Experiments in Alternative Worlds
Exiting news: There is an opportunity for a funded PhD project on Protest Camps at the University of Leicester.
Description of the project
This PhD project will investigate forms of spatial organization in protest camps. It contributes a better understanding of spatialities of organization to the study of organizations. Spatial Organization consists of a range of organizational techniques in which territory, place and space are mobilized, employed and affirmed for organizational purposes. It differs from other types of organization, such as bureaucratic or contractual (market-based) organization. There is limited understanding how spatial and other types of organization interact, how they replace each other and what benefits and costs occur when they are employed. Understanding spatial organization matters because it allows making organization(s) more democratic and inclusive, helping those who organize to do so better.
In the project spatial organization will be investigated with an empirical study of protest camps, a form of alternative organization that has come to increasing attention in protest events since the Arab Spring in 2011. The existence of protest camps is widely regarded to benefit the protestors, at least in the initial period of a protest, by providing a permanent and highly visible presence in often symbolically charged public space. Protest Camps are highly pertinent to the study of spatial organization. Research has pointed to the way camps allow for protesters to mass-organize spatially, avoiding non-spatial forms of organization such as associations or unions, often understood by protest campers as excessively hierarchical and bureaucratic. Techniques of spatial organization in protest camps include the occupation and claiming of bounded territories and the building of infrastructures that aim to sustain life (housing and feeding protesters, etc) within the territory.
Camps show further elements of spatial organization, such as decentralization into living quarters or ‘neighborhoods’ as well as function areas such a ‘kids spaces’, ‘safe spaces’, libraries and places of worship, to name but a few. Protest camps’ active engagement in such practices of spatial organization have cohesive effects on the camp’s social and cultural fabric, building stronger camp communities. As a political act spatial organization also sometimes prefigures the political utopian aspirations of the protest campers in such a way that collaborative practices are learned, displayed and concept proofed in the camp. But can such aspirations be realized and maintained, in particular over longer periods of time? The study of protest camps in this project will give important new insights into the possibilities and limits of spatial organization.
- While spatial organization evidently has advantages for the protesters, what are the costs of spatial organization?
- How does spatial organisation relate to, complement, replace and improve other forms and techniques of organisation?
- How is the spatial organization experienced by and reflected on by protest campers?
Three empirical cases of recent protest camps will form the basis of a comparative study which considers different contexts: urban and rural, different political – legal environments, and different cultural settings. The research design is qualitative and empirically based on interview and documentary data. The prospective candidate will identify the specific cases in coordination with the supervisors.
The supervisors have collaborated successfully since 2012 on the study of protest camps, most recently in a joint book editorship.
Both bring unique sets of expertise into the project: Fabian Frenzel is an expert in the political economy of organization and has studied numerous protest camps empirically. Gavin Brown brings to the table a unique expertise in place based protests as well as theoretical and methodological tools for understanding socio-spatial relations and the role of spatiality in politics and subjectivity. The project will benefit the prospective student for its unique interdisciplinary perspective and the supervisors’ experience of working with each other.
The studentship offers a Stipend at RCUK rates (£14,777 for 2018) and UK/EU fee waiver for 3 years.
International (non-EU) applicants are welcome to apply but must be able to fund the difference between the UK/EU and International tuition fees for the duration of their studies.
The deadline for applications is the 1st May 2018.
Please contact Fabian Frenzel ff48(at)le.ac.uk and Gavin Brown gpb10(at)le.ac.uk for any inquiries.
Protest Camps Research Network member Gavin Brown has written a new book (with Helen Yaffe) about the Non-Stop Picket of the South African Embassy in London in the 1980s. In the introduction to Protest Camps in International Context
(Policy Press, 2017) we described the Non-Stop Picket in the following terms:
Several of the chapters in this book actively seek to question the boundaries of what counts as a ‘protest camp’. The Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp clearly fits within commonly accepted understandings of a protest camp – it was a long-term, site-specific protest where people lived, congregated and took action together. On the other hand, one of the other most iconic long-term protests to take place in England in the 1980s is not so simply defined as a ‘protest camp’. For nearly four years, from 19 April 1986 until February 1990, anti-apartheid solidarity activists organised by the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group maintained a continuous protest outside the South African embassy in London. Despite being a continuous, long-term protest, nobody lived or slept outside the South African embassy. The protest’s physical infrastructure consisted of little more than a fabric banner (in later years, engineered so that it could be freestanding) and a few crates of equipment (that doubled up as seats, occasionally). The Non-Stop Picket demanded the unconditional release of Nelson Mandela and all political prisoners in South Africa, as well as calling for Britain to sever all political, economic, and cultural links with South Africa while apartheid existed. Positioned on the pavement directly in front of the main entrance to the embassy, the Non-Stop Picket was strategically located to draw attention to (and cause maximum embarrassment to) the apartheid regime’s representatives in Britain (Brown and Yaffe 2013; 2014).
The modest infrastructure of the Non-Stop Picket looked fragile against the large stone edifice of South Africa House, but it proved to be remarkably resilient. The Picket was a constant irritant to the ‘peace and dignity’ of South Africa’s diplomatic mission; and successfully resisted every attempt that was made to remove it (Brown 2013). With its ephemeral infrastructures, The Picket was able to never the less create a substantial antagonism to the Apartheid state and also enacted a transnational politics of solidarity with comparable protests taking places in front of South African embassies around the world (Metz 1986).
Gavin Brown and Helen Yaffe’s book Youth Activism and Solidarity: the Non-Stop Picket against Apartheid was published, by Routledge, in October. Their book tells the story of the Non-Stop Picket and the experiences and motivations of the (mostly) young people from London and across the world who were inspired to build a direct action-based anti-apartheid solidarity movement in Britain. Their book is simultaneously a history of a particular moment in British anti-apartheid activism; a study in the spatiality of solidarity and contentious protest; and a study of the place of young people in those social movements and in the urban landscape of London in the 1980s. The book offers new insights to the study of social movements and young people’s lives. It theorizes solidarity and the processes of adolescent development as social practices to provide a theoretically-informed, argument-led analysis of how young activists build and practice solidarity. A full outline of the book can be found here
This book draws on interviews with former participants in the Non-Stop Picket and a range of archival material from that time. In the end, we interviewed 85 people who had been regular participants in the Non-Stop Picket. They were involved for varying lengths of time and with different levels of intensity and commitment. We also interviewed eight people who were close supporters of the picket – not necessarily people who spent a lot of time there, but high-profile politicians and public figures who attended periodically and could be relied on for vocal support at key times. They include some of the solicitors who helped defend arrested picketers in court. Although it had not been part of our initial plan, we managed to track down and interview eight retired police officers, of various ranks, who had been involved in policing City Group’s protests in the mid-1980s.
When City Group ceased to operate at the end of apartheid, some of the remaining members of the Group made plans to preserve the Group’s archive with a view to publishing their story. That publication never happened, but Gavin and Helen benefited from the decision to preserve a record of their anti-apartheid campaigning. They were lucky enough to be granted privileged access to this privately held archive. In addition to the Group’s correspondence, minutes of their meetings, membership records, and publicity material, there were witness statements from court cases, banners, and hundreds of photographs.
Youth Activism and Solidarity: The Non-Stop Picket Against Apartheid will be of interest to geographers, historians and a wide range of other social scientists concerned with the historical geography of the international anti-apartheid movement, social movement studies, contemporary British history, and young people’s activism and geopolitical agency.
The book is currently only published in hardback and retails for £105 (academic publishers tend to target the institutional library market first). However, if you order it through the Routledge website
, you can use the discount code FLR40
to obtain a 20% discount. A more affordable paperback edition will be published next year. In the meantime, if you are in a position to order or request a copy for your school, university, or local community library, Gavin and Helen would appreciate your help in bringing the book to a wider audience.
If you are interested in reviewing the book for a newspaper, magazine, blog, or academic journal, review copies
can be ordered here
(at the publisher’s discretion).
Protest Camps and Beyond: Temporality, Informality, Memory and Care
Camps offer an increasingly visible form of housing and shelter in the contemporary world. Notionally temporary, camps seem to form a permanent social reality reflecting an increasingly permanent state of crisis of social reproduction globally. We witness, on the one hand, state and supra-state agencies employing camps as attempts to manage flows of migration and refuge, or in responses to natural disasters. On the other hand, camps emerge more autonomously, in defiance of the control associated with the managerial provision of care, and in response to the limits of state and supra-state care provision. Finally camps have become an ever more present social movement tactic, often explicitly addressing concerns of social reproduction.
Following Hailey’s (2009) typology camps can be cast as expressions of necessity, control and autonomy. In the context of the contemporary proliferation of camp architectures, it seems evidence that those three types of camps increasingly overlap. Protest camps, cast as autonomous expressions of political questionings of the status quo (Feigenbaum, Frenzel, & McCurdy, 2013) express concerns about a crisis of social reproduction. In recent years new protest camps have often focused on issues such as housing, but also addressed specifically the threats to life emerging from the continuous exploitation of natural resources. Protest camps form a site of contestation, but they also provide places in which sustainable and resilient alternatives are experimented with, created, and practiced. A key feature uniting many protest camps and other place-based protests is the politicisation of care. To the extent that camps produce forms of shelter and care, they also have to grapple with the challenges and contradictions of autonomous care provision.
In this one day seminar we want to approach the theme from three thematic angles:
1) Informality and Temporality
3) Care as resilience and resistance
10:00 Gathering (Refreshments available)
10:30 Informality and Temporality
13:30 Memory and Visibility
15:30 Care as Resilience and Resistance
17:00 Book Launch Celebration for Protest Camps in International Context
Some travel busaries are available to participants. To apply pleased sent an email to Fabian Frenzel ,Anna Feigenbaum
or Gavin Brown explaining your interest in the seminar and possible contributions on the day. This could be, for example, a provocation (5 mins) based on research project or and proposal for a collaborative project.
Feigenbaum, A., Frenzel, F., & McCurdy, P. (2013). Protest Camps. London: Zed Books.
Hailey, C. (2009). Camps : a guide to 21st-century space. Cambridge Mass.: MIT Press.
The politics of Care and Social Reproduction in contemporary social movement politics
AAG 2017 Panel Session
Organised by Protest Camps Research collective
Though their history is much longer, since the uprisings and protests of 2011, protest camps have gained prominence in waves of contentious politics, deployed by movements with a wide array of demands for social change. Whether erected in a park in Istanbul or a street in Mexico City, the significance of political encampments rests in their position as distinctive material and mediated spaces where people come together to imagine alternative worlds and articulate contentious politics, often in confrontation with the state.
A key uniting feature of many protest camps and other place-based protests is the politicisation of care. In recent years new protest camps have often addressed unfolding crises of social reproduction, such as housing, but also addressed specifically the threats to life emerging from the continuous exploitation of natural resources. Protest camps form the site of contestation, but they also provide places in which sustainable and resilient alternatives are experimented with, created, and practiced.
This panel brings together scholarship on protest camps and place-based, ongoing protest in all their varied manifestations. Our argument that protest camps cut across social movements is not a structuralist one, instead, it is as an orientation to an understudied practice enacted within many social movements. Our objective, then, is to extract protest camps from their silo-ed location within specific movements and consider the relations, connections, similarities and differences in their forms across time and space.
In recent years, new scholarship on protest camps has appeared, mainly driven by reflections on the Arab Spring (Gerbaudo 2012; Ramadan 2013), M15 (Castañeda 2012), and Occupy (Juris 2012; Kidd, 2014; Pickerill and Krinsky, 2012), either individually, or as linked phenomena (Feigenbaum et al 2013; Frenzel et al 2014). There has also been work that draws comparisons between the strategic and tactical functions of past and present protest camps (Leidinger 2011, 2015).
Recently, new protest camps and place-based protest have also emerged, as capital-led globalisation continues to undermine the social and ecological basis of human society. In Northern America, coalitions of indigenous land right activists and climate change protestors utilise land occupations to challenge the expansion of settler societies land grabs, often for the purpose of resource extraction.
Global migrant mobilities challenge border regimes globally, claiming the human right of freedom of movement and a world without borders. In migrant struggles, autonomous camps set up by migrant activists, as seen in Calais, have become key infrastructures, providing shelter and political bargaining power, as well as enabling the politicisation of migrant solidarity.
Challenging the failure of housing provision in global capital-led real estate regimes, people have organised themselves in tent cities and occupied disused buildings. Under precarious conditions facing repression and discrimination, tent cities provide shelter, protection and organising spaces for challenges to the status quo. Example such as the tiny house movement show attempts to develop a new politics of autonomous housing.
This panel reflects on shared challenges across different movements and approaches to studying protest camps and place-based, on-going protests. It brings together case studies, as well as to identify ways in which research in this field can be further connected. We are interested in both materialist perspectives that focus on protest infrastructures, as well as alternative conceptual readings of protest camps. In particular, we are interested in questions of social reproduction, power, and the politics of care as they play out in these unique social movement settings.
We invite activists and scholars from a broad range of disciplinary backgrounds to present their empirical and conceptual work on protest camps, tent cities, refugee camps, squats and related place-based, on-going sites of protest.
We invite 10 minute inputs, rather than full papers, to enable plenty discussion time. Presenting at the panel, per AAG policy, does not conflict with presenting a paper at another session.
If you are interested in contributing to this panel, please send a brief outline of what you would like to talk about to Fabian Frenzel at ff48 (at) le.ac.uk by 15 October 2016.
By Dr Anna Feigenbaum, lecturer in Media & Politics and contributor to the ‘Disobedient Objects’ exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum.
Inflatable cobblestones, book blocs, musical pot lids. This week these objects joined the Victoria & Albert Museum’s collection, taking their place in design history alongside Grecian pottery and fashion couture. Curated by Gavin Grindon and Catherine Flood, the V&A’s Disobedient Objectsshow serves as much as an intervention than as an exhibition. Its 99 objects from social movements around the world ask us to rethink what counts both as art and as politics.
From brightly coloured, hand-woven tapestries to a rice sacks with head and armhole cut-outs, the show’s disobedient objects range from refashioned rubbish to intricate craftwork. While everyday items like tea cups or water bottles may not be inherently ‘disobedient’, repurposed here as objects of solidarity and makeshift tear gas masks, they take up status as ‘disobedient.’
Other objects showcased in the exhibition were intentionally designed for disobedience. The shields adorned with images of climate refugees used to transport pop-up tents at Climate Camp in 2007 are an excellent example of how spectacular art created spectacular media images, and swayed public opinion. Similarly, the ‘dragon’ concrete lock-ons made infamous in the anti-roads actions of the 1990′s show how protest sites often become innovative centres of disobedient design.
There is as much variety in these objects as there is in the people who made them. Artistic credits for the show include professional architectures, sculptors trained in world-leading art schools, gardeners, electricians, prisoners, students and anonymous collective assemblies of all kinds of people. These objects are neither art of the institution, nor art simply made outside of the institution. Rather, they are blends of both, the products of imagination as it travels between cultures and countries.
Just as our conception of art is disrupted by this exhibition of disobedient design, so too are our ideas of politics. Normally, when we think about what makes up politics, talking comes to mind. Politics is debates and speeches. It is dealing with campaign donations and soliciting support at gala dinners. It is the fighting, the demanding, and, all too often, the lying of our political leaders.
But these disobedient objects open up a different kind of politics. They give way to a politics of the senses. They showcase campaigners’ sensibility of political norms that enables them to anticipate and out-design their opponents. This politics can manifest as sound; the sing-song banging in unison of cacerolazo pan lids. Other times it is found in acts of collective sleeping – a politics shared through open-source designs for winterising protest camp tents. Often this different kind of politics is expressed in signs, flavoured with humour and pop culture savvy, as in the hanging hand-painted cardboard: ‘I wish my boyfriend was as dirty as your policies’ that now adorns the V&A (and its gift shop rack of postcards).
These are just some of the crafted politics of everyday people that arise when voices go unheard. Marred by low voter turnout and growing distrust, traditional politics is desperate for creativity. It is begging for new ideas to get beyond its self-perpetuating bureaucracies and stale public school styles. But to carry on, politics needs innovation from below. It needs to learn to better craft possibilities and policies from the perspective of the people. AsDisobedient Objects shows, real change can only come when the imagination challenges the institution—and wins.
For four years in the late 1980s, a small group of campaigners in London maintained a continuous protest outside the South African Embassy in protest at apartheid. They were calling for the release of Nelson Mandela and all
political prisoners in South Africa and Namibia. Their Non-Stop Picket of South Africa House kept going, day and night, until Nelson Mandela was released from gaol in February 1990. Gavin Brown writes
, for the last three years, Helen Yaffe and I have been recording the history of the Non-Stop Picket. In this post, I examine the role of camps and long-term protests in the international campaign against apartheid.
The Non-Stop Picket was launched on 19 April 1986 in the context of ongoing unrest and mass mobilizations in South Africa. At the time, the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group (who organised the Picket) probably over-estimated how close the apartheid regime was to collapse. Few of the original picketers who we have interviewed really believed, at that point, that they would need to keep the Picket going, non-stop, for the next 1408 days and nights.
Non-Stop Picket of South Africa House, London, 1986 (Source: City of London Anti-Apartheid Group)
The Picket occupied a few square metres of pavement outside embassy for nearly 46 months without anyone camping there. To keep going, the picket relied on a weekly rota. Each day was divided into three or six-hour shifts, and individual supporters pledged to do a regular shift each week (or as often as they could). Some shifts survived with just two or three regular picketers, others could attract dozens each week. Attempts were made to fill any gaps in the rota for the week ahead at the group’s regular Friday meetings, and one volunteer was always on call to respond to unexpected shortfalls and emergencies (like the couple of times the police arrested the entire protest
Without anyone living on site, the Non-Stop Picket did not have to provide many of the practical ‘re-creational infrastructures’ (Feigenbaum, Frenzel and McCurdy 2013) common to many protest camps. Picketers used nearby public toilets or the facilities in the area’s many cafes and fast food outlets. These were also the places were picketers went to eat during breaks or at the end of their shifts. But food was provided in others ways too – one of the Picket’s older supporters (who was unable to sustain standing on the protest for any length of time) would drive down once a week to deliver home-made vegetarian pizza; the staff at local restaurants would donate unsold food at the end of business; and passing supporters would unexpectedly deliver a round of hot drinks or snacks. Protest camps are often thought of as exceptional spaces; but, in many ways, the longer the Non-Stop Picket existed, the more it inserted itself into the everyday rhythms of central London
The Non-Stop Picket in London was not the only long-term anti-apartheid protest to target one of South Africa’s overseas diplomatic missions. The City of London Anti-Apartheid Group had organised a previous non-stop picket in London in 1982. On that occasion, they stayed outside the embassy for 86 days demanding that David Kitson (the imprisoned husband of the group’s founded) and other political prisoners in South Africa should be moved off Death Row in Pretoria. That picket ended when David Kitson and his comrades were moved to ‘healthier’ prison accommodation. In the year before the Non-Stop Picket for Nelson Mandela was launched in 1986, anti-apartheid campaigners in the United States protested outside the South African Consulate in Washington DC everyday for a year (1984 – 1985). The longest anti-apartheid embassy protest, however, was probably in Canberra. There, inspired by the Aboriginal Tent Embassy
, protesters set up the South African Liberation Centre on a patch of land opposite the South African Embassy. With the aid of the building workers’ union, this became housed in a permanent structure. Although the South African Liberation Centre was not necessarily continually occupied, it nevertheless served as a constant reminder of opposition to apartheid in front of the South African Embassy.
South African Liberation Centre, Canberra, 1989 (Source: James Godfrey)
Solidarity protests outside South African consulates, high commissions and embassies around the world drew attention to the brutality of apartheid and contributed to international pressure on the South African government. Although these protests attracted participants of all ages, they were particularly successful in appealing to young people who wanted to take action against apartheid.
Camps of a different kind attracted South African youth who wanted to take action against apartheid. From the point the African National Congress (ANC) and Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) were banned by the South African government in 1960, the liberation movements set up exiled infrastructures outside the country. Cadre were smuggled out of South Africa and sent for military training in China, the Soviet Bloc and recently decolonized countries across Africa. In the 1960s, all of the countries bordering South Africa were still under colonial rule, providing a buffer zone for apartheid and a barrier to anti-apartheid guerrillas re-entering South Africa. In practice, once trained, these guerrillas ended up stranded in military holding camps in Tanzania, Zambia, and (later) Angola. From the 1960s onwards, hundreds of young people crossed the border and went searching for a guerrilla army to join. Many of them faced a long wait in the ANC’s military camps. Although some saw military action against the South African army in Angola, relatively few were smuggled back into South Africa to pursue the ‘people’s war’ they thought they were being trained for. Life in the Angolan camps was basic and could be boring. Paranoia about enemy agents was rampant and those who protested about their conditions or demanded to be deployed inside South Africa were often punished brutally (as Stephen Ellis
and Paul Trewhela have, controversially, documented). Further research needs to be done to fully document life in these camps.
Neither the participants in the international embassy protests, nor those left waiting in ANC (and PAC) camps across Southern Africa played a decisive role in ending apartheid. But the existence and presence of their very different ‘protest camps’ were (in different ways) of symbolic importance to the international campaign against apartheid. Any future study of the role of camps in the anti-apartheid struggle will need to take both formations into account. Similarly, both the long-term embassy protests and the exiled military camps disrupt taken-for-granted assumptions about what constitutes a ‘protest camp’.
Invitation to Participatory Methods Training
25th August 2014, London
The Participatory Geographies Research Group is organising a training day to offer both theoretical and practical advice on participatory methods. Activities we aim to do on the day include:
- Keynote speakers from geography and other disciplines
- Workshops on specific methods (e.g. visual approaches, militant ethnography)
- Bring non-academic approaches in dialogue with academics, in particular from those involved in facilitation, collective work and social change.
- Provide help for PhD students dealing with challenges at different stages in their research.
- Explore the opportunities and challenges of working with participatory methods across disciplines.
- Engage in forms of participatory activities on the day.
- Provide an open space to discuss common dilemmas and find ways of supporting each other.
We hope to be able to provide a limited number of students with travel bursaries, details to follow. Pending the responses from our funding application, we may ask for a £10 contribution per person to cover costs (including lunch).
For now, we would ask for expressions of interest, letting us know (i) if you would like to attend, (ii) if you have a particular interest for what we do on the day, (iii) if you would like to volunteer to take part in the organisation in any way (e.g. provide a workshop), and (iv) if you have any other ideas or question.
Hot off the press, Protest Camps hits indie bookshop and digital shelves worldwide on October 10th, 2013. To celebrate the publication of our book, we’re taking part in a number of events. From bookfair talks to festival workshops, Protest Camps’ Anna Feigebaum, Fabian Frenzel and Patrick McCurdy will be visiting cities across the UK and beyond:
October 19th – London Anarchist Bookfair
October 21st – London, The Organisation of the Organisationless – Talks in Digital Culture #1
, King’s College London
October 26th – Edinburgh Independent Radical Book Fair 2013
October 29th – Leicester, New Perspectives on Anarchism and Management, Centre for Philosophy and Political EconomyOctober 30th – Bournemouth, Protest Camps and Dissent PR
November 2nd – London, ESRC Festival of Social Science, Creating Worlds Together: A workshop on Experimentations and Protest CampsNovember 6th – Johannesburg, Wits UniversityNovember 13th to 14th – Bournemouth, PSA Media and Politics Group ConferenceNovember 20th to 21st – Leicester, Generations of Protest Conference December 11th – Berlin, Institute for Protest and Social Movement Studies in collaboration with Rosa Luxemburg Foundation @ Franz-Mehring-Platz 1, 19.00h.
Available at local indie booksellers and for online order order in the UK & in the US.For more on the broader Protest Camps Research Network visit protestcamps.org Follow us on twitter @protestcamps
To host a Protest Camps event, explore possibilities for collaboration, or co-design a workshop with us, get in touch!
About Protest Camps the book
From Tahrir Square to Occupy, from the Red Shirts in Thailand to the Teachers in Oaxaca, protest camps are a highly visible feature of social movements’ activism across the world. They are spaces where people come together to imagine alternative worlds and articulate contentious politics, often in confrontation with the state. Drawing on over 50 different protest camps from around the world over the past 50 years, this book offers a ground-breaking and detailed investigation into protest camps from a global perspective – a story that, until now, has remained untold.
Taking the reader on a journey across different cultural, political and geographical landscapes of protest, and drawing on a wealth of original interview material, the authors demonstrate that protest camps are unique spaces in which activists can enact radical and often experiential forms of democratic politics.
‘The phenomenon of protest camps is finally given the attention it deserves. With an international remit and a huge range of historical and contemporary examples, Feigenbaum, Frenzel and McCurdy provide a theoretically robust yet also highly readable and inspiring investigation of what protest camps are, do, achieve and challenge. What is more it is packed full of great photographs, cartoons and diagrams.’
– Dr Jenny Pickerill, Reader in Environmental Geography, University of Leicester
‘Much has been written about recent protests as digital networks, but too little about the physical process of continuously occupying significant space. Feigenbaum, Frenzel and McCurdy’s wonderful book brings a fresh perspective to our understanding of contemporary political action, connecting to the history of occupations and offering smart conceptual tools for analysing both recent and historical events in all their richness, messiness and hidden order. A fine achievement.’
– Nick Couldry, London School of Economics and Political Science
‘An exciting, engaging and energizing book, Protest Camps is required reading for activists and academics interested in the history, politics and practice of the occupation of public space as a creative form of extra-parliamentary action.’
-Sasha Roseneil, author of Disarming Patriarchy: feminism and political action at Greenham, Professor of Sociology and Social Theory, Birkbeck University of London.
‘Analysing the global history and radical infrastructures of protest camps this book provides a captivating cartography that helps heal the chasm between how we live our everyday life and what our political ideas are, how we protest against the old world whilst proposing new ones. Best read (and discussed) around a (protest) camp fire.’
-John Jordan, artist, activist and co-founder of the direct action protest movement ‘Reclaim the Streets’.
Protest Camps’ Fabian Frenzel visited the No Tav protest camp in Val Susa this summer and met activists from all across Italy and beyond. The struggle against a High Speed Railway Line has long superseded the narrow confines of transport policy.
It has been another eventful summer in Val Susa, the Susa valley in North West Italy. For over 20 years now local residents and activists have struggled to prevent the Italian government from realizing a high-speed train line connecting the major cities of Northern Italy to Lyon and Paris in France. The struggle has garnered increasing international attention, partly because it resonates well with other struggles across the world, partly and unfortunately because levels of repression are exceptionally high. As recently as August this year, the Italian political police, DIGOS, raided private homes, restaurants and meeting places of No Tav activists on trumped-up terrorism charges. Silvia Federici and George Caffentzis commented
In sum, the goal of this new operation is to escalate the assault on the movement by representing it, legally and through the media, as a ‘terrorist’ movement – a move obviously intended to scare its supporters, turn public opinion against the people of Val di Susa, and legitimize any violence the state will deem fit to unleash against them.
We do not think this operation will succeed. The people of Val di Susa have fought the fascists, have fought the Nazis, and for twenty years they have been able to push back the attempt of the Italian government to destroy their mountains, already traversed by many railroad lines and a recently constructed highway.
I entered the valley from Turin on the existing railway line. As the mountain ranges narrowed I saw a massive graffito drawn in white stones on the dark rock surface: TAV=Mafia. Accusations of Mafia involvement focus on two concrete companies in the valley who would profit from the planned work. There is also collusion between legitimate businesses and the ruling parties in Italy. That concerns, for example, the former cooperative CMC, Cooperativa Muratori e Cementisti, today a multi-national cooperation, but still linked to the governing democratic party. CMC is to build the base tunnel of the new line.
And then there are the environmental concerns, as tunnels will be dug through asbestos and naturally occurring uranium deposits. Most importantly, opponents say, the new line is a gigantic waste of money. Although the plans have been scaled down significantly in recent years, there are still costs in the range of 10 billion Euros. But studies show that demand (passenger and freight) on the route has diminished in the last 10 years, while capacity gains on the existing line could be achieved with much smaller investments (Greyl at al. 2011). To a lot of Italians who are subjected to a stringent austerity programme to tackle high levels of public debt, an expensive new railway line does not make a lot of sense.
An increasingly important feature of the struggle have been the No Tav Camps, of which there are currently two. I visited one of the camps, located on the site of the succesful 2005 mobilisation of the ‘Free Republic of Venaus’. In 2005 mass occupations of 30.000 protesters brought building works and the initial plan for the line to a grinding halt. Since the succesful occupation the site has developed into a permanent base for the No Tav movement. I attended an Italian wide meeting of university collectives, who were listening to presentations from Brazilian and Turkish activists, discussing connections between the struggles.
Why do activists from the different universities across Italy come to Val Susa in the far North of the country? How has the local struggle become a point of convergence for the Italian radical left?
Like many recent protests the No TAV movement initially consisted of resistance of a specific infrastructure project, the high-speed railway line. But in the 20 years of its existence the protest has grown to become much more. Indeed many in the Italian left relate to the NoTav movement as a source of inspiration in struggles that aim to defend and create commons against capital.
The camps (presidios) of No TAV feature importantly in this struggle. More than simple basis for action and observation, the camps have become places where alternative futures are made. People live together, vegetables are grown, but between actions as well, politics are being discussed, futures imagined and created.
Alternative worlds includes very good food indeed. As I was complimenting my prima plate of delicious pasta, an activist next to me nodded approvingly: This is Italy, you cannot mess with the food. He was based in Rome and wondered, as we were queuing for our second course, whether the local resistance movement had distanced themselves enough from primitivism and regionalism in the local No Tav coalition.
But Turin based activists from the social centre scene there were upbeat about the convergence of diverse protesters, including an old lady who inspired by Catholicism protested daily against the building works and once claimed to be “the grandma of the black block”. Like in other camps, No Tav enables the building of new coalitions, as antagonism and a shared practice of resistance create new common politics.
Increasingly international, there are good summaries of the struggles and the arguments of No Tav in english. For an overview of the 20 year history of the struggle with links to videos in english check this Brief History of No TAV.
And most importantly, make a visit to the valley to see for yourself.
Over the past five days Turkey’s government has unleashed thousands of canisters, cartridges and helicopter drums of tear gas onto its people. This has resulted inhundreds of tear gas-related injuries. Protesters have been repeatedly shot directly and intentionally in the face with canisters, and in at least one instance this has causedpermanent damage to the eye
. On May 31, two journalists were hospitalized
for head wounds from tear gas projectiles. Tear gas has also been fired into enclosed locations, a practice designed to torture and able to kill.
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