Goodman reports on the occupation of Piccolo elementary school in Humboldt Park

Last night (Friday, Feb 17) at approximately 8:00 pm, I received an alert notifying me that parents, teachers, and students at Brian Piccolo Elementary School in Humboldt Park, a predominantly lower-income Puerto Rican and African American neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago, had occupied their school in order to protest Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plans to “turn around” Piccolo Elementary by firing all current staff (not only teachers and Piccolo’s new less-than-a-year-old principal, but also all custodial, security and cafeteria staff) and handing the school over to the controversial Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL), a Chicago-based charter school corporation founded by venture capitalist Martin J. Koldyke in 2001.

After quickly stopping in Bridgeport in order to pick up some colleagues, I proceeded to Humboldt Park in order to observe the school occupation and talk to the local community about the situation at Piccolo Elementary.

At approximately 9:15 pm, en rout to Piccolo by car but still several blocks away, my colleagues and I pulled over to the side of the road in order to make way for roughly ten police cars as they blazed past us, sirens blaring, also headed to the elementary school. Sirens could be heard approaching the area from a number of directions.

A block away from the school, we were prevented from driving any closer by a police blockade. As I exited the car (which my colleagues went on to park several blocks away) a police officer threatened to ticket me for obstructing traffic. There was no traffic to obstruct, and in any event, the police blockade itself was providing a much more effective and permanent obstruction to traffic than the five seconds it took me to get out of our car. As I continued to approach Piccolo on foot, a second officer attempted to dissuade me from proceeding any closer by explaining, “This is an unsafe neighborhood and you don’t belong here.” I responded, “If that’s the case, then I’d better stick close to you guys”, before continuing on my way.

When I reached Piccolo Elementary, I found a group of approximately sixty demonstrators standing in front of the entrance to the school, blocking the police from entering. Approximately twenty police officers stood directly across the sidewalk facing the demonstrators, while many more officers stood further away, surrounding the area and blockading the surrounding streets. Many of these demonstrators standing outside were not themselves directly affiliated with Piccolo Elementary, but had come to show solidarity with the parents, teachers, and students of Piccolo, as well as several local religious and community leaders, most of whom were then inside of the school. One of the demonstrators, an articulate woman in her mid-twenties, explained to me in great detail that she was in Humboldt Park that evening because she was well acquainted with AUSL and the Chicago charter school initiative more generally, and believed that the privatization of Chicago’s public schools (which has been well-demonstrated to be ineffective in actually improving the educational performance of students) amounted to nothing more than an effort by the Mayor’s office to pay back corporate campaign contributors, at the same time weakening the position of school labor by requiring school workers to work longer hours for less money in an anti-union environment: “These school turn-arounds aren’t about education. They’re about politics, and they’re about money.”

While most of the Piccolo parents, teachers and students were inside of the school, which they had locked down in order to prevent the police from entering, a few parents and community members remained outside to answer questions. I interviewed Willie Williams, a sixty year-old Humboldt Park resident whose children had attendedPiccolo Elementary, and whose grandchildren now attended the school and were presently occupying it with their parents from the inside. According to Willie, parents and teachers from several other local elementary schools also facing “turn around” were then also occupying Piccolo. Willie explained to me that the Piccolo community was angry with the Mayor because he had ordered the “turn around” of the school based on purely statistical data without ever once visiting the school or neighborhood itself in order to ask the Piccolo community what they thought about their school and its teachers. The occupiers’ single demand was that Mayor Rahm Emanuel come to the school in person in order to speak to the local community before firing all of Piccolo’s workers and handing the school over to AUSL. “This community knows its teachers and loves its teachers, and we want the Mayor to know that. Come and ask the parents. Come and ask the students. They don’t want their teachers going anywhere.” Willie also asked what the logic was behind firing Piccolo’s less-than-a-year-old principal, explaining that Piccolo students and parents felt very good about their new principal, and that she herself should be given at least a year or two turn Piccolo around before losing her job.

Willie, whose wife used to work as a custodian at Piccolo, also pointed out the absurdity of AUSL’s policy of firing all non-teacher employees in the name of improving educational performance: “What does a janitor have to do with educational performance? What does a lunch lady have to do with educational performance? These people are from our community. These people are our community. Taking away their jobs doesn’t help our community. It makes people lose their homes and apartments. If these people try to get their jobs back, AUSL will only make them work more hours for less money.”

When I asked Willie about Piccolo’s low performance on test scores, he responded, “Of course our students are failing. Our school can’t even afford to buy textbooks for our students. How are students supposed to succeed if they don’t have books? The Mayor is buying ipads for students in rich neighborhoods, but he’s leaving Piccolo to die. The Mayor wants Piccolo to fail so that he can hand it over to his friends at AUSL.” Willie suggested that the Mayor should provide adequate funding for Piccolo and other failing Humboldt Park public schools and provide them with an opportunity to turn themselves around before shutting them down.

Willie also had a few words to say about the Mayor’s general attitude toward low-income neighborhoods like Humboldt Park and the City’s disregard for Humboldt Park residents and their efforts to participate in the governance of their neighborhood: “They think we’re stupid. They think we’re ignorant. They don’t listen to us because they think we don’t know anything. But we know a whole lot more about Humboldt Park than they do. We know a whole lot more about Piccolo Elementary than they do. This is our neighborhood. This is our home. This is our school. Why won’t the City ask us what we think?” Willie also complained, “Rich people say that our schools and communities are failing because the parents don’t care. They don’t just blame the teachers. They blame the parents, and they say we’re lazy and we don’t care about getting our children a good education. But we have a hundred parents here tonight who care enough about their childrens’ education and their communities to get arrested. When we try to show them we care, they just ignore us.” When I asked Willie if he had a personal message for the Mayor, he responded, “If AUSL schools are so great, why doesn’t the Mayor put his own children in an AUSL school?”

….

Greg Goodman is a graduate student in history and a tenacious activist. For more lovely, local INDEPENDENT MEDIA, see the Occupied Chicago Tribune , featuring an article interviewing teachers in an AUSL school.

Note: The occupation has ended after CPS agreed to meet with community members. 500  marched on Mayor Emanuel’s home Monday. His kids went to University of Chicago Laboratory School.

Well, from Humboldt Park to Hyde Park, the Chicago Spring may be sprouting through the cracks.

Into the Abyss

In Into the Abyss: a Tale of Death, a Tale of Life (2011) Werner Herzog brings his flair, creativity, and sensitivity to a bleak story about two men convicted of a triple-homicide in Texas – one serving life, the other on death row. The film opens in a state graveyard where the crosses on the graves have no names, only numbers. Herzog is interviewing a chaplain who guides people through their executions – like so many moments in the film, the chaplain fights off tears as he struggles to come to terms with the way he is implicated in state killing, averring his belief that things are right in the Lord’s world while he clearly cannot quite handle it. We then settle into the seeping, drawn out shock of watching Michael Perry talk to Herzog, 8 days before his execution by the state of Texas on July 1, 2010. He is bright-eyed, believes he is innocent, and that he is going to be with his god.

Over a sparse and stirring, yet sometimes slightly overbearing soundtrack of wailing strings and droning bass, Herzog follows a police lieutenant to the scenes of murder, where Perry and Jason Burkett allegedly killed a woman and then two other young men (they were around 18 at the time) for a red Chevy Camaro. Herzog seems to find a common language with his subjects to describe it: “she died for a car,”; “they died for what?” Somewhere between his interviewees’ Christian faith and their rural American poverty, Herzog raises the specter of a death for something, which thus means something – a martyrdom – only it turns out to be for nothing. As he has commented in a radio interview, he was “fascinated by the senselessness of the the crime.” Young boys, unemployed and alienated, kill for a car that they drive for less than 72 hours.

But it is not just these boys who are hopeless, who kill, are killed, and incarcerated. The film broadens into a snapshot of a population in which males are structurally in trouble with the law, killing, being killed, going to jail. This first jumps out when Herzog asks the brother of one of the victims to describe where he was at the time. We find out the brother himself had just gotten out of jail. He skipped bond to attend his brother’s funeral – “he was my best friend,” he cries – and was arrested at the funeral by 6 officers. “Can I at least stay for my brother’s funeral?” he reports having asked. He couldn’t. The father of the other defendant, Jason Burkett, is himself in jail, not for the first time. From a privileged island in the Southside of Chicago, it sounds familiar: public housing assistance, food stamps, failed education, and people who tell you that several of the most important men in their life are or were in prison. While here in Chicago I associate this kind of crisis with disproportionately black and latino communities, in Conroe, Texas similar dynamics play out on a white population — which clearly bothered a few of the UChicago students in the audience, who couldn’t muffle their laughs at the mannerisms of one of the interviewees, a young white man with a goatee who had himself been in jail, was illiterate until adulthood, was nearly killed by Michael Perry several years earlier, and turned away from Herzog to spit on the ground whenever something unsavory came up. The laughs: cultural and class condescension, stripped of the niceties we have somehow evolved for the colored population our system disenfranchises right here in our global city.

Even the red Camaro, the commodity whose luster caused death, remains incarcerated – or, impounded by the police – sitting and decaying in a fenced-in lot. Herzog goes to see it alongside other cars shot up by bullets and otherwise falling apart. “3 people died for this car,” he says to the officer, who adds matter-of-factly that a tree took root right underneath the middle of the car and grew up through the floor, making it very hard to move. Later, in the section “Time and Emptiness,” Herzog speaks with Jason Burkett’s father, apparently in his 60s, who is also in jail. The older Burkett looks back to the anticipatory moment of his life – when he was on a football scholarship at U of T – and then made decisions that took him onto a course of drug abuse and crime. The dad blames his own failings for Jason’s failings, and recounts how he testified to this in court, that he had been “trash” of a father – a testimony compelling enough that it narrowly got Jason out of a death sentence. During the trial was the last time they saw each other and touched – father and son chained together on a prison bus – “I never would have thought that would happen,” says the father. And now Jason will get out in 31 years – “that’s 1941,” he says. “You’re a century behind,” Herzog tells him, amused but contrite. It takes the aging man a few minutes. “Oh, 2041, that’s right.” “Yes, I guess time is different in here,” says Herzog. As the once lustrous Camaro, the fleeting object of desire, decays in the police lot, the man who coveted the object grows old under police watch, and so does his father. The commodities and the men are all locked up and decaying: a quintessentially American nightmare.

Most of the people Herzog talks to have heard traumatic news over the phone that makes their “knees go weak,” or perpetrated the acts that ripped loved ones out of the worlds of those who loved them. These people are dealing with traumatic death close at hand, and they share a range of coping mechanisms: embracing a wholehearted Christian faith, or shutting down, cutting themselves off from others, suppressing emotions, and, before the camera, suppressing tears.

Herzog’s most striking interviewee is a former perpetrator of murder – not independent, but state-sanctioned. (Herzog has a post-Nazi German sensitivity to state killing as such, as he’s noted in a radio interview, but also to the humanity of perpetrators. Even Perry and Burkett – not entirely remorseful – are human beings, not monsters, Herzog has insisted in the same radio interview. Herzog attempts to disrupt the idea of murderers as monsters – which Foucault identified as a key discourse in the production of a category of the “abnormal” in modern European societies, which helped prepare the ground for Nazi racism itself.) In the last act, “A Glimmer of Hope,” we meet Fred Allen, the captain of an execution team at Huntsville death row for many years.  Allen describes how he helped carry out over 100 executions, and “it was difficult,” but he left his emotions behind. Then, one time – it was the first time he executed a woman – the emotions came pouring back. He didn’t know what was happening, as his knees went weak. And he could no longer do it. He quit his job and lost his pension, says Herzog’s implicitly endorsing text on the screen. Out of a shockingly bleak collage of lives and deaths comes something like a redeemer for Herzog. He is no activist, he simply quit.

Herzog’s own ethics here are principled: as he says repeatedly to his interviewees, he thinks it is wrong on principle to execute another human being, plain and simple. In contrast, Fred’s ethics compels because it is practiced. He doesn’t understand why, but he no longer can methodically execute people, and that is why he now opposes the death penalty. And Fred’s situated, immediate generation of an ethics in the face of death more readily translates to our experience viewing this film. We don’t sit through a principled lecture on why we should abolish capital punishment, notwithstanding Herzog’s occasional comments. His brilliance is to hint at at the policy critique only obliquely, by creating an unsettling encounter with particular wrecked lives on unfamiliar territory, shot at eccentric angles, with an unlikely “hero” in Fred. We would do well to see in this aesthetic brilliance an opening for political allegory, which is potentially efficacious because Herzog resists the intellectual urge to induce to or draw on general principles. Rather, he throws us head-on, through testimony, up against the trauma and bleakness not only of the small, exceptional world of the execution cell – but of a contemporary rural America where, like our cities, large portions of the population live in poverty, sometimes fighting and killing for what they don’t have, an America in which a father and his son sit at this moment – apart – in prison.

A few Egyptians of our generation have told me

Friday was the best day of their life.

 

Also, neologistic contemplations have resulted provisionally in a new adjective: Egyptionary.

Rhetoric and Revolution in Egypt

On Feb. 1, Egyptians had staged some of the most exuberant, massive demonstrations the world has seen in recent history with a clear and direct message: Mubarak, leave.

The Obama administration said it was listening, though it wasn’t sure what to do—as Stephen Colbert pointed out. Obama said, “To the people of Egypt, particularly the young people of Egypt, I want to be clear. We hear your voices.” Over the next ten days, the administration called for restraint from all sides, and backed “an orderly, peaceful transition, beginning now,” (the now kept getting longer), under the leadership of intelligence chief Omar Suleiman. The NYTimes clarified: “Vice President Omar Suleiman of Egypt says he does not think it is time to lift the 30-year-old emergency law that has been used to suppress and imprison opposition leaders. He does not think President Hosni Mubarak needs to resign before his term ends in September. And he does not think his country is yet ready for democracy.” Apparently they haven’t demonstrated enough interest?

Egyptian demonstrators were very clear: Suleiman was not an option.

Mubarak was also apparently listening tonight as he got on television, with everyone from his party chief to Barack Obama apparently expecting him to announce his resignation. Your demands are “legitimate and just demands,” he said, adding he would not step down. Which demands? Surely not this one: irhal, go.

His speech was vague, incoherent, and he seemed to be in denial. He said he wouldn’t leave. He mentioned he would hand over power to Suleiman. He said he was mourning those who had been killed (the ones killed by his forces) and he called Egyptians his children. The masses in Tahrir Square raised their shoes in anger and disgust.

Tonight the headline reads “Rage in Egypt as Mubarak Stays On.”  Obama’s statement: Egyptians “remain unconvinced that the government is serious about a genuine transition to democracy.” You are raging. We hear your voices, but there’s nothing we can do. Rage with restraint. You are our children—

Light-bulb: Paternalism would be a solid policy principle for developing an alliance between America and Arab autocrats!

Mubarak blathered on about making reforms, hinting at getting rid of Article 179 of the Constitution, the emergency law, “as soon as we regain stability and security and as soon as these circumstances — circumstances assure the stability.”

Carl Schmitt knew that the sovereign is he who decides on the exception—that is, whoever can stand outside the law—by founding it, or by being immune from it—is  sovereign. Mubarak will probably never get rid of article 179 of the Egyptian Constitution, but if he were to remove the emergency law, or declare the end of a state of exception, he would only be re-asserting his sovereignty—to decide on the exception! He would be implying and demonstrating his power to bring the article back just as soon. In Egypt, Benjamin’s truth-against-liberalism has been more obvious than in most places: the exception has become the rule.

And the people of Egypt must not be threatened by “foreign elements”! “I am telling you, as a president of the country, I do not find it a mistake to listen to you and to respond to your requests and demands. But it is shameful and I will not, nor will ever accept to hear foreign dictations, whatever the source might be or whatever the context it came in.” Because there have been no foreign dictations to Egypt in the last 30 years, no foreign interference! Or this is just a distraction, as in, I will respond to your demands—anyway, how about those bad foreign elements? What demands did you have again? Can we have another round of negotiations?

But the question of “foreign dictations” is a big part of this story, including the emergency law. Mubarak has been a key player in the bogus “global war on terror,” or global wrought state of exception—a valued partner in the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program which tortures suspects in ways we don’t like to (we knew they’d do it, since Egyptian police also torture Egyptian citizens, including children). In September 2001, Mubarak gained only more leeway to use “foreign elements” and “terror” as an excuse after the UN Security Council passed resolution 1373, probably initiated by the U.S. This was the first time a resolution was imposed on all member states without requiring them to be party to a specific treaty. It mandated that all member states adapt their domestic laws to fight terrorism, with two minorly damning lacunae: no definition of terrorism, and no provision for human rights protections.

If it is absurd for Mubarak to remove the emergency law, he is not the only absurd one: that is exactly what the U.S. was claiming his regime would do.

But I think this reflects more general problems of agency and violence that we saw tonight: there seems to be an insistence to apparently put the agency on Mubarak. We ask him to leave, he will leave. But Ben Ali in Tunisia was forced to leave. Mubarak may have to be forced to leave.

So was this apparent waiting for him to step down a gesture that would allow him to save face? Or is it an amazing practice of non-violent protest? Or — is it a reaction conditioned by the military and security apparatus’ continuing monopoly on the use of force? Or maybe this is just getting started. The next step looms: marching on the presidential palace. But the palace is surrounded by layers and layers of military and security forces. One might question whether our lauding of the non-violence of the protesters holds up against the massive potential for violence with which our policies have armed their military and intelligence apparatuses.

How to address the apparent acceptability of the military for many Egyptians? At least from the West, we don’t know much about the military elite, what divisions there might be within it, and whether they would oversee a transition that would be reasonably democratic. And how, for the left, to address the nationalist quality of this revolution, which seems linked to current discourses among many Egyptians about the military saving the nation? These are major problems.

But the more the pundits cheapen this word, “revolution,” the more it is sensationalized on al-Jazeera and uttered by people you would never expect, the more the word “revolution” is shot through with the tension between its explicit and implicit meaning. The Egyptian people, the Egyptian nation, the will of the people, freedom: these terms are uncomfortable and vague. But they are chosen from limited alternatives, and they say a lot more than they seem to say. They hint at the Jordanians, Syrians, and Yemenis following suit; they call up a real solidarity from the widest array of observers, from neoconservatives to the Left—solidarity that plays loudly even in the duplicitous discourse of the Obama administration.

An al-Jazeera reporter remarked tonight on the amazing atmosphere in Tahrir square: “everyone comes up to us, everyone wants to talk to us. They say ‘I have something to say, let me speak.'” The Western reaction has been to hear, but to imagine ourselves outside the situation, conveniently swallowing the lump of solidarity in our throats.

We are in the situation, our solidarity is real, and it is our language, our government that is absolutely not up to the task of representing the depth of our solidarity with Egypt. The Arabs are declaring their democracy; they are ready for it.

To listen would also be to ask ourselves: are we?

Unarmed Palestinian Protester Killed by Israeli Tear Gas

From +972 blog:

Jawaher Abu Rahmah, 36, was evacuated to the Ramallah hospital yesterday after inhaling massive amounts of tear-gas during the weekly protest in Bil’in, and died of poisoning this morning. Abu Rahmah was the sister of Bassem Abu Rahmah who was also killed during a peaceful protest in Bil’in on April 17th, 2010.

While the details remain under investigation, this appears to be the latest in a string of serious injuries and deaths from the excesses of Israel’s suppression of unarmed protests throughout the West Bank and Israel – including the use of steel-coated rubber bullets, beatings of activists (tonight, a former Israeli Member of Knesset), and the firing of tear gas directly at protesters. The Israeli Supreme Court ordered in 2007 that the security barrier should be re-routed to take less of Bil’in’s agricultural lands; the barrier has not been moved and the residents of Bil’in have waited long enough. More details on the event from Reuters and NYTimes.

See the video of the protest (not including Jawaher’s death) here. Towards the end, one can see that the Israeli troops fire tear gas directly at the protesters, in contravention of Israeli and international law. The protesters chant slogans and play music, while the nonchalant soldiers fire their own instruments of asphyxiation. And who are these protesters but Palestinians or Leftists, protesters whose lives cease to matter or be “grievable,” to use Judith Butler’s term.

In response, the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity movement and others demonstrated in front of the Ministry of Defense tonight in Tel Aviv, and 8 were arrested, including former MK Mosi Raz. Highlighting American implication in the suppression of West Bank protests, Israeli activists “returned” spent tear gas canisters from Bil’in to the home of U.S. Ambassador James B. Cunningham. Tear gas canisters used by the IDF in Bil’in are manufactured by Combined Systems, Inc., a U.S. company based in Jamestown, PA.

On the heels of its expulsion of Palestinian organizer Adnan Gheith from Jerusalem through an arcane British Mandate law, and the imprisonment of Israeli activist Jonathan Pollak for a bike-ride in protest of the Gaza siege (this past week alone), Jawaher’s death is a result of Israel’s continued, unjustified suppression of non-violent resistance to the occupation.

There is perhaps little to say, but that the joint unarmed struggle continues in various forms, from Sheikh Jarrah to Bil’in. “This is our land,” one can hear a Bil’in resident call to the Israeli soldiers, as they both stand on Bil’in lands. With official talks at a stalemate and Israeli settlement continuing, demonstrations and direct action are the ways that Bil’in residents reclaim their stolen land in solidarity with Israelis and internationals: more primary than opinion battles or pleas to the Israeli courts, where, in this case as in the “Lemon Tree” case and many others, even victories are not exactly victories! I am not saying the court victories are not powerful, only that while one waits, and really whenever, direct action is the core of the struggle itself, and the grounds on which solidarities are built. And I’m not saying one can’t theorize this – only that the theory must first and foremost take account of this action.

As Bil’in residents continue to cut through pieces of the fence, with support from throughout Israel, Palestine and the world, those of us interested in a just resolution of this conflict – whatever our motivations – ought to take up pliers and megaphones with them. Because there is another party here, the Israeli consensus and its supporters, whose continued unwillingness or inability to end the occupation or even tolerate unarmed resistance to it seems to be a sick invitation to armed elements to take over (which would confirm this consensus in its cynicism). For Israelis and others who know full well what injustices have been done (Benny Morris knows, for example), but are afraid of Palestinian resistance, it might behoove them to recognize that the struggle in Bil’in is not about pushing anyone into any seas, but about the dispossessed reclaiming their land – in short, about people’s basic ability to live in dignity, which needless to say applies to Israelis too.

The unarmed struggle is an invitation to take this side, to let expanded, perhaps unlikely, but diverse solidarities direct the future of this place. Because the old ones alone aren’t working.

Home for the holidays: interior and spectacle at the Met

At the Met last week I saw into a weird room. It was an installation by Katrin Sigurdardottir (through March 6), an Icelandic artist who works in NYC:

“Entitled Boiseries, the installations are full-scale interpretations of eighteenth-century French rooms preserved at the Metropolitan Museum, one from the Hôtel de Crillon (1777–1780) on the Place de la Concorde, Paris, and the other from the Hôtel de Cabris (ca. 1774) at Grasse in Provence.”

The Crillon hotel was in a building initially commissioned by Louis XV in 1758, occupied by a Duke, host to the signing of the first treaties between France and the new USA in 1778, then turned into a hotel a decade later. It now claims to be one of the oldest luxury hotels in the world, reportedly sold this week by CT-based Starwood Capital Group to the Saudi royal family. In short, consistently a darling haunt of an eclectic assortment of ruling classes. Here’s its reconstruction at the Met:

photo: Glenn Guller on flickr

For Sigurdardottir’s first piece, you look through one-way mirrors into an unsettling rendering of the Crillon room in too-bright white. Inside, an endless recursion of mirror images unfolds from which you, the viewer, are excluded:

from Met website

So you’re looking into this interior through one-way mirrors:

also from the Met website

I took to heart the description on the wall that this piece was meant to “provoke self-conscious reflection of the museum experience.” It was remarkable how it invites almost a self-conscious spectator-voyeurism: you in the darkened theatre, as it were, peering in to the lit-up room. Which does not exactly look lived in. And the one-way mirror trick takes you out of the picture but, because you expect to see yourself reflected in the inner mirrors, you’re taken out of view jarringly and made conscious of this! There you are, and the outside of the room, exposed to you, is bare, unfinished particle board.

Set as a spectator-object (adequate to the society of the spectacle) this not-so-interior interior unsettles the public/private distinction, which in fact seems to be unsettled in our culture at large. In our interiors, on the one hand, the ruling class beams itself in through tv and internet, through which the home life of the ruling class is displayed for everyone on Cribz and the cooking shows. (And what do you see in these homes? Blue-tooth and flatscreens everywhere! Watching, on TV, how many TV’s this guy has in his car!) We should call our contemporary ‘bourgeois’ interiors something like entertainment rooms, or, as satellites of the society of the spectacle, spectacular rooms – and I say ‘our’ because the bourgeois interior has become pseudo-democratized by consumerism, pseudo-possessed by large numbers, often debt-financed and of course subject to seizure by your bank.

Note: I’ve been reading Guy Debord here to address the suburban interior, from the thesis in Society of the Spectacle where he critiques urbanism for creating isolating pseudo-communities, right down to “the family cell, where the generalized use of receivers of the spectacle’s message ensures that his [the individual’s] isolation is filled with the dominant images – images that indeed attain their full force only by virtue of this isolation.” Debord has us thinking about the isolation of a “private” sphere itself – for us, here, the living room – as a technology of control.

But regardless of televisions, I wonder if Met-goers from the ruling class think of ourselves as the unsung inheritors of this room, or of the ways in which we secretly aspire to inherit its bourgie-ness every time we upgrade to the ‘higher-ranked’ consumer item.

Most shockingly, though, this exhibit is a bourgeois dream that appears fluorescently ghostlike, pure white, almost too new, uncanny. Here the ‘advanced technological and fabrication techniques’ Sigurdardottir uses subvert their very outmoded subject matter by making it uncannily new – no neoclassical beauty or happy ancient/modern synthesis here.

The NYTimes review for the piece remarks that the French period rooms Sigurdardottir is engaging are usually overlooked by visitors to the Met. What Sigurdardottir does, then, is a deft dredging up of this forgotten exhibit from the shadows to get us squirming about ‘old French stuff’ – experiencing it in very different ways than if we stayed in, or, better, gawked at, the Crillon Hotel itself in Paris. Of course most viewers won’t explicitly squirm about class relations and this “bourgeois” stuff the way I have (and I have no grounds for thinking this would be Sigurdardottir’s intent), but I think Sigurdardottir does have us squirming about whether museum-going and aesthetics are simply a matter of enjoyment and entertainment, or a bit more laden than that? And squirming about ourselves as inhabiters, coveters, and spectators of rooms.

Rooms–which we students on winter break need to get out of!

Thanksgiving on the move

“The general right to control its own movement is the multitude’s ultimate demand for global citizenship.” Michael Hardt & Antonio Negri

I just want to go home and see my family; not have my body subjected to the gaze — and the grasp — of the TSA and its bogus war on terror.

Some travelers this weekend prefer to go through the body-scan x-ray. ‘I don’t care,’ as in, I’m proud of what I’ve got.

George Oberle, 50, a Lutheran minister who flew to New York for Thanksgiving from his home in Detroit said he gladly submitted to a scan, not worried in the least that his modesty was compromised.

“If it’s going to keep me and others safe, I’m all for it,” he said. “Besides, I’m 50, I’m proud of what I’ve got.”

But hoh! This is the state, George, or the global security apparatus; not your cousin at the YMCA locker room. This is biopolitics, which means that every inch of your biological life, even the power to artificially extend your life, or what apparatuses or foods or phalluses go in or out of your body, are all subject to decision by some schmuck in a courtroom or the Department of Justice. This is a little taste of biopolitics at Guantanamo.

We get confused easily.

Some prefer the pat-down, as if a good, gruff, latex-to-skin touch is more palatable because its more natural. This seems to me like preferring quartering to lethal injection: but you can’t go back from biopolitics. Sovereignty is grabbing you by the balls, whether you choose the living-breathing version or the machine.

In any case, these two choices, body scan or pat-down (feel-up), appear as so much democracy, just about as democratic as your choice between corporate-monied war party A (the GOP) and corporate-monied war party B (the Democrats).

What’s important to recognize is that this choice, like so many others in our consumer-citizen existence, is not a choice. That this is what Palestinians in the West Bank go through every day, without even the meager recourse that we in the West appear to have in cases of abuse.

On thanksgiving, we are all Palestinians, then, and we’re filling the airline seats they can’t have.

The long lines at the airport and other security checkpoints only point to the larger problem: the War on Terror. This phrase should be used sparingly and only facetiously, given that it is utterly nonsensical and implicates its user in the spectacular new string of outrages committed by the U.S. government and its proxies–with alarming continuity from Bush to Obama, who signed an executive order this fall to extend the state of emergency from September 2001 for the 9th year. Civil liberties are suspended in states of emergency; when states of emergency start to become permanent, you might want to start asking questions.

The right to control its own movement is the right of a human collectivity that Hardt and Negri call the multitude – not your right individually or mine individually but a jointly, if multiply, held right. In international human rights law, the right to self-determination is similarly a group right, but this is at least even more common than that.

For Hardt & Negri, this concept of global citizenship for the multitude has to do not only with the movement we get a glimpse of today, but with the real dislocations of the migrants and laborers in our time, those the politicians refuse to call “working families”:

“Residency papers for everyone means in the first place that all should have the full rights of citizenship in the country where they live and work. This is not a utopian or unrealistic demand. The demand is simply that the juridical status of the population be reformed in step with the real economic transformations of recent years. Capital itself has demanded the increased mobility of labor power and continuous migrations across national boundaries… Hence the political demand is that the existent fact of capitalist production be recognized juridically and that all workers be given the full rights of citizenship.”

Today the masses of travelers — perhaps more diverse on this day than any other — are on the move. We are walking hand in hand, or not, rolling our things alongside, the electronic doors are revolving, the flight attendants are smiling, we are moving en masse. We are going to see the ones who are important to us. The TSA employees are working hard; they might miss thanksgiving dinner to make sure you get there.

Give thanks not for columbus or for the great genocide, but for all that persists in spite of it; for the right to control our own movement to go see those we need to see, a right we are already fighting for; for the right of indigenous peoples to control their communal lives; for pumpkins and stuffing; for the joy and power we have in coming together.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.