Friday, April 27, 2012

Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution

Excellent talk put on by Verso Books featuring David Graeber and David Harvey. Harvey brought up the idea of re-thinking the notion of the proletariat for urban space as those who generate and produce the cities, rather than the rather stale concept of the proletariat as an isolated factory worker. Who is the generator of urban space? The street artists, builders, contractors, the people who re-work urban space to new purposes, generation after generation. He spoke, inspired, of whole networks of cities becoming involved in fighting to re-invent our world. The network begins in the hubs. The widespread anti-war protests of 2003 an example of spontaneous urban networks protesting, all the way up to the arab spring and occupy movement.

This is an attractive notion. An obstacle I see in realizing it, though, is the diversity of involvement in the city. There are those who are active and those who are not. Those who couldn't care less. The booing proletariat, exposed only enough to be jaded and otherize, construction heavies yelling at occupiers to get jobs.

Massive populist support must exist. Think about what the disadvantaged really need. Start with things that everyone can agree with, that are valuable for the working class, like free clinics for pregnant mothers, and then build around that. WHAT DO THE POOR REALLY NEED?

good food/free food transport space for celebration

Think about factories that are re-claimed for the community. We should be thinking about how to put all those elements together, the privileged liberal elite, the workers, the urban under-applied.

How do you organize a whole city? a bastion of class struggle? We have to think in other terms than those of a subculture, or an enlightened counter-culture. Harvey thinks about building a socialist city from scratch, on the ruins of the destructive (self destructive) capitalist urban spaces. Think about Detroit. Occupy is moving into the various structures of human life. Harvey hopes this is how we're going to move to an alternative to capitalist production.

Graeber weaves around a lot of these points, contributing to them, pointing out the signs, the ebb and flow. He sees, and hopes for, more work with unions, radical groups within unions. Immigrant groups. Class Alliances with Transit Workers Union, who are suing the city for commandeering their busses to arrest protestors en masse on the Brooklyn Bridge.

One thing he brought up which I quite liked, as it tied back into the notion of what communities really need, was the notion of bringing a feminist framework back into the picture, because ultimately we're CULTIVATING HUMAN BEINGS. He cited the faces of the We Are the 99% tumblr, and the general observation that it seems if you want to take care of human beings in this system, you're buried under debt so deep you can't escape.

Gotta think of the city strategically as a space you can act in and potentially be disruptive to flows of capital. and you have to have the will of the disposessed and the truly disadvantaged on your side.

They talked of the interesting conundrum of guard labor, how essentially you have a large portion of the proletariat physically threatening the rest when they rise up. Security obsessions rises with class inequality, so it's huge in America, and expensive. They're spending so much money on security they're destroying themselves. I was struck by the pure market capability of two scenarios: a locally produced food source that is accessible to the community, integrated into their lives, and in their best interest has little transportation costs, and little security cost. It is going to prove more logical and sustainable than the agro-agribusiness beast.

Let us not forget, as well, that eventually they'll have to choose sides.

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