Monday, November 21, 2011

Class struggle is symbolized in spatial struggle

Josh Marshall at TPM is concerned that the highly visible confrontations with the police (pepper spray at UC Davis being only the most recent) shifts the conversation, the meme, away from income inequality and economic corruption. But I think these struggles over physical space help us symbolize the more abstract features of our current problems.

Admittedly, the confrontations with the police shift the immediate focus of Occcupy protests away from income inequality and banking corruption. Personally, I'm pleased to see such nonviolent courage and the attention it's receiving. But the shifting meme might only be tangential, rather than a replacement of the original issue. These events are shocking and getting some coverage because they reveal the mostly obscured paramilitarization of the police and the arrogance of post-9/11 authority. But I would argue that the confrontations also expose the seams of inequity in the struggle over public space. With increasing inequity comes shrinking access to public space, and I think being able to occupy physical space has been an issue in most social and political movements. Controlling institutional space, on campuses and in cities, coincides with many other kinds of authority, including the ability to defraud the general population through unfair loans, corrupt trading, and manipulated elections. Even in an age of increasing virtuality, physical space can still figuratively and literally play out the drama of class struggle, for want of a better term, and these symbolic struggles enable us to give meaning to, or symbolize, the more abstract and shadowy inequities that are reshaping and determining the political process. The very fact that there has been a number of authoritarian responses suggests that the 1%, the oligarchy, whatever you want to call it, is invested in the symbolism of control over physical public space as much as the brilliant tactics of the Occupiers are so far.

In short, we all need ways of symbolizing difficult and abstract economic and political inequities, and the struggle over public space may be a way of articulating what's gone so wrong in our political and economic institutions.

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