07.04 Lost Spaces part 2

How, why and what allows an agent to reclaim a lost space?

 

Inherent in the question is the desire to ‘find‘ this as yet undefined space. However, a prerequisite is that you cannot fully comprehend the potential of the found space until it has been transformed into something beyond what it was before.

There is a varied scale of activation through intervention; which can allow the exploration and re-understanding of the potential of a space. It can be seen as a temporal zoning of the potential embodied in actions by perceiving their limitations and properties.

These investigations exist as a prelude to or act to exclude formal constructs such as ownership, economic development capacity or formal planning processes. As such they can exist as investigations into potential occupations without the burden of fulfilling the requirements beyond those of the experiential.

1) Locate
The decision to locate yourself in a place which has no defined function for the agent or itself creates a new relationship between that landscape, you and the city. Similar to the role of the broken umbrella you have now entered a construct that fails to be what it was before. A broken umbrella is a state which does not exist; if the object doesn’t keep you dry in the rain then it is no longer an umbrella! Similarly with the broken infrastructure you have to decide whether it is best to discard, repair or create anew.

2) Event
By creating a temporary transitory event the space is now inhabited by an activity it was not designed or built for; thereby suggesting a new embodied potential or line of spatial production.

3) Residue
It is rare that a subversive or informal event does not leave a residue; but by intentionally doing so and documenting this change – you start to create a non temporary subversion which starts to exist on a par with the residual infrastructure.

4) Sustain
To sustain change or the emerging spatial potential; there is the necessity to involve others and communicate beyond the framework of the initial agent/s. For this emerging reading of site to be sustained it requires repeat or continual subversion, or repetition. This is an opportunity to extend a newly formed conviviality, extending trust outside of a familiar circle of people, spaces, time lines and activities. It leaves the instigator as vulnerable as the space with which they are now informing, and consequentially altering.

5) Permanence
The implementation of constructs which necessitates permanence puts the agent/s in a position where the formal constructs which have not been engaging with thus far, become structures which must be addressed directly. The created, now embodied series of temporalities and structures now occupy the new reality of the place. The ideology of the space has been constructed but cannot be realised without engaging with its inherent restrictions. This is where the lost space ceases to exist; as it finds itself on a new trajectory of undisclosed ending, with permanence of relevant occupation at the heart of the newly found location.


This article was written in 2012 and as such is written in the context of the social and political conditions of the time

07.03 Lost Spaces part 1

The occupy movement in London has recently squatted vacant interconnected buildings in the city of London owned by the RBS bank. They are transforming this space from a disused fragment of the city to a contested territory with spatial connotations and possibilities. The occupy movement in this act, has in some way started to address the burning issue of rapidly disappearing public space, and as such beg the question ‘what happens to space when it loses its commercial value and thus becomes a redundant disused vessel?’

The loss of the industrial and manufacturing sectors in neo-liberal societies has led to the re-categorisation of these spaces as viable generators of capital; redevelopment of large swaths of land which used to be nationally owned and public in their legal remit become privately owned managed and invested. But with privatisation also came globalisation and free market systems of exchange. Under this new era of privatization which took place over the preceding 40 years few landscapes have been capable of maintaining their commercially viable status amongst the competing global forces. As such, the land stock of disused private land has risen to gargantuan proportions as booms and busts in commercial sectors have rendered landscapes, communities and infrastructures redundant.

This leaves us with a dilemma created by these failed myopic developments, built to respond to the demands of a particular market requirement who soon found themselves unable or unwilling to be transformed by developers with the finances to do so. This shortfall should lead us to question the potential role of alternative modes of production. How can these spaces be re-energised; can these developments become multi-use, multi-disciplined communal hubs? Can they grow an economic, social, cultural and spatial landscape with embedded sustainability?

The current climate of development does not prohibit developments of this nature. Particularly in existing urban conditions where land cost is economically high, the inevitable temptation is to streamline creativity to create revenue. Developments therefore become short-sighted in their remit and their value and ability to evolve with the requirements of the users and city. For us to truly create sustainable building models we will need to look again at the idea of production.

Re-appropriation of these redundant spaces at differential scales allows for a discussion about these possibilities… these spaces are lost spaces which we must aim to reclaim if we wish to re-educate ourselves on their active role within the city.


This article was written in 2012 and as such is written in the context of the social and political conditions of the time

07.02 Restricting protest…

Protest as a construct is affected by and too often curtailed by three major forces, legislation, Perception and Spatiality

It is important to see protest in this way as it is the effect of a reaction to an action which is disapproved of; and thus an attempt to express ones distain at these actions. This is the imbedded desire of the protest to make a statement of change.

Acts of protests in and of themselves are not necessarily the consciousness to repeal a law, practice or act; but to express the disapproving perception of it to the powers that created that situation. However, there are constructs which negate these possible avenues of power for protest.

The area of legislation that we are interested in is a culmination of laws past to control and thereby restrict the remit of the public realm. Particularly prevalent are laws which restrict the power of unions, followed closely by those laws which create exclusion zones and privatise large swaths of previously public land; particularly where powerful institutions are situated. Together, these forms of legislation which have rapidly expanded in their remit over the past 30 to 40 years shows a political desire to sacrifice freedom of expression in the public realm, for control and stability.

As such, the perception of protest activity has become one of public accepted negativity. Popular newspapers, television and radio stations – as well as politicians; all marginalise the reasons and issues for protest action and unanimously choose instead to focus on alternative realities of disruption and the trajectories of normality. This perceptive stance will increasingly relegate acts of protest to sensationalist images and sound bites and thereby undermine the intention and subvert the potential quality of the discussion that should ensue.

This status quo of controlled public spatiality is maintained by facilitating law enforcement officials with powers of detention and interrogation which undermines freedom of movement of the individual in public space. As such protest is further marginalised and by relinquishing these powers to these forces; normalises the practice further.

The aim here in this article is to create awareness that these constructs are present. It is for each individual to assess whether the slide into increasingly authoriutarian public realms is a positive or negative development of the past 40 years. However, the mistake would be not to notice that these changes are even taking place, and somehow to accept the new order without realising its revolutionary status.


This article was written in 2012 and as such is written in the context of the social and political conditions of the time

07.01 Freedom… being conscious

Emancipatory consciousness occurs when there is widespread realization that the social, political and economic constructs under which a population labours are no longer operating in a constructive way for a (or several) significant section/s of that society.

This consciousness is not specific to a particular mode of production, (ie: socialism, fascism, liberalism, humanitarianism) and at its core the (often sudden) awareness that the system has ceased to operate for the desired purposes of the masses; and thus a collective view to escape from these constructs may start to form.

For the emancipatory consciousness to be utilized as a construct to change society, a tipping point or catalyst event is often required. First we must recognise that every mode of production will by its very nature contain a percentage of society that operates as detractors or objectors to that method. Groups with issues as wide and varied as anti-globalisation, sustainability, peace or equality agendas; in all their varied forms exist on the fringes of society; constantly attempting to change the ideologies of societies mainstream participants.

No society in human history has been without theses voices or detraction, and nor should we be. These factions of protest and alternative mode generators often act as a catalyst to citizens; facilitating change when it does occur.  In the scenario that these groups operate as devisory, destructive agents; they still inform the ‘powers that be’ of the dissatisfaction which lies beneath the actions that these groups participate in.

However, these constructs outlined in the paragraph above perform a completely different societal purpose from the catalyst or tipping point itself. The tipping point is so often the reaction to the reinforcement of an existing situation which reoccurs or exists as part of an uneasy status quo. As such, when – for seemingly innocuous reasons the repetition of a social condition alters the landscape of consciousness for significant sections of a population, the resulting outburst of unregulated protest activity is the beginning of the consciousness (aligned with the possibilities of emancipation). There are many examples throughout the modern era or these tipping points, a few famous examples include the triggers for the Detroit riots of 1967, the Brixton riots of 1981 and 5, Tianamen Square 1989, the French riots of 2005, Tahrir Square in 2011 and the UK riots of 2011 are all reactions to practices which were commonplace in their urban landscapes.
It is important at this point to draw a line in the sand; to demarcate the difference between protest action and substantive change. Change only rarely follows protest action as protest is merely the mechanism by which a group expresses their dissatisfaction. There may lay within these actions the desire for a definable alternative, but there is just as much likelyhood that there is not this awareness or a systematic approach to the constructs of change! The link however between this dissatisfaction and changing society is the emancipatory consciousness. This only happens when a large enough body of individuals create a tipping point, where they become conscious that the existing constructs are not acceptable. When this occurs alternative models begin to emerge because society on a large scale begins to explore them. It is not a question of technology, intelligence, political position, activism, economy or power. It is about consciousness. This is exemplified by any series of unrelated topics; gender, race and sexual equality changes (to statute law) in society; only came into law (in certain countries) when a consciousness emerged amongst the population, that the status quo was not acceptable. Similarly with issues of environmental sustainability, financial equality or global peace; these cannot happen until a large enough body of people perceive the status quo as a problematic state of being. Until this consciousness occurs alternative constructs cannot be visualised, let alone put into place.


This article was written in 2012 and as such is written in the context of the social and political conditions of the time

06.04 Public realm and protest

The architecture of the public realm has always featured heavily in shaping the lives of its inhabitants. From spaces, monuments and public realm strategies implemented to emphasise the grandeur of the incumbent politicians, to the unregulated back streets, underpasses and dead end spaces which are such an ever present construct of the urban fabric.

For cities that play host to these extremes of spatial condition and therefore associated human activities; there develops the contested territories where individuals with different ideals, incomes, accents and appearance must navigate the disparate pursuits of others with whom they did not plan to engage. These urban constructs are prevalent throughout the global diaspora, and as such represent an opportunity for those relatively powerless individuals living within a contested territory to attempt to change existing constructs within a society. At times of social, political or economic crisis; the role of the architecture of the public realm to facilitate societal change comes into sharp focus. Tiananmen, Trafalgar, Independence or Tahrir square have exemplified this transformative quality of public space during the modern era (in Beijing, London, Kiev and Cairo respectively) to name but a few

The inherent shortcomings of the methods of exchange and production employed by the global financial system which have led to the global economic crisis, and in turn the Euro zone crisis. This has meant that those individuals, communities and nations who suddenly found themselves on an economic path that they did not foresee; desperate to express their disapproval for the limitations in their life trajectories that these crises’ have enforced. People suddenly realised the necessity to claim their right to the city. As such there has been a steady increase of protest activity from the citizens of the nation’s most severely affected by the crises’.

Virtual forms of protest have been frequent, but are limited in their ability to truly facilitate unscheduled exchanges between unaffiliated parties, instead they often reinforcing hierarchies and power structures prevalent in structured, physical society. Virtual forms of protest can only really start to create change when used to facilitate activity within the public realm. However the ability of that public realm to continue to express the desires of the public has; in recent decades been curtailed. In short; the activity of public realm protest is not as effective as it used to be. This change has not come about by chance; it is as the result of an ideology that has spread across both sides of the house of representatives, it is the adoption of a long term strategy that marginalises the ability of the citizen population to disrupt and therefore effect real direct change within society. As such it is a dilution of democracy.

The 1970s and 80s saw a succession of legislation to disrupt and ultimately undermine the power of unions to influence politics and therefore society. Although these restrictions were legislative they had far reaching spatial consequences (such as the restriction on the number of picket lines). Similarly public realm control measures, the introduction of terror laws of the 1990s and 2000s have cumulated in restricting the activities of the individual within the public realm and civic society (such as the act prohibiting demonstrations within a kilometre of any point in parliament square). In one regressive act, several modes of representation have simply disappeared from our landscape. Coupled with these substantive changes  comes the policy mass privatisation of public space (which has prevailed since the 1960s but accelerates which each passing decade). This results in the reduced of the very crop of public space for society to experience social exchange as opposed to mere consumption. In addition, the introduction of spatial control constructs utilized by law enforcement officials such as  the pre-emtive spatial control measures represented by Kettling and the employment of exclusion zones in areas previously demarcated as public space; no geographic location in the westernised world is the deterioration of dēmokratía clearer than in the UK.

Architecture is and always will be contingent on the factors which surround it and no clearer is this than when looking at the issues of political, legislative and spatial strategies as outlined above. When protest activity is de-contextualised from the contested territories which its activity desires and necessitates, not only does the public realm cease to function but so does the only recourse to democracy, a direct democracy. In our neo-liberal societies we create private spaces which in visual appearance and spatial layout seem public; but in effect restrict the citizen’s ability to express themselves and explore the city through unscheduled exchange. Canary Wharf, Whitehall, Liverpool One, and Paternoster Square are examples which have recently come into sharp focus. Increasingly these are spaces where private managers and owners operate from a virtual (and in some occasions physical) list or activities which are permitted. If your activity isn’t on the list then your right to be here is rescinded. Public space is fast become a place where consumption and transit are the virtues with all other activities vied with scepticism and ultimately exclusion. This undermines the very fabric of civic society; where the unplanned and unscheduled interaction between strangers leads to personal exchanges (without commercial value). We need to reverse the predilection for exclusion and again re-engage with the understanding that the public realm only acts as such when its boundaries are being tested; when civilians utilize it to express their desires or disillusionment. This is not to deem their actions as ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ but to understand them for what they are. The public realms need to exist, they need to be unscheduled spaces of expression, they are our Agora, and as such need to operate as contested territories to have any real value to society, democracy and the notion of representation.


This article was written in 2011 and as such is written in the context of the social and political conditions of the time

06.03 The aftermath

The atmosphere is cordial and almost nervous, perhaps I’m not the only one who hasn’t been to church for a while. But it’s not just that, it’s also the weight of the issues to be discussed.

The church; now once again acting as a communal hub is about to engage around 150 people from a variety of ages, backgrounds and as I will soon find out opinions.
Once our host arrives the mood changes, there is an energy that she brings to the room, ‘microphone holders’ move more rapidly in response to the clicking of fingers and the air begins to fill with familiar snippets from the national radio. Our ‘facilitator’ (as she calls herself) is ‘miked up’. She moves with a confidence which is singular to that off all the other participants, including the church vicar.

Victoria stands in the middle of the hall and starts to introduce the event. The speech is well rehearsed and executed eloquently, but for the first time this morning I’m worried about the day’s proceedings. In this 3 minute presentation the word ‘you’ and ‘your’ occurs over 100 times. That air of jaded scepticism returns, it resonates with speeches executed by PR people re branded as politicians.

“This is your opportunity… You matter… You can applaud… Raise your hand if you want to talk”

Its 9:30 am and we have a practice, a run through to experience the kind of exchange that we may create in 30 minutes time. Everyone is polite, they express their opinions eloquently and without mire, I’m surprised, pleased that people effected by such a life changing set of experiences are truly here to have a voice, discuss the issues and most importantly listen to others.

Victoria Derbyshire does not share my point of view. She tells us in no uncertain terms that the exchanges need to be faster, we need more hands in the air, more succinct comments. This is going out live… remember?

So we do it again, another 5 times and something crystallizes. A lawyer somewhat unwisely in referring to a comment made by one of his clients; remarks on the presence of ‘a carnival atmosphere’. Victoria jumps on this comment with relish:

“a carnival atmosphere? When people’s houses are burning, shops are being destroyed? I’ve never seen that at the Notting Hill Carnival!”

06-03I wonder if Victoria has ever been to the Notting Hill carnival, particularly after 7PM, but I decide not to ask her as the day and its focus should be on other matters. But I realize quite quickly that it is about her, It’s about 5live making a hard hitting, succinct two hour show on an explosive current affairs subject.

I can’t help thinking that the whole day is a missed opportunity. Gathered inside a church opposite the building destroyed by the August riots (now 100 days ago) there were a wide range of people affected by these events. Community leaders, some of whom know rioters personally, local school children, those whom business and homes had been destroyed by the riots. There were also formal representatives from the metropolitan police, the ambulance and fire services, the coalition, members of the report into the riots, and the labour MP for Tottenham.

What was remarkable and constructive was that NOT A SINGLE PERSON CONDONED THE ACTIONS OF THE RIOTERS. But many wanted to discuss the socio-political construct in which the riots took place. To truly understand the causes, however, when they were attempting to do so they were given short shrift by our ‘facilitator’.

The concern here is that a sophisticated society should be able to discuss the motivation for actions without condoning them and NOT run the risk be accused of SUPPORTING these actions by openly discussing them. This was the main fault of the facilitators; their agenda was ill equipped to engage with people on a non-reactionary basis.

This was the stated purpose of the radio show; but it was not the true desire as outlined by the sensationalist tone created by the video clip accompanying the ‘listen again’ feature on the BBCs 5live website. Several, more constructive constructs would have been put into place if ‘solutions’ and ‘understanding causes’ were really at the heart of the gathering.

1) Continued proceedings beyond the time allocated for the live coverage. Many attendees had that desire and gathered around ‘important figures’ after the live broadcast to continue the debate; inevitably this was in a more adhoc manner.

2) Remove the tone of antagonism. There were numerous occasions when our 5live facilitator operated in such a way to inflame differences between speakers. ‘What kind of language is that?’ ‘How frightened were you?’ ‘People were angry at the police so the stole some trainers?’ But most compelling was the clear misunderstanding of the issues surrounding causes and consequences. To the wider nation events in Tottenham were the cause of the riots across England, to people in Tottenham the death of Mark Duggan and the poor communication between the family, community and the police; was the cause of the riots. That nuance was missed by the broadcaster, and disillusioned a lot of people.

3) Messages (tweets, emails and texts) from those outside the venue were a decisive and antagonistic construct. This meeting should have been about bringing the voice of Tottenham to the rest of the nation not the other way around as all the message comments were highly critical of the attendees, which did nothing for constructive debate inside the church hall itself.

Ultimately there is the possibility for proceedings such as these to operate as part of people’s democratic representation. Where else can you gather such a variety of interested parties on one issue in one location? With all willing to discuss and work through issues of great social, political and economic concern? On average 5live is listened to by 6million* people. This program could be a great opportunity to catalyse action. It pretends to be a public meeting when it could actually operate as one.

There were recurring themes, issues that the community need to feel are being addressed, both long and short term:

A) How long would victims having lost homes and businesses have to wait for their compensation from government and their insurance companies?

B) On police tactics, why were officers on the ground inactive (or perceived to be so). What were the tactics for dealing with widespread outbreaks of disorder?

C) Recourse and context.
Many in the room didn’t know the names of the officials located in the front pew, and at the end of the proceedings were frantically attempting to collect their names and information for future exchanges. There was no official documentation of procedures which would surely of helped to create a ‘voice’ which so many of the attendees craved.

D) In light of riots on a scale that haven’t been seen on the mainland for almost 30 years; what is being done to address the perception amongst economically poor black community that there is a dismissive treatment of their concerns. Particularly when there is a death at the hands of the police?

All of these are issues of representation which by the end of the proceedings had been left as unresolved as the day before. Perhaps it is not the role of the BBC or 5live to resolve of facilitate community agendas; perhaps they are only interested in creating newsworthy sound bites around the meaningless landmark of a century of days.

But by creating public events in the way that they do there is an opportunity to facilitate discussions with a far greater restorative purpose and outcome.

06-03b

 


This article was written in 2011 and as such is written in the context of the social and political conditions of the time

06.02 A small death… that of democracy

It would seem clear that there is a contradiction between the operational constitutional expectations of a democratic nation state and the requirements for a stable and perpetually growing global economic community. Most recently this divergence in expectation has been experienced by the embattled (and soon to depart) elected heads of state in the deeply financially indebted nations of Italy and Greece.

The European Union has a mandate of economic growth perpetuated through protected trading markets which are in no small part facilitated by the single currency. Once the leaders of nation choose to locate themselves within the system they have in essence made a simple choice; to lose a degree of sovereignty in order to gain increasing degrees of growth and stability. A problem occurs however, when a successive loss of sovereign rights coincide with declining standards of living, stability and growth. This leaves states and their citizens in a position where the initial sacrifices agreed to are maintained, with expected benefits met with disillusionment caused by misplaced trust in the free-market system.

In moments like these; when there are attempts to grasp back some control or sovereignty by the mechanisms usually utilised by politicians operating within the constructs of their nation state; there is a stark realisation that it is not possible. Too much sovereignty has been relinquished to achieve these democratic aims. When the global economic growth model declares the times are good; then citizens can elect who they please, on platforms of their choosing. Once times are bad; this is no longer the case.

As George Papandreou realised (when he impudently attempted to call a referendum in the country where he is Prime Minister), the swift action by the IMF and those who had offered the ‘bailout’ for their massive debts caused his almost immediate climb down and in time will cause his succession. Now, there is no doubt that the call for referendum was part of wider political strategy being pursued by Papandreou. But this is and should be what you would expect from a politician. for Papandreou however; the risky nature of the proposed referendum; that being that the Greek people may reject the motion, choosing to default on their debt and seek alternatives to the current form of global capitalism, had a negative effect on the markets. So much so that Papandreou had to withdraw from the idea of allowing the Greek citizens to decide if this process was something that they agreed with or not. This would seem to be a complete and direct contradiction of democracy. That the will of the market and unelected officials outside of your nation’s jurisdiction can obstruct a democratic construct.

Similarly in Italy; the notorious, flamboyant and increasingly controversial figure of Silvio Berlusconi was ultimately forced from myopic power over Italy, by his literal inability to buy the support of the IMF as he had so successfully been able to buy the support of those in Italian politics and powerful institutions effecting Italian society up until now.

I will not cry at the departure of Silvio Berlusconi from frontline politics; his antics have undermined and underlined deep problems in the current structure of Italian socio-political economics. But if the beast is reeling from the blows that have been most recently received, it is unfortunately because they are been delivered by a bigger and larger beast with less scruples and a greater singularity in direction. This is not a return to the clarity of the rhetoric first coined in Clinton’s presidential campaign ‘it’s the economy stupid’; it is in fact something more undermining to our civil liberties occurring at this juncture.

We; as individuals, communities’ nations, states and a global community are unable to conceive or demand realities that contradict the possibility of the free market systems ruling our democracies. The concept of alternatives has left the political sphere to such a degree that politics has become a construct which is incompatible with true ideology. Both those on the right and left of politics have elected on a global scale to homogenise in the thought that ‘the only option for these indebted nations is to sacrifice an even larger slide of their sovereignty and democratic manoeuvrability to a system which has, to this point culminated in extraordinary inequality and potential deepening of societal fragmentation.


This article was written in 2011 and as such is written in the context of the social and political conditions of the time

06.01 De-contextualising protest

The purpose of protest is to disrupt existing social, political and economic constructs. This underlying principle is key to understanding the contested territory of the public realm; where the gathering of a self-defined group expresses the opinions of individuals whose only other recourse to ‘dēmokratía’ – and the rule of the people; is the now rather ineffective voting system.

In the wake of this socio-economic landscape; and fuelled by the global economic crash and the resulting Eurozone sovereignty crisis; the occupy movement spread across the globe as a spatial embodiment of the disaffection that many feel with our current method of producing space, society and finance on an unprecedented and de-politicised global scale. In essence occupations are actions constructed to raise questions regarding the decisions made by powerful institutions in the hope of changing them.

06-01However, within our current socio-economic context these mechanisms of change or disruption are significantly curtailed. The strategy of pre-emptive public realm control has come to be such a powerful force that it negates many of the spatial possibilities of protest. As such the de-spacing of the ‘occupy movement’ protesters by law enforcement officials on the streets of London on 15th October 2011 highlights the normality of spatial protest marginalization. By creating spatial constructs (most notoriously Kettling); to divert the occupation movement away from the identified contested territory of The Stock Exchange and Paternoster square, public space is redefined. St Paul’s Cathedral and the adjoining highways become the new, undesired contested territory. This reactionary shift by the protesters has effectually unearthed the nuances in the laws surrounding the use of public space, particularly how these laws deviate in implementation through time.

Paternoster square designed built, and rebuilt with the rhetoric of a public space is privately owned, managed and regulated by the Mitsubishi Estate Company. Their remit does not extend beyond their desire to propagate their mandate of real estate development and property management, as such protest; or any acts which deviate from this aspiration will not be considered or condoned on their premises. St Paul’s Cathedral (and its churchyard) is also private property; but is owned by the Church of England, who have to consider how their actions are interpreted by a general population who they do not wish to disenfranchise. As such an occupation which proves to be divisive (in terms of popular opinion) is unlikely to rapidly receive an eviction order. Images of officials sanctioned by The Church of England – forcibly removing occupiers (some of who are homeless) from an openly accessibly paved are; is not an image that will sit comfortably with them. This leads us to the territory in-between these two private domains. The (public) highways. These are legally owned and maintained by local authorities (in this case, The Corporation of London). With this ownership comes the expectation that the highways are maintained for the public and exist as public rights of way. As such we can question to what extent The Corporation of London is fulfilling ‘the spirit of the law’ by evicting those members of the public who are using the public realm and maintaining its function as a public right of way.

However, the specifics of this spatial situation are of less importance than the wider connotations that they orientate towards. freedom of the city has re-emerged as a theme which captures the public imagination once again. It tends towards the realisation that protest is a necessary democratic construct that is part of the contested public realm. This is an issue which has been misunderstood and therefore marginalised in recent times, particularly in the UK where there has been startling regression in rhetoric and law making which surround these acts over the past 40 years.

Diversion
This spatial diversion of the planned protest route also serves the more disarming purpose of diverting the ‘discussion’ from focusing on the issues surrounding rampant capitalism to those around the act of protest and ‘the right’ to do so. Once law enforcement officials have taken the decision to reorder the constructs of the public realm through spatial diversion, the overwhelming condemnation from prominent forces in the main stream media and political figures can congregate around questions over the efficacy of the protest and the ability to construct and pursue clear spatial and political strategies. By presenting the decision to accept a refuge (St Paul’s Cathedral) as a targeted destination point sought after by the occupiers; the critics create a strong platform built upon a purposely incorrect conjecture. They can now question the very right to protest and to occupy space in an obstructive capacity under the guise that it is ill conceived.

Of course the real landscape of the discussion should be to interrogate the proportionality, ethics or legality of blocking the right to the city; to protest within the realm outside the powerhouse of The London Stock Exchange. The fourth largest stock exchange on the planet that facilitates trade in the London Stock Exchange and more importantly access to the capital for increased profit flows and market valuation for companies. With so much power of global and domestic economic conditions this is a location that should be answerable to citizens who have live trajectories have been altered by their actions.
This however is not the case, and by diverting the landscape of the discussion in such a way, the spatiality of the protest as an occupation becomes pacified. This can be clearly when assessing the crisis that the peaceful occupation has plunged The Church of England into. All of the questions that should have been addressed to the contested territory outside The London Stock Exchange are now diverted to the territory of St Paul’s Cathedral. These issues are so divisive and go to the heart of some of the systemic problems in our society that the church has been unable to find ‘the correct’ line to take, the departure of two high profile figures (Canon – Giles Fraser, The Right Reverend Graeme Knowles) and chaplain Fraser Dyer. Do they support or condemn the actions of the movement? Their inability to decisively choose a direction highlights not only the importance of the issues raised in this moment; but of the importance of protest as a democratic construct within the public realm.

However, the issue for The City of London Authority (who ‘partly’ own the protest site) is that of finding avenues to facilitate removal. For them there is not debate and indeed no contested territories. Any construct that can be used to return this part of the city to its previous state of being will be perused. This has led to uncharacteristic rigour in pursuing the nuances of health and safety regulations and highways legislation to find means to lawfully physically remove the protesters.

This desire speaks of an ideological split. The fault line is between those who wish to return to ‘the status quo’ and those who believe that there is need for systemic change and the pursuit of alternatives. It goes against the very nature of any action, but is a mind-set so pervasive that it undermines the whole field of protest without engaging in the important questions which lie beneath this and other occupations as they highlight the disaffection currently amassing amongst the citizen populous.


This article was written in 2011 and as such is written in the context of the social and political conditions of the time

05.04 Poverty inequality and disaffection

Expectations are the most overlooked element regarding poverty, when considering its importance in industrially developed countries. When it is claimed that poverty is intrinsically linked to certain behaviour patterns (as I am about to do in the article); it is often sighted that (a) we live in a ‘relatively’ rich country and (b) poverty is not an excuse for creating crime, disorder or apparent acts of wilful neglect.

The first thing that needs to be acknowledged is that poverty is relative and not absolute. An often sighted example is that in today’s society we have material goods which we could barely conceive of 10, 20 or 50 years ago. However true; sighting the technological advancements is a red herring. The introduction of the washing machine, mobile phone or an internet connection has (over time) changed from being considered luxuries available to the few; to be considered necessities as they become mass consumed items. This changes their function within society. One is at a disadvantage if they do not possess one of these items. So a direct material comparison to the past is trite as it misunderstands the expectations that are associated with technological advancements within a society. Those who refer to the trainers or mobile phones that those who are economical poor seem to own, miss the point that these same people often do not own other; less ostentatious, even practical material goods.

We have to look at the problems facing those who are economically poor in relation to others in their social context; to understand how (essentially) a lack of access to funds is prohibitive in both life ambitions and aspirations.

The problem with poverty is that it excludes individuals from activities, experiences and lifestyles which they are surrounded by. Those babies born into poorer families are unhealthier and die younger. They achieve worse results in school (primary and secondary), and are less likely to go onto further education. They are more likely to be victims of crime, and to find themselves in fuel poverty or indeed be the perpetrator of crime and subsequently find themselves in prison. These facts are not a sign of recent trends nor are they limited to the UK. So why there are these intrinsic links to reduced life choices and why does it happen?

Contingency

Quite simply finance creates contingency. Even if there is not a global economic crisis those with fewer finances at their disposal are more likely to be restricted in a consumer led, capitalist free market society. If you own a small shop; your contingencies are small and if there is a change in tariffs you are likely to struggle to make profits. If you are a part time employee your rights (or lack of them) mean that you are more likely to have your hours cut or loose your job. If you are on the minimum wage that wage just bought you less than it did before and if you are unemployed there are fewer resources that you can access. You have no contingency, no financial ability to change your current life condition.

We live in a country where food, hot water, heating, gas and electricity are services expected by all but are provided at a charge. This means that those who find themselves in ‘fuel poverty’ (those who spend 10% or more of their salary on heating) – are at a position of relative poverty. There are over 5 million households who are in this position (over 15 million people). That’s 15 million people who for a variety of different reasons have no financial contingency, who have almost no ability to change, improve or adapt their living or life conditions. These financial restrictions help to create a mind-set where people are more susceptible than the average* person to changes made by powerful forces in our society.

Authority figures

This creates a feeling of animosity and frustration especially when dealing with the authorities. To take just one example of how financial situations can create a negative/defensive mind-set – let’s take a brief look at benefits. When those who would earn more by receiving benefits than they would in paid work are criticised; it should be remembered that if the minimum wage pays less than an individual would receive on benefits then perhaps the minimum wage has been set too low! The vast majority of benefit recipients receive less than £100 a week (taking into account concessions in rent) plus another £13 to £20 per child (depending on age). If you earn the minimum wage (are over 21 and work a 30 hour week) then you’ll earn around £180 a week (before tax). So you can see that the figures can be remarkably – or worryingly similar as well as despairingly low. Try taking an annual holiday abroad, owning a car, making a down payment on a home, paying for childcare or a degree.

Poverty and living in a consumer society

So what happens when you are economically poor and unable to change or improve that situation? What if you live in an area of high crime, low employment or wages? What if most or all of your family and friends are in a similar situation? What if you have never worked, most of your family have never worked or left your estate, borough or city? And crucially what if the only time you encounter authorities or law enforcement officers is when they are taking something away from you… taking away the little personal or social space which you have. Adding complexity to already congested and contested territories.

Some wonder why there is a body of people – many of them young, who feel disenfranchised in the UK today. They wonder why some people resent authority figures or seem to have little or no respect for the communities that they live in – and little time for discussion or reflective thought. I don’t wonder why; but I do wonder why as a society we do so little to change the ever prevalent status quo by supporting constructs of a tiered society.


This article was written in 2011 and as such is written in the context of the social and political conditions of the time