ANANYA ROY “Occupy the Future”
November 18, 2011 4 Comments
That the Occupy movement has found material expression in the occupation of space is obvious. That various forms of government seeking to dislodge Occupy protesters from city parks or university yards have had to enact spatial evictions, at times through police batons and teargas, is also obvious.
But let me argue for a moment that what is fundamentally at stake in the Occupy movement is a claim to the future, and that the temporal imaginations of the movement are perhaps more instructive than its spatialities. There is of course an endearing spatial intimacy to a movement that seeks to challenge the predations of globally circulating finance capital. But the Occupy movement also interrupts the temporality of financialized futures. Note for example the unfolding of time that is the daily general assembly, a ritual of democracy so deliberately/ deliberatively slow that it becomes a type of unthinkable space.
Yesterday was a day of action in Berkeley, to defend public education and to protest the police brutality that had been unleashed against Occupy Cal student protesters just a few days ago. (Not surprisingly, alongside the democratic experiments of the Occupy movement has unfolded a set of experiments in penality). Two years ago, the public education movement at Cal had stalled over the territorialization of protest. A string of building occupations – and fierce police action against them – had effectively served as a clamp. But now thousands marched – as their signs read, to occupy, to occupy the future (no reference to Chomsky intended).
As I walked alongside some of my undergraduate students (barely twenty) in a rally that shut down city streets, they recounted how two weeks ago they had joined a general strike to blockade the port of Oakland. Euphoric about collective action, they nevertheless registered ambivalence – because the referents of protest, from the site of the port to the very term “strike,” seemed alien to their generation, one with neither memory nor anticipation of such landscapes of labor. Encampments, barricades, rent strikes, picket lines, were all of interest to them, but what mattered most they said was the moment. What did that entail, I asked? Refusing futures of student debt, resisting systematic disinvestment in our collective futures, remanding the foreclosure of politics, they replied. For this global generation of austerity, occupations may indeed be predictable, from Tahrir Square to Zuccotti Park to Sproul Plaza, but there is nothing predictable about a creativity that seeks to occupy the Great Recession itself.
Could it be that such spatializations are a détournement not just of the establishments of capitalism but equally of established geographies of resistance?