12 février 2012

Batman dans le ciel d'Occupy - Entretien avec Mark Read

Le 17 novembre dernier, alors que New York célèbre les deux mois d’Occupy Wall Street, des dizaines de milliers de personnes se rassemblent pour défiler sur le pont de Brooklyn. Pendant la marche, leur attention est attirée par un signal lumineux projeté sur la façade d’un gratte-ciel de Manhattan. C’est comme dans Batman, mais avec au centre du cercle blanc, au lieu de la chauve-souris, le symbole du mouvement : « 99 % ». Puis les messages se succèdent, repris à l’unisson par les manifestants délirant de joie lorsqu’ils comprennent que oui, Batman est bien de leur côté :

Mic Check! Mic Check!
Look Around
You are a part of a Global Uprising
We are a cry from the heart of the world
We are unstoppable
Another world is possible
Happy Birthday #occupy movement
Occupy Wall Street
Occupy… (suit une longue liste de villes, d’états et de pays où le mouvement a essaimé)
Occupy Earth
We are winning
It is the beginning of the beginning
Do not be afraid

Nul super-héros, pourtant, à l’origine de ce fabuleux moment de poésie, mais quelques humains, peut-être un peu plus vivants que la moyenne, qui ont su capturer l’essence de l’occupation.
L’équipage de la Bathysphère, armé de ses cartes de réseaux sous-marins, a retrouvé l’un d’eux le temps de quelques questions. Il s’appelle Mark Read, il vit à Brooklyn et se déplace à vélo.

par Hermine Ortega

The bat-signal is a distress signal that is used by the Gotham City Police department to call Batman for help – it just so happens that the Occupy Wall Street bat-signal happened right after the eviction of Zuccotti Square. Was it a call-out for help? What was the sense in New York at that time?

The sense in New York at the time was a lot of anger; a lot of working groups that had been functioning out of the encampment were somewhat in disarray; it was a very confusing moment. The bat-signal within popular culture, within the story of Batman, commissioner Gordon standing on the rooftop of the police department of Gotham city, is yes, calling for help. It’s also a call to arms, and also I think understood as such. It’s a symbol. It’s a call to come together and fight injustice. So it’s both those things: it’s a call for aid and a call to arms. When we were planning, what it seemed to me it was doing was, rather than calling for a savior, I would say, who are you calling for help? We’re calling on ourselves. We’re calling on the 99%—is who is being summoned, is who is being called for aid, and called to arms. So I think it was more like: “We’re here, assembled. It’s our time.” I think that’s how it was felt, and that’s how it was intended too.

Did you write the text before or after the eviction?

The text had been rattling around in my brain for the week before. Most of the phrases are from the movement itself, they’re just reflecting back at the movement, its own language, its own aesthetic, its own ethos. We weren’t trying to hog the mike. We weren’t trying to say something definitively new, or come at the body with an agenda, more just to reflect back, or to mirror, what we’d all been saying to each other. You know like: “This is the beginning of the beginning” was on this cardboard sign of this young woman in Zuccotti park. I remember seeing that and loving it. And, “We are winning,” I think that’s Situationist actually. I think that goes back to Paris ‘68. “Failure is impossible,” I know, is from ’68. I think “We are winning” is certainly something you saw on the streets of Seattle in 1999.

We finalized it the night before, after the eviction. I had been thinking for a while about what it had meant to me. Part of it’s personal, but I think a lot of people have felt like: finally the people of the world are standing up and trying to hold back from the precipice. We are standing on a precipice, globally and nationally, environmentally and economically. And finally, the immune system of the world sort-of kicks in, and people begin to fight back against this pathogen of capitalism. We’re a cry from the heart of the world; that’s what I very much feel and others too. I think that’s something that resonates. Here we are, here’s our shot.

I’ve heard about tensions within the movement about which actions are being “officially” endorsed by the movement or the general assembly. At the same time, many people have been set off by the lack of leaders, the lack of demands—do you think that the bat-signal is a way to create a synergy amongst people within a movement that has no leaders?

Well I think that it’s much easier, in a way, for a movement to rally around symbols and also aesthetics—because they don’t create as much conflict, or they’re not as controversial as say a position, a policy, or a demand, or any of these things where people begin to fracture. Something like a bat-signal is galvanizing, and that’s good. And the general assembly is another example of something that’s galvanizing. It’s a common trope throughout occupations around the country: the general assembly, the people’s microphone. They are all kinds of rituals and signs and symbols and activities that are common, and people rally around those. They rally around the idea of occupation itself as performative act.
There is tension about what this is about that breaks out: the question of demands, or also the question of endorsement… all the time now, there’s so many calls to action—locally, nationally, regionally. It’s begun to feel a little bit like the typical laundry list. Every possible problem that needs to, is being addressed in equal measure. So you end up with this cacophony that’s hard for people to make sense of.
The press is ignoring us. I think that’s fine. I don’t think we need to exist as simply as a media spectacle. I think that that action makes some people very anxious. This is sort of off topic, but I think the occupy phenomenon was one that occurred in the glare of the spotlight of the media, of the mainstream media—after ignoring it for a little while, then it became a media darling, really fashionable. There’s something really empowering and emboldening about being the subject of or the object of so much attention—the subject of so many stories. And then to have that attention drop off, makes people feel a little bit of anxiety. People are reacting by doing a lot of stuff. In part I think that’s part of the flurry of activity, lots of activity but little coherence. There’s a ton of stuff going on all the time, in New York and possibly other places too—a lot of activity, but it’s like: ”What to do?” And it just doesn’t add up to something that feels powerful and strong and coherent.

Do you think that Occupy Wall Street should become some kind of lobbying group—or that its strength lies within the fact is that it’s a movement that will transform the discourse and the way people think about politics and economics? I actually find that one of the really interesting things that Occupy Wall Street has achieved, and I think it’s a lasting thing, is that it has changed the general discourse about capitalism, and about economics. Occupy Wall Street may not be in the media spotlight anymore, but it is still very much alive, in a subterranean way.

I think that there’s a degree to which, this is a product of being in the Internet age, the web 2.0. In this world where things go viral in this way, suddenly you have these huge manifestations in the streets. People come out of their homes and set-up these encampments, by the tens of thousands of people all over the country, all over the world. In prior eras it would have taken years of on the ground organizing: kids on the ground, knocking on doors, having meetings. So the ability to manifest huge numbers of people now precedes the organizing work that would have been necessary and in some senses would have made those networks stronger, maybe ideologically more coherent, so on and so forth. I think now we’re playing catch up with ourselves. We had this huge moment, but now we actually need to go into the neighborhoods.

The press, the media, is just not on our side, and they never will be. So if we’re fighting on the terrain of spectacle, and that needs to be understood as enemy terrain. But what’s actually friendly terrain are neighborhoods, areas where people are really suffering through this economic crisis. And that calls for a much slower work, and much deeper work. Some of that’s going on—like some of the Occupy Our Homes work, which is anti-eviction and anti-foreclosure work that’s going on in neighborhoods around the country, like in Atlanta specifically, but also in New York. It’s actually even happening nationally, where people are going in and protecting families from eviction by banks. That has put occupiers on the front lines of the economic crisis and in solidarity with those most affected, and creates mutual understanding of people’s struggles. We’re building a broad-base popular movement. That’s slow work, and we should be looking towards opportunities to do that work, rather than looking for opportunities to get back on enemy terrain.

I’m very drawn to the idea of anonymity, and anonymity while working on enemy terrain. You, on the other hand, chose to be open about what you had done with the bat-signal…

Yeah, I have thought about it. I didn’t think about it much before hand, to tell you the truth. And then I was watching a video of people from the bridge, and they were like: “Oh, man, that’s gotta be Anonymous,” when they saw the bat-signal. One woman reached out to me, Xeni Jardin, found me through twitter. And three friends of mine started texting me, “she wants to know who you are, can we tell her?” And I was like, “sure.” It was the night of; none of us were thinking about it. It snow balled from there. And in retrospect, I think I could go either way. I think it’s okay for me to show that I’m just a regular person; I work for a living; I’m not some hacker-anonymous, mysterioso. And I had this interesting interaction with the woman who owned the apartment, who was a working class mother, a single mom. To show just that regular people are doing this. Regular folks are involved and taking actions and doing stuff. So, I think there’s benefit to that.

In that sense, it had a real DIY message to it.

Yeah, and we’ve made those source files and all that text and font and the images we’ve made—we’ve put out on the web and tried to push them out to anyone who wants to use them. All that stuff has been open sourced.

After the police raided the Occupation in Montreal, some people felt a sense of relief – not having to deal with the logistics of the everyday occupation: it was getting really cold here, and people were building shelters, and buying Arctic tents. I’m wondering if there was a similar feeling in New York, after the eviction, that it was an opportunity for the Occupation to take a new direction, to go somewhere else, to become a different thing? Or do you feel it’s very important to occupy a specific place?

This is coming up a lot in conversation actually. At the time, I felt some relief. I’m not even sure I was that alone. I didn’t necessarily feel that it was a bad thing to have mayor Bloomberg as the bad guy—evicting the occupiers. That’s better than there having been a really violent assault, or a knifing, or a murder, or an overdose in the park. That would have been the worst-case scenario. That would have ended the encampment. In some sense, better to be evicted violently, by a rich mayor—a billionaire mayor—than to be evicted in the wake of some really horrible incident. And I still feel that way. But at the same time, I think actually the encampments were more important than I and others may have given them credit for. I think they were vital actually: public space encampments, in order to show our prefiguring of the kind of society that we wish to see, that’s run horizontally, that is tolerant and generous, and demonstrates all these values that we are advocating for. And it also gives us the opportunity, for the public to interact with the movement… That creates more participation. So that’s how I feel. At the time I definitely felt: better this than something else. But at the same time, I really feel that it’s been a real loss actually, and has negatively impacted the movement overall, and that we should be trying to take space again in the spring.

On top of the visually striking effect, the text that you wrote for the bat-signal was what made it so strong. Now, almost two months later, if you were to write it again, what would you add, what would you change? Have you thought about that?

I think you would have to change things. I’ve thought about this because we’re going to go out, and we’re going to be projecting again, probably within the next few weeks. It’s tough because, what I was saying about the language that I chose—was 99% a reflection, or just a mirroring of language that has emerged already. There’s a limited amount of that available. There’s a limited number of chants and slogans that are universally recognizable as the movement language. And I think it’s important not to stray too far outside of that. Because it becomes someone’s opportunity to hog a microphone, and be polemical, and that’s fascism; that’s a bullshit tactic. It’s like: “I have the mike, and therefore I’m going to dominate the discussion. That’s not something I’m interested it, or something I think would be effective. It’s tricky. Yes, there’s some stuff I didn’t use before that could get used—language by a democracy: “This is what democracy looks like.” That’s an old one. I think if anything, that’s where I want to see—and I think a lot of people want to see—you know: “We are building the world that we want to see”, “We are the democracy”, “We are our own greatest hope”. That’s the language I would want to put forward, and positioning the struggle as one that is international. It reflects a primal thirst for democracy, whether it’s in Egypt or it’s Tunisia, or here. We want a real democracy, not a sham democracy. So the language, as we go into the spring, will probably reflect those ideas about democracy, and about what we are part of: “We are our own greatest hope,” and “We can’t give up,” and inspirational language. I’m not going to get on a horse and talk about constitutional amendment to end corporate personhood.

Are people asking you to have the bat-signals elsewhere?

Yeah. Lots of people, which is cool. And it’s also interesting to see it proliferate in other cities as well—like Occupy Portland did this thing that didn’t look anything like mine aesthetically, but was still really cool. And Occupy Cleveland, Occupy Boston, and Montreal, and I’m sure there’s others I don’t know about. People are taking up this idea, and running with it in their own way. And that’s great; that’s really good. It becomes a unifying thing, like you were talking about earlier. It’s important that we have those. It allows us to conceive of ourselves as a body, as a movement, as a community.


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