Jason Adams: "After Occupy Wall Street"
"How do you expect me to make a living?"
—Mohamed Bouazizi, prior to televised self-immolation and ensuing spread of the Arab Spring uprisings (2010)
"What are we to say, at the end of the twentieth century, in the age of globalization . . . with the decline of the nation-state and the discrete revival in new forms of politics by the media . . . the multi-media of that “real time” of interchanges which performs the relativistic feat of compressing the “real space” of the globe through the temporal compression of information and images of the world? Henceforth, here no longer exists; everything is now."
—Paul Virilio, The Information Bomb (1998)
Although it was largely forgotten in the wake of 9/11, after Occupy Wall Street it is worthwhile to recall that the 21st century began with the first planetary uprising in history, one that in many respects was similar to the occupation movement of the 2010s. The antiglobalization movement, or as it was often called outside of the US, the altermondialisation movement, sought to propose alternatives to the neoliberal agenda promoted by global capitalist institutions such as the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund/World Bank.
The summit meetings and attendant protests of the time took place in over a dozen cities worldwide, including Seattle, Davos, Melbourne, Prague, Montreal, Quebec City, Barcelona and Genoa, drawing summit- hoppers and solidarity actions from around the world. But the reason it is worth recalling today has little to do with lists of spatially defined event locations, as most retrospectives tend to feature.
Rather, what conjoins the altermondialisation movement to the occupation movement is the element of time. Specifically, that is, the temporality of immediacy, also described as realtime. Not the abstract metaphysics of temporality, but the materially situated experience of time after the Internet and the World Wide Web provided the “presentist,” or better, “immediatist” basis for 21st-century political economy and technoculture.
As the altermondialisation and occupation movements demonstrate, the circumvention of the space-time physiology and nation-state geography of the print capitalist era has not been conflict-free. Indeed, while digital capitalism has employed the live, networked communications technologies of the period to optimize its own tacticality and flexibility, so too did these two unprecedented “movements of movements.”
It is this conflict between the temporalities imposed by print and digital capitalism on one hand and those deployed by anticapitalist forces on the other that form the central concern of this book. It is, in short, a “kairopolitics,” a politics centered, with some qualifications, upon kairos, the emergent tempo- and technoculture of now-time.
While the concepts of speed and acceleration could be employed to similar effect, the specificity of time today is neither of these, in any general sense. Rather it is marked by the reconstitution of experience in accordance with the speed limit. Or, at a bare minimum, the search for the speed limit, for the immediacy of realtime.
With realtime comes not only immediacy, but along with it, simultaneity and ubiquity: thus, much as the altermondialisation movement followed the path set by the Zapatista uprising, today’s kairopolitics follows that set by the Arab Spring, in particular, the January 2011 overthrow of dictator Hosni Mubarak in Cairo. There is, of course, a spatial component at play in both cases, but today, this spatiality that has been forever altered by the new experience of time as immediacy.
Thus, while the etymology of “Cairo,” in Arabic, comes from khere-ohe, or “place of combat,” it bears comparison to that of kairos in Greek, which, in one of its meanings, refers to “opportune moment.” Both refer to a space-time—or, as David Harvey famously put it, a time-space—in which past and future are confronted with a present pregnant with the reconstitution of temporality as such, as well as the spatial distinction of “here” and “there.”
As has been widely noted, the Egyptian uprising did precisely this: it affectively charged not only the year 2011, but also, as a result of the countertemporality it introduced, “the world” as such. As in the rest of the Maghreb, “The Battle of Cairo” provided the occupation movement with the tactics and the inspiration that transformed the year into an opportune moment and turned “Wall Street” into a place of combat.
(Excerpt from Occupy Time: Technoculture, Immediacy, and Resistance after Occupy Wall Street by Jason Adams, Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. Originally republished with permission of the author in Berfrois).