An opinion piece by Tom
All of these are a form of occupation – of a moral stance, a discourse, or an occupation and subsequent recreation of certain forms of physical space.
Globalization is an attempt to annihilate the effect of physical space and distance, neo-liberalism to annihilate space within discourse. And it is the clear taking of that space – not the cynical allocation of it by other traditional and insurmountable owners, systems of property, the state, etc. – that shows the emergence of a real politics. When it is in the city, the street, the squares and work-places, the anger of people is given its most basic, physical and potent political expression.
But presence on the street is tolerated only after the fact, it is only because it ends predictably that it is allowed to occur. The ritual of a march, and now ‘kettling’, isn’t enough. It is when this presence in the city persists, is repeated, grows, and threatens to move off the street and into buildings, that its nature changes. When a space is taken and given a permanent form, and kept, and built, and becomes a part of peoples’ lives – an expression of the structure they wish for their lives – then it has the potential to be or become a form of real change.
The occupation of a University of Glasgow building approximates, in a small way, such an act. Over the past month it has become clear from the experiences of those involved that it has in a crude way spatialized the struggle in which we find ourselves, that it is a different stage in a political life. It is not only on the specific campus that it has changed ideas – though the controversy and backlash certainly indicates that it has effected an upset – but at times the reach and projection has been national.
Here there is a potential for political action that is not reactionary, not simply a protest or ‘anti-anything‘, but progressive. It represents, through presenting a new model of education and community, a living example of how to do things differently. It is acting despite everything to add further depths to a political situation. In its first week The Free Hetherington received a phone call from Google Maps asking to update their records – Glasgow had been remapped in the most 21st Century manner possible.
From a practical point of view, it is difficult. Being and living antagonistically to the entrenched norms of acceptability is difficult and often you will get it wrong. Trying to divide up the tasks of cleaning, cooking, greeting and maintaining the space is new and a work in progress. The Free Hetherington has the antagonisms of society built into its very nature – the occupiers, who are made up of every student, public member or worker who steps through the door – have to engage with a process of dismantling. There is the sense that normal life has been suspended, destabilized. The state of exception that comes through acting outside the law means they can become face to face (when everything is going well) with the bare facts of class, gender and power positions – and they have to rethink and reconstruct them.
An occupation worth having
An occupation is different to a job. At the Free Hetherington we are not workers as most workers are. The openness means a break with the everyday separation between what our work produces, and the product we are. There is a sudden, elated, realization that we are approaching society from a different direction. The basic power behind this is the realization that this is a space that we have taken, have occupied.
When some are upset that occupiers have taken something, they point to the wrong thing: the building. The building is necessary, but it is not the whole deal. What has most dramatically been taken is the stability of the previous political situation. The stability of normal laws of property, of what is acceptable. When people take (to) the streets they are taking political power from faceless men, demanding that they are listened to, that they are involved in a society that is for that moment their own and a part of them. Politics is visible and sensory, they are chipping at the legitimacy of the political structures they think do not represent them any longer.
When we are told something is not possible – and we make it possible, make it real – when something is said to be gone – and we find it and put it back on a pedestal, when you cease to argue about if something can be done and instead simply do it, in your own self-fashioned name, then that is a threat. The Free Hetherington’s first declaration was “we are open!”, a direct contradiction to the sign placed by management on the door: “the Research Club is closed.”
Asking to be allowed to choose your own name and your own way of life will always seem suspicious. An occupation is always unreasonable, esoteric, outdated and excessive from the outside, and always completely natural from the inside. That is because it is a space that isn’t based in what is currently thought possible, but in possibilities that are only becoming imaginable as they happen.