Liberty Square on October 4th 2011 / Photograph by Léopold Lambert
What really matters in revolts and revolutions is what their gestation time produce in terms of inventions. To the main criticisms brought by the (old) left about the Occupy Wall Street movement, claiming that this spontaneous organization leads to nowhere in terms of agenda and expectations, I re-affirm that they are missing what needs to be looked at. The end is not important, only the continuous production of desire that we can observe those days is, and each day spent on Liberty Square is a victory over a dehumanized system (I’d like to say here that I can see the cliche in the expression “dehumanized system”, however I would like to invite everybody to think carefully about it and see how this system is working on its own inertia).
Creativity is the materialization of such of production of desire and each invention needs to be acknowledged as the movement’s achievement. The one I would like to write about in this article is characteristics of the Occupy Wall Street Movement, and whoever went on Liberty Square knows it. To be honest, I am not so sure that it is, per say, an invention of this movement, and I am already expecting some more knowledgeable readers to tell me about it, but what I call here Mic-Check can definitely be considered as an immanent implementation of democratic apparatuses.
It has been now three weeks that the occupation of Liberty Square in Wall Street New York started and after two weekends of confrontation with the New York Police Department, a small reflection on weaponized urban design seems appropriate. The massive arrests (about seven hundreds) of indignants by the NYPD on the Brooklyn Bridge this Saturday 1st October consecrated the highly controllable characteristic of Manhattan’s grid plans (which obviously includes its bridges). In fact, it was fairly easy for the Police to allow the demonstrators crowd to engage onto the Brooklyn Bridge and then stop them in the center of it in order to arrest them one by one.
The situation of Liberty Square itself is not really that much more defensible for the occupiers who is continuously surrounded by the NYPD without any form of possible retreat nor protection in case of a potential assault. This situation is almost applicable to the ensemble of Manhattan that offers an absolute control to the dominant force of an asymmetric conflict.
On the contrary, a form of urbanism that has been effectively active in the history of revolts, revolutions and wars of independence is embodied by the traditional north African city, the Medina in Tunis or more expressively the Casbah in Algiers. In fact, from 1954 to 1962, the resistance against the French colonizers nurtured within this old labyrinthine district of the Algerian capital city. The easiest witnesses to gather here to illustrate such a relationship between urban guerrilla and the Casbah’s physicality consists in two movies, Pépé le Moko by Julien Duvivier (1937 almost twenty years before the beginning of the Algerian War of Independence) and the very powerful The Battle of Algiers by Gillo Pontecorvo (1966, four years after the Algerian Independence and forbidden in France until 1971). The latter, indeed, shows how the resistance is facilitated by the rhizome of a multitude of narrow curvilinear streets and stairs added to an additional layer of connecting roofs in a very dense urban fabric. On the contrary, the French paratroopers in charge of the suppression, are often lost and every now and then fall into a trap by insurgents who are still in complete skill, material and human minority compared to the organized institutional army. Eventually the Lieutenant-Colonel Mathieu, in charge of the operation, will manage to suppress the rebellion almost to the end (Algiers rebellion will be replaced by a provincial resistance that would eventually lead to the independence) by adapting the heavy army into a more “swarming” counter-guerrilla force.
In front of the incredible silence of the media about the Occupying Wall Street Movement -the New York Times had a very small article in the NY section about it five days ago bias(ly) entitled “Gunning for Wall Street, With Faulty Aim“- I feel obliged to talk about this extremely interesting micro-society existing right in between Ground Zero and Wall Street in New York. About this very eloquent silence in the press, you might want to read the excellent article by Gaston Gordillo on the never disappointing Critical Legal Thinking. Silence is indeed their best weapon to fight against their fear of this movement increasing.
The Police should know that its brutality is only bringing more reasons to resist the injustice that capitalism develops in its implementation and that now reach summit in the social inequalities. Nevertheless, the movement voluntarily remains absolutely non-violent and leaderless. Organization is the key notion here. A computer lab on site is relaying information directly on the Internet, a kitchen supplies food for the American indignants, and several working group gather everyday to discuss and create how this micro-society could sustain itself in time and implement outreaching actions. At the end of each day, a General Assembly is gathered in which propositions and votes are effectuated in a very communal way characterized by the mean used by the indignants to make themselves heard: one person speaks and the rest who could hear repeat for the crowd further, in a very symbolic union of voices. Here again, the organization is impressive, especially as far as the domain of law is concerned with competent lawyers -some of the National Lawyers Guild- and other Cop-watchers who make sure that nobody is left alone if arrested.
Some people outside of the movement seem to blame the lack of specific demands. I, however, would claim that this group seems to have understood something about revolt: in fact, they create a micro-society, two blocks away from their antagonistic way of life’s embodiment (Wall Street), which implements de facto the democracy and the solidarity they are calling for as a model of society. Just like for the recent Egyptian Revolution, the moment of liberation is not so much the achievement (and therefore the termination) of the resistance movement but rather the process of this movement which forces people involved in it to develop a collective identity.