From occupations to manifestations: Arundhati Roy imagines another world

I was excited to find in my inbox today an interview with one of my favorite women writers of resistance, Arundhati Roy.

Roy may be most famous for her novel, The God of Small Things, but I am most moved by her political writings.  She is the one who coined that very popular saying, which became a motto of the World Social Forum in the 1990s: “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way.  On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

She has been a shrewd and no-holds-barred critic of transnational corporate capitalism for decades now, long before it became a trendy position to take.

As she wrote in An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire, “So much of what I write, fiction as well as non-fiction, is about the relationship between power and powerlessness and the endless, circular conflict they’re engaged in.”

Since she’s been thinking about these issues for so long, it’s not surprising that the comments she made to Arun Gupta, published today in The Guardian,” are right on target.

“I don’t think the whole protest is only about occupying physical territory, but about reigniting a new political imagination.

“I don’t think the state will allow people to occupy a particular space unless it feels that allowing that will end up in a kind of complacency, and the effectiveness and urgency of the protest will be lost.

“The fact that in New York and other places where people are being beaten and evicted suggests nervousness and confusion in the ruling establishment.

“I think the movement will, or at least should, become a protean movement of ideas, as well as action, where the element of surprise remains with the protesters.

“We need to preserve the element of an intellectual ambush and a physical manifestation that takes the government and the police by surprise.

It has to keep re-imagining itself, because holding territory may not be something the movement will be allowed to do in a state as powerful and violent as the United States.”

This certainly speaks to the question that has been worrying at me all day today, as news spread of the violent evictions of Occupy encampments in L.A. and Philadelphia.
Once the physical encampments are gone, will the movement die away?
Or can it keep bubbling up in guerilla fashion, as I advocated in an earlier piece on this blog, like the spontaneous street parties of European cities, that materialize, stage an intervention, and then vanish before they can be contained?
Also, what role will the internet continue to play over the winter?  Perhaps we should be moving from a stage of “occupations” to a new stage of “manifestations,” where the focus will be not on resistantly occupying a physical territory, but on proactively gathering, both virtually and actually, to manifest a new vision of social relations.
In the Guardian interview, Roy ends by pointing to indigenous people, and people who live close to the land, as key mentors in the days and months and years ahead.
As climate change and environmental degradation accelerates,  Roy says, “we are going to confront a crisis from which we cannot return. The people who created the crisis in the first place will not be the ones that come up with a solution.
“That is why we must pay close attention to those with another imagination: an imagination outside of capitalism, as well as communism. We will soon have to admit that those people, like the millions of indigenous people fighting to prevent the takeover of their lands and the destruction of their environment – the people who still know the secrets of sustainable living – are not relics of the past, but the guides to our future.”
There are many of us who are now waking up to the certain knowledge that the leaders we thought were our trusty guides have been taking us on a joy ride to nowhere, ending up barreling towards a cliff.
There have been those all along who have refused to go along for the ride, who have maintained their independent imaginations and worldviews despite intense efforts by the corporate capitalist world to beat them down.
Those are the people we need to heed now–if, as Roy says, we want to learn “the secrets of sustainable living” and survive.  And if, of course, they’ll have us.
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1 Comment

  1. Very interesting post. I agree, the leaders, moral, finanical and political, who have brought us to a culture that is depleting us in so many ways by using tactics to trick us into thinking we’re ok will not be the ones who can lead us out of this morose state we’re currently living in. Thanks for the great post and bringing Arundhati Roy to my attention.

    Reply

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