OWS observed safely over coffee on a balcony in Wuhan

Published on by dcsteveinwuhan

The OWS protests are interesting as I follow them from Wuhan. It is all so spatial, claiming and remaking community space in the city. It s multi-scalar and provides a framing for a number of localized social conflicts concering public space and the commons. Like Reclaim the Streets, or Critical Mass, or the anti-roads campaigns in the 1990s UK, it has a DIY component with a celebratory self-organizing flair.


It s an urban struggle for a right to the city, a right to space as much as it is a struggle for consistent democracy and redistributive justice, a recognition claim independent of specific demands, or so it seems to me. Reading indymedia posts for the first time in years, reading the minutes of various occupations, it is reminicient of the summit convergences of 1999-2001.


Most traditional left practice is in my opinion, bi-scalar, the local and the global, and focused on the point of production rather than the points of reproduction. The framing and the tactic of occupation creates a forum for face to face interaction as well as a social imginary of resistance to neoliberalization. Occupations are situated at the centers of nodes in the circuits of Capital, at the center of the places of flows and linked together by many-to-many media in a thick network of loose ties, creating a translocal assemblage of resistance.


As a spatial resistance, spaces have been renamed, and re-territorialized. Spatial thinking asks what is inside, what is outside, , what is close to and what is far away and at what scale. Site and situatedness, rather than cause and effect are focuses. Space has always been a evil stepchild in progressive thinking, at best a neutral vessel where the actions of history are preformed, at worst, reactionary. But, for spatial theorists like Doreen Massey space is a spatial temporal envelope, itself  an object and an outcome of struggle. Space is  often considered in Western thought as feminine, time is masculine, spatial struggles over the city have been subordinated to the temporal struggles in a masculine workplace.


The post modern city is the third world city come home. Decentered, fragmented, and policed, claiming public space at the sites of power and privilage, defying authority to leave or be policed and normalized is  threatening, particularly when there are no demands, like cartography it provides a way finding tool without a forgone destination.The contemporary urban landscape is polycentric, a city is a legally bounded entity but exist within urbanized regions linked together and ideologically held together by urban imaginaries and symbols. Wall street might be a physical location of the stock exchange, but trading is virtual, occuring in cyberspace itself physically located in banks of servers. The virtual occupation is really a transgressive inversion since most internet traffic is data transfers, not the  humanly comprehensable text and images we see. 


Reading indymedia posts, one can see where the ongoing fight for the South Central Community garden in LA, the struggle by GLBT youth of color in NYC for a place on the piers, the fight to prevent gentrification in the NYC Chinatown all fit into the ideological framework of the 99%.One can also see that the theme resonates with the beleaugered trade unions, outsourced and downsized since the PATCO strike in the 1980s.


The election of Obama should have marked the beginning of the dominance of a new electoral block rooted in the emerging minority majority of the USA, instead the traditional progressive institutions when back to business as usual, acting behind the scenes to implement an agenda of reforms in a period of retrenchment and reaction. After four years of setbacks and losses, finally adbusters intervened with a viral meme capturing the moment and a sense of possiblity raised by the Arab Spring, the Wisconsin fightback, and the Greek resistance. 


These campouts are really expressions, not instrumental but might provide a narrative that ties together the various organized and instrumental forces from trade unions, to pre-party formations and even the left wing of the Democratic Party. Taking the offensive, controling the narrative with tactical agility and situational awareness crystallized from the living experts participating in the general assemblies, every act of state repression serves to underscore the fragility of hegemony when the state fails to provide governance beyond jails, para-military policing and wars, and the charade of self-government.


For the last thirty years or so, the advances made over the last century have been successively rolled back. The traditional left has correspondingly assumed a defensive position creating enclaves and fighting the good fight. The best defense however is a good offense, and demanding the impossible. I like the slogan from ten years ago, another world is possible, there is too much at stake to think otherwise.

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