Today, the Turkish press opened with the news of the final clearing of Gezi park, after a night of pitched urban battles. The world comments while the mobilizations in Sao Paulo grow in intensity. This time, the press doesn’t insist on putting the focus on technology, distributed social communication, and how they have transformed social mobilizations. It seems that now, twelve years after their first warnings, that’s assumed. And the use of drones by the protesters in Istanbul played an major role, because, as we’ll see, it will surely be more symbolically important than it now seems.
But, what’s new?
- These are urban mobilizations, both of which are about resistance to municipal decisions, which, never the less, quickly involved the State and became part of the news agenda because they are a concrete example of a specific and understandable demand: rejection of global state politics. This isn’t about highlighting the differences between them and the 15M movement [in Spain] and its absence of a program, due to a its lack of programmatic deliberation on a single demand. This is about remarking on the battleground itself: big cities, not nations, as the symbolic and political space for the network society.
- It’s no coincidence that they are happening in the heart of two “emerging” states that try to follow alternative models and social discourse, and try to combine a strong internal nationalism with a policy of regional hegemony. But the leaders — and beneficiaries — of this growth, a precarious first generation of a new middle class, lives a hard, intense life, between low-paying jobs and constant training. And they don’t see themselves reflected or recognized in the social discourse, which is now outdated. The struggles for public space in Istanbul or for access to transportation in Sao Paulo are a lot more than mere municipal policies:
Being ‘class C’ in Brazil is not a benefit. It is a life of hardship and sacrifices. No one can be satisfied or happy by the meager gains that have been achieved in recent years in terms of reducing poverty or inequality. Brazil, fundamentally, is still one of the most unequal countries in the world, and therefore, one of the most inequitable countries in the world. It is still a country where rights and services are denied to a portion of the population.
Lower middle class youth are moved by the anguish of little sleep, having to be on time at work, leaving work and arriving on time at college or school. The tragedy of transit and public transportation taking time does not complete the picture. These are young people who need to work, study, have fun and sleep, the main thing feeding the protests. If you take into account on one hand, the quality of public transportation that is offered, and on the other, the value of the ticket, the time lost and how unpleasant it is to ride the bus, subway and train, the protests are more than justifiable. The amazing thing is that they haven’t been going on longer.
- In SP, and especially in Istanbul, the mobilizations have had a clear discourse on the development of state authoritarianism, not born of navel-gazing, not as a complaint because the police charged them, but because public policies that consistently point to a Singapore-style model of exploitative and authoritarian capitalism. Nor is it pure chance that this coincides with the “PRISM” scandal. The Turkish State, like all States, has been trying for some time to develop “total” intelligence, controlling its citizens’ communications and other patterns.This authoritarian drift, paired with a reactionary discourse on intellectual property that criminalizes a generation which has made P2P culture a mark of daily identity, seems to be the only way the nation-state knows how to react technological change, trying to exclude, both in the present and in the future, those who somehow feel they could share as they build.The result is that “security,” a banner of the old middle classes, has become (for the new generation) a cynical euphemism for a growing system of daily control, which ends up calling into question the very essence of the principle of citizenship. As John Robb pointed out just yesterday:
[S]ince the nation-state derives most of its legitimacy from its ability to deliver security to citizens, this failure is more proof that the nation-state is in decline as a form of governance.
And, in reality, the fact that these urban, “municipal” mobilizations, have taken the place of big, national mobilizations,” is the best possible confirmation of his thesis.
As we’ve seen, we are far — socially and strategically — from the US’s “Occupy,” from the May 15th movement, and from its forerunners (housing demonstrations), but surely not so far from the “French November” of 2005 and unfairly reviled “macrobotellones” of 2006 in Spain. What was then, in media discourse, movements on the digital, social and even geographic periphery, have created their own centrality and their own logic, which we can summarize in three points as we look to the future:
- The starting point and point of conflict with power is in the closest urban policies. The political map of globalization is a map of cities, not territories.
- The demands are concrete and clear, and could, in fact, be satisfied by a local administration, but they summarize a much broader social situation — they describe a way of life and a relationship with work and training.
- When the debate is expanded by the very repercussions of the demonstrations, it turns toward the authoritarian development of the nation-state in broad terms (control systems, “moralizing” laws, etc.), and only in the framework of the inevitable street repression of the mobilizations, does it become significant and receive widespread disapproval.
Istanbul and Sao Paulo are a step into a new phase of distributed social movements, with new political scenarios and new points of convergence, but also new social profiles and incipient discourse on the State, its nature, and its future.