Critical Inquiry on the Occupy Movement

In the Moment, a blog published by the editors of the interdisciplinary journal Critical Inquiry, has been publishing essays on the Occupy movement by various scholars since mid-September 2011.

The beginning was made by Ariella Azoulay, who wrote about occupations of public space in Israel in July 2011. Her piece appeared in translation on September 19, two days after the occupation in Manhattan’s Financial District began. It thus calls attention to an important predecessor of the Occupy movement in the U.S.:

One summer day in July 2011, without any particular previous sign, masses of civilians appeared in the streets and public squares all over the State of Israel. Nothing in their  presence, in their civil claims and protest, was predictable. Not because they were not oppressed by the regime, or by what many now prefer to call “the system”, they certainly were. For many years, the “state of emergency” declared by the State and never abolished, made all those justified claims become less important than the “urgent security needs” that devoured the public budget. In the past decade, with the implementation of neo-liberal economy in Israel, the majority of the citizens learned that “security”—if not always, at least now—is an alibi for privatization.

Bernadine Dohrn (of Weather Underground fame) contributed a dispatch from Manhattan:

Two inventions are stunning to experience: the General Assembly, the daily horizontal, consensus-seeking, rebellious, anarchist meeting; and the peoples’ microphone.  Since the police prohibit amplification, the occupying forces invented a living mike, repeating every 6-8 words from the speaker.  When Naomi Klein spoke, she kept turning on the stage as in a theatre in the round, and as the crowd swelled, she had to wait until 3 echoes of her thought were repeated out from the center before continuing.  It was funny and hard to catch the rhythm but it also involved all of us in restating her words, making them our own, amplifying out.  We were all both speaking and listening, and the exuberance is contagious.

Nicholas Mirzoeff on the embodied theory of the occupiers:

General assembly, sparkly hands, consensus, concern, temperature check, block, process: this is the vocabulary and embodied performance of occupy theory. Each word has an equivalent embodied gesture, which is the means of indicating how you’re feeling about a proposal: fingers up for feeling good, horizontal for not sure, down for against.

The strongest sign is raised, crossed arms for a block: an ethical or safety concern over a proposal that might cause you to leave the movement. Proposals are “consens-ed” by facilitators so that a clear majority approve. It’s not always quick but it is always interesting. It’s occupy theory.

Tarnel Abbott’s eyewitness account from Occupy Oakland:

At 14th and Broadway, in Oakland, California, looking at the Jack London oak tree around which the police would not allow peaceful protestors to gather, I sat on a bench on the sidewalk and was blinded by tear gas at point-blank range and deafened by a flash grenade. When you are blinded and deafened it is hard to disperse.

I had marched with this spirited crowd of about 1,000 people for several hours. They were mostly (but not all) young, and ethnically diverse. There were a few people with children in the crowd. One kid scampered over someone’s car, but that is the only disorderly act I witnessed. I felt so proud of the peaceful nature of the crowd. I had a sense of joy also; they were full of life, full of determination, full of hope.

Jason Adams on the temporality and spatiality of the movement:

Rather than maintaining this spatial strategy at all costs, what is most interesting about Occupy now is that it is increasingly complicating static images of space: it is, in short, occupying time. This has meant a shift to a more fluid, tactical approach, one not only appropriate to the specifics of constantly changing situations deployed from above, but one that more importantly, allows it to bring forth new ones, from below. Indeed, the initial introduction of an open duration for the Occupy events already oriented the subsequent events primarily towards the temporal and the tactical rather than the spatial and strategic. This was truly its greatest strength and is the major reason the spatial strategy did as well as it did.

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