Space for the occupation

Though the intent of this blog is to focus more on the aesthetics of the built environment than on the politics of place and space, I believe that the current Occupy Wall Street movement provides an opportune topic of discussion to launch this site. Any analysis of place or space inevitably encompasses political issues. So why not examine the potential of a movement whose premise is to reclaim the ideal of democracy by literally staking out a physical position, a symbolic civic space?

I should start by disclosing my skepticism about the ability of any political process to effectively solve social problems. Not only do politicians benefit from aiding the current corporate oligarchy, but they are the custodians of an institution that has an innate tendency to drift away from the will of the people as it becomes more complex. Even if a political system is efficient and fair – and the political system in the US is far from that – politics will never change the world. Only when the masses confront and question the institutions that govern them may some semblance of justice and equity be assured. But in order for people to gain momentum collectively, the challenge that they aim at governing institutions must first be faced individually. Questions about what direction a society should take ultimately begin with the individual – How do I live? Am I really happy with my life? How can I change? Is another way even possible?

I propose that what we need for any kind of meaningful social change to occur are spaces that enable people to live in a way that reflects the kind of society they want to be part of. Social change happens in the private sphere first, and I would argue that the emergence and development of civic spaces depends greatly on what happens in the private domain.

In this regard, OWS holds promise because it is a movement that engages with space and has the potential to question the traditional delineations of space (e.g., private vs. public). The movement has materialized at the right time, but does it occupy the right place? While the movement has arisen on the privately owned grounds of Zuccotti Park in New York City, many of the other regional variations involve the occupation of public spaces such as city halls and public parks. Creating mini governments on public space seems like an interesting social experiment, but occupying private space is the final frontier for the OWS movement. When people start reclaiming the spaces hollowed out by corporate greed – the vacant lots, empty office buildings, and abandoned homes – then we will have truly gained some ground. I suggest starting with domestic spaces and places of employment because these are the areas that have been most affected by the economic crisis. But why stop there?

If the majority believe that healthcare ought to be a human right that is accessible to all citizens, then an occupation of the facilities where care is denied is called for! If the majority believe that we cannot have a functional society based on ignorance, then an occupation of the institutions of education at all levels is called for! If the majority believe that it is outrageous for the elite 1% to evade paying their fair share of taxes, then an occupation of their homes and a seizure of their property are called for!

That the largely peaceful OWS citizens throughout the country are being vacated from public gathering spaces by the police demonstrates the challenges that would be faced should occupiers wish to expand their domain. But these evictions she also be regarded as an impetus for the movement to focus on other kinds of spaces. Law enforcement can’t be everywhere, while the 99% are already everywhere. The wonderful thing about OWS is that you can participate right where you are. You can pitch your tent anywhere. Even if your tent is confiscated, someone else will pitch their tent over there, and someone else will follow in another location, and so on. Eventually the system will be overwhelmed by the persistence of the people.

Here in Silicon Valley whole buildings are available, complete with signs that announce their availability. These are the signs of the times and I believe we should take our cue from them:

So I call on the 99% of us to broaden our view of appropriate places for protest, and to make more space for the occupation in whatever way we can.

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