Scattered Thoughts on Streets, Demands and Revolution

by | 20 Dec 2010

Discarded Scarf‘Demand the Impossible’ is documented as being one part of a slogan graffitied during the French student revolt of 1968. I got to know it via Peter Marshall’s Demanding the Impossible: A history of Anarchism (1993).  Along with this fragmentary graffiti the song from the diasporic Greek-Cypriot Manos Loizou ‘The Street’ (written in 1965 by Loizou and unable to be recorded until the fall of the  Greek Junta ) kept turning in my head over these last few weeks. I don’t exactly know why. I don’t exactly know why my memory was bringing these two sensorial tracts forth, but it was. I can offer a guess. The current student’s movement in the UK is claimed as UK’s 68 and the streets is where hope is mobilized, articulated and exhibited. Moreover I grew up with Manos Loizou song. I recall playing its tune on the mandolin at schools functions. I am smiling while I am writing this with the realization that propaganda works slowly, consciousness even slower. What I do know though is that  my senses were working overdrive, they still are. And I want to record what they are telling me. ‘Demand the Impossible’ and Loizou’s ‘The Street’ have been my way into this.

So here it is. Previous entries in the Critical Legal Thinking blog, talked with sophistication and intelligence about police force. The student movements actions (protests, occupations, damage to property, discussions and speeches) revealed not just that the State and its apparatuses are never hesitant to use force against those that contest their authority and legitimacy and that performative speech acts are so, so forceful (Ertur).  They did demonstrate this. But they  also demonstrate how we may ‘not to be’ ossified and blocked by ideological positions, preconceived knowledge and above all how we can organize and make demands without the need of leadership. I have witnessed students taking it in turns to chair meetings, contribute in discussions, look after each other, give to the ongoing actions according to their skills and level of energy, without buts, without hesitation and without blame. There was to my eyes and ears an un-disclosed understanding between participants, an understanding of difference that translated into a comprehension of what are the limits and needs of each other. Or to put it in Judith Butler’s words there was a showing of the understanding that we are ‘dispossessed by each other’. And there was courage and fearlessness. There are too many examples to recite here. From the school girls who with determination walked into the police cordon, despite my advice, to the art students and their teachers who organized an ‘art in’ during the Turner Prize (and yes public nudity is still disarming), to the security guards at Universities that directed students to the various occupations, to those that came and gave food and drink to students under occupation and those that hared their apples and cigarettes on the demonstration. Courage and fearlessness I learnt  is multifaceted.

In On Revolution Arendt stipulatesthatbeginning something anew, take place precisely because people find themselves free from restraint and in a space between a past and a future (that is yet to be revealed to them). Free from restraint they shape their future in a present that is ‘captured’ in freedom (p33). The institutionalisation of  post-revolutionary liberties, Arendt warns, should not be confused with the revolutionary moment where freedom is free from restraint. Here (in the revolutionary moment) the political subject is paradoxically free to invent what can restrain her in the future (through constitutions).

If Arendt is right then, let the students movement in the UK be nothing but a perpetual revolution; a continuous opening to a present and what it brings along. And this may just as well be the revolution. And it may just as well be that its time is now. And it may be just a hope. But it is my hope for now.


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