Ithbat. Ithbat can be translated as ‘stand still’, ‘steady’ and ‘unshaken’. It was one of the newer chants that were infused into us on the 25th of January 2011 – every time the police launched an offensive, and people started to run, someone would shout “Ithabt” as he or she stopped moving, and then several would shout it, and then tens and hundreds, until thousands would stop. I would close my ears and squeeze my eyes shut and let the thousands of voices shake through me, shake out the fear, and stabilise my resolve. Although the 25th of January revolution was an explosion, it continued to be leaderful without a single leader, and the chants became the way the thousands that met on the squares in Egypt’s cities and villages, could quickly decide what to do and where to go next. A chant would be shouted by one person, and its message would either capture the imagination of thousands, and drive them, or it would not and it would flop. “The people demand the full of the regime” was the flame that came to us from Tunisia, setting the country on fire; the many chants that called on ‘our families’ to join us for our freedom and theirs inspired tens of thousands to join protests without a second thought for the first time in their lives. A chant can move and mobilise like poetry, it can capture your heart like a song, and it can weave a future before you like a vision. For a chant to garner consensus it had to be as promising as it was beautiful, it was the idea around which people assembled and not the person who chanted it.
In this talk, i will trace some of the chants that made the anatomy of the revolution, and the ideas that drove it forward.
Assemblism describes the visual morphologies that emerge from the practice of “performative assembly “in popular mass movements, as termed by Athena Athanasiou and Judith Butler. But to canalize the energies and imaginaries that emerge in assemblies, durational infrastructures are needed to ensure egalitarian forms of social organization, as Jodi Dean has argued in Crowds and Party. What is the role of art in shaping and propagating new life-forms from the squares into a new emancipatory institutionality? This talk will explore the role of alternative parliaments, utopian training camps, experimental biospheres and collective action lawsuits in furthering assemblist imaginary into egalitarian presents and futures.
In the United States, the long March of 2020 came to an end on May 26 when protests against the police murder of George Floyd broke out in Minneapolis, Minnesota, quickly spreading all over the country. Also occurring throughout the summer and fall were rallies “defending blue lives,” anti-mask demonstrations, and protests demanding an end to coronavirus shutdowns. On January 6, 2021 a mob stormed the US Capitol, intent on “stopping the steal” of the presidential election from defeated incumbent Donald Trump. In what way does an analysis oriented toward precarity and bodies in space help us understand the politics of the movements? How might emphases on the assembling of bodies in space require a divisive political supplement, an anchoring in history and fidelity to a truth?
Assemblies are normally held on a scale that allows for direct discussion and participation. However, during the Spanish protest camps of the 15M movement in 2011, massive assemblies defied these notions by blowing up scale, and also challenged the idea of a more or less fixed group that thinks about issues with a certain continuity. These mass assemblies, in turn, emphasized the performativity and the rituality. Julia Ramírez-Blanco addresses the potential and contradictions of those mass assemblies and discusses the evolution of the format toward a more manageable form in the neighborhood assemblies. The experience in Spain can be understood as a political laboratory which can help us for the rebellions that come.
The past decade has been marked not only by numerous activist movements and gatherings but also by a wide range of assemblies within the field that tried out and challenged social and political procedures with which societies can be imagined, played, performed, enacted, tested, or even invented.