About ten years ago the series of square occupations all over the world begun – after Tunis, Cairo, Athens, Madrid the wave swept over to New York. Mid-September 2011 the fist protest begun in the midst of Lower Manhattan’s bank towers: Occupy Wall Street became a symbol of resistance against financial capitalism and big corporations. And it’s assemblies set examples for a different way of discussing and decision making that influences activists all over the word but also resonated in theatre and art. On the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the occupation of Zucchotti Square the 8th edition of The Art of Assembly takes a close look at its legacy: Philosopher Judith Butler, author of the probably most influential book on assemblies in recent years, asks how – in the light of recent pandemic experiences – an ethics of care can enter into our politics of assembly. Writer and activist Max Haiven summons the ghosts of Occupy and looks – in the the spirit of the late anthropologist and OWS key figure David Graeber – back at a haunted decade.
The assemblies of the numerous square occupations during the last decade have often been laboratories of radical forms of democracy, experimenting with non-hierarchical structures and consensus models instead of majority voting. While watching these movements with sympathy, political theorist Chantal Mouffe emphasises also the necessity of dissensus, of an agonistic pluralism in which adversaries openly fight for their hegemonic projects. Philosopher and sociologist Didier Eribon reflects on the conditions and the limits of such mobilisations and insists on the unsurpassable plurality of movements like the gilets jaunes in France, or more recently, the massive strikes and protests against the demolition of the public sector, as well as the demonstrations against racism etc. In the 7th edition of “The Art of Assembly” Eribon and Mouffe discuss how much agonism social movements can bare and how the diversity of democratic demands should be addressed.
Taking up David Graeber’s theorization of Occupy as a movement not simply for political change but for a different kind of politics, Max Haiven presents these afterlives of Occupy as indicative of our political-economic moment where both power and resistance are reconfiguring themselves.
presumed access to shared space. And yet, there have been ways to occupy public space that accept the safety protocols for Covid-19. How then do we think about “safety” in relation to assembly? We speak about the right of peaceable assembly, but do we speak as often about safe conditions for assembly? The idea of safety brings up ambivalent viewpoints, and it became a key topic of debate for the Occupy movement and for the uprisings of the Arab Spring. “To play it safe” means not taking risks, not asking for too much, so what role, if any, does danger now play? If we think that heroic forms of risking our lives is part of a political struggle, what happens when the risk that I take is immediately a risk to you as well? Where does an ethics of care enter into our politics of assembly?
Paris. She is the editor of Gramsci and Marxist Theory (1979), Dimensions of Radical Democracy. Pluralism, Citizenship, Community (1992), Deconstruction and Pragmatism (1996) and The Challenge of Carl Schmitt (1999). She is the author of Hegemony and Socialist Strategy. Towards a Radical Democratic Politics (with Ernesto Laclau, 1985), The Return of the Political (1993), The Democratic Paradox (2000), On the Political (2005), Agonistics. Thinking the World Politically (2013), Podemos. In the Name of the People (with Inigo Errejon, 2016), and For a Left Populism (2019).
Choirs are a very specific form of assembling – from representing “the people” in Greek tragedy via all kinds of religious choirs, political choirs, revolutionary choirs up to the legendary human mic at Occupy Wall Street and the iconic chants at Tahrir Square in 2011. Theatre director Claudia Bosse, art theorist Alia Mossallam, and the activists of The Church of Stop Shopping discuss the potential (and perhaps dangers), the tenderness, the precarity and the power of synchronised singing, chanting, shouting along concrete artistic and activistic practices in Cairo, New York and Vienna.
Savitri D explores some of the intersections between Assembly and Song through her work as Director of the Stop Shopping Choir, using mostly casual video and audio recordings she relates the experience of song and singing to the formation of Assemblies and Movement Building.
“Assemblism” is a term used by Dutch artist Jonas Staal to describe the role of art, performance and theater in the performative assembly of mass protests and social movements, which is central to his own artistic work. US-American political theorist Jodi Dean on the other hand emphasizes in her writing that social movements need to be translated into a new communist party if they want to become sustainable. So, what is the potential of art in not only investigating or inventing new forms of assembly but also in contributing to the process of transforming them into sustainable organizational structures? And how do recent political mobilizations – from anti-mask-demonstration up to the storming of Capitol Hill – change an often romanticized view on the assembling of bodies in space?
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?
The General Assembly has been at the core of many social movements during the last decade: A zone of gathering, of building community, of experimenting with the way democracy can function. A space not only for trying out but living a different kind of decision making. Art historian Julia Ramírez-Blanco (Barcelona) just finished a book on the Spanish 15M movement, Oliver Ressler (Vienna) is one of the main documentarists of worldwide social mobilizations since many years. In the second edition of Gesellschaftsspiele – The Art of Assembly they reflect the crucial role of collective decision making for developing political alternatives.