Category Archives: Occupy

News from Gezi Park, Istanbul; Don’t Forget the Penguins as the Ice Floes Melt

Mick Taussig 
           The Occupy Idea took off in Istanbul like wildfire, albeit with its own trajectory and historical roots.  I have been here five days since June 14 and every day, or rather night, something new happens. I cannot pretend to give a synthetic overview, of which I am sure there are many on the internet, but bearing in mind our little book on Occupy being launched tonight in Chicago, I will try to make a rough sketch of what I have been part of and has been told me by Turkish friends, emphasizing what could be learnt by people in the USA.

            It may seem strange to begin by saying that Istanbul hands down is the most beautiful city I have ever visited and I mention this not only because Istanbul deserves this accolade but because of the threat posed to this historical crossroads by the voracious  capitalist development now tearing at its heart.

            The plan to radically alter the main square—Taksim Square—and demolish adjoining Gezi Park with its lofty trees so as to build a shopping mall in an area saturated with malls and no green space, gives you an idea of what I am talking about.      

            You also have to understand that Taksim Square is like the nerve center of the nation, symbolically, with its monument to the founders of modern Turkey and the scene of bloody battles on May Day over the decades.  You might also note that Gezi Park was built over a military establishment, itself built over an Armenian cemetery, destroyed many decades back as part of erasure of memory of genocide on which modern Turkey was built.  The symbolic weight of the site is crushing and awe inspiring.

            The festive and pacifist air of the sit-in to protect the trees starting May 27 took a radically different tone when the police raided the protesters and forced them out a few days later using a hurricane of tear gas and water cannons. But as people poured into the area, the protesters regained the park and held it in a most extraordinarily carnivalesque way for some ten days during which it became like Occupy in Zuccotti Park, except that Gezi Park is ever so much larger and there were ever so many more people.

            There was no mic check—the crowd is huge—hand made signs were everywhere, an organic garden and flower garden was made in one corner with IV drips for the plants, innumerable tents were pitched, there was a free book exchange, and many posters of political parties. Turkey is alive with political tensions as the Islamist party in power is challenged by the old secular nationalists of the founding of modern Turkey thirsting for revenge, with the Kurdish party in the wings, all taken by surprise by this new uprising.

            Throughout my time here I hear of protesters wishing to form a new party, but the overwhelming sense I get is that that is considered a joke for, like Zuccotti, the movement is largely outside that idea and practice of politics. It is, rather, a deeply rooted, cultural movement that no one could have predicted. Like Marx’s Old Mole of Revolution, Occupy type movements surface in unexpected places throughout the world.

            The size of the crowds pouring into Gezi Park in the ten days, especially after work hours, was overwhelming. I cannot possibly do justice to this. It was like the sea had broke loose. Watching TV it seemed like most of Istanbul was pouring into the park walking in on freeways and across the bridges over the Bosphorous. 

            The park was filled with free water bottles and food and on the steps many street street vendors set up stalls selling swimming goggles for protection against tear gas and water cannon spray (said to contain pepper spray as well), and hard hats. I saw one display of hard hats for sale in a wide arc on the ground, white hat, blue hat, white hat and so forth.

            Outside the park felt like May 68 in Paris to me. Reality had cracked. There was the ordinary everyday sitting in the cafes drinking a beer, listening to stories about the past few days, and yet there was also this air of unreality seeping through one’s body. A beauty parlor had a sign in the window: “Pepper Spray is Good For Your Skin.” You always feel on edge, that everything could change in an instant. This is not just war, I think, but the whole so-called system is ready to explode and a new way of life. The imagination has been unleashed. At the same time the government is rounding up radical leftists from their homes and disappearing them.

            People walk past in the brilliant sunshine with hard hats on, side by side with the occasional tourist and curious citizen. Shopkeepers stand in their doorways. The large luxury hotels around the park allowed protesters to use their bathrooms and in some infirmary’s were installed—later attacked by the police using tear gas. Starbucks was smashed for not providing refuge

            Strange things happen. Many signs in the park declared the president to be the “son of a whore.”  Next day a number of prostitutes turned up saying “we would never give birth to such a monster.” It became un-cool to use sexist language in the park and at the barricades when the fighting started again. For the first time (I believe) the LGBT presence was made manifest, as well. There were as many women as men in the park and fighting on the streets after the park was attacked the second time.

            A striking feature was the role of football club fans with their chants and maneuvers rooted not only in team support but in the neighborhoods from which the clubs sprang, something we never saw in Zuccotti. At one point a mobile crane was stolen by the Bashiktash fans and used to attack a police water cannon truck, rocking it from side to side until the police fled. Next day the truck was for sale on ebay.

            Then there was the pianist in the park. A friend writes me: On Wednesday night, a day after the big police attack of Tuesday and the night when we thought they may empty the park because there had been a lot of police presence, there was a piano concert. The pianist was Davide Martello who left from Sicily with his piano in his truck, travelled through various countries in Europe. His concert started in front of the statue in Taksim but then the piano was carried to the barricade at the Gezi Park entrance and became part of the barricade. He played songs from “Imagine” to “Ciao Bella” and the group of football fans around him cheered him on. He was wearing a helmet against tear gas canisters like the rest of us and right behind this in the tent of the Kurdish party, there was halay (Kurdish folk dance, which is part of every demonstration and is thus extremely politicized). Later when the police kicked us out of Gezi on Saturday the piano, along with the pianist, was “arrested” too.

            The street fighting was intense, as you must have seen. There were direct confrontations all night long for many nights with police using tear gas, and the demonstrators building barricades and hurling stones. Protesters were very afraid because arrest could mean disappearing forever. The battles would rage down side streets with people drawing the police into a cat-and-mouse game. The Governor of Istanbul—made famous for ordering massacres in Kurdish areas of eastern Turkey—said on TV that police would be using live ammunition.

            Then last Monday things seemed to change. A General Strike was called by many unions (with limited success) and people walked around Taksim square and adjoining streets in small groups but not fighting. Bear in mind that just like in guerrilla warfare in which the state can never tell who is a peasant and who is a rebel, so here they could not tell who is “just a pedestrian” and who is a street fighter.

            Then a 34 years old performance artist and dancer, Erdem Gündüz, stood sock still and expressionless for many hours at the square. Others joined.  The streets filled with these (barely) living statues. Talk about uncanny! And what were the police going to do. Arrest stiller than still people. Well, that’s what they did but still more people joined in this death-in-life tableau. It was amazing to walk past row after row of deathly still, erect, unmoving people, and this happened, I believe, in many other parts of this city of 14 million people.

            Then the forums started at 9 at night in different neighborhoods, rich and poor, throughout the city. They had begun, tentatively in Gezi Park before the final attack. Then the brilliant move was to fan out in the neighborhoods, First there were three and last night twelve. The crush of the one I attended in a park with a deep amphitheater was intense. The moon was getting full, the night balmy, and people enjoying each other’s closeness. They used the hand signals of Zuccotti park—but far more enthusiastically and on a grand piano a Kurdish song was played and also a piece written especially for the struggle. It was wonderful to hear that music, so precise, so other-worldly, floating through us into the dark sky. The national anthem was sung which angered my friends greatly. (Note that there is an intense libidinal attachment to the current prime minister, Tayyip Erdogan. TV caught a 70 years old woman supporter of the prime minister saying “We are the hairs around Tayyip’s arsehole.”) Using a battery powered megaphone people debated whether to figure out the next move or whether to engage in a more philosophical discussion. The night before, so I was told, gay issues, previously taboo, had been aired. At another moment a young man with long hair said he felt uncomfortable about standing under the national flag for which he was expected to die (remember military service is obligatory for men, and conscientious objectors, I am told, are likely to be tortured and raped in prison).  

            Then a group of people dressed as penguins made a brief appearance before marching away in Chaplinesque fashion, the penguins having become a proliferating, albeit comical, symbol of the mighty power of this proto-fascist government, every day more sinister, because CNN-Turkey had days earlier refrained from showing the intense police violence by showing The March of the Penguins.

            Don’t forget the penguins as the ice floes melt.

 

           

 

 

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June 24, 2013 · 12:59 pm

Further Thoughts on Occupy: Open Letter to W. J. T. Mitchell

 

I’ve just been catching up on my journal reading and very much appreciated the recent bundle of articles on the Occupy movement in Critical Inquiry. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/668047 But I also have one critique. Initially I hesitated to write, but I realized I was reading something that was very familiar to me, not only in your writing but in many others, that bears commenting on. Your preface offers an overview of the Occupy movement from an almost invisibly American perspective. Of course you are American, and so you may argue that this perspective makes sense. But I think there is a problem when it leads to misrepresentation. I especially think there is a problem in our current world of geopolitical inquiry, globalization, and transnationalism.

            As I’m sure you know, the Occupy movement took its name from the Vancouver-based magazine Adbusters. Occupy movements were present in every major city in Canada. In my city, Ottawa, which also happens to be the nation’s capital, the movement produced controversy as well as assent, a space for debate and gathering as well as a space of occasional violence. But when you reference the Occupy movement geographically you interestingly “confine” it primarily to the US. Consider your references. Occupy moves “from highly particular events in New York’s Zucotti Park” (this is true enough), to its relation to “American politics,” to “uprisings that spread like a virus across the Middle East to Europe, the United States, and beyond.” This virus apparently bypasses Canada, the US’s closest neighbour. Later you note that “protests spread from Zucotti Park to scores of cities all over the US.” Later still you refer to “nonviolent protestors across the US.” Of course it is fine to discuss the Occupy movement in its American context, but it is just the assumption that this context is the context for the movement that troubles me.

            I want to be clear: I am by no means calling for national inclusion; my point is not that Canada was left out of your narrative. I am not suggesting that you add “and Canada” to your lists. Rather I am making a plea for rethinking and reframing the way that nation is discussed, in general, and the way that the US is referenced, in particular. Too often, it seems to me, American intellectuals read large political and social movements only through the lens of American geopolitical identity. The imagination of a broader context does not even enter the discussion (or, if it does, it is captured by the vague and uncritical “and beyond.”)  

            You are in a prominent position to make an intervention here. When a leading intellectual participates in and reinforces this sort of partial, geographically bounded, description of a major social movement, it limits the way that we think about the issues. I am making a subtle request but I do believe it is hugely consequential for the ways in which we understand our roles in the academy and our vision for the future of intellectual inquiry. For, as you suggest, a shift in language can trigger shifts in our conversations that expand the limits of what is both thinkable and possible. 

             

Barbara Leckie
Associate Professor & Graduate Chair
Department of English &
Institute for the Comparative Study of Literature, Art, and Culture

Carleton University

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Occupy and Guerilla Illuminators

Here is an interesting piece on Occupy from the BBC News Magazine, asking “Does Occupy signal the death of contemporary art?”  I think the answer (yes) is pretty naive, showing little awareness of contemporary art, or the range of things being done by Occupy Artists.  But it does introduce us to the work of the Guerilla Illuminators in NYC, and some interesting questions.  Worth a look.  Here’s the link:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-17872666 

 

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IAN BOURLAND’S “Protest 2.0—KONY 2012”

Ian Bourland

17 April 2012

“Protest 2.0—KONY 2012”

In this long season of occupation and in the wake of the fallout of Tahrir Square and the failures of the global community thus far in the ongoing Syrian uprising, there has emerged an unexpectedly potent campaign that takes its cues from the global occupy movements but diverges in a few marked—and potentially instructive—ways.

The first image is a snapshot of the kony2012 website.

On the fifth of March, the San Diego-based NGO Invisible Children released a thirty minute video piece, KONY 2012, that rapidly set the record for “most viral video,” racking up some 100  million views as it coursed through the internet, accelerated by Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and alternating barrages of fascination and snark on news aggregation blogs such as Gawker.  The premise of the video was straightforward:  draw attention to Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), an Acholi nationalist group formerly based in Uganda that has, over the past two and a half decades, killed tens of thousands of people and displaced hundreds of thousands more.  The LRA is noted among central African rebel groups for its consistent use of the most heinous of tactics: rape, sexual slavery, mass murder, mutilations, and the abduction and impressment of at least 30,000 child soldiers.  Like the Rwandan genocide of 1994, and the ongoing multi-partite conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the LRA’s trans-state crimes against humanity have remained one of those seemingly intractable problems, just beyond the reach of NATO security interests and military capabilities.[1]

Enter Invisible Children, a production company in the guise of a charity, which has organized what is, by all accounts, a truly international community under the premise that an aggregation of young people can give voice to the “invisible” children of northern Uganda.  Until late 2011, the group relied on letter writing campaigns, meetings with congressional delegations, and choreographed rallies (all assiduously documented) in order to pressure western governments to send military advisers and materiel to the Ugandan army, in order to rout the LRA forces once and for all.  The organization also creates full-on documentary work during their visits to central Africa, interviewing children, community leaders, and sympathetic politicians, and it claims to funnel resources for development projects, such as schools, directly to localities.  In effect, Invisible Children aims to pressure conventional state agencies, and also to bypass them.

The 5 March KONY 2012 video was something of a study in narrative tension.  It introduces the audience to the LRA and to Invisible Children by way of two real “characters.”  One is a young Ugandan boy named Jacob, who escaped the LRA, but whose brother was murdered and who subsequently met Invisible Children founder Jason Russell.  The other is Russell’s own son, an angelic toddler who conveniently serves as both a telegenic western youth, and a proxy for the audience itself, which is collectively (but through no fault of its own!) unaware of Kony’s atrocities.  In a remarkably telling bit of cinema verité, Russell shows his son a picture of Kony, and explains that not only is he a warlord, but has also hurt Jacob, beloved of the Russell family.  The moral imperative laid out here is not complex: to know Kony is to know evil, and now that we know Kony, he must be stopped.  Even a child can see that.

 

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Arts of Occupation, Part 2

Responses from W. J. T. Mitchell’s class on Space, Place and Landscape:

Stephen Parkin, “Occupy Walla Walla”

Walla Walla is a sleepy town of 30,000 in far south-eastern Washington State. Its economy is primarily agricultural (mainly wheat and fruits, but increasingly viticulture and wine as well), though many in town are employed at one of the three colleges (a medium-sized regional teaching school, a small liberal arts school, and a community college), at the state penitentiary, or in the growing tourism sector. The town is just large and historic enough (it’s the first permanent White settlement in Oregon Territory) to maintain a slow-paced individual identity in spite of the relatively significant number of students (roughly 3,100 BA students and 13,000 at the community college out of 60,000 total residents in the valley).

We might not expect to see evidence of the Occupy Movement in rural, conservative territory, but Walla Walla–largely on account of the significant student body–hosts an active chapter. Like many medium-sized rural towns, Walla Walla’s cultural center is defined by it historic Main Street which runs for about 3/4 mile through the center of town. (The other social center of gravity is the Wal-Mart Supercenter and its accompanying recent commercial development on the outskirts of town). The Occupy movement, then, holds its demonstrations along Main Street; many protests gather at the cultural heart of the town (at the intersection of Main and First Avenue), while the Occupation (whose permanent physical presence was short-lived) gathered in a small park just over a block away.

In many ways, the above photograph captures much of the symbolic force of OWS. For one, the protesters are strongly identified with Main Street, the icon of contemporary populism (versus the techno-plutocracy represented by Wall Street and the intellectual elite represented by (esp.) elite universities such as the Ivy League). Another point to notice is the plurality of populist positions represented, which the media has gleefully reported as the lack of cohesive “demands” on the part of the protesters (thus entirely missing the reactionary variety of protesting, the protesting because of rather than for): the signs urge us to “amend the constitution,” “tax Wall Street,” “abolish government,” and “support unions.” What this eclectic variety of perspectives shares is its goal: to “save democracy” from putative encroachment by a variety of socio-cultural institutions, from banks and bureaucracy to teachers and unions.

It is also worth noting that the protesters in Walla Walla used tactics similar to those in other protests nation-wide, including peaceful, non-violent protest and the creation of an alternative community (complete with entertainment, food, etc.) in a public place. Furthermore, the demographic of protesters is similar to that of nation-wide protests, with students, aged civil rights activists, and (often unemployed) workers forming the majority of the movement.

In all, these photographs are not much different than those more commonly seen from the encampments in such places as New York, Berkeley, and Denver, except with the important addition that they reveal that such leftist populist sentiments are not merely an urban phenomenon, but have also erupted in rural, conservative, and agricultural communities as well.

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THE ARTS OF OCCUPATION

The Arts of Occupation:  A Call for Crowd Sourcing

Critical Inquiry announces a call to assemble a virtual archive of the Arts of Occupation.  We invite our readers to send images in all media, as well as links, anecdotes, brief essays, reports, games, scripts for performance, and videos that will document the aesthetic as well as the tactical and political side of practices of occupation.  We are interested in the “creative” aspect of the global occupation movement, the ways in which it produces new forms of spectacle, space, face, and inscription.  We are asking for our readers’ aesthetic judgments, not just their political views.  What images and statements have impressed them as especially elegant, powerful, salient, eloquent, penetrating, and—well, yes—beautiful?   What specific images (both metaphors and visual images) have had the most impact, and why?    Is there a new image of the crowd  itself, as a bodily presence in a real place, and as a virtual entity, a mass  social movement?  Is there a new image of the individual, at once non-subject and non-sovereign?  How have the media, both old and new, from Twitter to the People’s Mic, produced and reproduced the emergent forms of democracy?   How is the “sensible,” meaning both sensuous and thinkable, re-distributed by the actions and images of the Occupy Movement?

We do not wish to limit the archive to 2011, though this year just past will clearly stand as the historical beginning of a new sense of the words and images associated with “occupation.”  After a half century of thinking of this word as invariably coupled with military occupation, and with landscapes of  conquest and colonization, a new meaning has suddenly imposed itself.   At the same time the image-concept of the camp and encampment has shifted from a site of detention and dehumanization to one of insurgency and non-violent resistance.  “Occupation” has turned from the sphere of power to that of weakness, disenfranchisement, poverty, as well as resistance, insurgency, and creative direct action.   What are the aesthetic aims and effects of lying down under a red carpet at the entrance to a Chamber of Commerce gala? Camping in a public park until the police remove you?  Erecting a tent city in the midst of Tel Aviv?  Shutting down harbors in Oakland, Long Beach, Portland, and Seattle?  Opening free clinics, libraries, clothing exchanges, media centers, educational projects?  Scribbling slogans, questions, declarations, accusations,  demands, and jokes?  Assembling as an embodied movement on symbolic sites—capitols, city halls, banks, museums, schools, and foreclosed homes.

And, finally, we invite critical and theoretical reflection on the Arts of Occupation.  There needs to be some recognition of the “black arts” of occupation (violence, exploitation, domination) that have mostly characterized the preceding era.  We want to know which arts, and which specific performances, have had the greatest effect in mobilizing this counter-movement?  What have been the failures and successes, and what can we learn from them?

Submit your entry simply by responding to this post.

And to follow Critical Inquiry contributors Slavoj Žižek and Judith Butler on the Occupy movement, click on the following links:

Žižek  in the Guardian

Žižek  in the Observer

Žižek on YouTube

Žižek  on Verso Books

Butler on Salon

Butler on Occupywriters.com

Butler on Worlds of Change

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Occupy Time

Jason Adams
Williams College

“Time and I, against any two” – Baltasar Gracián

[Author’s Note: this piece was composed while Occupy Oakland, Portland, Denver, and other cities were under attack, prior to the eviction of the epicenter, NYC’s Zuccotti Park. The events of the past weekend, it would seem, render the already developing shift from space to time necessary, as well as inevitable.]

Until recently, a casual observer might have thought that Occupy had developed a time management problem, that it was increasingly managed by a static image of space. While it initially began with the declaration that September 17th would be the starting date and that it would continue for an unspecified period, the focus soon shifted to a general strategy of occupying public space. While this produced many victories, a certain ossification also emerged. What should have been one tactic amongst others began to harden into an increasingly homogenous strategy. 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. Indeed, even those events of the past that are currently narrated as failures can always be renarrated as successes, in that they have left behind possible successes that remain to be actualized. The recently viral image of police surrounding the 2012 Olympic Countdown Clock in London is evidence enough that the primacy of time is well understood in some quarters.

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. While Ken Knabb and others have linked Occupy to the Situationists’ promotion of factory and university occupations during the French Events of May 1968, what was most central for the latter was once again not space but time. What they called for and what Occupy is increasing calling for was the “creation of situations.” Already this approach has made it impossible for the actions to be declared a failure once and for all, since it was the temporal focus that enabled the creation of hundreds of new “situations” nationwide and worldwide.

For instance, when one occupation was evicted by police, more often than not, several more have simply appeared elsewhere. Or, if laws governing public parks were cited as an excuse, existing occupations simply moved to private rather than public space, such as abandoned buildings or foreclosed homes. As one online commenter put it, while Rome wasn’t built in a day, it wasn’t dismantled in a day either. The tactical innovation the open timeframe enabled also allowed the coordinates of each situation to be produced by the enactors themselves, on their own, distinct terms. Thus, while the originally spatially-oriented events in lower Manhattan gave birth to Occupy Wall Street, it was the temporal structure that enabled the emergence of Occupy the Hood in Queens several weeks later. Had it simply been billed as a conventional one-day protest confined to a single space, the few hundred who initially showed up in the streets near the New York Stock Exchange would not have even registered in the media, let alone countless peoples’ affective attachments, as is now the case.

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. For instance, consider the temporal quality of the moment in which Occupy has emerged. Today, the experience of time has become greatly accelerated, much more so than just one decade ago. Whether or not one has access to the social media sites or smartphones that are increasingly turning the old, spatially-defined continents into new, temporally-defined telecontinents, trillions of dollars in financial transactions still speed around the globe daily. Beyond the rhetoric of the “digital divide”, this continually creates new realities that everyone is faced with. The most recent example is the economic crisis. It was not only attributable to unsustainable, individually-purchased mortgages, but more importantly, to what brought them to market in the first place: the massively increased pace at which global financial transactions occur. This is one reason, perhaps, that the spatial strategy is evolving into a temporal tactics. As Karl Marx argued in the Grundrisse, economics is ultimately a matter of time. The less time required to accumulate money in the first place, he held, the more time available to mobilize other forces to produce more of it. Thus ever-increasing speed is a primary basis for the contemporary mode of production. Today it is not time is money but money is time.

While speed is often mobilized from above though, this is not the only form it takes. Accelerated capitalism forces its subjects to spend more and more of their time working, but even this is subverted constantly. For instance, on-the-job chatting, texting and websurfing are all increasingly narrated as in need of monitoring and management. Indeed, it is often through the very means introduced to control time more thoroughly, that such activities are rendered possible. In Marx’s terms, the means of production are brought into conflict with the relations of production. While today’s accelerated capitalism attempts to intensify accumulation through continuously revamped social communication technologies, with each new innovation it also enables its reversal by movements like Occupy. This is why accelerated capitalism is faced with a “counter-temporality”, the creation of, rather than response to, situations. Paul Virilio has creatively engaged this question with respect to the tactic of the work stoppage. Rather than just occupying space, as he felt was more effective during the feudal era, he argued that in the modern period it was the strike that is most powerful. For him, this was because “it spread to a whole duration. It was less an interruption of space (as with the barricade) than of duration. The strike was a barricade in time.” This is particularly the case with the general strike: such temporal tactics do have a history in the United States, but in the years prior to the Oakland General Strike, the Seattle WTO protests were the closest one of its major cities came to pulling one off in many decades. It is worth considering the relationship of these two latest attempts, because in both cases the tension between space and time were as central as that between strategy and tactics.

While it is well known that the Seattle WTO protestors occupied the downtown space, the first significant event of November 30, 1999 occurred earlier in the day. At that time, thousands of workers and students disrupted the predictable rhythms of transportation, restaurant, stevedoring, and educational industries by walking out, calling in sick, or taking the day off. Time was also key to the eventual success of the later events. The spatial strategy of the Direct Action Network (DAN) had been that all protests downtown would consist of a nonviolent occupation of every street, sidewalk, and greenspace surrounding the Convention Center. Likewise, that of the AFL-CIO was that they would march in a big circle from Memorial Stadium towards the Convention Center and back to the starting point. Crucially though, the union leadership had assured the Seattle Police and the Secret Service that they would specifically not venture into the city’s core, where it was well-known that direct actions would be underway. Finally, the Seattle Police and the Secret Service based their own approach on what they had learned from DAN/AFL-CIO. As a result of this knowledge, their reasoning went, they would simply flush everyone from the downtown actions back into the labor march as they were making the loop back towards the Stadium. In other words, they would link all three strategies such that the already-existing hierarchy of time would not be interrupted and the WTO conference would occur as scheduled.

But that of course, did not happen. The main reason the Seattle WTO protests successfully forced the cancellation of the conference was that this static image of space was overcome both temporally and tactically. At the very moment the AFL-CIO members would have been rounding the corner back to the stadium, thousands of rank-and-file members of the International Warehouse and Longshore Union, Sheetmetal Workers, Steelworkers, and other unions broke off and marched through a line of parade marshals to join the actions downtown. At that same moment, the black bloc, homeless youth, and, as might surprise some Occupiers, many who had proclaimed nonviolence began countering the police assault on the protesters, which had intensified long before any windows were broken. Between these two breaks from the interlinked spatial strategy, a new countertemporality was introduced at the very moment the Seattle Police and Secret Service had intended to mobilize it to their advantage. This is why the two protest groups—around 25,000 mobilized by DAN and about 25,000 mobilized by the AFL-CIO—are not remembered today simply as the 50,000 who were flushed out of the downtown space, like so much refuse. Rather, they are remembered as the 50,000 who shut down the meetings of one of the most powerful arms of global capitalism: “Seattle,” today, requires no further qualifier. While space was occupied temporarily, time was occupied permanently. Continue reading

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