By Carolina S. Ruiz Austria

The word "Heresy"

was used by Irenaeus in Contra Haereses to discredit his opponents in the early Christian Church. It has no purely objective meaning without an authoritative system of dogma.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Making Things (and Bodies) Matter: Occupy

"Matter has weight and occupies space." This curious fragment of memory that comes to mind right now (a tidbit left behind no doubt from third-grade science lessons learned by rote) seems to me, to be a fitting way to think about emerging "Occupy" movements around the world. Political acts of "occupation" (along with more fleeting forms like lie ins or die ins, camp outs and strike-blockades etc.) dramatize contests over space both literally and figuratively. To make issues (and bodies) matter, it seems, one of the reliable political acts still holds promise: Occupying "Public" Space - that is places out in the open so "the public" can see/hear the message.

Of course part of the so-called "public space" (that is the lower Manhattan park owned by a Canadian Company) is, technically speaking, now privately-owned. On the other hand, thanks to the proliferation of internet technology and real-time broadcasting, the so-called "public" (and potential publics) that can be reached by occupations and demonstrations has grown exponentially. But rather than just providing a broader "audience," interactive technology also enables "publics" to be both audiences/participants, regardless of where they may be and which "Occupy" movement they are closest too. Just thinking about it makes me dizzy and want to reach for my McLuhan books and geneflect.

Without denying the revolutionary potential of the ideas associated with it and the dedication (and hopefulness) of many of its participants, the "Occupy movements" sprouting across North America now (with the Wall Street as an informal epicentre of sorts) ride atop the crest of multiple waves of protests and movements born before it (and arguably still flowing alongside of it and possibly in some ways running against it). For many social movements, the occupation of "public space" is not just a strategy or a soapbox from which to preach. For displaced peoples, for instance, occupation is not just a protest but an active retaking of what was taken away from them. (Of course it is rarely, if ever, legally successful.) Indigenous peoples "camp out" not only to "express a sentiment" or to "exercise free speech" but to insist that they have a claim to place and space - that they (and their bodies) matter.

I'm not going to wax sentimental about "second wave" feminism but the "Taking Back the Night" walks (way back when) are a good example of the reappropriation of space and place.


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