to thoughtful cognition about how the world looks and works. Stop there, before descending into a quivering mess of raw emotions, impulses, and instincts.
What's there, I contend, is a layer or module in the mind that consists of people's basic orientations — basic assumptions — about space, time, and action. Briefly, by space I refer to how people see their identity in relation to others, and how they perceive objects as being structured, arrayed, and linked. By time, I refer to how people discern past, present, and future. By action, I mean whether and how people think they can affect matters by means of action, i.e., cause and effect. People’s minds operate through their views about social space, time, and action — about where one is located in space, where time is headed, and what, if anything, one can do about it. And this is so despite the broader ideologies, religions, values, and norms that people hold.
All three orientations — toward space, time, and action — are essential for the mind to work in ways that represent social consciousness. A module consisting of the triplex takes shape in childhood; indeed, the development of these orientations lies at the core of a person’s early consciousness of the world. The module is further molded by a person’s particular environment and experiences, and by the culture and era in which one lives. As these space-time-action orientations take hold, they affect what people think and do, because most — all? — that people think and do must pass through and be processed in this module. No mind works well without it. It is requisite cognitive knowledge; STA orientations function at the core of much — all? — human awareness and deliberation.
Furthermore, STA lies behind not only how individuals think, but also how cultures work and historical eras differ. STA assumptions and beliefs affect every mindset in every culture in every era; no mindset, culture, or era can be analyzed fully without inquiring into all three. Some major ideas — like the epochal shift from believing in fate, to believing in progress — owe to shifts in the underlying beliefs that end up in this module. Civilizations are defined in part by how they mold people’s minds in terms of these three domains of cognitive knowledge.
Thus the space-time-action module plays a key role in shaping why people end up believing and behaving in all the moral and mean ways they do. The layer functions rather independently of people’s philosophical and ideological values, yet it may also influence the shape of those values — influences run in both directions. Indeed, changes in this module may precede, or occur at the same time as, changes in those avowed values. Change people’s STA orientations, and a lot else they believe may also change — and vice-versa.
In sum, learn about people’s STA orientations, and you learn about the core of their mindsets. Change their STA orientations, and you may change their minds. A battle of narratives — whose story wins — may turn as much on their STA elements as on their other ingredients.
Occupy writings from an STA perspective
Occupy activists have generated an unusual spate of writings using the concept of “space” — what it means to occupy and fight for a space, to penetrate physical vs. virtual spaces, to create and hold sacred spaces, to convert private into public spaces and both into common spaces, or even into “temporary autonomous zones” (TAZs). The activists’ emphasis on spatial notions also appears in referents, often metaphorical, to overcoming barriers, avoiding being put in a box, making connections, opening avenues, building bridges, disrupting capitalist webs, and upholding the dignity of the individual, yet keeping identity obscure. And of course, much is made of how the new information and communications technologies alter the nature of space (and time) — an old theme that I’ll barely attend to here.
I’ve never before seen a social struggle generate so much activity around the concept of space. Language about space — about spatial analysis and spatial struggle — has cropped up to a degree I used to see for language about class, class analysis, and class struggle. In some respects, spatial analysis has superseded class analysis (especially when “class” is viewed as a kind of “space”). As I recall, neither of the seminal struggles of the 1990s — the Zapatista movement in Mexico, and the Battle of Seattle — led to much writing in spatial terms. I may have missed other social struggles in the interim, but even so, the Occupy movement appears to have stimulated an unprecedented amount of writings about spatial orientations.
Anthropologists, psychologists, and cognitive scientists have long taken an interest in studying people’s spatial orientations; but the so-called “spatial turn” in postmodern philosophy, sociology, and social and literary theory began just a couple decades ago. Since I remain keenly interested in spatial (not to mention time and action) orientations, I have amassed a lot of this postmodern analysis. I am still far behind in going through it; yet, while I marvel at how illuminating some of it is, my impression is that it also offers some of the most opaque, jargony, even incomprehensible writing I’ve seen. And I’m not alone in thinking so (here’s a sympathetic parody). I’ve also noticed that most of the writers lean quite Left — many admire anarchism — and seem to be searching for theoretical optics with which to transcend Marxism, particularly since communism and socialism broke so badly in the 1980s.
I note this not because I’m about to cast aspersions on the Occupy-related writings. Quite the contrary. I note it because, while they do extend that spatial turn in postmodern analysis, the readings I’ve encountered are surprisingly clear and precise, well-written (see the Addendum). I don’t know why, but I sense that it’s because the Occupy writings treat space more as a strategic and tactical matter than as an academic matter.
What follows is a sketchy mash-up of points culled — even lifted verbatim —from the writings in the Addendum. After highlighting their spatial aspects, with a bit of attention to their time and action aspects, I end with a tentative insight that cycles back to TIMN — the main thread in this series of posts.
Space orientations in Occupy writings
The Occupy writings show that a struggle for space is underway, and advise thinking in terms of a multiplicity of spaces: not only physical spaces, but also symbolic, mental, meme, virtual, and media spaces. They are viewed as connected, interwoven — the physical occupations acting as metaphorical anchors for the virtual ones, and vice-versa.
The writings also advise thinking in terms of networks more than nodes. An Occupy locale becomes a territorial node embedded in a “deterritorialised network” — one that consists of myriad “nodes of resonance”, rhizomatically connected. It’s all about being horizontal, not vertical; about not having a hierarchy or leader; about creating one’s own mode of governance, without recognizing outside authority, even excluding it.
Postmodern theorists like to talk about the “production of space”; and these writings reflect that tendency. The protesters are creating new spaces for assembly, spreading connections, resisting enclosure — they’re getting to feel part of something big that is getting bigger. By avoiding making specific demands, they open up space for new entrants, and prevent being put in boxes by outsiders. One writer adds that what’s being produced is not only space but also “presence” — leading to a concept of “the global street” as a new kind of territory.
Much is said about struggling to affect private and public spaces. About the distinctions between them. About converting public and private spaces into common spaces. Indeed, about reclaiming the commons, and creating new spaces of autonomy within the capitalist system, even if only “temporary autonomous zones” (TAZs). One writer proposes thinking “of revolution in terms of a multiplicity of insurrectional and autonomous spaces.”
For some writers, what’s significant about Occupy is the creation of sacred spaces — ones that lie outside ordinary place and time, that correspond to “storied place” and “storied flow” (perhaps a “church of dissent”). Claims are made that capitalism profanes much that is sacred, and sacralizes much that is profane — or, in another sense, capitalism is said to de-sacralize all it touches. People have lost a sense of the sacred, and they want a return to it. Occupy can help resolve this, by treating civic space as sacred space.
At the same time, some writers caution against fetishizing a space, even a sacred space. They remind their fellow activists that specific sites are not the prize — that if they get stuck trying to hold a site, it can distract from the big picture. A fluid mobility is deemed more important than trying to encamp permanently somewhere.
Thus Occupy isn’t just a protest movement; it’s an experiment, a prototype, a model, for creating new spaces — especially new “autonomous community zones” for fashioning and practicing alternative ways of living and governing, outside the approved structures of authority and hegemony that normally shape life. Occupy makes new kinds of connections possible — it enables people to find each other, to connect in ways that cannot be contained, and then to develop a collective intelligence. But, it’s said, the movement needs broadening and deepening — partly so it can continue its spatial endeavors to create cracks, break walls, isolate elites, and disrupt order in the system.
Time orientations in Occupy writings
Some writers criticize what they regard as an excessive focus on space. It’s pointed out that time may be more decisive. Occupiers should be thinking and acting in terms of time as well as space — they need to occupy time as well as space. Indeed, the goal of occupying spaces for extended periods means that Occupy is inherently a temporal as well as spatial concept. In addition, a focus on occupying time seems like it would allow for more fluid strategies and tactics.
Yet, I haven’t found much elaboration about any of this. Far less is written about time than about spatial orientations. But interesting points are made: that Occupy is creating disruptions, critical junctures, and psychic breaks; that it’s important to stake a claim to the future; that battles may unfold to determine whether the past wins or the future does. Most Occupy writers believe that a long struggle lies ahead; but only a few write in millenarian or apocalyptic terms.
Action orientations in Occupy writings
This post is based on my noticing extensive references to space and spatial referents in the Occupy-related writings, plus a little about time orientations. The writings also contain lots of points that might fit under the heading of action orientations. Say, for example, when references are made to “direct action” as a body of theory and practice that appeals to anarchists. Or when interviews show people expressing support for Occupy because they feel they’ve lost control of their lives. But in my reading of the Occupy-related writings, STA’s action aspect is not a key optic or language; what’s there is processed through, or fits alongside, the materials about space and time orientations.
Even so, there is one action orientation — nonviolence — that is extremely important all by itself as a valued way to affect the world. I could imagine drastic alterations in the space and time orientations discussed above, and the content of this particular action orientation would still remain the same.
Manifestations of the full STA triplex in Occupy writings
While the emphasis in the Occupy writings is on spatial orientations, the full STA triplex — space + time + action — is manifest in several major themes:
- In the reliance on new information and communications technologies, which are so renowned for enabling people to compress and conquer space and time, and to increase their efficacy (an action orientation).
- In the effort to foster collective intelligence, as a new way of thinking, collaborating, and achieving consensus, not only at on-site assemblies but also across the broader background network.
- In the attraction to swarming, as a network-based strategy and set of tactics for social struggle that is different from the hierarchy-based strategies and tactics used by mass movements of yore.
Speculation: autonomists vs. communitarians vs. new sectorists?
With this post, I initially intended just to make a few observations about the importance of spatial perspectives in the Occupy-related writings, and to convey the set of interesting readings I’ve compiled. But along the way, I’ve ended up discerning three schools of spatial radicalism that seem to be vying for the future: autonomists, communitarians, and new sectorists. To varying degrees, all their adherents who’ve shown up in the Occupy protests disapprove of “the system” and believe it is headed for collapse. All seek radical transformations. All feel a renaissance of the Left may be at hand. And many subscribe to an emerging pro-commons ideology: commonism. But, despite such overlaps, each upholds a somewhat different approach to space and society.
I’m not saying these are the major schools reflected in the Occupy-related writings. The Occupy movement is such a mixture — even a motley hodge-podge — of ideological and other tendencies that it’s not clear which may be the central or cutting-edge ones. But these three schools of thought appear to be the ones that revolve the most around spatial language. And being able to discuss, dissect, and debate in that language appears to be playing important, even empowering and decisive roles in the Occupy movement.
My unexpected deduction — that these schools of spatial radicalism exist and will increasingly vie with each other — is tentative and speculative. But I’m interested in trying it out; for if it is sensible, it helps switch from this post’s focus on STA back to TIMN, in preparation for Part IV of this series.
The autonomists — and I gather that’s an established term — have a long tradition, associated with anarchism. Of the three schools, the autonomists are the most pervasive in the Occupy movement. They also have variants among people in outside networks who subscribe to notions about “resilient communities” and “transition towns”. An aim is to create “zones of autonomy” — especially “autonomous community zones” — that are off-the-grid, independent of states and markets, self-managed and self-sufficient, and all networked together.
The communitarians — and that’s an established term, but it’s controversial enough that I’m not sure how well it applies here, or whether many activists would approve of my usage — are also intent on community development. But their emphasis is more on community rights than autonomy (see here for a Community Bill of Rights initiative related to the Occupy movement). They’d rather see communities interact and relate to the outside system, in socially responsible ways, than be radically independent of its influences.
The new sectorists — and that’s not an established term; it’s the best I could come up with while wondering about the matter — find both the autonomist and communitarian visions appealing, but their own vision is distinctive. Its focus is not the community but the sector level. They want a new sector — variously termed a third, social, or better yet, commons sector — to emerge and gain strength alongside the prevailing public and private sectors. They want societies radically transformed by the growth of this new space — the commons, especially the information / knowledge commons. The aim is not autonomous isolation, but integration around new principles of collaboration associated with the rise of the network form of organization. And the key actors in this vision are networked NGOs and social enterprises, more than communities. (See discussions in previous posts about Michel Bauwens’ P2P theory and its adherents, notably here.)
Of these three schools of spatial radicalism, the views of the new sectorists seem most in harmony with TIMN, the autonomists the least. From a TIMN perspective, the autonomists are not quadriformists; communitarians might be, some of them anyway; and the new sectorists may well be, and are likely to become more so. Autonomism looks mostly like an emphasis on the tribe and network forms, peppered with critiques of the hierarchy and market forms. Communitarianism — what I’ve read anyway — tends to be triformist par excellence. Its proponents aim to rectify and rebalance family, state, and market dynamics, especially at the community level. But while they may laud civil-society and some of its NGOs, they don’t fully recognize the network form and its implications, at least not to the extent that TIMN and P2P theory do. In contrast, the new sectorists — e.g., proponents of P2P theory — are well on their way to becoming quadriformists. They value the tribal form, accept states and markets (long as they’re reformed), and seek the rise of a networked civil society committed to commonism.
At present, these three schools of spatial radicalism overlap and coexist in the Occupy movement; they are allied and collaborating. What I am calling the new sectorists don’t even amount to a clear formation yet; many might prefer to identify as anarchists who seek autonomy in principle. But if/as the Occupy movement extends deep into next year, and if spatial language remains pivotal, then the distinctions among these three may get refined, even sharpened. I’m not predicting divisiveness — there are many other possibilities. Their mutual penchants for spatial language helps to sustain their bonds (and perhaps to guard against being co-opted by conventional actors, like political parties and labor unions, whose leaders are not used to such language). But a more fluid process seems likely for relations among the three schools, and perhaps a rebalancing, in which the capacity to out-compete depends on the capacity to out-collaborate, both vis à vis each other and in connection to outside networks. Autonomists have had the edge in encampments, where they generate much of the energy and momentum. But communitarians and new sectorists may have edges vis à vis the outside meta-networks of NGOs and other actors. As the spatial language goes, so may go the Occupy movement.
My own view, from a TIMN perspective, is that the prospects for moving into a quadriformist future depends on the new sectorists more than on the other two schools, in part because the new sectorists seem the most interested in monitory democracy, the autonomists the least. Or so I presume, and shall discuss further in Part IV.
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Sidebar #1: In focusing on the Occupy-related writings about space, I’ve barely attended lately to materials from protests elsewhere. But STA factors are significant all over, albeit in different ways. The Occupy writings discussed above are distinctive because of how much they reflect anarchism and postmodernism. That’s less the case elsewhere, but STA orientations are still crucial.
* One of the most important spatial referents elsewhere is the sense of personal dignity — from its absence leading up to a protest, to its recovery as a protest gets underway, through the role it may play as different forces contend for power later on. The Arab Spring is often portrayed as being mostly about democracy; yet, dignity has been an equal if not stronger motivation. (For elaboration, see Part I of this series on Occupy, plus my post at the ZenPundit blog.) And of course, connectivity is another major spatial theme everywhere, including for how it helps mobilize a sense of dignity.
* Time orientations figure as much as spatial ones. For example, in a recent discussion about the Arab Spring on CSPAN-2, Libyan activist Hisham Matar commented as follows: Under the dictator, people always knew what would happen next in their lives. But now, there is a wonderful new uncertainty, a feeling of being in charge of one’s own future. What’s changed, he says, is the collective imagination about the future. His comment radiates positive future orientations. In contrast, a recent report about the London riots [see the Addendum below] finds that rioters tended to be youth who lack hope and opportunity. Again, note the key role of future orientations, this time negative, in the analysis.A deeper parsing of views from elsewhere would surely show a mix of space-time-action orientations. But in the examples I have at hand, the emphasis is on space and/or time.
Sidebar #2: Somewhere above I briefly observed that each of the TIMN forms is associated with a different set of STA orientations. Here’s a table that provides some clarification and elaboration (though I don’t think it helps much with this post):
Table: TIMN vis à vis STA
Note: This table is excepted from a larger table about TIMN. A related excerpt may be seen in an earlier post here.
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ADDENDUM: READINGS ABOUT SPACE-TIME-ACTION ORIENTATIONS
A collection of quotes, gleaned from browsing online write-ups about Occupy Wall Street (OWS) and related protests elsewhere. Inclusion does not mean approval, only that I sense a bearing on matters raised in the main text of this post.
This collection contains readings that relate to people’s space-time-action orientations (STA). For related readings about the Occupy protests from a TIMN perspective, see the Addendums to Part I, Part II, and Part IV [pending] in this series of posts.
Conduct of the protests: occupying and redefining space — Many of the readings seem to reflect the “spatial turn” in postmodern philosophy and sociology, as well as in anarchism. Almost all refer to the nature of “space” and/or contain spatial referents. A few address time and action orientations as well.
I’ve ended up with so many readings that, to make scanning easier, I’ve arranged them under thematic headings. The first bunch contains the most general statements about space. The next three bunches put the readings under headings that parallel those in the Addendum to Part II about the conduct of the Occupy protests. After them comes a bunch that speak to time and action as well as spatial orientations. Last is a set about online collections elsewhere. Overall, my arrangement of the readings is quite imprecise and impromptu; many could just as easily fit under another heading, or be moved back to Part II’s addendum, or even to Part I’s.
— On the general importance and varieties of “space” —
“This isn’t a protest. This is a way of making a new space. We have taken Liberty Square. We have renamed it, and we have rebuilt it into something that we believe is a better model. Maybe it’s not perfect. Maybe it’s not what we’ll come out of this with. But it’s a way to at least start a discussion, a real discussion, about all of the things that ail us on a daily basis, the things that are never really discussed.” (source)
“… The node of resonance in New York has radiated its force in all directions and precipitated the emergence of a continental political movement whose spatial form is the rhizome: a de-centered, horizontal, multi-sited assemblage of myriad other nodes interconnected with each other and recognizing no authority other than the collective power generated by the nodes. …
“… Nodes of resonance, indeed, gather, animate, and organize parks and squares and reconfigure their materiality. But to say that a node has changed a “space” or a “place” gives us only a limited glimpse of this material transformation. These concepts prevent us from seeing that what changed is the form and affective pulsation of what I propose to call the terrain. This essay, inspired by the occupy movement, is my first attempt to outline the principles of a theory of the terrain, …
“… The rhizomic form of the occupy movement is most apparent in its leaderless and multi-centered spatial elasticity, which has been disrupted here and there but only momentarily and without disrupting the rhizomic whole. “A rhizome may be broken, shattered at a given spot, but it will start up again on one of its old lines, or on new lines”; and these lines “always tie back to one another” (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p. 9).” (source)
“Is radical politics simply a disruption of the existing order of space, or does it invent its own alternative spatial imaginaries; and, if so, what are these imaginaries? What is the space of radical politics today? What spaces does it occupy, contest and imagine? …
“Rather, we might think of revolution in terms of a multiplicity of insurrectional and autonomous spaces. Indeed, this alternative mapping of the political space is what is implicit in the anarchist idea of the ‘social revolution’, in which Bakunin called upon people to ‘organize their powers apart from and against the state’ (1953: 377). If we try to think what this might mean today, it can only be the creation of autonomous spaces which are heterogeneous to the order of the state and capitalism. Creating and defending these spaces would no doubt involve moments of confrontation with the state – and we see this all the time, in the clashes between police and those who occupy workplaces and universities, or between the military and indigenous collectives – but the emphasis would mostly be on fostering alternative ways of life, new relations and intensities. These are what might be called insurrectional spaces, and they can be seen as so many cracks within the dominant social, political and economic order.” (source)
“Autonomy can be broadly understood as a political struggle that rejects large, centralised and hierarchical structures tied to the nation-state and increasingly to multinational corporations, and simultaneously seeks to develop alternative political structures based on self-managed consensus (see Katsiaficas, 2007). Both resisting and creating, autonomous movements seek to be the change they want to see, and actively construct post-capitalist worlds in the present (see Gibson-Graham, 2006). This short vignette will focus on the recent popularisation of “occupations” within the UK anti-cuts movement, considering how autonomy has become one of their central tendencies and what spatialities they have been engaging with. …
“These two spatialities, of the territorialised place and the deterritorialised network, can support each other. Most occupations tend to rely on online networking to gain broad support and publicise their message. Moreover the space of the occupation can act as a useful meeting point for diverse networks to encounter each other and discuss strategy. The call to “occupy everything”, is rather a strategy of multiple simultaneous occupations, embedded in particular territories, but brought together through a wider network. …
“Secondly, occupations provide a very physical manifestation of the deterritorialised network. Movements need to root themselves in place from time to time, and build strong-tie relations in place to sustain their activities. Whilst some take the struggle for autonomy to the work-place (e.g. workers' cooperatives) or home (e.g. squats), there is an increasing desire to create spaces of autonomy within the heart of the capitalist system. By reterritorialising the struggle, in a very material way, occupations act as public experiments of post-capitalist worlds.” (source)
“… Over the last couple of months, Occupy had gone beyond a reliance on a specific place like Zuccotti. It developed a recipe for how to set up a temporary autonomous zone (what's often called a TAZ).
“What is a TAZ? A location that is outside of the control of the nation-state and global marketplace.” (source)
“ … As a protester simultaneously marching in physical space and documenting what you do online, you can watch the stream of activity by following hashtags on Twitter and see your tweet retweeted by someone else on the other end of the globe. You can post your photos to Facebook and watch the comments come in. Augmented by the Internet, what you are doing seems to matter more. This is the not-so-secret weapon of augmented revolution.
“I think this is part of the story for why we are currently living in this flammable atmosphere of mobilization that is growing around the globe (as well as the counter-movement of digital repression). Protest and rioting are all more possible, perhaps likely, because social media has united the power of both physical space and networked digitality.” (source)
“… It’s difficult to miss the profound interweaving and enmeshing of the physical and digital aspects of protest as we see it in both the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street – the weight of the protests produced by the occupation of physical space by gathered human bodies, coupled with the constant documentation and nearly instantaneous sharing of images, video, and text that have chronicled these physical occupations and arguably helped them to grow – in short, the augmented nature of contemporary social action. …
“… Again, we can draw a direct comparison between this and the spread of civil unrest outward from Tunisia in the Arab Spring; when people saw the Tunisian regime fall in the face of massive popular protest, it expanded the boundaries of what they perceived to be possible. And once again, the spread of the news happened largely through digital means. …
“… The heartbeat of collective action has sped up. …
“So what does this mean for the future of social movements and geopolitics? If technology can help create unstable political situations – moments of “critical juncture” – and also enable events within those moments to move ever faster, it may be that critical junctures themselves will occur more quickly and more intensely, with a more rapid geographical spread. What remains to be seen is what can emerge from those moments of upheaval. While some of the uprisings of 1848 resulted in political change, none of them can be characterized as a truly successful social revolution. While movements in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt have all succeeded in bringing about varying degrees of regime change, the futures of Tunisia and Libya remain an open question, and Egypt has once more exploded into protest. The long-term impact of Occupy is yet to be decided.” (source)
“In each of these cases, I would argue that the street, the urban street, as public space is to be differentiated from the classic European notion of more ritualized spaces for public activity, with the piazza and the boulevard the emblematic European instances. I think of the space of “the street,” which of course includes squares and any available open space, as a rawer and less ritualized space. The Street is a space where new forms of the social and the political can be made, rather than a space for enacting ritualized routines. With some conceptual stretching, we might say that politically “street and square” are marked differently from “boulevard and piazza”: the first signals action, and the second, ritual.
“Seen this way, there is an epochal quality to the current wave of street protests, no matter their enormous differences, from the extraordinary courage and determination of protesters in Syria, to the flash crowds convoked via social media to invade commercial blocks in Chile, the United Kingdom, and the United States, to the unarmed Occupiers being tear-gassed, beaten, and arrested by militarized police forces across America. …
“… Today’s political practices, I would argue, have to do with the production of “presence” by those without power, a politics that claims rights to the city and to the state rather than protection of property. …
“… It is worth remembering last year’s student occupation on the campus of the University of Puerto Rico. It lasted for months, and the protestors were surrounded, literally, by the military. But they were not attacked, given the high visibility of the urban campus. And they had enough space to themselves to develop the elements of an alternative politics and way of life: they did urban agriculture and collective cooking, used environmentally sustainable practices, and made art and music. In brief, they strived to build a different society even while encircled by the state. And they eventually won several of their demands from the university administration. …
“Some of the key features of a broad range of struggles happening in the MENA region but also, with their own specific features, in places as diverse as cities in China, Israel, Chile, Greece, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States lead me to argue that the question of public space is central to giving the powerless rhetorical and operational openings. But this public space needs to be distinguished from the concept of public space in the European tradition. This brings me to the concept of the Global Street, a contrast to the piazza and the boulevard of the European tradition. And it calls attention to territory, a category flattened into one meaning—national territory—over the last century, which is now coming to life through occupations such as those of Tahrir Square and OWS.” (source)
“But there is more. It is also crucial not to allow casino capitalism to transform higher education into another extension of the corporate and warfare state. If higher education loses its civic purpose and becomes simply an adjunct of corporate and military power, there will be practically no spaces left for dissent, dialogue, civic courage, and a spirit of thoughtfulness and critical engagement. This is all the more reason to occupy colleges and use them as a launching pad to both educate and to expand the very meaning of the public sphere. Knowledge is about more than the truth; it is also a weapon of change. The language of a radical politics needs more than hope and outrage; it needs institutional spaces to produce ideas, values, and social relations capable of fighting off those ideological and material forces of casino capitalism that are intent in sabotaging any viable notion of human interaction, community, solidarity, friendship, and justice. …
“Hopefully, the Occupy Wall Street movements will expand their appropriation of public space to the university. And if so, let's hope that higher education will be viewed as a crucial public good and democratic public sphere.” (source)
— On direct democracy in general assemblies at encampments —
“… To adopt activist parlance: this wasn’t really a crowds of verticals—that is, the sort of people whose idea of political action is to march around with signs under the control of one or another top-down protest movement. They were mostly pretty obviously horizontals: people more sympathetic with anarchist principles of organization, non-hierarchical forms of direct democracy, and direct action. …
“We quickly decided that what we really wanted to do was something like had already been accomplished in Athens, Barcelona, or Madrid: occupy a public space to create a New York General Assembly, a body that could act as a model of genuine, direct democracy to contrapose to the corrupt charade presented to us as “democracy” by the US government. The Wall Street action would be a stepping-stone. …
“It’s no coincidence that the epicenter of the Wall Street Occupation, and so many others, is an impromptu library: a library being not only a model of an alternative economy, where lending is from a communal pool, at 0% interest, and the currency being leant is knowledge, and the means to understanding.” (source)
“It is common wisdom among anarchists, autonomists, Situationists, and other new revolutionaries that the old breed of grim, determined, self-sacrificing revolutionary, who sees the world only in terms of suffering will ultimately only produce more suffering himself. Certainly that’s what has tended to happen in the past. Hence the emphasis on pleasure, carnival, on creating “temporary autonomous zones” where one can live as if one is already free.” (source)
“Occupy is a complex system. Little tweaks can make a complex system emerge very different behaviors. Two little tweaks helped shift the Occupy movement from being a relatively (on the global scale) little blip protest to being a world-wide movement. There were a number of other movements in 2011: The Other 98%, US Uncut, and Reclaim the Dream. None of them really took off because they missed these little tweaks. … One was the little tweak of moving this from being a demand-based protest to having “a general assembly decide what we should do” based movement catapulted Occupy. It shifted the operating system of Occupy so that it could become more inclusive of different demographics and worldviews. The other little tweak was the idea of camping out permanently in a public place. This tweak allowed the movement to reclaim the commons, giving a physical place for many to organically come together to self-organize and emerge something powerful. The ongoing nature of the space allowed the system to iterate, to build on what it had the previous day, so that a village began to emerge on these commons.” (source)
“How, then, did OWS embody anarchist principles? It might be helpful to go over this point by point: …
“3) The refusal to create an internal hierarchy, but instead to create a form of consensus-based direct democracy.
“From the very beginning, too, organisers made the audacious decision to operate not only by direct democracy, without leaders, but by consensus. The first decision ensured that there would be no formal leadership structure that could be co-opted or coerced; the second, that no majority could bend a minority to its will, but that all crucial decisions had to be made by general consent. American anarchists have long considered consensus process (a tradition that has emerged from a confluence of feminism, anarchism and spiritual traditions like the Quakers) crucial for the reason that it is the only form of decision-making that could operate without coercive enforcement - since if a majority does not have the means to compel a minority to obey its dictates, all decisions will, of necessity, have to be made by general consent.
“4) The embrace of prefigurative politics.
“As a result, Zuccotti Park, and all subsequent encampments, became spaces of experiment with creating the institutions of a new society - not only democratic General Assemblies but kitchens, libraries, clinics, media centres and a host of other institutions, all operating on anarchist principles of mutual aid and self-organisation - a genuine attempt to create the institutions of a new society in the shell of the old.” (source)
Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri:
“The challenges on the political terrain are equally thorny. Some of the most inspiring and innovative events and revolts in the last decade have radicalized democratic thinking and practice by occupying and organizing a space, such as a public square, with open, participatory structures or assemblies, maintaining these new democratic forms for weeks or months. Indeed the internal organization of the movements themselves has been constantly subjected to processes of democratization, striving to create horizontal participatory network structures. The revolts against the dominant political system, its professional politicians, and its illegitimate structures of representation are thus not aimed at restoring some imagined legitimate representational system of the past but rather at experimenting with new democratic forms of expression: democracia real ya.” (source)
“The above scenario brought us into very familiar territory for those in the occupy movement: “meetings about meetings” or, if you are really unlucky, “meetings about meetings about meetings”. The failure of democracy, both political and economic, that has been so widely experienced by those occupying has lead to a very strong emphasis on non-hierarchical and participatory politics in the movement. The act of occupation has been a crucial tactic to open up space for democratic experimentation. By collectively occupying a space there are no guests; we are all hosts. This means we must take responsibility for our space, and find a way of organising ourselves that is acceptable to all. …
“… It is not the destination that drives us, but the path that takes us there. And it is a path that we make by walking on it, constantly (re)making it in the process.” (source)
“Second, continue to democratize and productively occupy public space (i.e. reclaim the Commons).” (source)
“Taking back the commons is exactly what occupying stands for. It goes far deeper than corporate personhood or the corruption of politics by money.
“The country belongs to its people. The world belongs to its people. But the ultimate agenda of the forces we are opposing is to privatize everything — and then rent it out to us at extortionate rates.
“The means that occupying is not just about holding space as a form of civil disobedience. It’s about reclaiming the commons, one inch at a time if necessary.
“And it’s about reclaiming cultural space as well — which is why SOPA and “intellectual property” issues are so important. The corporate forces have been privatizing our myths and our dreams as well, and we have to either take those back or create new myths and new dreams that they cannot touch.” (source)
“Then of course there is Egypt, whose 2011 Tahrir Square camp to some extent inspired the current ‘Occupy’ movement. In an interview for New Internationalist earlier this year, activist Gigi Ibrahim called it ‘a mini-example of what direct democracy looks like. People took charge of everything – trash, food, security. It was a self-sustaining entity. And in the middle of this, under every tent, on every corner, people were having debates about their demands, the future, how things should go economically and politically. It was fascinating. It was a mirror of what Egypt would look like if it was democratic.’ It is likely that anyone who has participated in the recent wave of ‘Occupy’ camps would be able to recognise this sentiment.
“So it can be seen that protest camping can play a role in bringing about social change. Camps can be spaces for people to debate and learn from one another on a large scale, outside of the structures of authority and hegemony that shape ordinary life. But while the awakening of critical consciousness is central to effective struggle it is not enough. Only by using camps as bases from which direct actions are taken which undermine the interests of the ‘haves’, are such camps successful in their aims.” (source)
“… Electoral liberalism will persist, but a new and increasingly dominant form of political participation is emerging — localized participatory democracy, horizontalism, and the encampment-form. These are not only alternatives in terms of social structure, but interesting enough they are the means by which social structures can be transformed. We are seeing the fusion of means and ends to a large extent in the encampment movements.
“The activity of taking over public space, holding general assemblies, setting up camp and building infrastructure for the needs of the camp is becoming the new and prevalent form of organized opposition. The previously dominant forms of political opposition — the party-form, the membership–form, the union-form, cadre-form, voting-form, etc. — still play a role in the encampment movement. But it’s this novel form of political and social organization, the encampment, that has come to blossom. …
“… What the Occupy movement allows for is the opening up of social space in which a variety of different and hitherto largely isolated social struggles can converge.” (source)
“GET Occupation: Occupying physical space stands in for a greater metaphorical occupation of the commons. Actions to permanently occupy or reoccupy a park focus and energize a larger group of temporary protesters and armchair supporters at home. The physical location provides an anchor for virtual activities.
“GET Decentralized leadership structure: Repeat mantra that the movement is 'leaderless.' In practice, have no single leader on whom the media and/or public can focus. Avoid profiles of organizers. If necessary, elect a dog as leader of the occupation, a la Denver.
“GET Loudly inclusive userbase: Do not require any particular identification, such as labor or ethnic identity. While youth-driven, make sure to highlight examples of older occupiers.” (source)
“The ever expanding Occupy Wall Street movement, with encampments now not only in Lower Manhattan but also in Washington, London and other cities, proves among other things that no matter how instrumental new media have become in spreading protest these days, nothing replaces people taking to the streets.
“… Politics troubles our consciences. But places haunt our imaginations.
“… The whole situation illustrates just how far we have allowed the ancient civic ideal of public space to drift from an arena of public expression and public assembly (Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park, say) to a commercial sop (the foyer of the Time Warner Center).” (source)
— On social netwar, swarming, and police responses —
“Simplifying a little, we can say that traditional movements shape and transform their member’s identities in the following way: first, by orienting thought in relation to a (mostly negative and critical) ‘cognitive map’ of how things work (referring to the capitalist system, patriarchy, the military-industrial complex, colonialism, or the coldest of cold monsters, the state); second, corralling identity in terms of a unitary social class or group (workers, women, ‘the youth’, gays, the oppressed, etc); and finally, by activating the movement by steering its energies towards contesting established political and legal structures. …
“Swarm movements shape identity in a completely different way. First off, they are are issue- or cause-based, rather than identity-based, movements. Instead of seeking to reduce the movement to a single set of grievances representing the struggles of a single group identity, swarm movements affirm the diversity of participants as their fundamental strength. This diversity is irreducible to a single identity, but it is powerful when focused on a common cause. …
“Swarms are transformative movements. Insofar as members acknowledge a common sense of identity, it is a transformative identity, a sense of being part of a movement that is changing the world. …
“We can map the logic of the identity shift involved in swarm movements as follows. First, a mass of people acquire a new cognitive map, representing an original conception of what they can achieve together as a network. The cognitive maps that inspire OccupyWallStreet and Occupy Together resonate with innovations in the online world. OccupyWallStreet is an ‘open space’ movement. The camp structure is an open API that anyone is free to hack into and explore using MeetUp as a Directory. The second step in the process comes when the mass of people who apply these cognitive maps start reflecting on how working together expands their common potential. This insight gives rise to the swarm. A swarm movement comes into being as a swarm when a mass collective grasps what it is capable of achieving en masse.
“Swarms transform our shared sense of the possible. This is what draws people to these movements. It is the key to their unique political power.” (source)
Luis Moreno-Caballud and Marina Sitrin:
“The capacity to create solutions grows as the movements expand in all directions, first through the appearance of multiple occupations connected among themselves, and then through the creation of—or collaboration with—groups or networks that are able to solve problems on a local level through cooperation and the sharing of skills and resources. …
“In the case of Spain, this expansion began in June, when the movement decided to focus its energy more on the assemblies and the working groups than on maintaining the encampments themselves. To maintain the miniature models of a society that the movement wished to create did not necessarily contribute to the actual changes that were needed in the populations that needed them the most. Which is why the decision to move away from the encampments was nothing more than another impulse in the constructive aims of the movement: the real encampment that has to be reconstructed is the world. …
“All the while continuing to occupy space and territory, but seeing the territory as what happens together, with one another, in multiple places, and then coming together to share in another geographic place. This could take place on the level of neighborhood to neighborhood – to the level of city to city, all networked in horizontal assemblies.” (source)
“The images of the UC Davis police officer calmly pepper-spraying human bodies as if they were insects went viral because the most defining feature of the human chain is that it is defensive in nature … . By interlocking and immobilizing the main parts of the human body that can be used to cause physical harm, arms and hands, this is an assemblage that because of its form cannot be a source of violence. And human chains that sit on the ground make this defensiveness even more apparent, for even the legs of protesters are purposely immobilized. …
“… The police officer, following orders, attacked the chain because of its power to prevent the state from having full control of the local terrain. …
“The dismantling by the police of the node of resonance in Liberty Park in New York only seems to have accelerated the spread of the rebellion and its adoption of even more rhizomic, mobile, unstable, unpredictable lines of spatial expansion. This expansion is leading to the creation of myriad human chains to protect encampments, to prevent families whose homes are foreclosed by banks from being evicted by the police, and to shut down banks, corporate offices, and university buildings. The occupation of everywhere is no longer just a slogan but an actual physical struggle for the control of myriad nodes of the national and global space. And one of the main weapons the insurrection relies on to challenge the police in public space has been the human chains that striate the smoothness of state space.” (source)
“In summary: when the cops come to clear the park, don’t resist. As they are preparing for their military maneuver and use of force that the Occupiers cannot reasonably be expected to resist, the occupiers should be packing up their tents and baggage and loading them into wagons, bicycles, backpacks, etc.
“Force the cops to clear the park inch by inch, but try to avoid arrest in so doing. Once they have cleared the park, rouse the crowd through loud amplification announcing that you intend to march (any destination will do). Get the music blaring and then march aimlessly, blocking traffic the whole way, for hours. The crowd will be energized and willing to march for a long time, being spurred on by energetic music and chants.
“The police will eventually trim down their entourage because they realize that they are helpless. Eventually, work your way back to the park. Or, if the police have fenced off the park, head to another park. If the police force you out, march again and they will be forced to follow. Eventually, they will inevitably come to the conclusion that they would rather have you in a park than disrupting traffic.
“The police have no response to this tactic, other than resorting to brutality. And if they do that, we win whether they clear the park or not.” (source)
“In response to the Occupy Wall Street movement the state backed by capitalist class power makes an astonishing claim: that they and only they have the exclusive right to regulate and dispose of public space. The public has no common right to public space! By what right do mayors, police chiefs, military officers and state officials tell we, the people, that they have the right to determine what is public about “our” public space, and who may occupy that space, and when? When did they presume to evict us, the people, from any space we, the people, decide collectively and peacefully to occupy? They claim they are taking action in the public interest (and cite laws to prove it), but it is we who are the public! Where is “our interest” in all of this? And, by the way, is it not “our” money that the banks and financiers so blatantly use to accumulate “their” bonuses?” (source)
“… how the police (acting on behalf of business) seeks to limit and privatize public spaces in order to stifle protest against enclosures. In other words, repression of protest is an act of enclosure itself — and literally occurs when the state requires a “permit to protest” and the police push people off the commons of public spaces into “private” spaces so that they can arrest (and de-legitimize) them.” (source)
“In sum, there is a sprawling apparatus of federal and local militarized police forces and private corporate security designed to send this message: if you participate in protests or other forms of dissent outside of harmless approved channels, you’re going to be harmed in numerous ways.” (source: italics in original) (follow-up)
“All of this is the spawn of the 9/11 moment, which is why, on November 15th when the NYPD entered the encampment at Zuccotti Park, a weaponless and peaceable spot filled with sleeping activists and the homeless, they used pepper spray, ripped and tore down everything, and tossed all 4,000 books from the OWS “library” into a dumpster, damaging or mangling most of them. Books couldn’t escape the state’s violence, nor could the library’s tent, bookshelves, chairs, computers, periodicals, and archives. Even librarians were arrested. …
“Stop for a moment and imagine what the headlines here would have been like if Iranian or Chinese police had broken into a peaceful oppositional encampment and literally trashed its library without a second thought. The barbarians! Imagine what a field day the pundits would have had. Imagine what Fox News would have said.” (from headnote at source)
“Occupy Wall Street’s unorthodox approach to direct action was on full display Thursday morning as multiple columns of marchers encircled Wall Street. The flood of protesters stopped to chant or quickly moved on, depending on the density of police personnel arrayed to corral and disperse the crowd. Others sat down in front of barricades when the police refused further access to the public. This seemingly chaotic rhythm of the protest was, in fact, intentional. …
“… Although these general contours of the action were planned en masse, over a dozen affinity groups—self-organizing sets of volunteers—met on their own to plan actions-within-the action: some would break off from the main march to proceed directly to Wall Street through a Duane Reade on Pine; others planned acts of civil disobedience at strategic locations.
“This organized randomness frustrated police tactics, which are best suited to corralling a single-minded mass. …
“There is no doubt something forceful about protesters seeking to hold ground against riot police who deny their right to public sidewalks. There is no doubt something forceful about men and women who sit down in front of a police barricade and lock arms, as police officers shout at them. But these tactics of holding space are a clear, nonviolent rebuke to the array of police weaponry that rains down on demonstrators on a daily basis.” (source)
In the coming weeks, Occupiers will be challenged to realign with everyday life in order to regain balance in the “real world” without the refuge of the camp, which had become a monumental and uniting force. The campsite had its own gravity, temporality, and rumor-driven reality. What makes this movement strong, though, is its ability to adapt, be mobile, and create alternatives during times of distress. These are anomic times that require a nomadic response.
“Like Occupy Wall Street, the General Assembly of Occupy LA is currently working on an outreach strategy that will spread the movement across the city, with General Assemblies popping up like tents in public spaces. Now that the method of horizontal participatory democracy has been learned by thousands of people who came through the camp at City Hall, Occupy LA will facilitate an initial round of neighborhood assemblies and continue the work of reanimating a local civic spirit. This tactic avoids the peril of trying to defend the space of City Hall that is already fully militarized, and thus, already occupied in a different sense.” (source)
“A different tactical response is to create what essentially would be a non-violent guerrilla movement in American cities. For example, Kalle Lasn, the Adbuster magazine publisher and originator of the Wall Street encampment idea, reportedly urged a new "swarming strategy of surprise attacks against business as usual." The Chicago occupiers have resolved to have an event a day throughout the winter, such as defending foreclosed homes, sit-ins, banner drops, building parks, providing supplies to the homeless, or guerrilla theater and art. In the same vein, longtime social movement scholar and activist Francis Fox Piven foresaw some time ago that the movement would develop new phases, utilizing "other forms of disruptive protests that are punchier than occupying a square," or "rolling occupations of public space."
“This article suggests another alternative, one that focuses on creating sustainable alternative decentralized institutions that reflect in microcosm the egalitarian, democratic vision of society that the Occupy Movement has put forth. Such a strategy would be combined with a continual presence in the streets and parks around issues of injustice such as foreclosures.” (source)
— On symbolic narratives and noöpolitik —
OWS has shifted the frame of the national political conversation, making possible policy positions that would have felt precariously progressive to establishment power brokers just two months ago. But sustaining this momentum will require that OWS broaden and deepen internally, and catalyze support for allies with the institutional capacity to leverage strategic and sustained pressure in pursuit of more specific agendas. …
Broaden, by creating the space and possibility for people to actively participate in the movement without attending three hour long General Assemblies, or sleeping outside in the rain and snow. …
The movement will also need to deepen, by strengthening internal cohesion, building skills, and developing a more coherent analysis among members and participants.” (source)
Marieke de Goede:
“It is perhaps not the absence of the defined agenda and clear list of demands that is the most striking feature of Occupy. Its striking feature is its impossible promise to anchor and call to account speculative practice. Its stasis and occupation contradict the mobility and fluidity of contemporary speculation. Its ambition to stay, to extend its presence, to remain immobile, interrupts the constant drive to commodification and circulation of investment capital. With the same people in charge of ‘solving’ the crisis as have participated in bringing it about, and while the international bond markets hold European politics hostage, Occupy has hit the right target – even if the derivative is impossible to locate and the culprit banker does not necessary reside behind the occupied doorsteps.” (source)
“Regarding the motives of the Occupiers, it is often remarked that they have trouble articulating why they are trying to preempt public space. There is indeed a catechism of slogans that activists deliver to the press, usually touching on income inequality, but these slogans are not doctrine or even common knowledge among the participants. The know-nothing state of the Occupation is often presented as a defect. That misses the point.
“… Similarly, the reasons or unreasons that people offer who have excluded civil authority from public space are less important than the fact they have excluded civil authority from public space. Note that the occupations are generally near centers of government. This fact-on-the-ground is not in service to theory; it is what theory has always tried to achieve.” (source)
“The fact that the rioters have no programme is therefore itself a fact to be interpreted: it tells us a great deal about our ideological-political predicament and about the kind of society we inhabit, a society which celebrates choice but in which the only available alternative to enforced democratic consensus is a blind acting out. Opposition to the system can no longer articulate itself in the form of a realistic alternative, or even as a utopian project, but can only take the shape of a meaningless outburst. What is the point of our celebrated freedom of choice when the only choice is between playing by the rules and (self-)destructive violence?
“Alain Badiou has argued that we live in a social space which is increasingly experienced as ‘worldless’: in such a space, the only form protest can take is meaningless violence. Perhaps this is one of the main dangers of capitalism: although by virtue of being global it encompasses the whole world, it sustains a ‘worldless’ ideological constellation in which people are deprived of their ways of locating meaning. The fundamental lesson of globalisation is that capitalism can accommodate itself to all civilisations, from Christian to Hindu or Buddhist, from West to East: there is no global ‘capitalist worldview’, no ‘capitalist civilisation’ proper. The global dimension of capitalism represents truth without meaning.
“The first conclusion to be drawn from the riots [in London], therefore, is that both conservative and liberal reactions to the unrest are inadequate. …
“… And this is the fatal weakness of recent protests [in Spain]: they express an authentic rage which is not able to transform itself into a positive programme of sociopolitical change. They express a spirit of revolt without revolution.
“… When the protesters [in Greece] started to debate what to do next, how to move beyond mere protest, the majority consensus was that what was needed was not a new party or a direct attempt to take state power, but a movement whose aim is to exert pressure on political parties. This is clearly not enough to impose a reorganisation of social life. To do that, one needs a strong body able to reach quick decisions and to implement them with all necessary harshness.” (source)
“But now, for the first time, there is an explicit movement to confront The Party of Wall Street and its unalloyed money power. The “street” in Wall Street is being occupied—oh horror upon horrors—by others! Spreading from city to city, the tactics of Occupy Wall Street are to take a central public space, a park or a square, close to where many of the levers of power are centered, and by putting human bodies there convert public space into a political commons, a place for open discussion and debate over what that power is doing and how best to oppose its reach. This tactic, most conspicuously re-animated in the noble and on-going struggles centered on Tahrir Square in Cairo, has spread across the world (Plaza del Sol in Madrid, Syntagma Square in Athens, now the steps of Saint Paul’s in London as well as Wall Street itself). It shows us that the collective power of bodies in public space is still the most effective instrument of opposition when all other means of access are blocked. What Tahrir Square showed to the world was an obvious truth: that it is bodies on the street and in the squares not the babble of sentiments on Twitter or Facebook that really matter. …
“In response to the Occupy Wall Street movement the state backed by capitalist class power makes an astonishing claim: that they and only they have the exclusive right to regulate and dispose of public space. The public has no common right to public space! By what right do mayors, police chiefs, military officers and state officials tell we, the people, that they have the right to determine what is public about “our” public space, and who may occupy that space, and when? When did they presume to evict us, the people, from any space we, the people, decide collectively and peacefully to occupy? They claim they are taking action in the public interest (and cite laws to prove it), but it is we who are the public! Where is “our interest” in all of this? And, by the way, is it not “our” money that the banks and financiers so blatantly use to accumulate “their” bonuses?” (source)
“And, like the Sixties, there were also problems:
“* In the name of “inclusion” and “non-judgmentalism,” the vast majority of nonviolence-oriented people felt unable to stop a comparatively tiny group of masked protesters from breaking windows and introducing a feel of violence that gave the corporate media their pretext for making “violence” the center of the story they reported to the world.
“* Due to the movement’s aversion to leadership (epitomized by the slogan, “we are all leaders and have no leaders”) it has become impossible to develop a coherent vision of what we are for. …
“*A fetishization of the occupied spaces, as though these physical sites were the center of the struggle, rather than the broader pursuit of justice for the 99 percent. Inordinate focus on the occupied spaces themselves, and the newly asserted “right” to have tents and cooking facilities through the nights, puts the movement at risk of losing sight of the larger goal: rejecting the ethos of materialism and selfishness of global capitalism and replacing it with an ethos of love, kindness, generosity and environmental responsibility (in short, building “the Caring Society—caring for each other, caring for the earth”).” (source)
“What role does space, and the physical occupation of a specific space, then play in each of these aspects? …
“The particular space being occupied should not be fetishized, should not become the prize, the conquest of which is the goal of the movement. It is only, for most aspects of the movement, symbolic; the rise and fall of the movement should not be linked to the extent of the physical occupation of a given space. The spaces sought for occupancy are not the prize for which the battle is being fought, but rather a terrain on which that battle takes place, and a more or less important source of support to facilitate the achievement of objectives more important than the command of a particular piece of ground.” (source)
“There seemed to be little consensus on the meaning of "diversity of tactics" and what qualifies as "violence." But the questions raised represent a crucial debate for this prominent satellite of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which continued to draw attention after late-night rioting tainted a major general strike demonstration that shut down the nation’s fifth-largest port on November 2. There has been broad agreement among police and protesters alike that anarchists employing black bloc tactics—a concept that originated in Europe four decades ago in which protesters conceal their faces, dress in black, and often carry out targeted property destruction—were responsible for the rioting. But so far Occupy Oakland has failed to agree on what to do about the black bloc proponents in its midst. …
“Ultimately, while many Oakland occupiers might empathize with the frustrations driving black bloc fans to bold statements and shows of force, the fear of alienating mainstream sympathy for the movement looms large. As Oakland union organizer Jeff Duritz put it: "It’s nearly impossible to change the country. The only way that that could possibly happen is if that’s a mass movement. If my mom can’t come, we’re not going to change the country. That’s the bottom line. We could spend days debating what 'violence' means, but when we boil it down, when someone smashes a window that means no one’s mom is coming, and we need the moms to come."” (source)
“This distinction is especially important, because a certain idealized (and whitewashed) version of #OWS has become a useful narrative for a variety of establishment politicians and critics of both good and false faith. But we need to beware of people who pay theoretical lip service to an idealized “Occupy Wall Street” brand and then to use the particular shortcomings of its local iteration to condemn it. Oakland mayor Jean Quan, for example, always says that she supports the goals and principles of Occupy Wall Street—a theoretical solidarity, by which she is rhetorically positions herself in opposition to abstractions like “Wall Street”—but this theoretical solidarity has, of course, never translated into any actual support for Occupy Oakland. And this is precisely its purpose: a symbolic protest against a symbolic abstraction like “the banks” is sufficiently meaningless in practice that almost anyone can rhetorically sign on. And once a symbolic protest has been allowed, for the moment, the nonsymbolic protest (of breaking a law against open flames or camping in public) suddenly becomes all the more illegal by reference to it. …
“The construction of a thing called “The Oakland Commune” at a plaza that was re-named after Oscar Grant was, in this sense, not a franchise of Occupy Wall Street but a revolutionary defense of that particular space, the demand that we who occupy it have the right to decide what will be made of it. …
“All of this is necessary background for understanding why, from the beginning, Occupy Oakland has been the kind of radically inclusive space that it’s been, why the beating revolutionary heart of the camp has not been its library or information tent—or even the General Assembly—but the kitchen that fed thousands of hungry Oaklanders every day, or the grassy space of Frank Ogawa Plaza where Downtown Oakland’s substantial homeless population could find a home. Local history is necessary for understanding why the occupants of the “Oakland Commune” have focused less on national economic issues than on the right to the city of Oakland which has, for so long, been denied them. Occupy Oakland has set its sights resolutely local from the very beginning; while anti-bank rhetoric and actions have not been absent, of course, activists at Occupy Oakland have targeted the five elementary schools that Alameda County recently voted to close, for example, and are moving in recent weeks towards defending neighborhood homes from foreclosure.” (source)
“What these people are doing is building, for lack of a better word, a church of dissent. It’s not a march, though marches are spinning off of the campground. It’s not even a protest, really. It is a group of people, gathered together, to create a public space seeking meaning in their culture. They are asserting, together, to each other and to themselves, “we matter”. …
“… Furthermore, the space is fraught with the problem of consensus-based anti-leadership organizing. There are no spokespeople, and you can’t get on their media list (they don’t have one). The anti-leadership non-hierarchical consensus method is designed to avoid the way that leaders can be smeared and/or co-opted. It does not really scale, and this is a serious challenge going forward. But ultimately, the energy of just having a bunch of people in one place for a long period of time is very different, and much more interesting, than just a march. The protesters are creating a public space for the discussion of economic justice, just by showing up. …
“… But perhaps success and failure isn’t the right way to think about what’s going on in downtown New York, any more than thinking about a church as successful or failed based on its political objectives is the right way to think about how those in the pews satisfy their thirst for spiritual vigor. What these people have found in themselves, and created for each other, is meaning.” (source)
“On at least two levels, then, the “church of dissent” faces the need for compromise: with the workings of power, and with the need to maintain the “big tent” required to legitimately claim it. But, as Troeltsch knew, compromise sits uneasily with true believers and – I would add – with idealists. Historically, it tends to generate the sects, smaller groups that recoil against the defilement of compromise and form narrower communities of the committed, pure, and pious. They do not make claims on state power, seeking only tolerance for their own islands of purity. They favor principle over pragmatism, and purity over change. It’s not a perfect analogy, but my experiences at Occupy Atlanta suggest a group caught between an impulse to be a sect of the politically pure and the need to become a bigger church of dissent. And I believe the issue, at this point, has less to do with substance than with tone, style, and aesthetics.” (source)
“In short, capitalism profanes the sacred and sacralizes the profane—a modern radicalization of the moneylenders who desecrated the temple. In part, this explains why the glocal protest movement is concerned not just with purely material or technical issues but also (and perhaps more so than previous protests) with symbolic resonance. …
“Thus, the global protest movement and its manifold local expressions seem to provide a post-secular response to the secular heresy of global capitalism and its political sponsors. The contested space of the city—both local and global—appears to contain the germs of a vision for an alternative economy that reconnects the financial to the ethical and an alternative politics that reasserts the primacy of the civic over the economic and the social.
“If this is the case, then it seems that the global protest movement has the potential to offer a new kind of ideology that transcends the old binary relations that have characterized modern politics. By linking universal principles to particular, transformative practices, the global protest movement and the myriad of local civic initiatives might even politicize the wider population and help foster new virtuous elites.” (source)
“If the spirit of Occupy Wall Street and its home at “Liberty Square” is to survive and have impact, occupiers need a larger understanding of what sacred space is and what it isn’t. Sacred space can be anywhere, any time. It is by definition beyond time and place. … Sacred space is eternal storied flow, not eternally fixed. Sacred space is storied place. …
“One of the saddest casualties of the way the police emptied the park was the way they dispersed the community. They made people go north in Manhattan up one street, then another. They were forced into groups of forty at a time. The movement was dispersed into a diaspora, forcing choices about what space to consider home but more importantly about how to find each other. Cell phone charging has been a form of returning sacred space to the movement so that people could find each other to negotiate next steps. … Turning the fight into a fight with police or the city over space will rigidify the movement and cause sacred space to be a sterile demand, compared to the original demands of economic justice on behalf of the 99%. Such a fight will mistake sacred space as one time or place. You can occupy everywhere, as long as your original purpose is something larger than one place. You can also get stuck anywhere, if your purpose is to stay in one place as though it was yours.” (source)
Micah L. Sifry:
“I asked Andrew Boyd, one of the co-founders of "The Other 98%," why Occupy Wall Street was succeeding compared to these other efforts. I should note that Andrew is an old friend of mine who has been doing online and street organizing for many years (he was one of the co-founders of Billionaires for Bush or Gore back in 2000/04), and he and his colleagues are now very involved in helping the Occupy Wall Street movement. He offered three reasons:
1. There's a little bit of randomness to what works. You have to just keep throwing things against the wall until something sticks. That said, there were clearly nerves to strike.
2. The tactic of occupation: The permanence of it. We're not going to leave, we're going to stick it out. The personal commitment and determination of people on the ground to see that through. That creates a human story and drama and a demonstration of personal commitment that matters, regardless of whether people think they're "dirty hippies." And it creates a dramatic narrative, too. Will the cops kick them out? Will they outlast the weather?
3. The lack of demands: Functionally it's genius, even if it wasn't strategically intentional. This makes OWS an open space a that everyone can bring their resentments, anger, longings, and dreams, to. It also puts OWS in the "right vs wrong box," instead of in the "political calculation" box. It doesn't feel calculated. …
“Boyd offers a fourth reason for Occupy Wall Street's rapid spread: it isn't afraid to talk about revolution, a subject that may be on more minds that people realize.” (source)
“Yesterday, one of the speakers at the labor rally said: “We found each other.” That sentiment captures the beauty of what is being created here. A wide-open space (as well as an idea so big it can’t be contained by any space) for all the people who want a better world to find each other. We are so grateful. …
“We have picked a fight with the most powerful economic and political forces on the planet. That’s frightening. And as this movement grows from strength to strength, it will get more frightening. Always be aware that there will be a temptation to shift to smaller targets – like, say, the person sitting next to you at this meeting. After all, that is a battle that’s easier to win.
“Don’t give in to the temptation. I’m not saying don’t call each other on shit. But this time, let’s treat each other as if we plan to work side by side in struggle for many, many years to come. Because the task before will demand nothing less.
“Let’s treat this beautiful movement as if it is most important thing in the world. Because it is. It really is.” (source)
“Occupy is an open source protest. That means it doesn't have a specific message. It is a container for many groups/motivations/passions held together by simplest of ideas: it is possible to permanently occupy places of power. Anyone that tells you it needs to have a specific policy agenda is a) not an expert and b) still living in the 20th Century.
“The Occupy approach, a permanent 24x7x365 geographically ubiquitous protest movement, may be about to zoom. Reinforcements are coming.
“From where? Europe. However, this reinforcement isn't in the form of bodies on the street or money. It's VALIDATION … ” (source; edited to correct presumed typos)
“We ask you to take action:
“■Occupy / shut-down Egyptian embassies worldwide. Now they represent the junta; reclaim them for the Egyptian people.
“■Shut down the arms dealers. Do not let them make it, ship it.
“■Shut down the part of your government dealing with the Egyptian junta.
The revolution continues, because we have no other choice. “From Tahrir Square / 22 November / 14:00” (source)
“The occupation [in London] is of space, but this is a space which is both actual and figurative. One of the great ironies of the financial crisis is that the dominant response has been more, not less, neoliberal policies. It is being recoded as a crisis within neoliberalism, instead of being seen as the crisis of neoliberalism.
“Occupy seems to be saying that we cannot simply seek changes within the system, but we may need to discover an alternative. It is for that reason that simple demands which could be met or refused are inappropriate. For another world to be possible we first need to conceive the world differently.” (source)
“Eighth, the future of the Occupy movement will be determined less by the numbers in Liberty Park (although its survival is a sine qua non of the future) than by the boots on the ground in Dayton, Cheyenne, Omaha, and El Paso. The geographical spread of the protests in many cases equals a diversifying involvement of people of color and trade unionists.
“The advent of social media, of course, has created unprecedented opportunities for horizontal dialogue among non-elite activists all over the country and the world. But the Occupy Main Streets still need more support from the better resourced and mediagenic groups in the major urban and academic centers. A self-financed national speakers and performers bureau would be invaluable.” (source)
— Readings that speak to time and action orientations —
“The history of revolution is the history of great public spaces: the Place de la Concorde during the French Revolution; the Ramblas in Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War; Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989 (a splendid rebellion that was crushed); the great surge that turned the divide of the Berlin Wall into a gathering place in that same year; the insurrectionary occupation of the Zocalo of Mexico City after corrupt presidential elections and of the space in Buenos Aires that gave the Dirty War’s most open opposition its name: Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, the Mothers of the Plaza of May.
“It’s all very well to organize on Facebook and update on Twitter, but these are only preludes. You also need to rise up, to pour out into the streets. You need to be together in body, for only then are you truly the public with the full power that a public can possess. And then it needs to matter. The United States is good at trivializing and ignoring insurrections at home. …
“So remember to expect the unexpected, but not just to wait for it. Sometimes you have to become the unexpected, as the young heroes and heroines of 2011 have. I am sure they themselves are as surprised as anyone. Since she very nearly had the first word, let Asmaa Mahfouz have the last word: "As long as you say there is no hope, then there will be no hope, but if you go down and take a stance, then there will be hope."″ (source)
“The prevalence of smartphones, social media, videostreams and the like may be the dominant technological narrative told about Occupy Wall Street, but to focus only on high-tech is to tell a very incomplete story. The reality is that Occupy has also embraced non-electronic low-tech; not just out of necessity but politically and symbolically …
“More conceptually, space and time are important technologies because the name "occupy" specifically refers to occupying physical space for an extended period of time. A march takes up space, but an omnipresent occupation with tents also takes up time. With the recent wave of police effort clearing occupations of their infrastructure, this balance of space and time becomes increasingly important and something I hope to expand on in a later post. …
“Questions about whether the Web promotes revolution or repression often miss the point: high/low-tech and on/offline all augment each other, utilized side-by-side rather than through displacement.” (source)
“In further radical conjoining, the old economic-lefty memes—general strike, revolution, solidarity, resistance—agitate side by side with signifiers of the very postmodern critique of representation embodied by Occupy, like the Guy Fawkes “V for Vendetta” masks, the seminal figure of Anonymous, the radical, nonhierarchical democracy of the people’s mic, the rejection of “rational,” “representative” organization, and the refusal to issue a list of demands, to present a unified “identity.” Former antagonists—the old left and the new left, hippies and hardhats, Marxism and postmodernism—are all happily occupying the same urban and discursive spaces. And everybody seems really, really stoked about it.
“At root, it’s all always been the same struggle anyway. The refusal of work, of the incessant instrumentalization of time and space, is the essence of both counterculture and working-class struggle.” (source)
“ … So, organizations do campaigns, and movements do something else. They shift the public will. And so, the Occupy movement has to retain its ability to do its primary job, as I understand it, which is to keep shifting the public will and making that psychic break happen and supporting that psychic break.” (source)
“Philippe Lejeune, a French artist living in Boston, told me at Occupy Boston, “Maybe I am old, but what I care about is memory. What kind of memory will Occupy leave us? In 1968, I was eighteen and living in Paris. The memory of 1968 has changed my life. How will the memory of Occupy change the young people today?” I believe Occupy will leave a lot more than memories: it will continue as a long-term movement, persisting in the present rather than slipping into the past.” (source)
“For many of those involved, maintaining this spatial focus became the sine qua non of the movement, even in the face, for instance, of the changing of the seasons and ongoing police evictions. In nearly every history-altering moment of the past however, from the Paris Commune to the antiglobalization movement, it was the element of time that proved most decisive. There is a reason, for instance, that the clock towers were the first target chosen by the French communards. Occupy is no exception: as the Jesuit thinker Baltasar Gracián held, beyond all other considerations, it is time rather than space that best positions one to win. …
“Rather than maintaining this spatial strategy at all costs, what is most interesting about Occupy now is that it is increasingly complicating static images of space: it is, in short, occupying time. This has meant a shift to a more fluid, tactical approach, one not only appropriate to the specifics of constantly changing situations deployed from above, but one that more importantly, allows it to bring forth new ones, from below. Indeed, the initial introduction of an open duration for the Occupy events already oriented the subsequent events primarily towards the temporal and the tactical rather than the spatial and strategic. This was truly its greatest strength and is the major reason the spatial strategy did as well as it did. …
“Perhaps then, if transforming the collective situation remains the primary concern, some consideration of the space/time as well as strategy/tactics relationships is in order. …
“… Every situation is different and occupying time rather than space does not mean anything goes. Rather it means that because it is the only possible basis for increased resonance, multiplicity should be valued more than unity, just as dissensus should be valued more than consensus.” (source)
“That the Occupy movement has found material expression in the occupation of space is obvious. That various forms of government seeking to dislodge Occupy protesters from city parks or university yards have had to enact spatial evictions, at times through police batons and teargas, is also obvious.
“But let me argue for a moment that what is fundamentally at stake in the Occupy movement is a claim to the future, and that the temporal imaginations of the movement are perhaps more instructive than its spatialities. There is of course an endearing spatial intimacy to a movement that seeks to challenge the predations of globally circulating finance capital. But the Occupy movement also interrupts the temporality of financialized futures. Note for example the unfolding of time that is the daily general assembly, a ritual of democracy so deliberately/ deliberatively slow that it becomes a type of unthinkable space.” (source)
“Occupy is implicitly a movement in which spatiality figures centrally. Appropriately, then, the journal Society and Space has opened an interesting forum on the movement, with many stellar contributions. But Ananya Roy makes the argument that the movement’s temporal dimensions—particularly its staking a claim on the future—is perhaps more instructive than its spatiality. With a hat-tip to yours truly, Stuart Elden explores the politics of the Guy Fawkes mask rebranding it “V for Visibility.” Eduardo Mendieta, meanwhile, reveals the praxis embedded in “occupy” itself as a word, a concept, and an action. Check out the many other provocative contributions and a few links to other related writings.” (source)
“In 2001, a book came out about George Mitchell’s diplomatic work in Northern Ireland that was entitled “To Hell With the Future, Let’s Get On With the Past.” One hopes that such a book will never be written about today’s Arab awakenings. But watching events unfold out there makes it impossible not to ask: Will the past bury the future in the Arab world or will the future bury the past? ...
“This is the grand drama now being played out in the Arab world — the deeply sincere youth-led quest for liberty and the deeply rooted quests for sectarian, factional, class and tribal advantage. One day it looks as though the revolutions in Egypt, Syria and Tunisia are going to be hijacked by forces and passions from the past while the next day that longing of young people to be free and modern pushes them back.” (source)
“… You—you have been occupied by Wall Street. Your homes have been occupied by Wall Street. Your government has been occupied by Wall Street. Your media has been occupied by Wall Street. And it’s OK for you to say, "Not anymore. Those days are over. End of story."” (source)
“The time is ripe for a new form of governance, and the tools are in our hands. Innovative networks span the globe, using new media technologies of Twitter and Livestream to disseminate information and coordinate the very first international occupation. King James shut down parliament, and Mayor Bloomberg shut down the Wall Street occupation, but the End is Nigh today, as it was back in the day.
“The question is not whether we can bring down this hideous harlot riding the beast of post-capitalist imperialism; she is quite capable of doing that itself. The issue is whether we can look beyond our crumbling institutions and imagine something better.” (source)
5 Days in August: An Interim Report on the 2011 English Riots:
“The fact that many people abused society’s moral and legal codes when the opportunity arose paints a disturbing picture. Most disturbing to us was a widespread feeling that some rioters had no hope and nothing to lose.
“‘Some people get to 14 or 15 years old without ever being told they’re good at anything. They feel a sense of worthlessness.’
“Having a stake in society is important. We spoke to many individuals from similar backgrounds who didn’t riot. They told us that they had a place in society that they did not want to jeopardise. They showed an awareness of shared values. They had the resilience to take the knocks and create opportunities for themselves. The fact that these people, who had similar disadvantages in life to many of those who chose to riot, felt able to look positively to the future greatly impressed us.” (source)
Tim Newburn, Paul Lewis and Josephine Metcalf:
“Although rioters interviewed by the Guardian/LSE often said their mistreatment, particularly at the hands of police, was a consequence of race, they were mostly adamant the disturbances were not race riots. If anything, many saw the disorder as a coming together of ethnically disparate groups who loosely shared a sense of injustice. …
“… Many of those interviewed by the Guardian/LSE spoke about the status attributed to brand items, admitting they saw August's perceived lawlessness as a "once in a lifetime" opportunity to acquire consumer goods they could not ordinarily afford. As one 15-year-girl who looted in south London put it: "People with the Ralph, the Gucci, the Nike, the trainers, the Air Forces [Nike Air Force 1 trainers], it's all the style, just everyone wants it. If you don't have it you're just going to look like an idiot. Like, that's how we see it, you just look like an idiot. It's a fashion thing."” (source) (related)
“Boy, 16, who was convicted of theft during the Birmingham riots: …
“"What I really noticed that day was that we had control. It felt great. We could do what we wanted to do. We could do as much damage as we can, and we could not be stopped.
“"Normally the police control us. But the law was obeying us, know what I mean?"” (source) (related)
— Referrals to readings elsewhere —
“Given that collective thinking is an essential part of our movement, it shouldn’t be restricted to “same place & same time” settings. The Future of Occupy initiative aims at using the best tools and methods of the arts and sciences of collective intelligence for expanding the scope of the our distributed genius from physical places to virtual spaces, and doing so, connecting better the local and global dimensions of the movement.” (source) (follow-up by Mark Jagdev)
Berkeley Journal of Sociology:
“This forum is designed to bring together essays, critical commentary, and eventually research of social scientists on the Occupy Movement. As analyses and “spin” of Occupations grow, we confront the sort of public issue to which a social science response is urgently needed. Accordingly, the BJS has organized this forum addressing the underlying social, political, and economic issues surrounding Occupy and its broader implications.” (source)
Society and Space:
“Greetings! We asked members of the Society and Space editorial board and friends to share brief reflections on the ‘Occupy’ movement. We are delighted to share the first installment, which includes pieces by Ananya Roy, Eduardo Mendieta, Juliet Fall, Elena Trubina, Deborah Bird Rose, Justin Clemens, Marlies Glasius, Marieke de Goede, Society & Space editor Stuart Elden, and photos from Kathryn Yusoff. We will continue to post reflections as they come in over the next few weeks, so check back regularly! Future posts will come from Anna Tsing, Kathryn Yusoff, Craig Jeffrey, and others.” (source)
Indiana University (Bloomington) Department of English Graduate Students:
“Call for Proposals: "Occupied: Taking up Space and Time"
“We are issuing a Call for Proposals for scholarly and creative submissions for an International Interdisciplinary Graduate Student Conference entitled “Occupied: Taking up Space and Time” to be held at Indiana University - Bloomington from March 22-24, 2012. This 9th annual conference is hosted by the graduate students of the IU Department of English.
“Recent calls to occupy space for indefinite durations have provoked us to consider what it means to occupy or to be occupied both spatially and temporally.” (source)
* * * * *
Many thanks to posts by Michel Bauwens and his P2P Foundation blog for initially pointing out many of the foregoing readings.
Many thanks to Richard O'Neill, director of the Highlands Group and Highlands Forum, for his overall interest and encouragement.