How would the revolution have been different if the public spaces of Cairo were different? What if the protestors had been forced to carry out their protests on narrow streets, where the sheer magnitude of the crowd could never be captured in a single gaze, as it could in Tahrir?
Walking through Paris, I’m reminded of how Haussman’s boulevards were designed, in part, to keep Napoleon’s potential opposition from barricading streets and controlling large swaths of the city. This article points up a very different means of modern protest than what was ever confronted in the 18th and 19th centuries. The crowd has become a force for its own sake. Finding strength and courage in numbers, while perhaps initiated online, multiplies in public and overwhelms the spark of the online organizing. Though it has not occurred everywhere, this is a radical change in the public space of opposition, when power did not need to derive from the consent, or the support, of the governed.
In the early 1970’s, in the shadow of student protests, fear of powerful crowds led many planners to turn away from squares and open gathering spaces. I’m thinking specifically of SUNY Albany and other college campuses, intended to keep student protests from occurring, by placing a central building such as a library directly in the campus’s main square. This, in effect, turned the campus inside out and dehumanized it, by purposefully inverting and eliminating the classical Jeffersonian space found at the University of Virginia and emulated at Columbia University and around the world.
Imagine Washington without the Mall, or New York without Times Square or Central Park. Recall Beijing’s fear of the Tiananmen Square protesters. Revolutionary spaces are also social spaces. They are gathering spaces. Without them, not only can masses not express themselves, but human connections are deliberately limited. Humanizing places creates human expression; free human expression can lead to revolution.
“…I said “You know, this may seem a bit melodramatic but 30 years ago, Ronald Reagan… had one of the most defining moments of his political career, not just his Presidency, when he fired the Air Traffic Controllers.” And I said “To me, that moment was more important, not just for labor relations or the federal budget, that was the first crack in the Berlin Wall and the fall of Communism because from that point forward the Soviets and the Communists knew that Ronald Reagan wasn’t a pushover.”—
“Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor and could not have existed had not labor first existed. Labor is the superior of capital and deserves much the higher consideration.”—
Jesus is asked 183 questions directly in the four Gospels. He only answered three of them forthrightly. The others he either ignored, kept silent about, asked a question in return, changed the subject, told a story or gave an audio/visual aid to make his point, told them it was the wrong question, revealed their insincerity or hypocrisy, made the exactly opposite point, or redirected the question elsewhere! Check it out for yourself. He himself asks 307 questions, which would seem to set a pattern for imitation.
Considering this, it is really rather amazing that the church became an official answering machine and a very self assured program for ‘sin management’. Many, if not most, of Jesus’ teaching would never pass contemporary orthodoxy tests in either the Roman Office or the Southern Baptist Convention. Most of his statements are so open to misinterpretation that should he teach today, he would probably be called a ‘relativist’ in almost all areas except one: his insistence upon the goodness and reliability of God. That was his only consistent absolute.
Let me be clear: no system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by any other.
That does not lessen my commitment, however, to governments that reflect the will of the people. Each nation gives life to this principle in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people. America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election. But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.
President Obama, Cairo
When I first heard this, it sounded reasonable, powerfully inspiring, and a slight departure from our previous foreign policy. Revisiting it now, after the events in Cairo, it now appears to me to be more like a seismic shift.
Stating that “America does not presume to know what is best for everyone” breaks with, well, pretty much the last 100 years of official policy. And frankly, it’s about time.
“Today, it occurs to me that Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube may be the Gutenberg press of the Middle East, tools like his that enable people to speak, share, and gather…In the privileged West, we have been talking about net neutrality as a question of whether we can watch movies well. In the Middle East, net neutrality has a much more profund meaning: as a human right to connect. When Mubarak shut down the internet, when China shuts down Facebook, when Turkey shuts down YouTube, when America concocts its own kill switch, they violate the human rights of their citizens as much as if they burned the products of Gutenberg’s press.”—Jeff Jarvis, Gutenberg of Arabia
Imagine people’s height being proportional to their income, so that someone with an average income is of average height. Now imagine that the entire adult population of America is walking past you in a single hour, in ascending order of income.
The first passers-by, the owners of loss-making businesses, are invisible: their heads are below ground. Then come the jobless and the working poor, who are midgets. After half an hour the strollers are still only waist-high, since America’s median income is only half the mean. It takes nearly 45 minutes before normal-sized people appear. But then, in the final minutes, giants thunder by. With six minutes to go they are 12 feet tall. When the 400 highest earners walk by, right at the end, each is more than two miles tall.
IF YOU think you’re no good at running, bear this in mind: you could still outrun a Neanderthal. In fact, their inferior running ability may have been why they went extinct and our ancestors did not. Appropriately enough, it all came down to their Achilles tendon.
“It’s been going on for fifteen hours. Imagine if you had, in Times Square, two gangs fighting together for 15 hours, and the government didn’t intervene. There’s no other explanation.”—CNN’s BEN WEDEMAN, explaining why he believes the violence going on in Tahrir Square is “state-sponsored.” (via inothernews)