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<nettime> more on Wall St (and Wisconsin)
Dan S. Wang on Wed, 5 Oct 2011 20:14:05 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> more on Wall St (and Wisconsin)

Hello nettime,

This was written for a hastily assembled edition of Transversal, online now,
info. --dsw

>From One Moment to the Next, Wisconsin to Wall Street

Dan S. Wang
I was brought to New York to make a few remarks about the Wisconsin Uprising
at the Creative Time Summit 3. Having just arrived in Manhattan, I found
myself catching a cab to Liberty and Broadway, urged in by a New York
activist friend who foresaw a Troy Davis protest march soon converging on
the Occupy Wall Street encampment in Zuccotti Park, a granite-blocked open
space in the canyon of the financial district. I made it there just in time
to see and hear the marchers bearing down on the occupied park.
This was the chant in the air, in many voices as one, over and over. Troy
Davis, an African-American man sentenced to death for a murder he had likely
not committed, had been legally killed by the State of Georgia less than 24
hours earlier, in the face of an international effort to grant Davis a stay
of execution. A hastily organized speak-out event in Union Square turned
into an impromptu march. The energy crested when hundreds of enraged
protestors met up with the Occupy Wall Street activists in the park.
It was Thursday, September 22, and the occupation was going into its sixth
night. Although to a careless observer it might look like all the same
people, this was in fact an encounter of potential, between activist worlds
not quite in solid alliance. The marchers represented a part of the activist
universe different than the Occupy Wall Street campers?namely, the worlds of
death penalty abolition, wrongful conviction activism, prisoners¹ rights
groups, punk anti-racism, human rights organizations, criminal justice
reform work, and efforts to end racial profiling and police brutality.
Though many individual activists are undoubtedly comfortable with different
ways of thinking about particular social injustices, the death penalty
activists do not usually frame their work against the problems of
financialized capital. This is necessarily true once you get beyond abstract
analyses and bumper sticker sloganeering and go into the concreteness of
legal challenges, policy work, and legislative reform.
By contrast, the OWS encampment seemed to be populated mostly with young
people newly radicalized by the economic crisis, the debt burdens of
themselves and their parents, the evident wealth gaps, and the fast
withering democracy in their country, all foisted upon them in their
formative years. I saw some graybeards scattered around the plaza, but it
was the early twenty-somethings, carrying with them the slightest vibe of
desperation, who made up the core.
The temporary presence of the Troy Davis constituency, self-identified as
having been organized around and motivated by a political cause and movement
with its own discourse, history, political fronts, and priorities, raised
the temptation to speedily conflate one dissenting, outraged, and righteous
segment of society with another. On that evening, the articulation of an
equivalence seemed to be strangely and perhaps wisely resisted. The
momentary satisfactions of unity were shared through the aesthetic
experience, the surge of feeling that went through the combined crowd,
generated by the encounter between two groups of committed people, each
standing for radical social change. It made sense; there was not much to
say, as neither group had any further recourse, at least not at that stage.
What seemed most important was what in fact happened, that is, simply taking
the time to be together, to let communications run informally at the
molecular level, person-to-person, until the enlarged crowd eventually
dissipated. This episode is worth recounting because it prefigured some of
the complexities of Occupy Wall Street that we are seeing now, in the third
Over the weekend part of my mind stayed on Wisconsin, for two reasons,
neither being the Creative Time gig. First, there was the inevitable
comparison with OWS?I could not help this, as the Wisconsin Uprising is now
my movement frame of reference, like it is for everybody from Madison, and
possibly for today¹s labor movement as a whole. Second, being invested in
the Wisconsin movement as a resident of that state, of course I followed the
two breaking state political stories of that weekend: new coverage of the
ongoing FBI corruption investigation into the Walker regime, and the latest
efforts by the regressives to rewrite mining regulations in face of citizen
and indigenous tribal opposition.
In regards to the first point, ie the comparison between OWS and the
Wisconsin Uprising, I tried to absorb the mood, setting, rhetoric, and
activist profile, and put all in relation to Wisconsin at the same one-week
point. Of the many differences, what strikes me now as probably the most
consequential in terms of movement character and future evolution, is the
comparatively abstract target: ³Wall Street,² or ³the banksters² or the 1%.
In Wisconsin we have a central figure, Governor Scott Walker, and a host of
background players (the Fitzgeralds, the Kochs, Paul Ryan, Alberta Darling,
JB Van Hollen, etc), each of whom is a real person who can be personally
targeted. Most of them being public figures, their career trajectories, at
least, offer activists something by which we can measure our strength. With
OWS, the monster before us?the banking structure, the corporate political
system, and financialized capital in its entirety?is so huge, global,
faceless, out of control, and fundamentally rotten, that it is difficult
even for informed people to identify and prioritize specific aims, much less
individual targets.
As for the second point, it is important to understand that even though the
massive mediagenic protests in Madison are long over, the movement continues
on any number of specific, localized and continually unfolding fronts. Each
of these battles requires resources and prolonged attention. To lose focus
on them is to lose the war, because it is in these localized theaters that
the actual implementation of the regressive agenda happens. As OWS moves
through a growth phase of insurgency in which well-articulated generalities
attract participants, and in which people situated in very different
contexts can recognize themselves and organize for parallel uprisings, the
other side of follow-through political struggle?the tediousness, dedication,
and minutiae of in-depth, localized research, organizing, and action?must be
expected and planned for. It is in the particular instances of policy
execution that the corruption from above touches the ground, that is to say,
where it is most readily witnessed, exposed, directly confronted, and
My feeling is, because OWS has from the beginning called into account a
system rather than persons or groups, compared to Wisconsin the movement has
more long term potential for growth and endurance. This is for two reasons,
one obvious and one less so. First, systems themselves are broad and endure,
outlasting the reach and careers of any single, embodied villain. Though it
is true that systems can crumble in amazingly short order, the conventional
wisdom says that, for example, the system we refer to as ³Wall Street² will
outlast Scott Walker¹s tenure as governor. As long as the target remains,
the opposition, now sparked, may as well.
The less obvious reason is also less positive in the short term. The
abstract truth of the OWS critique reaches a limit on the ground. That is to
say, the shared reality of living under a single system can fuel a mass
movement only until that shared reality begins to fray in the uneven
geography of capital. This problem is exemplified by the second point
related to Wisconsin above; who, outside of the people of northern
Wisconsin, knows or cares about the devastation of long wall mining now
looming over the Penokee Hills? Every mining disaster, every home
foreclosure, every supermax prison is sited in a local context, against
which it casts its most heavily weighted shadow, rendering abstractions
about systemic operations nearly moot. In Wisconsin it is already an
achievement in translocal activism that many people in southern and urban
areas have come to recognize the system as it takes this particular form in
another part of the state?and that is under the comparatively unifying
regime of the villain Walker. Thus the question for OWS?and really any new
US left formation of national scale?is how does the movement embed within
itself the function of articulation, as Laclau and Mouffe define that term,
and apply it to these problems of translocal activism?*
This was the underlying challenge I perceived in the Troy Davis march-turned
OWS rally. How is Wall Street and the market theocracy it has imposed on the
world readable in the Troy Davis travesty, and in prison-related issues
generally? How can the one be articulated as the other, but in a way that
preserves routes into the untransferable realms of tedious and specialized
campaigns that define all of the specific, localized battles? These kinds of
questions become more important as different constituencies, each with its
own history, demands, and ongoing campaigns, joins OWS?an accelerating
development as the occupation as of now looks toward a fourth week. Clearly,
grappling with the essential fluidity and unfixed nature of the discursive
identities that make up the socialist terrain, within a movement context,
presents short term challenges. Familiar fractures are being voiced within
OWS even as I write. But if properly negotiated, even partially, the current
internal challenge also hints at a long term possibility we have not seen in
the US since Seattle: a terrain of understood alliances able to shift,
divide, and reconstitute according to the uneveness of capital itself. Again
as Laclau and Mouffe might say, we will in time have before us a field of
moments, each one an instance and place of movement identity only readable
in relation to others, from northern Wisconsin to Occupy Wall Street, to the
* ³?we will call articulation any practice establishing a relation among
elements such that their identity is modified as a result of the
articulatory practice.² Hegemony & Socialist Strategy, Ernesto Laclau and
Chantal Mouffe, p. 105.

-- from:
#occupy and assemble?
transversal web journal

>From the sit-ins on the Kasbah Square in Tunis to the tents on Rothschild
Boulevard in Tel Aviv, from the encampments on the Puerta del Sol in Madrid
to Syntagma Square in Athens, from the Wisconsin Uprising to Occupy LA, from
Tahrir Square in Cairo to Liberty Plaza in New York - there is an incredible
movement of occupations growing in this year of 2011. Slogans like ³They
don¹t represent us² call for a non-representationist political practice,
inventive forms of assembling bring new meaning to the good old general
assembly, reappropriations of space and time thwart the logic of private and
public: There is a new abstract machine in the making, traversing the local
practices, empowering itself with every new space that is occupied, every
new assembly that finds another form of expression and sociality. This issue
of transversal is a discursive component of this abstract machine emerging
from the actual experiences of Occupy Wall Street, dedicated to all the
precarious occupiers in the world.


Judith Butler: Bodies in Alliance and the Politics of the Street
Nicole Demby: Liberty Plaza. A "Message" Entangled with its Form
Isabell Lorey: Non-representationist, Presentist Democracy
Gerald Raunig: The Molecular Strike
Nato Thompson: The Occupation of Wall Street Across Time and Space
Dan S. Wang: From One Moment to the Next, Wisconsin to Wall Street


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