THE POLITICAL ONTOLOGY OF DIS-ORDER
space-creation, movements and bodies
a political ethnography of OWS
An inevitable element of Architecture
The necessity for order. The regulating line is a guarantee
against willfulness. It brings satisfaction to the understanding.
The regulating line is a means to an end; it is not a recipe.
Its choice and the modalities of expression given to it are an
integral part of architectural creation.
One of the fundamental tasks of the State is to striate the space over which it reigns, or to utilize smooth spaces as means of communication in service of striated space.
It is a vital concern of every State not only to vanquish nomadism but to control migrations, and, more generally,
to establish a zone of rights over an entire “exterior,” over all of the flows traversing the ecumenon.
A TREATISE ON WRITING:
In writing I attempt to find resonances between themes within the fields of politics, philosophy, social choreography, and geography.
The reader should sit with each theme—unpack each impression, each aphorism.
We don’t think with precise logos, with structured and ordered thought. We think rhizomatically—linking themes that don’t obviously connect except by lines-of-flight. We create connective-tissue only after the fact.
My endeavors to write are therefore connected to this: the brain is a rhizomatic network of seemingly unhinged thoughts and bodily behavior.
Thus, writing needn’t be read linearly. It can be read in-parallel motions, out of order, looking for abstract interconnections.
In my thesis I write against the order of things: the police and cartographic forces that order bodies and space. I desire to reflect this impulse in my form as a thinker and writer. I am trying to find the resonances between projects in politics, philosophy,
and geography, and therefore I can only justly place in-parallel my findings. Linearizing it would be undermining the strength in the smoothness of thought.
Politics is dis-order.
The American Empire is on the decline.
Politics is radically excluded.
Occupy Wall Street (OWS) is a singularity among a multiplicity of alternatives that embody political, economic, philosophical, and topological critiques of neoliberalism. The value of examining OWS is to explore its political ontology: what structures it has and what formal human relations it troubles in its radical openness and indeterminacy.
The stakes are incredibly high for today’s political movements: late-stage Capitalism has dismantled the world economic-political structure in irreparable ways, rising threats of a major ecological crisis loom, and neoliberal State apparati have instituted the most repressive restrictions on civil rights, employing unchecked police-force that increasingly has the power to reduce rights-bearing citizens to homo sacer, to bare life.
However, the American Empire is on the decline.
Neoliberalism hides less and less every day.
While a long genealogy of social movements exists, OWS is unique within the contemporary American context. OWS focuses on space in a way that expands the very concept to include not just physical space, but also political space, economic space, psychogeographic space, safe(r) space, and idea space, etc. OWS is responsible for a broad breaking-down of privatized, commodified and regimented territories—by liberating both physical and ideological space. This deterritorializing force, coupled with a radical political framework, allows OWS to entirely reconstruct the valuation of life, the ways that bodies interact, the way movement(s) occur(s) in space, the etho-politio-economic relations, and the essence of how being-in-common occurs.
This paper sets out to trace the restrictive police-force that orders/organizes bodies and keeps private space private in Zuccotti (fences/ barricades/ walls), and see these forces in contrast to the opening/ dis-order/ indeterminacy of OWS. The freedom of movement in space makes the ‘commons’ happen, and is an incredibly rare event—a clear example of ‘politics’ in the contemporary US.
OWS reminds us of what is at stake when we speak of politics, socially and ontologically—our fundamental understanding of humanness.
* * *
On September 17th, 2011, a rag-tag collection of approximately 2000 bodies assembled in then-named, “Zuccotti Park,” located in New York City’s Financial District. Protesters hammered through a week-long process of learning how to use consensus for collective decision-making and how to occupy space. Within days Zuccotti Park transformed into Liberty Square, harmonizing with, but not re-creating that Spring’s protests in Tahrir Square, Cairo, and allowing for a radical resignification, redefinition and reenchantment of space.
It was by this point that Occupy Wall Street (OWS) had truly begun. Many of the New York Occupiers focused their attention to space: to redefining and reclaiming public space.
Drawing upon the theories of Gilles Deleuze, Erin Manning, Jacques Rancière, Jean Luc-Nancy and many others enables us to explore in depth the political and ontological impact of the creation of space that has destratified and deterritorialized by the unmeasurable shifting of movement-through.
It is deeply generative to understand OWS’s political ontology, its essential political qualities. OWS’s political ontology thus is located in its radical indeterminacy—its essential and political openness to be moved, to be creative and creative in-relation, and to allow for singular sharing (out) to occur as part of a larger network of bodies and desire. All of these formulations oppose OWS with the State and police-force.
OWS exists in limbo. OWS is not reactive to the existing legislative structure, and instead, creates a new political project that links public space to a critique of Capitalism and the State in such a complex way that leaves OWS in a period of becoming. This powerful unifying essence is its very indeterminacy: the fact that anyone can interpret what OWS is, can have their own OWS, and can share (out) within it. Radically linearized spacio-socially are the forces of the State: hard-borders, territories, and hierarchies. This linearity is space-restrictive—commons-destructive—apolitical. Therefore, in opposition to OWS is becoming-solidified, becoming-recognizable.
A key threat that looms over OWS is stratification. Understood by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus, “The function of deterritorialization is the movement by which “one” leaves the territory”
Deterritorialization is the movement that cuts through territory, that breaks down existing urban spaces and relations. It destratifies borders, destabilizes hierarchy and, dis-organizes order. Deterritorialization is space-creative—allowing for the birth of new ideas, new worlds, new politics. OWS is exactly this deterritorializing force required to challenge the logic of police-force and Late-Capitalism.
OWS’s operations have greatly re-organized the Political Community’s relationship to public and private space. Those occupiers have psychogeographically and semiotically transformed space from Liberty Square to Zuccotti Park. Functions such as police-force and barricades hierarchize and limit movement, whereas the more open-ended and multitudinous political-movements of a full time occupation, with tents and stands, all change and morph space and its use. All of these factors: bodies, geography, and space all change in relation with one-another and are highly interconnected.
Crucial in OWS is the expression of radical excess: excess to Capitalism’s restrictive organization and efficient flows. Excessive is the creative potentiality channeled toward multiple ends: art, economy, and most essentiality, to a new political-being—a new horizontality—a new democracy of consensus. It is here that this ideological rhizome grows, into small farming communities and megacities that would otherwise not have General Assemblies or occupied space.
Political and ethical life explored by radicals, of which OWS is one network, troubles the very essence of what it means to be human. According to Jean-Luc Nancy, what is essential to true political and ethical life is adherence to being-in-common, the project of recognizing the fundamental similarities that occur in human life. This project requires an understanding of sharing (out)—the space for us to all express our ideas and beliefs. We find in OWS congruence—the many becoming one.
Capital’s axiom is all encompassing: the axiom of Capital is the force that dominates all forms: all ‘so-called politics,’ advertising, ideology, human-rights projects, etc. These forms all subversively, invisibly, and roguishly contribute to nothing else but the end of goal of Capitalism, toward promoting the expansion of consumption.
The stakes of today’s social paradigm are that EVERYTHING IS IN PLACE TO EXCLUDE POLITICS: from the desiring-producing machines that interpellate us as good consumers, to the police-force that keeps a society moving morally, to the machinations of biopower that keep us voting and producing, and finally, to the mediated spectacles that distract us from whats real—from what’s politics.
The Neoliberal paradigm is the most subversive force in history. Capitalisms axiom literally has no limit, is it itself a limit, the limit. All concepts and ways of being are coextensive with Capitalism—live within it. Police-force is in place to smother the threat of politics, which is the only true threat to Capitalism: the threat that keeps Western ideology out of religious Muslim States (for example): values—living-in-adherence—prefigurative politics.The stakes of re-claiming public space—reclaiming the commons, are massive. To create space outside of the all-encompassing axiom of Capital is to create politics.
In some senses, OWS began on Sept. 17th 2011. What began as a public-private park in lower Manhattan has gained an entirely new topology—a new organization with a new set of functions. OWS began as a tentative occupation of a ‘privately owned public space’ in NYC’s Financial District.
Over the course of 2 short weeks, OWS had completely transformed from a tentative encampment to a full-time occupation, with a major dining-operation, at least twenty working groups, each with daily meetings and info-boards/tables, and eventually tents. The occupiers of Liberty Square resignified space, transforming the park into a highly politicized zone, becoming a hub and model for the other occupations that would begin that Fall.
In some sense, OWS began long before September 17th. In July 2011, a call was put out by the activist-oriented magazine Adbusters to occupy Wall Street, an action that would symbolically attack Finance Capitalisms’s stranglehold on global resources and that would resonate with the other recent anti-State and anti-Capitalist protests around the globe.
My participation in OWS goes back to September 17th, where I attended the first OWS GA as a skeptical-yet-intellectually-radical grad student—ready to camp for the first few days, but unsure as to what I was participating in and its efficacy. I quickly learned what it takes to be an activist: I started to understand consensus processes and gained organizing skills. I helped to set up the Direct Action Working Group, which facilitates marches, events, and foster OWS’s more tactically radical protesters.
Around the same time I was beaten by the NYPD and arrested on several occasions for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or, more accurately, for even considering to express my beliefs—for trying to find consistency between my acts and thoughts, which galvanized my (and many others’) radical stance against the NYPD and other forces of order and oppression. We were looking to live ethics.
In actuality OWS’s roots are even deeper, drawing upon an entire genealogy of radical grassroots movement-building, anarchist-(de)-organizing, and NYC’s history of squatting, housing rights—which all mark moments of politics that deal with habitations and habitualizations of space. The Occupy Movement gains much of its structure from recent global protests of power, all of which revolve around the issue of space. From the radical Indignados Movement, where the ongoing protests of banks and the government turned many Spanish cities into semi-permanent protest encampments, to similar tent cities in Israel, to more militant reclamations of public space occurring in the Arab Spring (such as Tahrir Square), space has become the central question: the very political ontology of these movements.
Possibly the most significant moment in OWS’s history since its genesis is the eviction of Zuccotti Park by the NYPD on November 15th, “#N15.” Two days before the two-month anniversary, a national sting-operation aimed at ending the Occupy Movement, facilitated by the Department of Homeland Security, marked the end of the physical occupation of space in most cities across the US. No more tents, no more full time occupiers. Well before the eviction, the movement had already begun drift into squats, apartments, and off-site meetings, which was furthered by the events of #N15. Occasional large events still fill Liberty Square, but it now stands as a largely symbolic space—actual work of OWS occurs whether or not there is a a full-time physical site.
What we understand from the Occupy Movement is that the use and conceptualization of space is a both a political and philosophical question. Mass movements of the politically and economically disenfranchised are motivated by feelings of a lack of resources and a lack of access to the political stage.
People often feel like ‘their voice isn’t heard’ in politics, which is to say that the highly oppressive political structures haven’t yet recognized these people as speech-bearing, logos-wielding individuals.
History is witness to the fact that rioting, looting, and property destruction are not meaningless violent outbursts, but totally legitimized forms of resisting oppression and expressing a politics.
S1. PRIVATELY OWNED PUBLIC SPACE
Zuccotti Park is officially considered a “privately owned public space,” (POPS) which is a zoning code with a particularly troubling valence. According to the NYC Department of City Planning:
A Privately Owned Public Space (POPS) is an amenity provided, constructed and maintained by a property owner/developer for public use in exchange for additional floor area. The 1961 Zoning Resolution inaugurated the incentive zoning program in New York City. The program encouraged private developers to provide spaces for the public within or outside their buildings by allowing them greater density in certain high-density districts.
Springing up to help abet corporations at risk of being fined for constructing in excess to legal-agreements, POPS become legal grey-zones without considerable past-casework, and put the legality of OWS’s encampment of Zuccotti Park in limbo. At least two questions remain: does Brookfield Properties, the owners of Zuccotti Park, get to decide whether occupiers should be kicked out, and, if so, when and how? And, what legal ground does the NYPD have to evacuate a POPS?
There is extreme performative-force behind calling Zuccotti a ‘privately owned public space.’ What a POPS signifies is that public space can now be taken over by private business, by private interests, allowing businesses to create and enforce any regulation they desire. Most significantly, since a POPS is still a public space—a space for the people—for demos, this public can be denied access to space at the drop of the hat. The demos includes the masses, the homeless, the disabled, the poor—the people for whom there is nothing else except the commons. When the commons is restricted, which is increasingly the case in NYC, the poorest, most marginalized, and most nomadic of the masses are dis-placed. This happens all too much in POPS, and the eviction(s) of Zuccotti Park is just one example.
The performativity of a POPS is thus dependent on legal weight—discursive weight. A POPS’ violent discursive force actualizes the privatization of space. A ‘privately owned public space’ is, in fact, not unique to NYC, but emblematic of the very conditions of Late-stage Capitalism. The commons, as public space, is the space where politics occurs—the space where movement is free to move itself is privatized, striated, commodified, ordered and oriented towards Capitalist ends. Privately owned public space is space that has been reterritorialized—taken from the demos, the people. In place of the people, only the police remain, restrict movement, manage bodies. Police-force operates in private space to squelch politics. Thus the commons is lost when public space becomes privatized.
S2. THE EXCEPTIONALITY OF THE NYPD
Thinking of the political stakes of OWS is enhanced by a historically and juridically-minded perspective. Turning to Giorgio Agamben’s theorizations of Sovereignty and the State helps to digest the ways that legal and juridical slippages produce a State of Exception (SoE), and how that reflects the exceptionality of the power of the NYPD. According to Agamben in State of Exception, a SoE:
Constitutes a ‘point of imbalance between public law and political fact…the State of exception tends increasingly to appear as the dominant paradigm of government in contemporary politics. The State of exception is not a special kind of law (like the law of war); rather, insofar as it is a suspension of juridical order itself, it defines law’s threshold or limit concept.
SoEs are moments of slippage between law, legal protections of individuals, and the political facts of life. Force doesn’t always correspond to law, certain bodies are removed of their citizen status. This slippage is violent: the force of law becomes the force over life: biopower. A SoE is apolitical: it dissolves civic and political institutions. Agamben hauntingly uncovers how sovereign power is unchecked by legal restraint. Outside of law are those conditions that mark the current US apolitical military State climate and echo the USA Patriot Act—the stripping of civil rights. The unchecked use of the notion of a War on Terror has enabled and amplified Ex-president George Bush’s roguish exceptionalities of power at home and abroad. The US’s SoE has enabled entirely unfounded modes of warfare and has erased the legal status of the individual.
SoE defines NYC’s current police State: the NYPD exists in an exceptional position, almost entirely invulnerable to meaningful scrutiny and checks of power. Within the NYPD there is fierce repression of dissidence and a heavy emphasis on loyalty. Besides media spectacle, the only significant check on police power are class-action lawsuits, which are very slow, and complaints against individual officers, which, like a court martial, almost always are reviewed by a board of the officer’s peers: other police officers, who are very unlikely to strip a friend of his or her job. Through the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, the NYPD is now legally-protected in detaining US Citizens indefinitely without a warrant. If martial law implies the reduction or negation of legal frameworks that entangle martial force, then NYC has been in Martial Law at least since 9/11/2001.
OWS’s political structure is formally anarchic, horizontal/diagonal, rhizomatic, and employs consensus-based direct-democratic practices to come to collective decisions.
Decentralized networks of bodies, political-organisms, and social collaboration shape the way that individuals and the collective, singularities and the multiplicity interact. This rhizomatic network extends out to other organs that preexist OWS, like Labor Unions, (Im)migrant groups, homeless organizations, etc—this structure allows for a fair amount of autonomy.
S4: RADICAL LIFE / SHARING (OUT) / BEING-IN-COMMON
OWS sustains and is sustained by radical life: squatting, dumpster-diving, freeganism, community-gardens, permaculture, and mutual aid. These practices promote a sense of “Dual Power.” As a model, Dual Power suggests that while the goal of anarchist organizing is to block the flows of Capital and to tear down the State, that what also needs to be proven is that viable alternatives to Capitalism and the State exist within networks of people, within a group willing to be radically accountable of the resources they produce and consume, to take care of each-other, and to share ideas and life in the commons.
Jean-Luc Nancy’s ideas of “Being-in-Common” and “Sharing (Out)” elucidate the philosophical depth of an experience of extreme congruence, communal life, and inclusivity that OWS and other radical social organizations attempt to adhere to. To start, we should see ‘being-in-common’ suggesting an understanding of life that is shared and experienced by all. Far more experientially rich than a Marxist/ Statist idea of Communism, being-in-common relates to an ontological position—a way of being fundamental to humans. Nancy says in his essay on “The Compearance,”
We compear: we come together (in)to the world. It is not that there is a simultaneous arrival of several distinct units…but that there is not a coming (in)to the world that is not radically common; it is even the “common” itself. To come into the world is to be-in-common.
What is shared is our common co-existence. The most fundamental condition of life is common-experience. Nancy wants to avoid seeing common as banal, but instead as the one saving grace of humanity. Communism isn’t a political option, but an ‘ontological condition,’ one that understands that ‘being’—the essence and experience of humanness—is in common.
Many political philosophers argue that politics isn’t located in voting: in our form of democracy. Following this logic, Nancy thinks that the political can only be reached by understanding how it could exist outside the State and within community, and within the commons.
OWS is able to channel this sense of being-in-common through its inclusivity and open structure. The notion of in-common is exceptional for the people of NYC, who so often avoid their very ontological condition—who, on the train, ignore each-other and try to sustain their (seemingly) rock-hard interiorities. This makes New Yorkers less likely to take care of one another and share space. Again, OWS activates the political by exploring new commonness and by forcing humans to recognize their ontological position of being-in-common.
Also fruitful for our conceptualization of OWS is Nancy’s notion of sharing (out):
The share of what is without value—the share of the sharing (out) of the incalculable, which is thus, strictly speaking, unshareable—exceeds politics. The element in which the incalculable can be shared (out) goes by the name of love, friendship, or thought, knowledge or emotion, but not politics—in any case, not democratic politics… It is precisely the expectation of a political sharing (out) of the incalculable that leads to disappointment with democracy.
What we can garner from Nancy is that in a democracy too much onus is placed on whether we all experience an equal share (of goods/ideas). Hatred for democracy stems from never being able to take what one wants or give what one has, but instead having to arithmetically divide-up goods and ideology. Nancy seeks a State that has a separate place for politics (organization) and for public/ ideological sharing (out). Sharing (out) is incalculable, qualitative, unmeasurable by arithmetic, and relative to individuals. What’s shared out has no absolute value and can only be experienced on an individual level. Politics should respect this separate place for sharing (out).
OWS is a site where an incredible amount of sharing (out) is experienced. Different than a town gall meeting, a General Assembly (GA) in OWS, at least in theory, is not run by individuals who have hierarchical authority over the attendees. A GA is more open, and allows each member to create topics of conversation and to vote. A GA is designed to allow every individual to share (out) their ideas and sense for where the movement is heading, and what kinds of proposals would help the occupation along. In the park space was created for autonomous and group religious-practice, drug-use, performances, teach-ins, workshops and rituals—further ways that (a group of) individuals can share (out) what is excessive-to-politics—values—into the collective.
S5: RANCIÈRE POLITICS AND POLICE-FORCE
Jacques Rancière’s complicated theorization of the relationship between politics and police-force helps us to place these two occurrences in juxtaposition. For Rancière, politics occurs, “Because, or when, the natural order of the shepard kings, the warlords, or property owners is interrupted by a freedom that crosses up and makes real the ultimate equality on which any social order rests.”
Politics is a rare event we see in the moments that break from order, from law, and from ownership. Politics returns to the ideological premise of democracy/ the State—a measure of incalculable and (in)equality, or space—just like that which Nancy speaks of.
Rancière defines the police as, “Essentially, the law, generally implicitly, that defines a parties share or lack of it….the police is thus first an order of bodies that defines the allocation of ways of doing, ways of being, and ways of saying.”
Police is the ordering force. Rancière uses police in a way that underlines to understand a larger juridico-logical practice that State apparati deploy to restrict, manage, and manipulate bodies, and to control movement (social and individual). He positions police-force against politics. Again, politics is:
Whatever breaks with the tangible configuration whereby parties and parts or lack of them are defined by a presupposition that, by definition, has no place in that configuration. Political activity is whatever shifts a body from the place assigned to it or changes a places’ destination…political activity is always a mode of expression that undoes the perceptible divisions of police order.
Politics is the break from rigid order, from rigid organization of bodies and parts. Political activity changes relations between populations, movement, and space—politics opens space.
Since the event that triggered total sovereign exceptionality, 9/11, NYC has been completely dominated by a space-restrictive, rigid police-force, touting anti-terrorist rhetoric and wielding exceptionality from power, this police-ordering keeps NYC’s flows of Capital un-breached. OWS radically opens up politics by tearing open new space(s), redistributing the sensible, impeding flows in the street, and challenging the hard logics which restrict public (use of) space. OWS challenges the privatization of space on an onto-political level.
Understanding Deleuzian concepts like the rhizome, deterritorialization and reterritorialization is crucial to shaping a rich, ontological notion of how politics and movement oppose, configure, and are re-configured police order and State.
To begin, the rhizome, is a complex relation of forces, bodies, ideas, language, and time. With interlocutor Felix Guattari, in A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze suggests that, “The rhizome itself assumes very diverse forms…Any point of a rhizome can be connected to any other thing, and must be.”
A rhizome is a series of interconnected parts with no particular proscribed form.
Understood rhizomatically, OWS becomes a network of bodies, organizations, and political-economic forces that challenges hierarchical and arboresque organization. Its parts operate with a high amount of autonomy; however, they contain some abstract, but crucial lines of orientation. OWS draws together a rhizome of rhizomes—an actual rhizome in Liberty Square, a virtual rhizome of ideas, of internet interconnectedness, and the many Occupy Movement rhizomes that populate the whole world.
Deterritorialization is the movement away from structure, logic, situated social codes, and striation. Reterritorialization is the process that reinscribes these structures—it stratifies, solidifies, and returns-from-chaos the unhinging movement of deterritorialization. These two processes cannot be understood, nor do they take place, without each-other.
Furthering a complex analysis notion of the political are the war machine and the State apparatus, which can be understood as operating by way of the dual processes of deterritorialization and reterritorialization. For Deleuze and Guattari, the forces of the State and law are the forces of empires, structure, clear identify, defined borders and territories. The war machine assembles a nomadic band external to the State apparatus’s territory and law.
The forces of nomadism, of the war machine, and of deterritorialization are always politicized—operating outside of the State by traversing borders, breaking laws, and also by undermining the very meaning that holds up State’s territory and law. It is here we can locate OWS’s politics, as outside of politics-at-large, but in the moments that break with order. The State and law are forces that attempt to reterritorialize this lost ground— this lost sense. OWS is war-machine—a nomadic band that fights rigidity, order, political-economic logics, the State, and police-force. A key goal of OWS is to remain non-vertical, non-arboresque, but instead open and horizontal.
(((In the following section, we will examine more thoroughly how Deleuze and Guattari’s concepts of de/reterritorialization, war-machine, and striation/ smooth space enrich a political analysis of OWS and the NYPD)))
S7: OWS POLITICALLY + ONTOLOGICALLY OPPOSED NYPD
To think how OWS deterritorializes and reterritorializes is to think of its very political ontology. The destratification, desegmentation, and smoothing of rigid logics destabilizes the way we consider politics in the world. No longer are we supposed to find empowerment in participating in representative democracy—no longer are we accountable to participate in that system. What most mass-protests elucidate is that politics happens in the street. What happens in the street is discursive—when the means to other politically efficacious action is cut off, riots become discourse.
OWS is deterritorialized, but also reterritorialized—what occurs when occupations and GAs are set up in towns across the US is the establishment of a new mode of political organization. By formulating something concrete, like a direct democracy, occupations are no longer indeterminate, in-becoming, but become solid political structures.
Capitalism is deterritorialized by OWS. Those participants of radical life become examples of the ways that economic noncompliance works: squatting, dumpster diving, food-autonomy, growing food
, and not having a (wage slave) job are some examples of how Capitalism is deterritorialized by radical life. Some structures, such as mutual aid, are built uponthe premise of “Dual Pow
reterritorialized an anti-Capitalist economic formation.er,” which is to say that anarchist organizing shouldn’t just attempt to ‘smash the State’ and ‘end Capitalism,’ but also offer positive and horizontal rhizomatic-networks of aid: free stores, soup kitchens and organizations like Food not Bombs are examples of existing nodes of mutual-aid. These examples are more-or-less structural, and have therefore
OWS is very much opposed to the formulations of police-force: riot squads and barricades are some of the forces that OWS resists most, both structurally and ontologically. On the other hand, non-permitted marches that move into the street at will, flash mobs, creative actions, black-bloc tactics, and riots all are blockages to the flows of Capital and communication.Deterritorialized are laws—the need to have regimented and oppressive legal-juridical frameworks is called into question. The arrest of 600 marchers on the Brooklyn Bridge, with is massive-global-media-event reverberation, has clogged the jails, the courts, and makes the entire police-legal infrastructure look outmoded, unproductive, and abusive.
Returning to Rancière, we are able to see these moments of urban resistance, of destratification and deterritorialization as the
moments of politics—the real break from State orderings. Political, not because it is reactive-against electoral politics, but political in its open, creative, indetermination—the highest fear of police-force is indeterminacy, open-structures, and potentiality. The fear is thus that the forces of the State apparatuses: police, law, media, and elections might reterritorialize ground won (deterritorialized) by OWS. Allowing OWS to become-party is among the most damning reformist and reterritorializing prospects. Reterritorialization also occurs by way of microfascisms, small forces of order that attempt to destroy potentiality within OWS. Leaders popping up in a “leaderless revolution” would become (or perhaps is already) a site of lost indeterminacy.
Sovereignty itself becomes deterritorialized by radical movements. Deterritorialized is not simply sovereign power, but the very legitimacy and necessity of vertical sovereignty—arboresque relations of knowledge and power. What we see with OWS, therefore, is that positive organization (the good kind of re-organization/reterritorialization) can exist within the negative spaces deterritorialization carves out: political-space, economic-space, idea-space, etc. Space-from—liberty is needed first to allow for the space-to-be-creative: of commons, of new political-economic formulations, and new political ontologies.
(((Later in this paper we will address later the various ways in which spaces are specifically opened up by OWS, showing how forces of deterritorialization are space-creative forces, that reconfigure ways that bodies are assembled, and therefore, how they resist statist bodily habituations and manipulation via biopower.)))
Understanding movement is key to understanding how social-movements like OWS operate, how bodies and space are (co)created, and what a politics-in-becoming looks like. According to Deleuze, movements are creative—they constitute the moments of pure becoming, of pure change, and rarely occur. Deleuze draws his notion of movement from Henri Bergson who understands it to be an experience of time-space that is qualitative and immeasurable. Here movement already aligns it with the indeterminate nature of OWS, that opens space, that is space-creative.
S8. MANNING, RELATIONALITY, POLITICS OF BECOMING
Deleuzian theorist Erin Manning, in her recent text Relationscapes, helps us to understand the deeper political resonances between movement and the space it creates. Manning says, “The dynamic form of a movement is its incipient potentiality,” arguing that movement is always in-becoming, assembling the not-yet—potentiality.
Becoming occurs only in-relation—(re)constitutive of the more-than-one that is a body. Relational movement implies that there are always at least two bodies (including humans, space, etc.). About the ontology and force of movement, Manning continues:
Movement is one with the world, not body/world, but body-worlding. We move not to populate space, not to extend it or to embody it, but to create it…space is a duration with a difference. The difference is my body-worlding, always more than one…This coming-together proposes a combination of form forces.
Manning understands how movement creates the world, always as a relation between bodies and world/space. This creation is conditioned by objects that are in-becoming. Movement is a measure of whats unmeasurable, only qualifiable, and exists as a coming-together or congruence. Space is created in this relationality.
Can’t we see space as literally and metaphorically reconstituted, as always in-becoming? The potential of movement to create space can also be linked to OWS, which exists as a set of relations of bodies. Individual desires, collective strategies, spatial-topological sites and virtual arenas all change in relation to one another. This kind of movement can’t be mapped.
There are many OWSs. Each is world-creative for an individual-group, tying into Manning’s theory of concrescence, which is, “Literally, growing together… concrescence can be a political moment: the interval we are dancing is always more than the qualified ‘we.”
Acknowledgment of concrescence, of the many-becoming-one, requires an openness to destabilization that is ontologically-political. Like being-in-common, embracing concrescence forces us to remain radically open to otherness. OWS is a multitude of voices united not under a common goal, but under common orientations, under an ability and readiness to be-in-common—to be moved in relation.
Manning then directly acknowledges the political nature of movements:
When articulation becomes collective, a politics is made palpable whereby what is produced is the potential for divergent series of movements. This is a virtual politics, a politics of the not-yet. These are not politics of the body, but of the many becoming one…These are politics of that many-bodied State of transition that is the collective.
The very nature of politics, according to Manning and Deleuze, is its capacity to move, to be creative of spaces, to be open and indeterminate. The only real potentially to have a politics that opposes the State and police-force is by way of movement, of prefigurative politics, politics of becoming. This politics is world-creative, it sets new rules by which life is valued and action is judged. OWS again operates as a collective articulation that exists, and can only exist, as a multiplicity of sharing-outs of politics and ideas—a multiplicity of spaces, and a multiplicity of politics prefigured: ethics and radical life.
S9. POLITICAL MOVEMENT(S)
How can we think of the movement of political movements? How does the cutting-through/ recombination relate to movement-in-space?
Political movement is thus micropolitical. What concerns micropolitics are the becoming-becomings, sites of deterritorialization, moments of preacceleration…
Political movement creates space. Space is created by new relationalities, new gestures, concrescence of bodies—political excesses expand the political space
CONCLUSION OF MVMNT SECTION:
Movement is creative. Movement is becoming space-time—reordering particles, bodies, actants, and relationality in an experience of space-time. Political movement is creative of spaces with political ontological formulations. Movement is creative just like “real” Politics, the kind that political philosophers have been attempting to define for eons. Rancière comes close in understanding the political to be the breaks in ordering of society. Politics is outside of representative politics. It’s that which radicalizes and redefines our notion of what politics is. True politics is space-creative.
S10. STRIATION, SMOOTHNESS, POLICE
Space-creation is crucial to prefigurative political projects that aim to incorporate radical politics into a life, into an ethics. Useful to help locate these micropolitical fights are Deleuze and Guattari’s theorizations of space in A Thousand Plateaus, which view striation and smoothness as onto-political metaphors. About space, they argue:
One of the fundamental tasks of the State is to striate the space over which it reigns, or to utilize smooth spaces as means of communication in service of striated space. If it can help it, the State does not dissociate itself from a process of capture of flows of all kinds, populations, commodities, or commerce, money or Capital, etc… That is why Paul Virilio’s thesis is important, when he shows that, ‘the political power of the State is polis, police, that is, management of the public ways,” and that “the gates of the city, its levies and duties are barriers, filters against the fluidity of masses, against the penetration power of migratory packs,” people, animals and goods…in this sense, the State never ceases to decompose, recompose, and transform.
Space becomes striated, codified, and linearized by the State. Lost are moments of pure smoothness: trans-boarder-migrations, nomadism, etc. Instead, the State limits smooth flows of movement to regulate the functions of efficient flow of Capital, which requires a system of categorization, relativity, and certain restrictions to be a system of exchange. Drawing in Virilio, Deleuze and Guattari show how the polis, the police-force is the force of management, of ordering space, bodies, and distributing the sensible. Fluidity and movement are thus juxtaposed against the polis. The polis is map-creative and world-creative.
THERE IS NO MORE STRIATED SPACE THAN THAT OF THE BARRICADED OCCUPATION, THE KETTLED-GROUP, or any other form of police-force. Police-force is what keeps space ordered and regimented, which defines the regime of visibility, that establishes logos.
A list of tactics employed by OWS is a choreography of protests:
Riot: A tactic used while protesting. Technically, a riot can be anything from a mobile dance party to full on mass-looting. Rioting is the type of bodily behavior that makes wildly inefficient the smooth flows of Capital. Rioting is life-affirming, wherein intensive affect becomes extended into the world around it. Riots usually begin by moving marches into the streets, blocking vehicular traffic, throwing objects into the streets/ at cops, breaking windows… For those who are politically disenfranchised, rioting is political expression—it is discourse.
Blockade: A specific riot tactic, blockading includes creations of barriers that prohibit civilian traffic and police from moving or catching up to a protest—creating blocks in Capital’s flow. This practice includes the removal of any objects, such as trash-cans, mail boxes, signs, construction material—followed by the balletic swirling of protesters’s bodies—an urban dance of wits—before they launch any and all objects into the streets, in front of a garage, or any other important site to blockade.Extensive affective re-locations of order in space.
Removing Barricades: The final tactic to be described here is the removal of the harsh, metal police barricades used to imprison and trap bodies on marches or in Zuccotti Park. Creators of anxiety, dread, alienation, and other negative psychogeographic affects, barricades are what order and segregate bodies and movement. Removal of said barricades is a highly dramatic gesture that liberates a space, is space-creative—world-creative.
Rioting, removing barricades, and blockading are viewed as purely impulsive. While the incredible rush in-the-moment exists, movements like blockading are tactically essential behaviors that require considerable foresight and accountably. These mechanisms are creative of new space—are empowering and highly political gestures of destratifying dis-order.
If Rancièrian politics is that stuff which breaks from police order, from the common distribution of the sensible, then it is the breaking-down of striations of space, territorializations, borders, and organization that combats, politically and ontologically, the polis. Movement, the simultaneous breaking-down and creation of space—deterritorialization and reterritorialization—is the force that disrupts the otherwise endless juridco-legal-political monopoly of violence employed by the State, and by extension the NYPD. The violence of subtraction from society becomes a well-needed injection of ethics and values into the political.
Movement, creation-of-space, is a radical political act, an effort of ontological proportions that express and change the very nature of humanness. This kind of movement cannot be mapped, or prefigured. It occurs in real life, in accordance to the actual patterns of bodies (the practices of everyday life,) and does not appear in an abstract idealized notion of geography, cartography, or choreography.
OWS channels an excessive quality of movement—excessive of space—it fills (filled) and overflows Zuccotti Park. Protesters are forced to flow into the streets during marches and break through police lines and barricades. This breaking-through is a line of deterritorialization that occurs between protester bodies and police space. Traversing dis-order allows for a re-organization and reterritorialization of space. Physical space (park), economic space (black markets and free-stores), political space (GA’s and direct democracy), and discursive space (new writings and new concepts) are only some of the spaces opened up and overlaid and overdetermined by OWS. This excess extends to the excess of ideas, desires, intentions, and overdetermination. Here we witness the radical concrescence of bodies, the coming-together of the too-many: compearance and radical willingness to be shared (out)-with.
EXCESS IS POLITICAL—political because it is movement—excess is what breaks through police order, what breaks-through territorialization, set and defined notions/uses of space. Being is in excess. Excess is politically and ontologically opposed to order. This excess is best understood by an ethnographic account:
POLITICAL MOMENT IN STREET
One of the first concrete feelings of the political I attempt to engage in this paper I experienced on a night march on 3/17/2012, on OWS’s six-month anniversary, which was celebrated by an attempt to re-occupy Zuccotti Park. All day the park was full of bodies, tents, and holdovers from the occupation like the Medic Station. By 10PM, hundreds of police in riot-gear loomed at the entrances of the park, like stormtroopers. Then they flooded in, beating and arresting as many people as possible. Some Direct Action folks, myself included, had organized a rowdy night march to take the occupiers to a new park: Union Square, in an attempt to learn from the successful re-occupation attempts that flexibility is essential.
By the middle of March, our night marches had become tactically successful. We had been practicing de-arrests, confusing the police and quickly blockading the street with trash-cans.
On 3/17, many of us wearing masks, “Blocked Up,” so the march could turn more riotous without there being clear evidence against a single protester. A bourgeoise boutique in SoHo had its window broken, which, along with battle cries of “A, Anti, Anti-Capitalista,” proved to be incredibly inspiring for the protesters. For hours we took the streets, snaked-around one-way blocks, had the police running, and blockaded the streets with everything we could find at every turn.
The moment that sticks out as the radical break—the opening up of space—of politics took place for no longer than a minute, and yet, any performer can tell you that a minute in real-time is a long time. Hastily cutting across two-lane traffic and turning up a block in the direction-of-traffic entirely demobilized the police, leaving their usually highly effective bike-motorcades immobilized. What this, along with a few arrests, bought us was time. The 5-6 blockaders turned into 40-50: people who had never participated in direct action, who were assuredly against violence, understood the moment—the efficacy of the action of blockading, and bought-in. Over the course of a minute, hundreds of giant trash-bags, dumpsters, traffic cones and heavy construction material were lobbed in the street. With maybe 45 seconds remaining, the protesters began to sing and shout with glee, knowing that they were liberated: autonomous from the one and only threat they have to face in the city, the ordering, stratifying, and territorializing force of the NYPD.
Space was opened up: the street became a free-zone—a zone of politics. The commons was liberated for a brief point, and everyone felt this geographically-produced affect. It is this form of autonomy I am looking for in my search for the political.
Barricades define space, but also define a body’s affective mood and potentiality, relating to the way the entire group might be affected. Humans are social animals: when Liberty Square was free of barricades, up and running, it was a rather productive space: various working groups were setting up tents/ tables, giving out information, hosting meetings, served food, played music, and danced. When these anti-Capitalist, (positive) productive and affective flows were cut off by forces of the State, by barricading space or invading, affect turned negative.
Being forced into barricade, kettles, and on the sidewalk keeps forces bubbling up inside intensively, turning positive extensive affect into negative intensive affect—turning in against ourselves and each other. When the police kick protesters out, the momentum often turns an occupation into a hard-core night march, wherein the extensive affective moods are projected outwardly onto cops, cops’s automobiles, and soon-to-be-broken windows. Negative extensive affect is returned, but not contained.
Movement cannot be placed onto a rigid map no less than equality can be distributed equally. Movement can be navigated and recorded, but we lose the essence of movement, the freedom of movement to move toward freedom. As soon as we force onto it measure, order, or any other geometric/ disciplinary mechanism, movement is lost.
What is lost when movement is measured and when we attempt to distribute equally is excess: the excess of bodies, of space, of relationality—we lose the excess that marks real politics, the ontological indeterminacy that OWS embodies. Instead, affirming dis-order, affirming movement, and allowing the shift in understanding are all paradigmatic for the formulation of Rancièrian politics, and for the creation of the commons. When the critique of our so called ‘democracy’ has gone on for two-hundred years, and when NYPD force is a force of exceptionality, the only possible paradigm shift, revolution, is necessitated.
What we need is politics.