Media@McGill Occupy Event

Friday was an all-day event around #occupy organized by Media@McGill. You’ll get the full report on the M@M website, no doubt. But for me, some of the highlights:

1. The degree to which the event wasn’t just academic spectatorship of social change. Local Occupy Montreal activists showed up and participated in the workshops. The evening lecture by Chris Hedges and discussion panel (with Anna Feigenbaum, Patrick McCurdy and Nathalie Desrosiers) had about 300 people in attendance, many of whom had either been at #occupy or had engaged with it in some way.

2. I could only attend one of the workshops, by Nathalie Desrosiers, but I learned a lot about rights to assembly in Canada (I am still catching up on Canadian civics) and also about the politics of policing. As a bonus, I learned about the good work being done by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. The CCLA is mostly supported through memberships, rather than big grants or donations, so if you like the work they do, consider joining.

3. The involvement of the #occupy activists in the main talk, from the various mic checks to the calls for people interested in the movement to come out and participate. As a friend pointed out to me last night, it was a nice reminder of how hierarchical academic events tend to be (after all, our field still has an essentially medieval structure) vs. the more lateral structures that the #occupy activists are trying to build.

4. Learning about the work of the Protest Camps Research Network. I expect the book will cast the current movement in an important historical light. While there are lots of cases of academics of various profiles (from sessionals to superstars) being involved in the movement, it is clear that at a theoretical level, we’re just catching up. Part of this is because Marxist ways of thinking have been assimilated rather easily into the institutional culture of the university, whereas anarchist models (see #3 above) have not. Sure, there are the autonomists and one could argue some of the poststructuralists, but the models of organization happening don’t, to my mind, yet have an adequate theoretical expression. To be clear, that’s the job of the academics. The activists have more pressing work to get done.

5. As a contribution to #4 above, let me just point out that for all the organized disorganization (or is that disorganized organization) that characterizes the #occupy movement, it heavily depends on massive, institutionalized and regularized infrastructures, from city transit systems, sewers and parks to the various telecommunications infrastructures, portals, standard and platforms that make the movement’s otherwise lateral organization and self-representation possible. I’m not sure what that means, except that I would love to know what an anarchist theory of infrastructure (or just an anarchistic infrastructure) would look like.