The Arts Research Center at UC Berkeley is sponsoring the working session “Occupy as Form” on February 10, 2012. Participants have been invited to post some brief thoughts on the topic in advance of the event. This guest posting is by Yasmeen Daifallah, PhD candidate in Political Science at UC Berkeley.
Occupy movements bring to mind two distinct and interrelated thoughts, first is the nature and role of the state, and second is the self-organizing capacity of groups outside the context of the state and its organizational forms and resources.
The “face” of the state that the occupy movement had revealed is the brutal, violent entity that uses disproportional force to tackle peaceful assemblies all of which ultimately fail to achieve their ultimate target—prevent the “occurrence” in question from recurring. This face is not new. We have seen it before in occasions as varied as U.S. state forces suppressing anti-globalization protestors to the Israeli state’s use of force against Palestinians peacefully protesting the separation Wall. But the occupy movement unraveled this face in a new and striking way. Because of the self-organizing nature of these movements, and the mode of self-sufficiency they have managed to carve in the public space through their encampments and general assemblies (and equivalent forms of decision-making in Tahrir and beyond), they rid the state of its claims to being the organizer, provider, the regulator, the stabilizer, and the security-guarantor of society. In fact, these movements present the state as the diametrical opposite of that portrayal: as the aggressor, the violator, as the entity from which the public has to guard itself. The paradoxical nature of the state is brought to light in a very flagrant way: here is the entity which was brought to existence in order to serve its citizens (at least this is the modern, particularly liberal, conception of the state) and to provide a means for their attainment of happiness, either through protecting them from each other (the liberal conception) or through socializing them into a capacity for togetherness and collective decision-making (in the republican conception), or through spearheading the way for their development and advancement in the postcolonial age. But the state that raids encampments, detains and kills, is neither of these things. It is the predating entity from which protection is needed, it is what curtails development and prevents collective decision-making. It is in that sense that the “occupy as a form” and as a practice undoes the state.