Troubles of bringing back the unruly

Unruly politics is more than can be explained through academics. It’s equally a feeling. It’s something you learn to understand when you’re in it. When you feel the power of those you are with. When you scream together until your voices are sore. When the stranger next to you becomes part of an identity that you create within the space of your action:

Feeling the thrilling spaces in which prefiguration rules our soles.

Creating visibility for what could not be seen before.

Following the seduction of anti-structure.

Sensing what is not to be sensed.

Bringing the real to reality.

Force the truth back.

Rupture.

 

But if understood in the moment,

how can we bring the unruly back?

How to show and explain others the feeling and meaning of unruly politics?

 

We, a group of IDS unrulistas, tried to confront this problem. A few weeks ago, we participated in a demonstration to shut down the biggest detention centre in the UK, Yarlswood. After having been able to see unruly theories in action, we wanted to share our experiences with others and invite them to look together with us through the unruly lens. Some of us wanted to ‘create a rupture’ and challange the structures within our own institution. Others argued that it was the wrong strategy: It would make people close their minds to our ideas before they had the possibility to engage with them. Creating an unruly event ourselves could have also brought people we cared about into trouble. So what was it that we wanted to achieve? Inviting people to look through the lens or experiencing unruliness themselves?b.png

What came out of our discussions was a mixture of the two: we decided to occupy the lobby of IDS on its 50th birthday celebration for three hours. We brought back our experiences from Yarlswood with banners, pictures, phrases, audio and videos. We decided to intervene into everyone’s life – in this time and space – and force the reality outside of the IDS bubble back into the visible. At the same time, we engaged with people that passed our claimed space in discussions. What was that what we created here? Why did we do it? What did we want to show with it?a.png

As we shared our experiences about Yarlswood, there was one question which – at least in my conversations – regularly occurred: “So did it lead to something?” And exactly this was our entry point to explain the raison d’être of the unruly lens

Unruliness seeks to explain what has been left out of academics so far. It explains details, insights and stories that are very personal and at the same time universal. It helps us as activists to engage and understand better what we do; at the same time it shows us as academics how these moments can be theorized and understood on a bigger scale.

 

While our journey together comes to an end here, my encounter with the unruly has only started. And I am ready for it.

“We are the crazy Left. And we are coming…” – Nuit Debout

The Nuit Debout won my heart in the very first second. French for ‘rise up at night’ [1], Nuit Debout is a French movement that gathered for the first time on 31st of March 2016. First, it was only a couple of people that protested against new law reforms, occupying la Place de la République in Paris, but as people did not leave the square after the protest ‘was over’, it evolved to something bigger: More and more people joined, more politics was spoken and the protest continued – and continues. Until now, every day from this point on, people meet in the square to discuss and deliberate, stage political activities and hold a collective gathering at 6pm to exchange experiences and ideas (ARTE 11th April 2016). – And all of this is happening right now!

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To be completely honest here, I neither have been involved nor am I able to get to all the information online, as my French is a bit (a lot!) rusty. Nevertheless, I’d like to share a few observations that I made. Particularly, I’d like to reflect and raise questions about the unruly lens: Everyone sees that this is politics, so what can the unruly lens add?

Reading about the Nuit Debout, I particularly had to think of a piece of Mackelbergh (2011) in which she talks about prefiguration as a form of structure of its own. She explains, that prefiguration allows us to see that a movement might not be about a particular goal, but sees the process as the goal. Reading quotes, as ‘We’re not here to make a claim. We’re here because the government methods are not democratic’ (France 24, 6th April 2016), I found that Mackelbergh’s ideas seem to be very much reflected in the Nuit Debout movement. While the trigger of Nuit Debout was a plan to reform labour laws announced earlier this year, it was very fast clear that these plans were simply the tip of the iceberg that made it all collapse. The Nuit Debout is about more: it is a discontent with how the system works; with how politics are discussed; and with who is excluded from all of this. While there does not seem to be a clear goal or structure, Mackelbergh and the unruly lens allows you to see the opposite: There is no clear goal, because the process is the goal. The process of having open discussions that allow disagreement. The process of allowing all voices and having no conventional structure, is the structure.

This seems to be also reflected in the reason why so many people are engaged and join: Nuit Debout is not part of the establishment, nor part of the old system that people seek to abandon. It’s not about creating another political party and joining the system to shift power (although this seems to be discussed). It is about changing the way in which power operates. People don’t want to create again another hierarchical body, which works the same way as the old system but simply for a different cause – Nuit Debout is based on horizontality. Everyone can participate, everyone can contribute, everyone can shape what is on the agenda and what way forward we want.  The meetings – as everything else that evolves in this square – is open, without leaders and without hierarchical structures. Hand gestures are used to symbolise approve, discontent, and complete rejection of what a speaker is saying. Rather than being a votum, it is a way to see how much appreciation one can find with his or her ideas. (ARTE 11th April 2016) Likewise, people started volunteering to provide for food which runs on a ‘pay as you can’ basis, others engaged in creating fêtes at night, with music and energy. Everyone can come. Everyone can get involved. Everyone has a say.

Nuit Debout_4

Looking through what Mackelbergh and others provide us with, I can see the value of the unruly lens. Particularly if we’re trying to compare or analyse these events and argue for their importance and value while they might not have a conventional ‘outcome’. But what happens next? I want to believe in prefiguration, I want to believe that we can change by living the change. But how far does it go? What makes change possible? Do we have to enter into old political structures at one point? And if so when? While the movement started by occupying la Place de la République in Paris, it rapidly spread further to other cities – even beyond France: Belgium, Madrid, Lisbon … But what next? There is a possibility here, indeed, but will it be enough?

 

[1] translations for ‘Nuit Debout’ vary, others include ‘standing up night’ or ‘up all night’.

 

If you want to read one article about Nuit Debout, read this one:

Pleyers G.,  « Nuit Debout » : citizens are back in the squares in Paris, Open Democracy (8th April 2016) https://www.opendemocracy.net/geoffrey-pleyers/nuit-debout-citizens-are-back-in-squares-in-paris

 

Maeckelbergh, M. 2011. “Doing Is Believing: Prefiguration as Strategic Practice in the Alterglobalization Movement.” Social Movement Studies 10 (1): 1–20.

Telesur The Birth of an Indignados or Occupy Movement in France? (5th April 2016) http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/The-Birth-of-an-Indignados-or-Occupy-Movement-in-France-20160405-0055.html

FRANCE 24, ‘Nuit debout’ movement: Ongoing Paris square sit-ins spreading to other cities (6th April 2016) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Ff749MYZSM

International Business Times A French Spring? Nuit Debout steps up its occupation protests across France (7th April 2016) http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/french-spring-nuit-debout-steps-its-occupation-protests-across-france-1553694

The Guardian Nuit debout protesters occupy French cities in revolutionary call for change (8th April 2016) http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/apr/08/nuit-debout-protesters-occupy-french-cities-in-a-revolutionary-call-for-change

Free Speech Radio News: Occupy-style Nuit Debout movement persists in Paris’ Place de la République (11th April 2016) https://fsrn.org/2016/04/occupy-style-nuit-debout-movement-persists-in-paris-place-de-la-republique/

ARTE Journal (11th April 2016) http://info.arte.tv/de/frankreichs-naechtlicher-aufstand

 

 

Aljazeera. 25 Feb 2016. 20:26 GMT                                                                                             Greece.

‘Refugees attempt suicide by hanging from tree in Greece’

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… What?

Three days ago two young men, refugees, wanted to commit suicide in the center of Athens.

Mental health issues were assumed, but scrapped.

‘They probably wanted to show their objection to the fact that they cannot leave [Greece].’ (A police spokesperson to Al Jazeera (2016))

 

What happened here? And why is this happening?

As widely known ‘the refugee crisis’ – for those who want to use the buzz word – or the absolute fail of the European Union – for those who simply want to be honest – has been going on for quite a bit. Certainly, there always have been a lot of tensions, but now the situation got to a new level.

To brief those non-Europeans amongst us: The EU’s migration policy dates back to a time, when the geographic setting of the EU was a complete different one. The EU agreed that the state in which territory a refugee would enter first, would have to deal with the administrative proceedings. If the person would try to pursue his or her journey, he or she would be pushed back to that country (Dublin Regulation).

However, the EU changed. Now the boarders are extended and there is a number of countries that don’t have an EU boarder, thus, it would be simply impossible that they would ever ‘have to deal’ with refugees. Nevertheless, this regulation kept in place for a long time, until 2011 (!), when the European Court of Human Rights ruled that refugees could not be sent back to Greece, because the conditions faced by asylum seekers in Greece amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment. Hence, it would impinge international and EU law to push these people back to Greece, so to say, if they would hold onto the EU migration policy.

That’s where this whole discussion about the ‘distribution of refugees’ roots – What should be done with these people that come? Where should they go? Who is responsible for them? While there was no answer found, people continued to come. Border controls started to be reinforced. Measures taken, some of them highly debatable. And only a few days ago my dear home country Austria imposed ‘refugee quota’. Yes. Now it is only a limited number of refugees a day that are able to enter the country and claim asylum. And of course. Every country on the Balkan route reacted. Boarders are getting shut down. – No-one wants to be the country in which all the refugees get stuck. So now it’s again up to the countries on the EU boarder to deal with the situation: Hello Greece.

And this is where we’re standing today. This is the point when two men wanted to hang themselves in one of the central squares in Athens.

 

We talked about Agamben and his ideas of homo sacer and bare life a few weeks ago, and the situation in Europe at the moment just cries for an exploration through his eyes: People – with diverse background and experiences, with millions of personal stories and reasons for their journey, with families they might have lost, kids or parents they might have left back home – are getting reduced when entering this other European society: Suddenly they are just refugees. People that fall under this word, are being pushed from one country to another, while none seems to feel responsible or care. And this very word, refugee, seems to justify the way they are treated: in a way it detaches these people from their humans qualities. This word implies that they might or might not have the right to stay in the country. It implies that they could be send back to places in which they’re not save. It implies that they do not have rights, that they are just reliant on mercy. In effect, it implies that the state in which they currently reside is able to possess over their lives: To decide what they owe; where they go; what they do; if they live.

But not enough that they lost control over their participation in society and are stripped of their rights, the word refugee and how it is used in day to day media, disconnected the word from the actual people: The word refugee is not associated with personal feelings or humanitarian concerns, but politics. It is a word that distincts people with certain criteria from others, allowing us to do to them what we would never do to us, thus, it is an essential component of the process of the reduction to bare life. Silently, through this discourse, people that actually just need help, got constructed to a burden; a threat. Slowly, they were taken their human qualities. Step by step, they got reduced to a thing, bare life, with no rights, being at the mercy to be pushed back to countries in which they could not survive.

 

When I read about these two young men that wanted to hang themselves in Athens, Agamben and his notion of bare life immediately appeared in my head. These two young men, ready to take their own lives, did not face mental health issues. They were not confused. They resisted. Stripped of all their rights. Having to rely on gratitude in order to survive. Being pushed back and forth with no place left to go to. Being reduced to bare life, as the only thing left in their possession. And through this possession they resisted – they used it. They didn’t let the state, the discourse, the media occupy their body. They used this very only thing that they had left, and brought it back into politics.

Their body. Their decision to decide on their own over their death. Not to wait for the state to decide over what will happen to them or their visions for the future. They took their own decision. And with this decision, they revealed to what they have been reduced, resisting against this very same fact. On the one side, it is so cruelly powerful. But on the other side, I question myself: Will it have an impact? It certainly triggers something in me. Something that needs to get out. A scream. A resistance. A rupture?

Is the possibility of creating a rupture the real power in what Agamben understands as biopolitics? Is the very fact that through this act, I get so emotionally involved, wanting to scream and resist as well, the power that I seek to understand here?

 

I clearly cannot claim that what I wrote here is in any way representative for what these two young men have been through or wanted to achieve. All information I’ve got is through the very same media and discourse that I complain against in this post. This is simply an attempt from my side, to try to understand.

 

Bibliography:

Agamben, G. (1998) ‘Homo sacer’, in Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, Part Two. Stanford, Ca: Stanford University Press, 71 – 115.

Aljazeera (2016), ‘Refugees attempt suicide by hanging from tree in Greece’, available at: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/02/refugees-attempt-suicide-hanging-tree-greece-160225191001445.html

M.S.S. v. Belgium and Greece, Application no. 30696/09, Council of Europe: European Court of Human Rights, 21 January 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4d39bc7f2.html