Home > General Politics > The occupation of Trafalgar Square and other concerns of space

The occupation of Trafalgar Square and other concerns of space

The face of Roxeth has changed, it’s lanes, it’s trees, it’s birds have gone. And to compensate for loss of open space [...] its children have electric light, orange juice and cinemas [...] the changes from fields towards slums are called progress. (T.L Bartlett – Birds of Roxeth (1900-1948))”

The Coalition government should be remembered for one thing: the destruction and loss of space.

It’s no surprise, then, that protest against space loss should colour an anti-government movement.

Protests and occupations by students, for example, have highlighted space as a talking point of their struggle.

Anti-cuts movements across the country have bellowed the concern: “save our spaces”.

Demonstrations over library closures have noted the potential lack in learning spaces, otherwise free for use. And the willingness of private providers to capitalise on public spaces gone to tender, in an approach ironically titled big society – no different in ethos to Thatcher’s opinion that there’s no society – gives us a sour flavour of things to come.

At the moment I am in the middle of Trafalgar Square, London, in a demonstration that has become dubbed “an occupation of public space”. It immediately becomes oxymoronic that a public space need be occupied – but this is the reality. Increasingly the space that exists primarily for citizenry is becoming privatised. Though to oppose this development is not a new idea.

In a small pamphlet called “meanwhile”, author John Berger told us that modern civilisation can now, justifiably, be characterised as a prison. The way in which to perceive the world is not as a free person looking into (over-) governed spaces, but as a ‘subject’ trying to look out. The point, therefore, is to try and free up “subversive” spaces as a hub of freedom among the oppression.

The trendy American liberal crowd, Naomi Klein being one example, talk about subverting corporate spaces, and to some extent they have a point.

Though the problem with trying to fight a vacuous government is that it is easy to use vacuous weaponry. Subverting spaces, in and of itself, demonstrates no given demands – and it is a symptom of post-political “resistance” (which might be, as star trek foresaw, futile).

The point, as a point of future policy demand, is not only to subvert space, but to positively subvert everywhere.

The government can crumble, but it won’t give to a group of people unable to agree on a set of positive demands. This is the most important point of all, and should be most important to those who have become part of resistance movements.

How, I ask, can we win, if we don’t yet know what it is we want?

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  1. J
    May 2, 2011 at 7:35 pm

    I agree about needing positives to work towards. I think any ‘anti’ movement is a bit shallow and will run out of steam at the next election. Unfortunately most of the activists I work with have a given ideology that they think demands should conform to. Other people have a different ideology – or more admirably, are suspicous of set ideologies altogether. And these ideological positive programs are very difficult to sell to ‘non-political’ people anyway – again, I see this as a positive thing. I see a real need to start thinking in terms of ‘next steps’ rather than formulating the ideal future. I don’t think this is de-radicalising. On the contrary, if it works, it will be more radical than any amount of ‘radical’ posturing that has no hope of getting anywhere. In other words, slightly radical actual changes are more radical than very radical talk. If it works being the key point of course.

    • May 3, 2011 at 5:27 pm

      For the reasons you give above, policy and marketing are always two separate departments in any organisation. You say that one of the reasons to avoid set ideologies is because it’s hard to sell, but surely you set your ideology (policy) then work out how best to sell it (marketing). The non-politicised world should not stop movements from advancing ideologies; we must counter the post-ideological mush of postmodernist Leftism.

      Radical change is blind without radical talk, and any opinion to the contrary appears to me more “radical” posturing than simple armchair politicking.

  2. J
    May 3, 2011 at 8:14 pm

    I’m pretty uneasy with the idea of marketing my politics, or anyone else doing it. That’s part of the politics I’m fighting. Politics to me is about involvement, and if people are involved they do not need to be ‘sold’ the politics. So what we need is positive changes that people can and will want to feel involved in. Trying to sell something more radical than what people really want is not only dishonest but actively undemocratic. This sticks in people’s craw when what they really want is for what *they* believe in to be implemented across the country – but such a wish is egotistical and authoritarian isn’t it? We have to move forward collectively – not with everyone, but with enough people that we can form positive social cohesion – without the need for marketing.

    • May 3, 2011 at 9:41 pm

      Either you’re being rather too cynical, or you’ve misunderstood what I mean by marketing, which is really just promoting your politics in the way political parties do. Do you take the view that leftist politics should counter “capitalist” political marketing, or would you prefer to pursue a pure politics (I’m King of the alliteration club!) that just finds its way into the public consciousness? Talking about this seems too miss the point about trying to avert the tyranny of leaderlessness, or pure resistance politics with no substantial outcomes in mind, but how do you form positive social cohesion without in some way selling your ideas, or ethically promoting them if you will?

  3. J
    May 5, 2011 at 9:24 pm

    I think politics should be 90% action and 10% ideas, with the ideas forming as the action happens. I fear much of lefty politics is 90% ideas and 10% action, and people are rightly put off by this.

    They tyranny of leaderlessness is something that happens in insufficiently organised groups. It is possible to act without leaders, while being organised enough to prevent certain people from dominating. It just requires some thought and an active awareness of dominant behaviour patterns (something worth being aware of anyway).

    I infer from what you say that you think someone or some group should take a leadership role in promoting particular ideas and this is the way to get a positive program. If this is the case then I think our politics are far apart.

    I agree we need a positive program. I would think in terms of organising to help each other take more control of our lives, focusing on everyday issues and ideas that people already understand. This action will lead to more ideas, the ideas to more action and so on. Setting a program from the outset seems weird to me – like you’ve somehow figured out the whole world and how to solve all its problems.

    • May 8, 2011 at 4:18 pm

      I think perhaps you fetishise leadership – it should reflect the atmosphere of the group indefinitely, and be there to crowdsource, then implement, direction. Otherwise you’ve created a directionless mass running itself into the ground. The point really is that leadership is not a one-way road to corruption, and leaderlessness is not devoid of tyranny.

      In the same manner that you say tyranny of leaderlessness is something that happens in insufficiently organised groups, I put it to you that tyrannical leadership is a product of badly organised democracy.

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