Anxious Ethnography, Abject Resistance
Manual Transmission: The Do-it-Yourself Theory of Occupy Wall Street and Spain’s 15M
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When protesters leave the public space does that mean the protest is over? The spectacular protest occupations of Occupy Wall Street and Spain’s Indignado/15M Movement ended for various reasons. An embrace of new technology and logics of aggregation made it possible for diverse range of groups and individuals to take part (Castells 2012, Juris 2012). Yet before their violent physical evictions, internal concerns were voiced about the viability – and desirability – of continuing to organize protests at a citywide scale. A year after the 2011 encampments, participants in the anniversary demonstrations at both Occupy Wall Street (in New York) and the 15M (in Barcelona) re-emphasized their critiques of centralization through the production of “do-it-yourself” manuals for revolution. Over the following year, many of the roles of these assemblies had been replaced by spokescouncils of Occupy Wall Street and the inter-neighborhood coordinadoras (coordinating meetings) of the 15M. In both cases these more decentralized models were used to facilitate the coordination and exchange of information between the smaller, neighborhood-based or issue-specific organizing groups that had continued to meet post-eviction. While enjoying less media visibility, these new projects were persisting beyond the sustained, public occupations from which they had emerged. The protest against “politics as normal” had been transformed into a politics of the new normal, encapsulated in the form of manuals for everyday revolutions.

Prompted by these shifts in protest practice and imaginaries, this paper will examine some of the strategies advocated by participants in the15M and OWS; first, as they came to be expressed through the movements’ self-published, theoretical periodicals, and later, as these discussions were transformed into proposals for action published as manuals during the 1-year anniversary mobilizations. As a window into how participants hope to go about creating the worlds they wish to live in, and how these approaches differ between mobilizations, we can look at how these post-plaza modes of discussion engage with the movements’ values and visions of social change. I argue that the particular format of the do-it-yourself manual is, in itself, an example of the collective-yet-dispersed actions experimented with through earlier encampment forms and further developed in activists’ theoretical publications. While activists have used manuals before and for various ends, the intention and the timing of these manuals are unique. Rather than supplements to a mobilization, the manuals (and the forms of engagement they encourage and facilitate) in the moment following eviction became the mobilization. Re-orientation towards less visible forms of contestation (Bayat 2008) has a significant impact on how we study these and other protest mobilizations along three common axes of evaluation: scale, stability and success.

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