The world is currently experiencing its biggest financial crisis to date, with no end in sight and with its overall extent still unknown. Its consequence and, undoubtedly the most explicit expression of discontent, are the protests that are taking place virtually all over the world. More or less peaceful protests are currently underway in the entire United States as the only possible way of fighting against the present state of society. A month ago, America has begun with an almost phantom attack on Wall Street, the street whose symbolic capital is as powerful as its material one. Going out into the streets is no longer a benign act, but a strong subversive means that has demonstrated its power throughout history. Here are some of the most important “street takeovers” aimed at radical transformation of the world.
“The Paris Commune”
Not long after the end of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, France was facing a difficult economic situation. The differences between the Haves and the Have-nots in the capital had grown over the years, and the food shortage and the incessant Prussian bombardment that the people had to endure, only served to increase the overall discontent. The working class was becoming more and more open to radical ideas. The most prominent factions in the Paris Commune – Anarchists, Marxists – joined forces and started the most important movement in the 19th century history. Formally speaking, the Paris Commune took on the role of the local government for the whole of Paris, over the period of two months in the spring of 1871, with the streets of Paris serving as the most important point of resistance and power takeover.
However, the Commune lacked coherent organizational structure which soon after resulted in its violent suppression; which was then followed by the radical urbanistic reorganization under the direction of the new prefect Baron Haussmann. The reorganization was carried out under the pretext of creating a more sanitary city, but its real aim was to avert the possibility of new uprisings in the narrow medieval streets.
“The Situationist International”
More or less simultaneously with the culmination of the student protests in 1968; the protests against the War in Vietnam; Feminist Activism; the murder of M.L King, which resulted in racial clashes; and the programmatic art of the Situationists, which also culminated in 1968; the idea of the liberation of the creative potential of the city, and the socialization of art was born. According to the situationists, situationism was the renewal of the Paris Commune, the last attempt at creating “free society” in Europe to date. The 60s saw a sudden proliferation of posters and pamphlets in art. As Baudrillard puts it: “The true revolutionary media in May ’68 in France were walls and words, silk-screen posters, and hand-printed flyers, the streets where speech started and was exchanged: everything that is given and returned, moving in the same time and in the same place, reciprocal and antagonistic.” Guy Debord, a member of the situationist organization – Situationist International – which was founded in 1957, reached its peak in 1968, and gradually disappeared in 1972; developed in the 12 editions (numbers) of „Internationale situationniste“, programmatic texts about art and society. He did this by criticizing the contradictions of the bourgeois society; which on one hand respected the abstract principle of intellectual and artistic creation; but on the other refused it, in order to exploit it. It is a criticism of the consumer mechanisms in control of the cultural activities.
Situationists have developed the idea of unitary urbanism which should dominate the surroundings and include the creation of new forms, as well as the reusing of the already existing artistic elements as a part of the new creations. They have created a concept of a game which implements the future reign of freedom, but in a radical way that puts pressure on the ruling class. This type of political fight of the situationists has created “street modernism” with 24-happenings, where there is no firm line between a bystander and an “actor”, and where both the bystander and the actor are ephemeral, without future, secondary. The radical avant-garde idea which repeats itself cyclically, emphasizes that art should be set free, let out; turning the streets into galleries and art into life, and vice-versa.
“The Arab Spring”
The revolutionary wave of demonstrations and protests that gripped the Arab world has shown to the “developed” West the radical consequences of the totalitarian governments, dictatorships, and human rights violations.
Since December 18, 2010 revolutions have been breaking out in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya (resulting in the overthrow of the government), Bahrain, Syria, Yemen, Israel, Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco, Oman, Kuwait, Lebanon, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Western Sahara. The protests have shared strategies of civil disobedience in form of strikes, demonstrations, marches, and gatherings; using the social networks as means of organization, communication; and of raising public awareness about the continuous repression and censorship on many levels. The Tahir Squere in Egypt has undoubtedly become a symbol of resistance, and not just when it comes to the Egyptian Revolutions (where it played a central role in the battle for freedom in 1919, 1952, and 2011); but also a symbolic leader of resistance taking place in the “monitored” public area. The importance of the social networks, using the same strategy as pamphlets and political posters, is unquestionable, as they have proven the power of upheaval in “collaboration” with streets and squares.
“Occupy Wall Street”
For nearly a month now demonstrations have been taking place in the streets of every major city across the United States: New York, Boston, Los Angeles.
OCCUPYWALLSTREET Movement has been inspired by the demonstrations in Spain and conceptually based on the poster published in the No. 97 of the Adbusters Magazine. It has, however, been led, orchestrated, and followed by independent activists. It all began when the Adbusters’ managers invited their network of “cultural diversionists” to go down to the lower part of Manhattan, set up tents, small kitchens, and peaceful barricades and occupy Wall Street for a few months. Soon, the photographs of the action spread across the social networks, and very soon after, an open-source platform for exchange of information and photographs was organized. A few days later, as many as 150 showed up in New York, thus effectively becoming key organizers of the occupation. Although the protest has, in the meantime, turned into a mass movement with 5000 participants, the media moguls in America have managed to ignore its existence for a long time. When the Movement’s live stream hit the number of 100 000 views, the Ministry of Homeland Security issued a warning to the national banks.
Nevertheless, the activist message has been more than clear: it’s about the 99% of citizens no longer willing to tolerate the greed and the corruption of the remaining 1%.
The motivation of the organizers of the Paris Commune, the Situationists, the Arab Spring, but also of the protests all over Europe and capitalist America, is really the same: the fight against despotism and increasing inequality and renunciation caused by the corruption and voracity of the corporative powers, the lethargy of the state, and the financial greed. Europe has been leading the way when it comes to going into the streets during this and last year: Athens, Madrid, Lisbon, London, are only a few of the cities that have, despite the sanitization in principal, shown the subversive potential of their streets. Also, the social networks, that have replaced the culture of pamphlets of the Situationists, have undoubtedly played the crucial part in this whole situation. The current social atmosphere is evidence that architects and artists need to start “re-feeling” the streets that have once again become the stage for the spontaneous political criticism.