Making Politics in Places

A really fascinating meditation on the relationship between the built environment, politics, activity, and identity. 
Tents are a threat when they signify people claiming the right to the city. At an English department meeting where we were discussing the police beating students for putting up tents, many students and professors began their comments with the phrase “I’m not that concerned about the tents, but…” or some variation on it. The students beaten bodies and the shredded civil conduct of the police were the issues. One professor, the great Mitch B, stood up and said something very succinctly that Iwas very glad to hear expressed: “I am concerned about the tents, and violence against the tents,” he said (or as I attempt to paraphrase, and inevitably mis-remember and re-write); “Those tents, and the artwork the students built alongside them, were the expressions of students trying to build something, trying to make something in a community they were claiming and inhabiting by the act of doing so. When the administration destroyed what they had built, the message being sent was very clear.”

I have heard a great many occupiers proclaim that “violence” against property is not violence. And I take their point; it is beyond obscene when media accounts of a protest dwell in loving detail on a broken window while gliding carelessly over the broken bodies of protesters beaten by police whose violence does not, as such, register as such. This is not meant to deny that point. But sometimes an attack on property is an attack on the existential habit of being human that we all share. And there is nothing more violent than destroying a home, be it a tent or a house or a street, that most basically necessary of human habitations.
It touches on some of the same issues as the recent article I found on New Cairo -- namely, the  ways that the built environment can provide a context in which new kinds of political activity become possible; and as a consequence - as the story that zuzungu brings up about the Lulu roundabout in Bahrain makes clear - the fundamental importance of the actions that control, inhabit, police, transform, and ultimately, destroy the built environment.


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