Urban Revolution is Coming — Occupy Wall Street

29 Apr

Max Rivlin-Nadler interviews David Harvey in Salon.

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.

The right ot the city:

So when I talk about the right to make the city more after our heart’s desire, and what we’ve seen in New York City over the last 20-30 years, it’s been the heart’s desire of the rich folk. Back in the ’70s it was the Rockefeller brothers for example, who were the big players. Now we have people like Bloomberg, and essentially, they make the city in a way that is convenient to them and their businesses. But the mass of the population has almost no influence over this process. There are nearly a million people in this city who are trying to get by on $10,000 a year. What influence do they have over the kind of city that is being built? None at all.

My concern about the right to the city is not to say that there’s some ethical right way to do things out there, but it’s something to be struggled over. Whose right? To make what kind of city? My concern is that those million people who are living on $10,000 a year should have at least as much an influence as the top 1 percent.

Resistence emerges:

I don’t quite know why there hasn’t been more unrest. I think it has to do with the tremendous power of money to command a police apparatus. I think we’re in a very dangerous situation right now because any form of unrest is likely to be treated as a form of terrorism, as part of the post-9/11 security apparatus. What we’ve seen in places like Tahrir Square and other urban uprisings, with echoes of it in Wisconsin last year, there are signs of resistance beginning to emerge. There’s a parallel here to what happened back in the 1930s. When the stock market crash occurred in 1929, the real big protests didn’t start until 1933, and then you really started to see a mass movement emerging. We may be coming to that stage right now, because the depression, recession, whatever you want to call it, is not over – there’s still mass unemployment, and people are losing their houses left and right, and people are realizing that this is not just a little blip. This is a permanent condition. So I think we’re more likely to see mass unrest emerging around now. It’s not like 1987, where we had a crash and then we got out of it in a couple of years. That’s not happening in this country.

Where do we organize, and how?

At the end of your book, you don’t provide many answers, but you wish to open a dialogue for how to get out of this gross economic inequality and the multiple crises of capitalism. Do you see this coming out of Occupy?

It could possibly. If the union movement moves toward more geographical forms of organization, and not just based around workplaces, then the alliances between urban social movements and unions would be much, much stronger. What’s interesting is that there’s quite a good history of those types of collaborations that have been quite successful. I think that if you could just plant that seed, a huge change could be possible. If Occupy Wall Street can see their way to more collaboration with the union movement, then there will be a great deal of political action possible. My book is a groundwork for exploring all of these possibilities, and not dismissing anything, because we don’t know what the successful form of organization will be. But there’s a huge space at this moment for political activism.


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