KATHRYN YUSOFF ‘Mayor, Commonalty & Citizens of the City of London v Persons Unknown (being persons taking part in a protest camp at St Paul’s Churchyard, London EC4)’
November 30, 2011 Leave a comment
To occupy is in its most basic form to refute indifference. To render visible those that are unknown in the political system (the isolated subjects of capital), not so they become known but so they become present in their anonymity. Sometimes this anonymity is a mask, a rebuttal at the powers of surveillance or a mask of carnival. Sometimes anonymity is the possibility of community. In so much as the 99% names the multitude of unknowns who toil under conditions of precarity and injustice, it is this very anonymity that names their/our emergent subjectivity as one that is built around the collective. This is Felix Guattari’s notion of the “collective production of subjectivity”, a collective production in which we are all implicated in and responsible for. “Persons Unknown” names that collective as legal body and as body politic, but it also names it as an opening, an invitation to join in. Occupation is a reminder of what John Berger calls the “shape of a pocket”, of what a pocket of resistance might look like and how it can occupy the imagination with thoughts of the possible. Berger always reminds me of the need for gentleness and generosity in critique, a kind of patience in opposition that is neither idealistic nor arrogant, but revolutionary in the ways that it seeks to readdress not just the locus of power but its aesthetics. By questioning what can be spoken and how it can be said, occupation emboldens the quiet refrain of frustration that is the speech of the unnamed and unspoken for.
The thing that is clear straight away is that the democratic process that is part of what conserves Occupy LSX’s integrity is that it is very slow. The meetings are highly conscious of democratic participation, of freedom from ideological rigidity, as if democracy is something be coaxed out of its hiding place, with no fast moves, no shortcuts to establishing the basis of trust. The waving of hands in agreement is a special sign, no doubt developed in the many camps that came before, in Copenhagen, in Europe, where democracy was practicing, finding its feet. This slowness in a fast City operates something like Deleuze’s idiot or Stengers’s cosmopolitics; experimental knowledge practices, “slowing things down” in the fast flows of capital and its laboring city workers. Stengers asks, “how to slow things down, to stop the rush to consensus or to a new dogmatism or to denunciation… to open up the chance of a common world.” Standing still—tenting—becomes the epitome of resistance in the furious flows of the workaday Corporation. Slowing down involves paying attention to the hard work of cohabitation, to understanding and accommodating different needs, problems and aspirations among persons unknown. This slowness has been an aggravation to the media and the Corporation of London alike, “What do they want?” “What are their demands?” have been the constant refrain, as if not to have a dominant unifying narrative somehow disqualifies you from participation in politics. As if it is not politics until there is a proper name. The camp is a space of learning in more ways than one. Learning about process, learning with patience, learning in a tent-city university that good things may come to those who wait… (even in the form of Alan Bennett).
What characterizes all this learning is an engagement with precarity (and the prominent inclusion of precarious workers of all forms—sex workers, cleaners, minimum wagers, youth unemployed—in the university timetable is testament to this). Precarity is the common ground for the 99% it seems, albeit for some of us more than others, but it yet might be somewhere we learn to meet. While this precarity is differentiated, it is also common to many and on the rise in most spaces of labour. Is not an attack on pensions, on working conditions and security about introducing more and more precarity into the conditions of labour? Is not environmental degradation and biodiversity loss about scenes of precarity? For nonhumans and the humans alike? How then to build institutions and assemblies around precarity so that we might make it visible as a collective attack (not suffer it alone), and begin to stand against it so that precarious unknown lives do not disappear without a trace? What might such institutions look like? The tent cities that now occupy our cities are an opening, their very precarity a strength that inspires and illuminates the difficulty and possibility of occupying a space, a thought, a change.