Two New Special Issues out on Occupations and Encampments

This summer sees the publication of two new special features on encampments and occupations in South Atlantic Quarterly and Social Movement Studies. Protest Camps’ had the opportunity to contribute to both of these great collections and recommends them to all those reflecting on these recent movements.

In December 2011, Protest Camps’ Anna Feigenbaum helped Emma Dowling run an open workshop at Occupy LSX reflecting on some of the successes and challenges of the movement. With Susan Pell and Katherine Stanley from Tent City University, they put together a short piece arising from these discussions and their own experiences at the camp.

Tent City Uni by lyope

Their collective reflections are now published in the special segment ‘Encampments and Occupations’ out in the Summer 2012 issue of South Atlantic Quarterly (111:3). The issue also features reflections on Tahrir Square, M15 and Occupy Wall Street, as well as an introductory note by journal editor and prominent social movement theorist Michael Hardt.

You can read the abstract below and download the full article (with uni access*) from South Atlantic Quarterly.

This essay brings together the authors’ experiences and observations with reflections gathered in an open workshop about Occupy London organized under the banner of the Tent City University working group.The essay posits Occupy London not as one entity but as an organizing process located in more than one area within the City of London. They see Occupy London as both a powerful idea and as a material practice. The authors reflect on the social composition, organizational politics, and infrastructure of Occupy London. They conclude that, aside from the challenges of collective organization and the desire to maintain visibility, one recurring concern within the Occupy London movement is how its embodied practices of struggle can emanate from centralized and often symbolic moments into the everyday realms of production and reproduction within society.

A special issue of Social Movement Studies also comes out this month, featuring reflections on Occupy Wall Street, M15, Tahrir, Israel and more. The double edition, edited by Jenny Pickerill and colleagues,   includes some much welcomed further analyses looking at questions around homelessness, colonialism, nationalism and historical legacies as they relate to and shape contemporary mobilisations. For their contribution, Protest Camps’ offers an engaging review of n+1’s new book Occupy! Scenes from Occupied America released by Verso.

*If you don’t have access to these journal articles and would like to read these pieces, you can get in touch with anna [at] protestcamps [dot] org.

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Occupy Research Collective Convergence – 30 June 2012

On Saturday 30 June 2012 The Occupy Research Collective held its first convergence meeting  at UCL. The collective emerged out of series of reading groups on topics relevant to the movement. Participants decided to take their discussions a step further by establishing a network of collaboration to ‘Occupy Research’, meaning to both do research on Occupy and to ‘occupy’ research by engaging in activism within academia. In this guest post, Anastasia Kavada shares her experiences and reflections from the day.

Beginning early on a Saturday morning, the circle got progressively larger as new people started trickling in towards noon. The meeting included people of different ages, backgrounds, and activist or academic experience. Some were activists who had participated in Occupations in Britain and elsewhere and who are researching Occupy-related issues. There were also some Occupy activists interested in what research could offer to the movement.

After a general introduction of the collective and the rules of the discussion (going through the hand signals seems obligatory in every Occupy-related meeting), we used an open methodology to propose topics for the breakaway sessions after lunch. These topics included research ethics, the neoliberal university and its implications for publishing and research, memory and archiving, teaching and learning, as well as doing research for social change.

I followed the first part of the research ethics group where discussion focused on the tensions of activist-research. Should researchers be insiders or outsiders of the social movements they are studying? And can we be both good researchers and good activists? There’s really no definitive answer to these questions and, to my experience at least, no way of resolving these tensions. But these tensions can be used productively as they motivate us to reflect on our practice as researchers and activists. Indeed, talking about these questions in the breakaway group brought to the fore some interesting observations. For example, we wondered whether the distinctions between activists and academics are as clear-cut as these questions suggest. And we discussed whether academics reinforce the divide by restricting their activism to the movements they are researching and by failing to bring this activist spirit in the academic structures to which they belong.

I then moved to the teaching and learning group, where we talked about the difficulties and limitations of academic learning. Can radical teaching take place within academic institutions? What are the best ways for facilitating students to gain ownership of the learning process? How can we best teach about social movements? Again, there was no real answer to these questions but a proposal for action: to establish a network for radical learning that would engage with these issues not only in theory but also in practice, possibly by organizing practical trainings and workshops on radical teaching methods.

Overall, discussions were stimulating and people seemed eager to continue working on these issues both online and offline. All of the sessions were live-streamed and you can find more information about the collective here: . If you’d like to take part in organizing the group and helping out with different events, you can also subscribe to the mailing list: .

Following the Occupy logic, the collective is envisioned as an open space where people can reflect on the questions rather than dictate the outcomes of ‘Occupying Research’. It is an initiative that’s not only welcome, but necessary.

Anastasia Kavada is a senior lecture in Media at Westminster University in London, UK researching social movements and media practices. Follow her on twitter @AnastasiaKavada

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Protest Camp Workshop Roundup


On the 26th June 2012 40 researchers and activists gathered at Leicester University for a one-day workshop on protest camp. It was jointly organised by the protest camp collective, the department of geography and the School of Management at the University of Leicester.

Image (a) Image

After a key note from Sasha Roseneil who presented her research on Greenham Common, four sessions discussed spatialitias, governance, affect and media in protest camps.


What came out of it?

A map as well as the infamous ‘concept soup’

The concept soup: What to consider for the study of protest camps(results)Image

Participants were ‘delighted’ with the ‘wonderful experience’ of the workshop and we took away that protest camps can serve as a useful lense for the study of social movements. Plans are currently underway to pursue further networking events to consolidate the research network in formation. Watch this space.


Topics to consider for future research


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Protest Camps Wins Research Grants

The Protest Camps research collective is delighted to announce the award of a number of small grants to help fund our interviews with protest campers and archival research trips. Here is a round-up of our successful springtime proposals:

Occuprint Poster Distro

  • Patrick McCurdy received a Start up Grant for ‘Mediated Civic Cultures: A pilot study of the Occupy movement’ that will focus specifically on Occuprint. This award came from the  Faculty of Arts, University of Ottawa and is worth $5,000.
  • Fabian Frenzel was awarded a grant from the Research Development Fund of the College of Social Sciences, Leicester University, for the proposal  ‘Protest Camps Research’. The grant, worth £1500, will cover a collective writing retreat prior to our Protest Camps Workshop, and some of the workshop costs as well as the presentation of research findings in a panel on protest camps at the Royal Geographical Society annual conference in Edinburgh in July 2012.
  • Anna Feigenbaum won the Meardis Cannon Fellowship, in the amount of $750, to support archival research for the project, “More than Just a Mud Hole:  Protest Camps and the Legacies of Resurrection City.”  Anna will travel to the African American Collections of the Manuscript, Archives, & Rare Book Library at Emory University this summer.
  • Anna Feigenbaum will also be taking up fellowship for the 2012-2013 academic year at the Rutgers Centre for Historical Analysis, Rutgers University. As a fellow on the ‘Networks of Exchange‘ project, she will examine how the circulation of people, objects, ideas and affect come to constitute new material formations of protest camps across time and place.

Resurrection City, Washington D.C. 1968

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Blockupy Frankfurt wins as police blocks bankers, government blocks democracy

There has been quite some debate over whether the Occupy movement, despite being famously open and unspecific about its political aims, is fundamentally based on an anti-capitalist agenda. Some have argued against this assumption, claiming Occupy was critical of capitalism but didn’t share the believe that there was something fundamentally wrong with with it. This might be read as an adaptation of Graham Gibson’s argument about the dangers of fetichising capitalism in anti-capitalist politics, a valid critique.
It might also be, rather more worringly, an attempt by proponents of capital’s plan B to use Occupy for their pursuit of ‘capitalism light’. Some appreciation of critical approaches to capitalism to save it: See what George Caffentzis wrote in a recent comment:

As [Obama] wrote in his campaign book, The Audacity of Hope in 2006, neoliberalism (what the Bush Administration ideologues called ‘the Ownership Society’) was leading to a political catastrophe for capitalism in the US by creating harsh class divisions, an uncompetitive working class, and a corrupt and irresponsible capitalist class. Obama’s answer to US capitalism’s ills was and is similar to Sach’s answer for Africa: communal actions and institutions must be tolerated in order to make a functioning capitalism possible.

The uptake of Occupy in Germany had been relatively late and never particularily strong. Blockupy Frankfurt was a concerted attempt to take Occupy further and make it into a strong antagonistic and anti-capitalist statement. In particular activists targeted the German financial capital and her banks, including the European Central Bank (ECB) in protest over the austerity measures forced upon Euro member countries like Greece, Italy and Spain. As broad coalition was forged on the basis of a  very considerate action consenus, which allowed anti- and alter-capitalist to work together.

In the end, the protest was blocked: City of Frankfurt administration banned all planned actions apart from one march which took place on Saturday with 30,000 participants. The German constitutional court upheld the bans on protest, causing surprisingly little concern.

The organising Interventionist Left expresses some disappointment at the results of the banning of Blockupy

We’ve wished that there would have been more tents on the squares, for a longer period. We had prepared a large range of asambleas and meetings, opportunities to have a free exchange and free debates. The violence of the bans and the violence of those who executed them, kept us from doing so.

But many participants will also agree with the following note

We will not be intimidated. We will not be crushed. And most certainly, we will not back down. And even if they crack down on us again — which they will — let it be known that our aims have already been achieved: the financial epicenter of eurocapitalism is completely blocked. And the authorities were kind enough to do it for us.

Now it’s time to up the ante. Authorities in the West seem to be increasingly happy to undermine democracy to defend capitalism. Little do they seem to care whether protesters are anti-capitalist or alter-capitalist. These are signs of weakness: The results of the weekend in Frankfurt: Blockupy 1:Authorities 0

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Video Now Available: Media, Politics and Protest Camps in the Occupy Social Movement

You can now watch Protest Camp Collective’s Anna Feigenbaum and Patrick McCurdy discuss the impacts of the Occupy movement, followed by a keynote address from award-winning journalist Chris Hedges.

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Spontaneous Urban Design: An interview with 123 Occupy

“Someone mentioned to me recently the popular union slogan “8 hours for work, 8 hours for sleep, 8 hours for what we will”.  I’ve been thinking over the course of my work with the occupy movement that people are really taking those extra 1-8 hours a day to change the remaining sixteen.  In the midst of demanding work, designers tend to forget how powerful those extra hours can be.”

Bubble Wrap Pop-Up

 In October 2011 Greta Hansen, Kyung-Jae Kim, Andy Rauchut, and Adam Koogler came together as ‘123 Occupy’ to build strategies for occupation. Their work combines architectural structures, urban design principles and an open source ethos with a commitment to community-building, inspired by the Occupy movement and histories of radical design.


Protestcamps:  When and how did you start working together?

We started working together when the occupation of Zuccotti Park was occupying everyone’s attention.  The first thought was “what are they going to do in the winter?” and the second thought was opportunistic.  As architects we thought we could try to engage what we already cared about with what was an open ground for ideas.  We worked with the Architecture Working Group to brainstorm solutions for the winter, and then we developed a raised insulated water-resistant platform for tents and a collapsible triage station for the medical pavilion.  We built them, but unfortunately finished right in time for winter but not in time for the eviction.

Protestcamps:     What is your current project and how is it going?

Our current project is also collapsible, an inflatable structure to cover public space and encourage gathering, discussion, etc.  We just finished a test model. Our next iteration will double in size to a 30’-0” diameter, and what we learn from that will inform our final inflatable of 60’-0” – 80’-0” in diameter.  We call the project Inflatable GA because we think those assemblies, especially the early ones, represented the spirit of the movement.  We hope the project will encourage gatherings like those.


Protestcamps:   You seem to be coming from different training backgrounds. Could you say a bit about those differences and the collaborative processes you use? How do you see your different skill sets come together in this work? 

We’re all architects so our training is not so diverse.  I come from an architecture and exhibition design practice, but I’ve been making art projects for the past two years.  Andy and Adam work full time in architecture firms and are competent with thinking forms and well as building them.  Kyung-Jae also works fulltime in architecture, and he is our graphic side.

 Protestcamps:  Often in ‘activist circles’ strong lines are drawn between corporate industry work and community/protest work. However, in reality, many designers working in Occupy also work in, or have worked in, the corporate sector. Do you think about these divisions in your practice or working life? Do you see any changes occurring more broadly in the ‘design world’ between, as one recent project in the UK put it, “Creativity, Money and Love“?   

All of us are bound to the system somehow.  For me, juggling freelance work and art and activist work simultaneously, the boundaries between them can seem less defined.  But most of our 4-person group work a daily, strenuous job, like most designers. Someone mentioned to me recently the popular union slogan “8 hours for work, 8 hours for sleep, 8 hours for what we will”.  I’ve been thinking over the course my work with the occupy movement that people are really taking those extra 1-8 hours a day to change the remaining sixteen.  In the midst of demanding work, designers tend to forget how powerful those extra hours can be.  So instead of feeling guilty about time spent in corporate offices, we can remember that it’s our right to balance that work with an effort to change the system we work in.

One of the design firms we look up to for their balance of activism and corporate/government work to is Interboro Partners in Brooklyn.  Their project for the Young Architecture Pavilion at PS1 in 2010 was a good example.  All the pieces of their design for the museum’s courtyard were pre-designed to become useful pieces of the neighborhood and community after the summer’s run of events and parties.

Protestcamps:   One thing I was drawn to in your projects is the way they engage with a kind of ‘open source’ or ‘crowd source’ model for product development. In a traditional product market, you’d take private designs, pitch it to for-profit investors for a stake, and then have your product produced and sold on the market with a price mark up. For 123 Occupy, your designs are made public, your investors are crowdsourced and your product is gifted to the movement. Is this a conscious part of your work? Are you guided by other open source practices and initiatives?

We started because of the completely open source and crowd sourced occupy movement.  So everything we are doing is an attempt to connect with that model, and the way for us was through DIY culture.  Mimi Zeiger wrote a 4-part series of articles for Design Observer called the Interventionist’s Toolkit.  The fourth one included our projects in a discussion of urban activism.

Zeiger’s first article introduces the emergence of these spontaneous urban architecture projects, which have the goal of changing the city through small actions.  I’m glad that 123 exists in the realm of these kind of projects.  You don’t need a client to make a project and by not having one you create your own agency.

Protestcamps:   Your work reminds me of some of Forays‘ projects which were done as everyday street interventions, but could be used in protest settings. This kind of work points, for me, to broader questions of appropriation or applied use. Generally, folks talk of capitalism/corporations ‘appropriating’ art and social movement practices. Yet, in your work and in groups like Forays, appropriation does not seem to work in only one direction. Materials, energy, design principles, landscape, etc. are all put to creative use. How does your group think about these borrowings or re-uses?

cocoon by Forays (Adam Bobbette and Geraldine Juarez)

The main thing I think we are doing is borrowing space and trying to open it up to new uses.  Forays’ guerrilla architecture seems to consistently involve the re-use of materials.  This is a way to be efficient but also a way to resist our dependence on the consumption of materials, a way to remind us of the resources we are already sitting on.  Right now 123 is using a lot of new plastic.  So we’re trying to design a smart outlet for that material if and when the inflatables become un-reusable.

Protestcamps:   What does 123 Occupy recommend for those interested in radical design? Are there other people, projects, books that you have particularly drawn inspiration from?A direct source of inspiration for us was Michael Rakowitz’s parasite project.  He created a series of blow-up pods for the homeless that borrowed warm air from the exhaust vents of buildings.  This so-smart way of redirecting air to make comfortable spaces – making something out of waste, invisible waste – is the kind of the epitome of the spontaneous urban design move that you and I both are trying to find.

We’ve also been working alongside Mitch McEwen who runs a small nonprofit called Superfront, which takes advantage of unused and available spaces in New York, Detroit, and LA and turns them into events and design collaborations.

Some of the vintage examples that continue to inspire us, especially for inflatables, come from the radical architecture groups Ant Farm and Archigram.

Michael Rakowitz’s ParaSite Project

Learn how you can build 123 Occupy’s projects.

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Protest Camps on Canal Savior with Chris Hedges

Protest Camps on Canal Savior with Chris Hedges

Anna Feigenbaum & Patrick McCurdy will appear on Canal Savior’s airing of Media, Politics and Protest Camps in the Occupy Social Movement.  The first episode features journalist and author Chris Hedges on April 17, 2012 at 19:00 and April 18, 2012 at 14:00. The following week, episode 2 broadcasts the panelists’ discussion on topics including anonymous, social media, black bloc tactics and police brutality. It airs on April 24, 2012 at 19:00 and April 25, 2012 at 14:00.

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Warwick University on Occupy London

From its start, there has been a discussion of what Occupy is and what it means. With few camps left around the world, some have asked whether occupy has failed, or lost. Others continue to claim that occupy has a special quality as a new global movement, one with revolutionary potential, perhaps.

At a recent one-day workshop held at Warwick University Business School on the 21 March 2012, around 40 participants avidly discussed these points. Participants came from Occupy London Stock Exchange, as well as a range of academic backgrounds. It was an activists-academics crossover and, perhaps, an attempt to occupy the university and ‘steal study,’ as Occupiers sat in the front and shared their experiences.

Controversy occurred quickly: Occupy was presented as a totally new global phenomenon and as a convergence of diverse social movements into a unified form, with little acknowledgement of its underlying diversity, both regionally and historically. Further claims described occupy as ‘the most successful movement ever’ and as ‘our last chance.’ One participant even described Occupy as a ‘revolutionary movement because camping out in winter showed the bloody determination of participants’.

From the Tent City Uni to Warwick: Occupy the University

Divisions in the camp

Objections were raised against those assertions. Did Occupy ‘occupy’? i.e. Did the movement colonise a whole range of social movements across the world, forcing a brand onto the Arab Spring, the M15 movement in Spain, the Israeli housing protests, the British history of protest camping? Does the fact that Occupy did not materialize in India and Latin America indicate a lack of anti-capitalist movements in these places? Certainly not. But what lessons could be learned? The workshop aimed at discussing the politics of organizing. In this context it was very illuminating to hear first hand reflections from the practices and problems developed at Occupy LSX. Their forms of organising around consensus and horizontal decision making (HDM) quickly led to very tangible problems. While some pointed to the well documented ‘magic’ of HDM to produce consensual decisions, there were clear signs of divisions between those that ‘slept in the camp’ and others who came to the general assembly but had not been overnight stayers. The latter tended also to be ‘more [formally] educated’.

The remaining Finsbury Square camp faced a ‘digital divide’ as the on-the ground general assembly and discussions on online ‘groupspaces’ were attended by different groups. Suspicions developed against working groups like the ‘media team’ who were accused of misrepresenting the camp, as well as forming unwarranted leadership of the movement. Such problems occur in a variety of camps, and it is helpful to reflect the discussions on the role of the media team as they emerged, for example in the 2005 Horizone protest camp in Gleneagles.

Occupy LSX also experienced a range of problems that are very different from rural camps. As a camp located in a city, Occupy attracted a much broader range of people, including street drinkers and homeless who came for free food and shelter. Occupy developed a ‘charitable function’ of sorts, a characteristic much less pronounced in rural camps. HDM and other organisational set-ups were also burdened with the more transient character of  city space, where passers-by could come and join discussions at any point. Equally the need to make the space ‘safe’ afforded much more attention than in rural camps. This was addressed through the development of a variety of infrastructures and policies over the time of existence in which significant perspectives on what Occupy LSX was emerged and often clashed.

What’s to be done?

Occupy LSX participants told the workshop of attempts to do ‘skill shares’ and rotate roles between working groups. But there were also more fundamental questions about the use and utility of Occupy to advance revolutionary ideas. HDM seemed to work well in specific situations, but questions were raised whether it would be useful when more antagonistic strategies were pursued. Indicative perhaps was the decision to remove a banner from Occupy LSX which read ‘Capitalism is Crisis’ because the camp could not agree on being ‘anti-capitalist’. In this light it might be useful to draw on OccupyLSX’s experiences with HDM in other movement contexts.

In Warwick, we were also reminded that HDM, if used as a blanket tool of organisation, might easily get confused with very liberal ideas of politics. In this light , seeing Occupy as creating a blank slate of social organisation, from which all can speak and deliberate, might have been one of the key limitations of a developing ‘Occupy’ self-consciousness. The occupy movement seems to be a less threatening, liberal version of Tahrir, in which the revolutionary action of the Arab spring is referenced, but the key revolutionary demand remains unspoken: Off with their heads!

London Occupy as Tahrir Light?

Not a Tahrir moment then, but rather ‘Tahrir light’?

Steal Study!

The workshop ended on a proposal to ‘steal study,’ to use the university’s resources and intellectual might in order to liberate reflection and research from the constraints of capitals enclosures. This proposal was discussed replicating general assembly decision making, and – perhaps true to many similar discussions in the camps – ended on a consensus to create a working group.

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In the Middle of Occupy: short reflections on failure and growth

This post is updated and adapted from an answer I gave to the question ‘Are we in the beginning, middle, or end of the Occupy Movement?’ while a panellist at Media@McGill’s “Media, Politics and Protest Camps in the Occupy Social Movement” event 27 Jan 2012. 

Back in October 2011, we heard from philosopher and public intellectual Slavoj Zizeck that Occupiers should not fall in love with themselves. I think it is also imperative that Occupy does not fall in love with failure. Capitalism loves failure. You lost your job, you are failure. You cannot support your family, you are a failure. You are poor, you are a failure. And of course, we learn this first in school where if you do not learn how you are supposed to, you fail. Most of all, the government officials, the corporations and the professional politicians all want this movement to fail. Let’s not forget that. And let’s not make it easy for them to say it.

The challenges and criticisms piled onto Occupy by participants, supporters and onlookers are, for me, the reason I say we are in the middle of the Occupy Movement. Some of these criticisms should be thrown out, but others demand attention and time and hard work. I think this winter offered time to dig in there and sift through it all and filter out what needs attention, as many Occupy groups and supporters are continuing to do.

One thing that I want to sift out is around discussions of inclusion and equality and the processes of alternative governance and decision-making that have become popularised particularly in North America by Occupy.

Direct democracy is an amazing intervention to see happening on this scale. Occupy has brought out many people who say there is something wrong with Our Democracy, with our economy, with corporations. These are incredible things.

Bec Young

For those of us engaged in traditions of consensus, of self-directed communities and participatory politics, it is profound to see these indigenous, anarchist, feminist and ecological tools for organising people enter into a broad-based social movement.

But when Occupy says ‘direct democracy’ what visions of Democracy are brought into Occupy? A lot of camps struggled with questions around inclusion. Many people brought forward traditional notions of Equality and Liberty. I think it is important to be critical of this. To remember that these terms themselves arise out of colonial histories wherein people are not equal and are not all oppressed in the same ways—as the 99%.

So for me there is a question that I don’t think has ever come before at this scale – and that is what happens when these tools that are about challenging and transforming how we even think about huge ideas like Equality butt heads with the traditional notions of Equality many people bring to the movement?

These traditional notions of Equality cannot account for the ways that different bodies and different voices have different amounts of power. So when we do consensus, when we do a general assembly and we do not acknowledge or configure these difference into our politics, ruptures occur, movements split and grow weary.

For Occupy to remain salient and relevant to existing communities of struggle and to reach out to broader publics requires that we strengthen ourselves and our movements, sharing skills, doing public education, rethinking some of the structures of Occupy that have become fetishized even when they are not working. We need to ask: What should we take along and what should go in the compost as we move forward to #OccupySpring?

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