Occupy may mark the beginning of a new era of city-based uprisings. An expert explains why — and how.
Max Rivlin-Nadler in Salon:
From Paris in 1871 to Prague in 1968 to Cairo in 2011 and eventually the streets of New York City, cities have long been a hotbed of radical movements. Over the decades, urban protests have been spurred by everything from unemployment and food shortages to privatization and corruption. But were they also caused by the geography of the cities themselves? The question has particular resonance this week, as Occupy prepares for a series of large May 1 protests in cities around the country.
Geographer and social theorist David Harvey, the distinguished professor of anthropology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, and one of the 20 most cited humanities scholars of all time, has spent his career exploring how cities organize themselves, and when they do, what their achievements are. His new book, “Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution,” dissects the effects of free-market financial policy on urban life, the crippling debt of middle- and low-income Americans and how runaway development has destroyed a common space for all city dwellers.
Beginning with the question, How do we organize a whole city? Harvey looks at how the current credit crisis had its root in urban development, and how this development has made any political organizing in American cities virtually impossible in the past 20 years. Harvey is at the forefront of the movement for “the right to the city,” the idea that citizens should have a say in how their cities are developed and organized. Drawing inspiration from the Paris Commune of 1871, where the entire city of Paris overthrew the aristocracy to seize power, Harvey outlines where cities have organized, or could or should organize, themselves in more sane, inclusive ways.