Last night [26.10.2011] I made my way to St Pauls.  I felt it was important to show my support and be one of the numbers when I can.  I wish that I could spend more time there but like most of the 99% I have other commitments and lend my thankfulness to those who make the numbers in the occupation on our behalf.

I went specifically on this night to hear Doreen Massey talk, Massey a seminal professor of geography has written extensively on the idea of space, how space is used, experienced, contested and thereby, and relevantly in this setting political.  In her talk Massey outlines the ways in which the financial sector has grown in dominance over the last thirty years.  This, she explained really took off with the de-regulation of the stock market and increased privatisation of resources that occurred largely under a Thatcher government.  Since this time there has been both Labour and Conservative government yet both have overseen a political policy direction of this nature.  The road of privatisation and the influence of the financial sector now dominates all of the political life not only the UK but Europe, USA and most of the globe.

“The end of the socialist alternative, then, did not signify any renewal of democratic debate. Instead, it signified the reduction of democratic life to the management of local consequences of global economic necessity. The latter, in fact, was posited as a common condition which imposed the same solutions on both left and right. Consensus around these solutions became the supreme democratic value” (Rancière, 2004: 3–4).*

London is in many ways the centre of the migration of neoliberal ideology and policy into all walks of our life.  How is it that we have money for banks yet not schools, it is because the idea that one simply cannot fail now has become normal in the everyday policy making of those that call themselves politicians.  Massey states that politicians are scared of the financial sector; I’d say they are the financial sector or at least the representatives of an imagination that sees solutions and problems with which they occupy themselves as firmly located in the realm of managing neoliberal financial systems.  However I want not to rant on about the ‘inequality of it all’ but look to how we can start to move forward in all this and I think some of the clues came from what I saw at St Pauls last night.

Firstly Massey’s talk eloquently outlined the ways in which the material practices of everyday human existence have become abstract from the forces that condition such actions.  What do I mean, well simply put the speculation of financial markets on the trading of such things as the future price of coco that hasn’t even been grown yet seems very abstract to the point of ridiculousness.  It is almost impossible to actually trace such a financial trade to a material happening of some coco growing and a famer harvesting it (Although some try, see; followthethings.com).  However the effects of that trade are felt in very real ways through another abstraction that of value.

Value has many forms, economic, social, moral, cultural, emotional and so on.  What occurs through an economic transaction is in the economic sense the difference in value between the farmers work and price paid for the coco is the surplus and this is abstracted, extracted and traded ,this is financial profit.  However such an analysis alone largely ignores the other forms of value involved.  There is a moral value involved in the nature of the production, further there is an emotional cultural and social value to such things as attachments to land, job security, and small locally owned businesses.  These forms of value have been abstracted away from the material conditions of production so that the economic form is left.   This process of abstraction happens at such a scale that a London based bank worker, the shopper, the company manger, the cook have no way of understanding the complexity of the ways in which material processes flow from one form of abstraction to another.  How does labour translate to the commodity price, how does this feed into speculative trading and so on.

Ok so you’ve heard this before right?  The arguments are familiar to many now and I wish not to repeat them here but to suggest that perhaps this process of abstraction might suggest a way in which to move forward through a process of re-configuring the ways in which we conceive of the balance of the values involved.

At the St Pauls meeting I was approached by a member of the church who suggested that I (he meant the occupy movement) had made its point and that we should move on and further that I was inherently distrusting and disrespectful of the Dean of St Pauls.  There were a number of things going on here.  Firstly he had wrongly assumed I was the movement, that the movement was coherent and that I would somehow disseminate his opinion to the masses who thought like me.  However I was just one of many who just happened to walking past him at that time.  One of many people with an opinion on what to do about this or that specific situation (in this case about being outside St Pauls).  He was guilty of a moral and social abstraction here, he generalised, he sought a negative value, that of blocking a church and therefore limiting its capacity to develop economic value for the continuation of its aesthetic and moral value, and then defined me by it, (my opinions on the matter where never sought and are of little relevance to my point here).  This is key.  Just as he did here, we can take the abstraction of financial value and show that in its material reality such abstraction delimits the possibility of alternative action.  The farmer is at the mercy of economic value, such a privileging of tis form of value attaches no significance to other forms of value, such as quality of life.  This can be bought with the coins, which in the sense I understanding it here is a material transformation of the coco through a negation of value of that coco.  However these values and exchanges don’t line up, there is a disjuncture here, just as there is a disjuncture inherent in the idea that the progress of a booming financial sector will result in a more equal society evidence shows that we have been living in a increasingly divided country of rich and poor.  This has been felt specially, the north has felt the effects of a London centric financial based economy for years.  Graduates, whilst being educated nationally are most commonly employed in the South East.  Further recent policies have suggested that those unable to find work or afford local living conditions should move to a space they can afford.   However through material traces and reconfigurations it may be possible to highlight these disjuncture’s and further demand an opening of an imagination that seeks solutions outside of fixing a perceived minor malfunction of the neoliberal economic system, this is what governance is for.

However we have, as Massey states had an ‘invasion of the imagination’ in how to deal with such issues, the media and the politicians are now seeing only one way and that is the continuation of a neoliberal system, to tweak the machine, to fix the broken part (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_GD69Cc20rw).  Yet such thinking abstracts the problem and fixes it away from the cause.  If such neoliberal systems abstract value in harmful and aggressive ways, we need to build a structure of social relations that means that the aggressive abstraction of any form of value (such as economic, or moral as in the case of my conversation/rant) does not impose and delimit the live of other forms of value.

Ok so what about the occupation.  Massey stated that “…the negotiation of space is an on-going social thing” and indeed St Pauls and the space around it has been radically transformed in the last two weeks.  The battle over it is more than legal or practical and any view of ‘legal right’ positions the law as a stable category, when it itself is an abstraction and fixing of morals that work for certain people in certain ways at certain times.  As Massey states “…we constitute space through our social relations…”.  The question is then not what sort of space do we want, but what form of social relations do we want and how does such spaces engender or delimit social relations.  The occupation has pulled on a different value that was always living in the realm of unmade potential in and around the city, the value of something else, of a different form of social relation, one that puts a value on the human experience of our economic systems on the ground.  This is very much an Occupation, it is taking a space and radically transforming what it is, what is done there and asserting a value that has long been ignored by the privileging of neoliberal systems of finance.

This is the material situation, the fight over this space is symbolic, and the noise of this space in its changes is heard all around the world.  The Occupation now tries to defend itself from abstractions of its image (http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/oct/25/occupy-london-tents-night), a undermining of its values and in doing so attempts to legitimatise its own value assertions.   The fight over space is in many ways the fighting of ideologies that manifest in material forms at all scales from the coco farm in South America to steeps St Pauls Cathedral via the stock exchange. The fight over this particular physical space outside St Pauls can be debated legally, economically morally not only taking opinions on how the space should be used but also creating the very space in itself.  As such we “create the space through our social relations”.  Further the sorts of spaces we have create us.

It is through the highlighting of the abstractions that we can start to re-open this invaded imagination, to carve spaces for new ways of doing things.  So how does this work on the ground.  Well the 99% all have different solutions; however most want a library, a school, a hospital.  Stating that we can’t have this without the banks is simply a privileging of one way of doing things over another.  This way is one that for social, ecological moral reasons cannot continue in its current form.  The occupy cause can seek out the material conditions of the privileging of the finance sector, the prominent ‘neoliberalism first’ ideas, at the local level manifest in the closed youth centre, the rise in student fees and so on.  Action can be taken, we needent wait for polotics to fall back into our way of thinking.  Write to your MP if you are unhappy, pester the newspaper, or if these things strike as petty drops in the ocean and in some way part of ‘the system’ then simply be radical.  Make alternative less radical, be demanding, force open the imagination and take what it is we need.  No longer can we see politics, finance, society, morals as separate things, they all work through the everyday materiality of all of us and as such we can re-configure the movement of value and the ways, in which we privilege one action over another to create a more equal future, equality upon which democracy depends.

The Labour Party’s crowning achievement is the death of politics. There’s nothing left to vote for (Noel Gallagher, Oasis rock star, The Independent 11 November 2006: 37).*

*Quotations taken from Swyngedouw, E. (2009). The Antinomies of the Postpolitical City: In Search of a Democratic Politics of Environmental Production. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 33(3), 601-620.