What is Being Occupied?
The last 700 years of land use and capitalism have involved the deracination of people from their territory through the control of successive regimes of surveying, government, and money which today take the form of the environmental crisis, mortgage crisis, and landless peoples' rebellions of the global south. Without control over our own territory, there can be no possibility of a timely and appropriate response to the environmental crisis. Without cheap rent, transportation, or civic permission to be homeless in our cities, people have no right to life. Without protests in public space, new critiques of politics might never be voiced. Together these constitute the right to the city. An occupation takes place in the city. A political movement that occupies public space hardly needs a set of demands or a clear consensus to make clear its statement. In the history of capitalism, the right to public space has been challenged, and resistance is necessary to secure the right to the city.
One can think backwards to nineteenth-century struggles over the right to the city, from the Peterloo massacre of trade-unionists in Manchester suppressed by the police in 1819 to the working-class cafe society exiled from central Paris after the 1860s to the German anarchist organizations kicked out of Tompkins Square Park in New York in the 1880s. Each of these movements had to occupy space, and had to fight, frequently through violent confrontations, for the right to occupy the city, to organize people too poor to afford their own journalists or politicians, whose livelihoods were threatened by escalating rents. The right to the city -- to inhabit it, to participate in its governance, to reshape it -- is a right that has to be continually renewed. Over the last four decades we have sat upon the accomplishments of the 60s, the settlements bequeathed from lunch-counter sit-ins and free-speech protests. But those rights are now in question. Through the extension of private ownership the vry parks in which Occupy Wall Street protestors now sit are privately-held parcels opened to the public at the pleasure of a private corporation. Our right to the village green has become so tenuous.
An occupation by the people is a taking up of space by the people. It takes up the vacant concrete spaces slid through by glanceless men in peacoats and umbrellas. It takes up the concrete corridors clogged by heavy-moving SUVs. It takes up the visual space crowded by advertisements featuring half-naked women in perfume. It replaces all of that open, lifeless city with another city, a human city of faces, of voices, arguing, debating.
It is the remarkable fact about this protest that it has *not* produced a set of demands, as did the soviets or SDSers or even hippies. No consensus will fast emerge from the anarchists, teapartyers, grad students, and marines who are gathered here. They speak no common language. They agree on very few points except for their mutual duty to occupy. They are beginning a new conversation, but what they have done -- unprecedented in forty years -- is to stage an occupation, to enumerate all that has been lost when we lose our mortgages, our environment, and our right to public protest, and to demand the right to the city.
(this dispatch from the library tent at #OccupyBoston)