How To Fight The System In Your Sleep (Part 2)
Protests that involve taking public spaces haven’t gone away. The tent city strategy implies dissidence and revolution. It’s a symbolic act of taking a public square, allegorical to the military tactic of taking land. And apparently it scares the crap out of the powerful. These citizen occupations showed a lot of success in Tunisia, Yemen, and Egypt in 2011. They changed the American dialogue around the problem of greed in the economy. And in France they mobilized tens-of-thousands of French citizens against pro-business labor laws. They also, however, allow for people who cannot afford shelter to do the equivalent of making ends meet, if the goal were survival instead of being reasonably comfortable.
The Arab Spring, Occupy, and Nuit Debout are three more recent campaigns centered around a large group of people refusing to leave an area of strategic political importance in their countries. The Arab Spring succeeded in toppling several dictatorships in the Middle East and brought attention to the plight of the Arab people throughout the world. It is popularly believed to have started when an Tunisian farmer self-immolated himself with fire in a large Tunisian market as a response to the economic and political struggles of the poor in Middle Eastern countries. Occupy Wall Street began in New York’s financial district when a protest of the financial industry’s greed turned into a months long sleepover in and around Zuccotti Park. The protesters were receiving donations of food and supplies from across the country, marching through the city, perpetrating direct actions against Wall Street, and inspiring imitation protests and Capitals and cities across the country. Nuit Debout took place in France and consisted of masses of people gathering in town squares across the country, through the nights. The participants spent the nights discussing important social issues and dilemmas, strategizing on solutions to their problems, and in some cases, building barricades and fighting the police. Both Occupy and Nuit Debout, in contrast to the actual gains of governmental reform achieved by Arab Spring, succeeded in arousing interest in popular thought in the problems of neoliberalism, class conflict, and social inequality.
The flip-side of the tent city phenomena is partly displayed by the Bonus Army and hasn’t much improved. Capitalism drives great inequality. Some people’s labor is valued highly, some people’s labor is basically uncompensated after their cost-of-living is factored in. People who hold physical capital can ‘make a living’ by simply letting the time pass, people who don’t hold physical capital literally lose money (generally to those with capital), by simply letting time pass. This leads to an impasse where many people cannot afford to live. The tent city is a refuge for these people and though it could be romanticized by a great writer and fool, it is not healthy and it is not safe. Tent cities are spreading throughout the developed world and, much like in refugee camps, the inhabitants’ needs are barely being met.
The tent city holds potential for social change and a new/retro way of community building but it also illustrates a dark side of contemporary society that dehumanizes and attempts to forget any duty to the needs of the poor. Tent cities have popped up around the country. An article from Zero Hedge links to Wikipedia stories for around 30 and in Washington D.C., where I live, there are four small camping communities that I know of under bridges and on the sides of the roads. These people aren’t protesting, they’re homeless and resourceful. They’re living on the streets of America’s Capital City and, when enough dispossessed people are ready to make a stand, I hope that the citizens of the politically charged tent city will include those living in tents by necessity in their victories and machinations.