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<nettime> The tactics of occupation: Becoming cockroach
pavlos hatzopoulos on Sat, 26 Nov 2011 11:31:31 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> The tactics of occupation: Becoming cockroach

from http://bit.ly/sXMjKa    | presented at

The global occupy protest movement is proliferating by “contagion,
epidemics, battlefields, and catastrophes”.[1] Furthermore, it
materialises and disperses in multiple ephemeral processes of
transformation that construct a common for the multitude of
protestors. The common produced by the global occupy movement is not a
mutually shared opposition to the capitalist crisis, nor a collective
identity (of the “indignados” or of the 99%), nor a consensual
political project (for real, authentic democracy). The common does not
even embody an identical strategy of occupying public space, but
rather to a series of becomings that question established
categorizations and taxonomies that normalize the production of
subjectivities and the organisation of life.

More so, the common is not produced in a genealogical, linear fashion,
evolving from past forms of mobilisation and protest but rather it
emerges directly out of the exceptional material circumstances of
crisis contagion and catastrophe that spread like an epidemic in
different territorialisations.

In order to perform this argument, we will attempt to trace forms of
becoming cockroach in the context of the global occupy movement.

* {AT} Syntagma square*

We start with a snapshot of life at Syntagma square in Athens on June
29, 2011. This was the day of protests against the wave of austeriy
measures passed by the Greek government in parliament.

“Since yesterday, June 28, we live like cockroaches in Syntagma
square. We are sprayed continuously with chemicals by the Greek police
regardless of what we do or what we say, but we persist. We leave
Syntagma square for a while to catch our breath and keep on coming
back. We rest a bit and return to the square. Even before the
chemicals began exploding yesterday morning, we were just sitting on
the pavement and the riot police stormed and arrested a person seating
nearby. When we protested against the arrest, the riot police
responded by arresting another passerby who was just exiting a coffee
shop with a coffee in his hand. To be just standing close to Syntagma
square seems dangerous and certainly suspicious. The arrests are being
enacted to disperse the crowds, but we keep on moving closer to the
square instead of leaving.

As we are becoming cockroaches we begin, without really realizing it,
to adopt tactics of stasis, of perseverance and endurance, that were
previously unknown to us. Chemicals keep on flying, sound bombs keep
on exploding all around us making terrible noise and the crowds
respond by not leaving, by remaining at Syntagma square. Becoming
cockroaches and growing more and more resistant to the chemicals, our
bodies begin to mutate. In gas masks, painting maalox on our faces,
wearing sun glasses and ski masks, we persist. The figures in gas
masks and maalox recognize each other even when they meet further away
from Syntagma square.

Even now that the austerity law was approved in the Greek parliament,
the crowds are not leaving, they are reinforced. “Let’s have an
assembly now,” said someone in the midst of a cloud of chemicals. Like
we did when we “staged the music concert yesterday”, he explains.
Yesterday, we were cleaning and washing the square with water for
hours to disperse the smell of the chemicals and then from a defunct
PA system the Tiger Lillies played live on Syntagma square. Chemicals
and sound bombs started to explode again all around Syntagma, but
everybody remained on the square and kept on dancing.

The classic urban tactics of demonstration (marching in a linear
fashion, protesting in front of the Parliament, dispersing after the
end of the demonstration) or confrontation (like throwing marbles,
stones, and molotov cocktails against the police and destroying
symbolic targets like banks, multinational commercial chains etc. )
seem and are secondary in face of our tactics. Cockroaches do not
attack, they do not make much noise, nor do they destroy something.
But, we cockroaches are far more persistent and productive than other
animals that are slowly disappearing.”

This narrative is not about a denunciation of police violence and
oppression, neither is it a call for global solidarity with humans
treated like animals by the police. Wearing gas masks to resist tear
gas and other chemicals or adopting tactics of perseverance and
endurance does not mean that we humans are forced to mimic an inferior
specifies, or that we are reduced to acting like insects. In a similar
fashion in Tahrir square, after 6 successive days of murderous
suffocation by tears gas and other chemicals and of shootings of
protesters with rubber bullets and live ammunition by the Egyptian
security forces (from 19 to 24 of November 2011), Twitter user
 {AT} El_Deeb writes: “#Tahrir has turned into a lifestyle, a way of
living, a utopian city”. The refusal of the protesters in Tahrir to,
once again, leave the square, their perseverance in the face of what
was previously thought of as “unlivable conditions” produces the

Becoming cockroach is a process through which occupation is produced
as common and where new possibilities are emerging for the propagation
and expansion of the occupy movement beyond the confines of an urban
square as public space.[2]

The global occupy movement rests on tactics of stasis, on a primary
refusal to move, instead of march. From Tahrir, to Piazza del Sol, to
Syntagma, to Zucchotti park, immobility embodies the desire of the
protesters to dissociate their occupied public spaces from existing
networks of power.

These tactics of stasis are not directly disruptive. They do not
intend to block traffic or to close down the roads: to disrupt, in
other words, the main networks of urban mobility. They are, instead,
devised as a cause for themselves. Stasis operates through contagion
and absorption: it constitutes the desire to absorb the entire
everyday urban life into the occupy mode itself.

This is how stasis relates to existing organisation of urban
space-time. In a way, the occupy protesters adopt a politics of
asymmetry in relation to power. Their tactics are not intended to head
on destroy the way that power organises the space-time of urban life,
nor to attack it in some of its weakest chains (although this is also
done by certain groups that are part of these protests). Occupied
public spaces are intended to devour within their bordering all the
existing activities and subjectivities which operate in the
non-occupied city space.

The call to “occupy everything” does not, then, directly aim at the
destruction of existing structures of domination, but at the
production of an occupied zone within which multiple and often
contradictory desires may co-exist. The following comment from the
“Take the Square” blog is indicative of such a cohabitation and of the
extent to which a multitude of occupying desires can co-exist on the
same plane:

“i wanna occupy nigeria…..heart of africa……am so serious..i need
help…i started a student coalition on climate change already…so u see
whr am coming from”.[3]

In fact, for the global occupy movement the question of where one is
coming from or where one is heading to is or should be entirely
irrelevant to the actual act of occupation. What is more significant,
here, is the fact that occupation sets the space where multiple
becomings take place.

This space of multiple becomings is also digital. The entanglement of
social media activism with the global occupy movement creates the
conditions for a becoming machinic cockroach.

*Machinic cockroaches*

An experiment was performed in 2007 by a group of scientists in the
Free University of Brussels. Scientists, there, created a set of tiny
machinic cockroaches with the purpose of socialising with real
cockroaches and of ultimately affecting their behaviour.[4] The
machinic cockroaches were basically tiny robots, of about the same
size with real cockroaches and programmed to exude the same smell so
that they would fool the real ones into believing that they were real,

The experiment tried to test the predominant hypothesis that
cockroaches find shelter on the basis of two criteria: a) how dark it
is…choosing the darkest place available and b) how many other
cockroaches are to be found in that spot. The researchers programmed
the machinic cockroaches to prefer a less-dark hiding place than the
ones available.

During the experiment all the cockroaches scurried around randomly for
a while, but the robots eventually settled under the lighter, less
shadowy spot — and the real cockroaches followed. The machinic
cockroaches had tricked the real ones into following them — even to
places where a sensible roach would never venture. In a similar
fashion, the entanglement of the global occupy protest with mainstream
social media is also a becoming machinic cockroach.

Take the story of the “We are all Khaled Said” Facebook page, for
instance. In a recent interview, the administrators of this Facebook
page, which played a prominent role in the initial mobilisations in
Egypt remembers how “in early November 2010, the page disappeared
through an organized attack from the state security electronic
department…”. They flooded Facebook with complaints that the Khaled
Said page violated Facebook’s terms and conditions”, the
administrators of the page remember. And then they recount how
“activists in Egypt instantly campaigned Facebook through mass e-mails
and threats to boycott Facebook” and how they “immediately made calls
to the Facebook headquarters in California” demanding that the page be
put back online. The page was up again in a space of a few hours.[5]

Or take the story of Amira Yahyaoui, a cyber activist from Tunisia
living in exile in France. The desire to prevent her blog from being
blocked in Tunisia (the internet was heavily censhorship was heavy
there from the beginning) prompted her to basically change the url of
her blog on an almost daily basis. From “delle3a” it became “delle3b”
and then “delle4a”, and so on, with Amira giving a tip in code the
previous night of what the new url would be.[6]

In these cases, social media activism becomes a machinic cockroach,
not only in the sense that activism adopts a tactics of perseverance
and mutation with the primary purpose of remaining visible online,
refusing to vanish under the power of censorship and control. More so,
it adopts a tactic of contagion and absorption. It attempts to enact
the “contamination” of social media platforms with data flows and
activity that will ensure the peopling of social media. The global
fascination with making “#tahrir” or “#ows”, or “#tunisie” and so on
feature on the Twitter world trends list or preventing a particular FB
page or group or profile from being taken down by Facebook or from
getting trolled by organised user groups can be seen as an attempt to
absorb digital flows at the borderline that an occupied zone is.

In effect, like a machinic cockroach can disturb the dark habits of a
band of coackroaches, these practices disturb the personalised,
a-political, banal social interactions that normalize Facebook and
Twitter usages. This is not to say, that the dominant social media
platforms do not try to resist machinic cockroaches or that they do
not attempt to appropriate them.

The argument, instead, is that there is a radically new social media
activism that is emerging via the global occupy movement. Radically
different from previous practices of clicktivism, of enhancing and
facilitating mobilisations, of collective articulating political
demands, this new activism operates by attempting to transform social
media platforms into occupy zones. Through a becoming machinic
cockroach, Facebook and Twiter users and data flows subvert the
original usage of these mediums, destroy their common sense
functioning and re-claim them as a plane where occupation is
propagated, where the contagion of occupy zones proliferates.

The reaction by social media monopolies to redefine and normalize
these practices is ever present, but machinic cockroaches tend to
reappropriate social media as planes of renewed struggle and of a
continuous re-negotiation of their potential usages.

*Conclusion? “From the Arab spring, to the European summer, to the
American winter to…”*

Overall, the occupy protest movement is not linear, synchronic, nor
evolutionary. Its failure to produce a new permanent structure for
real democracy or for organising future mobilisations or a new
“species” of revolutionary subjects is also its strength. The occupy
protest movement is, strictly speaking, not a movement at all, but a
block of strange and unfamiliar becomings emerging in different

Becoming cockroach embodies an ephemeral symbiosis of different life
forms (natural and machinic) that are normally incompatible and even
hostile. It is an ephemeral borderline phenomenon triggered by the
political and socioeconomic crisis and by state and police violence in
specific locales. Becoming cockroach is, however, just one block of
becomings that takes hold of different life forms. It is of crucial
importance to resist the evolutionary analysis of these becomings that
inevitably lead us to questions about the origins and the direction of
protests: “where did they come from?”…“what is born out of them?”.
Occupy movements spread like contagion from one urban context to the
next, from one social medium to another. They are always to be found
in the “middle of a line” that does not necessarily lead to a new
power configuration, a new species or a new medium, but rather to a
new set of becomings.

[1] Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guatarri, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism
and Schizophrenia, (London: Athlone Press), p. 241.

[2] Ibid., p. 239.

[3] See http://howtocamp.takethesquare.net/2011/11/07/occupyresearch/.

[4] See http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1684427,00.html?imw=Y.

[5] See http://www.bostonreview.net/BR36.6/khaled_said_facebook_egypt_revolution.php.

[6] Personal interview with Amira Yahyaoui.

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