Carry on Campingby Brandon Edmonds / 14.10.2011
In a blog post about the Wall Street Occupation, historian McKenzie Wark, author of a great book on the Situationists, walks through Zuccotti Park, where all manner of people are still heroically camped in a month-long globally-proliferating protest against, well, we’ll get to that. She’d gone quite selfishly since she lives nearby and it’s where her children play (“I wanted to make sure our Park was still there”) and finds a ‘sort of fugue state’ enticingly beyond the frozen consumer-entertainment desert of capitalist reality.
She visited at night after the smaller protests (the walk down billionaire’s row 5th Avenue, the Brooklyn Bridge round-up, celebrity speeches by Zizek and Michael Moore, and solidarity performances by Lupe Fiasco and Talib Kweli) within the ongoing larger Protest event were all done for the day. Even the cops were relaxed after weeks of Youtube pepper spray incidents, harassment and intimidation, mass arrests, barricades and the pervasive documenting of participants. There was chanting and a drum circle. Inevitably. Exhausted citizens asleep in sleeping bags. A thrumming generator enabled connectivity and the all-important knock-on effects of social media. Plus a lot of very busy food carts.
“It wasn’t obvious what one should be doing,” she writes of the lull. “It isn’t work; it isn’t leisure. There’s nothing to buy. If you wanted to make the moment intelligible to yourself, you had to find your own way to do it. There was an unanswerable question in the air, or so it seemed to me, about what forms of life are possible.”
It is the only real question before us. A question that can’t be avoided anymore. Avoided, I mean, by the professional avoiders, the profiteers and cheerleaders of the status quo. Politicians, manipulators of financial capital, elites and mainstream media. The ecology that sustains us demands it. The billions mired in global inequality deserve it. The joy and fulfillment of collective existence depends on it. Part of the logic of the occupation, informing the way it understands itself, informing how it operates, insisting on direct democracy, inclusivity and openness and debate, is a willingness to confront this question, to take it up, to test it out, to formulate it properly, convincingly, and comprehensively: what forms of life are possible?
The integrity of the occupation lies in keeping this question before us. It refuses a life bound by the increasingly punishing limits of the present system and suspends belief in it. It reveals that history hasn’t ended with capitalist democracy as the sole survivor. After all a growing series of occupations and protests, in Britain, in Wisconsin, in Egypt and Spain, Israel, and Greece, where the demos first experienced the public power of assembly, decry it.
This is a Crisis for the powers that be. Beyond the very real loss of value, the billions in equity erased in 2008, consequent unemployment, unyielding recession, and legitimacy-threatening bailouts, this is a crisis at the level of perception. An unmooring of the ideological underpinnings of the neo-liberal economic order. And in an idea-driven informational economy, a crisis of perception can impact the bottom line as much as overproduction and flagging demand. More and more regular people are thinking about the guillotine. Disgusted at the luxury at the top. Outraged that a decent quality of life is out of the question as things stand. Wired young people, abandoned to the swelling ranks of a standing reserve army of the unwanted, are gathering to discuss alternatives. And all kinds of people want to join in.
Though the Occupations haven’t impacted the snaking networks of capital accumulation just yet, the season of dissent is taking hold as surely as winter will come to the North. A stone’s throw from the financial centre of the world capitalist system, ordinary people have made camp and are, as you read this, with as much patience, intelligence and hope as they can muster, discussing how best to live today. Asking what forms of economy work best to allocate resources equally. Asking each other what ought to matter most to the State, private profit or the common good? Questions far more pressing than Ashton Kutcher’s adultery (Dude, where’s your karma?) and Beyonce’s swollen middle. Questions with the kind of universal applicability that ignites relationships of international solidarity, nurturing networks and counter-publics where freedom reigns.
Locally, occupations – Operation Ubuntu – will begin this Saturday (October 15th) in Exchange Square in Sandton, at the Durban City Hall, the Grahamstown Cathedral, in East London, and in the Parliament Gardens in Cape Town. As a banner read at one of the university occupations protesting fee hikes and budget cuts in London last year: THIS HAS JUST BEGUN.
*Today the City of New York and the owners of Zuccotti Park are working together to evict the occupation. Get involved here.
*All poster images © Adbusters.