Book Review: Triumph of Order- Democracy and Public Space in New York and London

Triumph of Order Front Cover

Triumph of Order: Democracy and Public Space in New York and London by Lisa Keller

Lisa Keller. Triumph of Order: Democracy and Public Space in New York and London. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009. RRP £24.00 paperback.

Cities are incredibly complex systems, made up of hundreds of interconnecting networks. Sanitation, transportation, power, housing, local government, and public order, amongst others, all have to function successfully in order for a city to thrive. The larger the city, the more complicated and chaotic it gets, and by the end of the nineteenth century London and New York were the two largest cities in the world. The governments of these two cities, and their residents, had to strike a balance between order and liberty. Triumph of Order: Democracy and Public Space in New York and London traces the struggle to find a balance between these two, frequently conflicting, concepts in the nineteenth century.

Liberal democracies such as the US and the UK place a strong emphasis on liberty and individual freedom. However, the fact is that we are all willing to give up some of that liberty so that the government can maintain order and protect us and our property. Exactly how much of our individual freedoms we are willing to sacrifice in order to feel safe is a matter of constant debate. In Triumph of Order, Lisa Keller argues that in London and New York during the nineteenth century the balance between liberty and order tipped towards order. Using a combination of examples, archival sources, and analysis, Keller makes a convincing argument that liberty, particularly freedom of speech, was curtailed in favour of minimising the risk of disorder and violence on the streets of two of the world’s greatest cities.

The legacy of the nineteenth century was a new structure for public order, in which liberty was expendable. Great Britain and America retained a framework for free speech and assembly, but democracy as an ideal became tempered by realities of city life. The principles and practices established in the nineteenth century yielded long-lasting societal parameters affecting public space, free speech, and assembly.

Keller, 2009: p.223

Although I read academic books as part of my research and teaching, most of the books I review on Turbulent London are aimed at a more general audience. Triumph of Order is written for an academic audience, and is therefore less accessible than most ‘popular’ history books. This is not a criticism, however, just an observation; Triumph of Order is a good book, but if you are looking for something to take on holiday with you, I wouldn’t suggest this. A small criticism that I do have is that Keller is often careless with chronology. The book is structured chronologically, with the first half looking at London and the second focused on New York, but within individual chapters there is a tendency to jump back and forward between different events and time periods that can be confusing.

As someone who studies London and has visited New York, I have always been curious about how the history of the two compares. Triumph of Order highlights the parallels and differences between the two cities. Some of them are relatively obvious: London, for example, was the first major city in the world to have a professional civilian police force (1829), which had clear implications for the way free speech and protest was controlled (New York City followed suit in 1845). Other insights Keller provided are less familiar to me as a British reader, such as the idea that Americans have always been more tolerant of bodily violence and loss of life than British people. Many people have died during riots in London, but it is mostly due to accidents and the violent tactics of authorities; in New York, rioters themselves are more likely to kill people. In Triumph of Order, Keller does a good job of comparing the two cities in a way that also provides insight into them as individual metropolises.

The balance between liberty and order is a difficult issue. In Triumph of Order, Lisa Keller has produced a book that illuminates the historical structures that underpin that balance in two of the most significant cities in Western liberal democracies. That’s no mean feat.

Book Review: Death in Ten Minutes by Fern Riddell

Death in Ten Minutes Front Cover

Death in Ten Minutes by Fern Riddell

Fern Riddell. Death in Ten Minutes. London: Hodder, 2018. RRP £9.99 paperback.

Thanks to the centenary of the Representation of the People Act in 2018, there has been a significant amount of books, documentaries, and museum exhibits about the campaign for women’s suffrage over the last two years (see all of my blog posts on the topic here). It is no easy task, therefore, to come up with something that stands out from the crowd. I have been looking forward to reading Death in Ten Minutes since its publication last year, but I have been waiting for the paperback to come out. I am pleased to say that it was worth the wait.

Death in Ten Minutes is a biography of Kitty Marion, a German-born actress and singer who came to live with her aunt in Britain as a young girl to escape an abusive father. During her time in the theatres and music halls she was subjected to sexual assault and mistreatment by men who held power over her career. She became increasingly disillusioned with the way women were treated by society, and the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) proved to be an ideal outlet for her frustrations. She became one of the group’s most militant suffragettes, responsible for multiple arson and bomb attacks around the country. During the First World War Kitty was forced to leave Britain because she was German, despite living in the UK for most of her life. She took refuge in the US, where she became heavily involved in the birth control advocacy movement. She continued to fight for what she believed in until her death in 1944. In her later years, she wrote an unpublished autobiography, which Fern Riddell draws heavily on in Death in Ten Minutes. The result is an account of Kitty’s life that is vivid, engaging, and feels like it is told from her perspective.

There are lots of things I like about Death in Ten Minutes. One of the main characteristics of the book that surprised me is that Riddell uses Kitty’s story to make a broader argument about the way that women’s history in general, and the suffrage movement in particular, has been sanitised in popular memory and dominant historical narratives in order to (re)produce a particular patriarchal understanding of women. Riddell also critiques the way that the suffragettes are idolised in popular memory, glossing over violent and life-threatening acts of terrorism to present a picture of perfect women. But no one is perfect, and it is just as important to acknowledge that about our admired historical figures as it is about ourselves. In most historical biographies aimed at a popular audience, I do not expect the kind of critical analysis found in Death in Ten Minutes.

The second major strength of Death in Ten Minutes for me is that it doesn’t end in 1918. Many of the women involved in the suffrage campaign went on to use their skills for other causes and social movements, and Kitty was no exception. She worked for the birth control advocacy movement for just as long, if not longer, than she campaigned for the WSPU. Social movements and political campaigns in the twentieth century were empowering experiences for many women, allowing them to develop skills they never anticipated, and the confidence to use those skills (the 1984-5 miner’s strike is another good example). Death in Ten Minutes contextualises the suffrage campaign within Kitty’s life, and shows that there was much more to her than being a suffragette.

Death in Ten Minutes is a well-written and thoroughly researched book that gives Kitty Marion the recognition she deserves as a fierce and passionate, but flawed, campaigner for women’s rights. I highly recommend it.

Book Review: Flaneuse-Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice and London

Flaneuse

Flaneuse by Lauren Elkin.

Lauren Elkin. Flaneuse: Women walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice, and London. London: Vintage, 2017. RRP £9.99 paperback.

As a Geographer, the flaneur is a familiar figure. It refers to some one who walks through cities, normally with no specific destination in mind, observing the city, it’s people, and it’s character. Flaneurs are mostly wealthy, and overwhelmingly male. But that has never quite sat right with me. After all, I love wandering around cities seeing what I can see, and I am not wealthy. Or male. So when I first heard Lauren Elkin speak, at an event at the Museum of London, I was intrigued by what she had to say about the female flaneur; the flaneuse.

But surely there have always been plenty of women in cities, and plenty of women writing about cities, chronicling their lives, telling stories, taking pictures, making films, engaging with the city in any way they can…The joy of walking in the cities belongs to men and women alike.

Elkin, 2017; p.11

Flaneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice, and London is hard to categorise. It’s publisher defines it as memoir/social and cultural history and whilst this sounds like an odd mix, it is quite accurate. I think at its heart, it is an argument to redefine the concept of the flaneur to include women. Elkin offers up her new definition, and then spends the rest of the book providing us with examples; attempting to persuade us of the existence of the flaneuse. As evidence, Elkins tells us about women whose walking in cities is in some way central to who they are, such as their identity or livelihood. Some of the examples are well known; Virginia Woolf in London and George Sand in Paris. Others are perhaps less so: French filmmaker Agnes Cards in Paris and Elkin herself in Tokyo and Paris. I would say Elkin makes a very convincing argument, but she was pushing against an open door with me; others may be harder to convince.

If you are expecting a straight social history of women walking in cities, then you will be disappointed. It is more a series of snapshots into this history. Some of these snapshots contain quite detailed descriptions of the cultural outputs of the women featured, such as the novels of Jean Rhys and the art of Sophie Calle. Elkin is an English Lecturer, and at these points in the book this background comes through the clearly. In this way, Flaneuse is similar to Nightwalking: A Nocturnal History of London by Matthew Beaumont, about the writings of the (overwhelmingly male) people who walked the streets of London after dark. Nightwalking feels like a more coherent history than Flaneuse, but that is largely because it focuses on one city rather than five. To be fair to Elkin, I don’t think she set out to narrate a history, and what she has done is done well.

I read Flaneuse over two days, mainly on two long journeys. Even if I am enjoying a book, I sometimes lose focus after an hour or two of reading. This wasn’t the case with Flaneuse; chapter after chapter kept me hooked. Elkin is a good writer, her work is engaging and thoughtful. The book is a nice balance of Elkin’s own story and the stories of the women and cities who have shaped her.

Some sections of Flaneuse were published elsewhere first, but there was only one point that I guessed the book wasn’t written as a coherent whole. The chapter on Tokyo revolves around Elkin’s relationship with a French banker–she moves to Japan to be with him when he is transferred. In a later chapter, she mentions this relationship as if she is telling the reader about him for the first time. It is a minor detail however, perhaps made so noticeable because it is the only such slip-up in the whole book. Each chapter is named after the city in which it is set. I think this is slightly misleading as, although the cities are very important, it is the women who wander them that are the book’s driving force.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Flaneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice, and London. I would recommend it to anyone interested in women’s or urban history, anyone who fancies something a bit different, or anyone who just appreciates a good book.

Revolting New York: How 400 Years of Riot, Revolt, Uprising, and Revolution Shaped a City

Revolting New York cover

Revolting New York will be published early next year.

On my trips to New York City (in 2015 and 2016), I have scoured bookshops looking for a history of protest in the city, assuming that there must be one. After all, there are at least two books about London’s turbulent past. Whilst there is lots of great research about dissent in New York, there has not been an overarching survey–until now. Next year, a book will be published not just about the history of protest in New York, but about the historical geography of protest in the city. Revolting New York: How 400 Years of Riot, Revolt, Uprising, and Revolution Shaped a City began as a project by Neil Smith with some of his post-graduate students at the City University of New York. When he passed away in 2012, Professor Don Mitchell took over the task of editing the collection, and it is finally being published next year. As you can imagine, I’m quite excited about it, whilst also being a bit frustrated that I didn’t get there first!

Last week, Professor Mitchell gave a lecture about the project at Queen Mary, University of London. I went along to find about more about the project. Mitchell used various examples to demonstrate the strength of the relationship between dissent and the material landscape. We tend to view demonstrations, riots, and other expressions of dissent as unusual events, but they are actually very common, particularly in large cities like London and New York. It is actually more uncommon to have a peaceful period.

Mitchell started the lecture with an in-depth look at a decade of bombings in New York, culminating in anarchist Mario Buda’s attack on Wall Street on the 16th of September 1920 (I have written a review of Mike Davis’ excellent book about this bombing’s part in the early history of the car bomb here.) The bombings contributed to the deindustrialization of New York, as the small-scale manufacturing and transport networks that produced and planted the bombs were driven out of the city. Finance, insurance, and real estate came to dominate the city’s economy. In attempting to strike a devastating blow against the bankers of Wall Street, Buda inadvertently helped them tighten their grip on New York.

Mitchell used this narrative, and others, to argue that “landscape is power materialised.” Whilst this is not a new argument, Revolting New York applies it in a new context. Space is produced through social struggle, the result of constant negotiation and conflict between groups with different visions for that space. Protest is just one form that this process takes. As such, protest shapes and reshapes the city you see when you look out the window (apologies to those of you who are not currently in a city!)

The lecture was an introduction to the Revolting New York project, outlining it’s history, structure, and key arguments. It is particularly exciting for me because of its parallels with my own work on London. The book will be affordable too, less than £25 for the paperback, so hopefully it will help bring historical geography to a wider audience. I for one can’t wait to read it!

Book Review: Picking Up- On the Streets and Behind the Trucks with the Sanitation Workers of New York City

Picking Up cover

Picking Up: On the Streets and Behind the Trucks with the Sanitation Workers of New York City by Robin Nagle.

Robin Nagle. Picking Up: On the Streets and Behind the Trucks with the Sanitation Workers of New York City. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013.

On a visit to New York in March as a member of staff on an undergraduate field trip, I was presented with a wealth of book buying opportunities. I was unfortunately (or fortunately, if you are my bank balance or my boyfriend) limited by BA’s baggage allowance, so I had to be highly selective about what I bought. Picking Up was one of the lucky few (well, 7) that made the cut. I enjoy books about cities, but I especially like books that approach a city from a direction that’s a little bit different. And, as Robin Nagle makes abundantly clear, what public service is more overlooked than rubbish collection?

All of us create trash in great quantities, but its a troubling category of stuff we mostly ignore. We particularly ignore how much care and attention it requires from a large, well-organized workforce. What would life be like if the people responsible for managing the waste of contemporary society were not on the streets every day? What do their jobs entail? Why don’t they get the kudos they deserve?

(Nagle, 2013; p.12)

Picking Up blends statistics, history and personal stories to tell a rich and detailed story of the Department of Sanitation New York (or DSNY- the book contains a helpful glossary so you can get your head around all the acronyms and slang that the sanitation workers use). The DSNY only receives public and media attention when something goes wrong; you don’t often stop to be grateful when your rubbish is collected on time, but you certainly do kick up a stink (pun intended) when a collection is missed. So Nagle had to work hard to gain the trust of the DSNY and its employees, first getting access to their archives, then being allowed to observe garages and collection trucks on their rounds, then, finally, getting a job as a sanitation worker herself. Her fascination with the topic, and her dedication to finding out more about the complex system that prevents New York City from drowning in its own waste, is evident in her writing.

Nagle uses her own transition from curious outsider to tolerated observer and finally valued colleague to structure the book. As she learns how to lift properly, how to navigate bureaucratic politics, and how to operate the complex and dangerous machinery (you are statistically more likely to die on the job as a sanitation worker in New York than a police officer or fireman) so does the reader. Well, not literally, but I felt like I was discovering more about this overlooked world with Nagle, rather than just being told about it.

An anthropologist by trade, Nagle is fascinated by what the ways that society deals with rubbish can tell us about ourselves and the societal norms we construct. The book doesn’t contain much theory- it is clearly aimed at a non-academic audience, but what is included adds a depth that I think the rest of the book could have benefited from. The discussion about the term ‘throwing away’ and its implications for how society views waste, for example, is fascinating.

I work from home quite often, so I regularly see my local sanitation workers coming to collect our rubbish and recycling on Thursday mornings. Before reading Picking Up, I might have glanced up to see what the noise was. Now, I am much more aware of the service they perform. Picking Up takes a new perspective on New York City, a difficult thing to do for one of the world’s most observed and represented cities. But it also encourages you to think differently about your own city, and what more can you ask from a book than to change your perspective?

Protest Stickers: New York City 2, Part 2

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Stickers obscuring a road sign in New York City (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Street art is everywhere in New York City, and it comes in all shapes and sizes. For those of you that are new to Turbulent London, I am especially interested in stickers, particularly those with political subject matter. So on a recent trip to New York City, I took my camera and my habit of photographing random bits of street furniture to see what protest stickers I could find on the streets of the city that never sleeps. This is the second time I have visited NYC since I started photographing protest stickers, and the first time I struggled to find many. This time however, I found so many stickers that I have decided to do two blog posts, hence the slightly awkward title (the first post, published last week, is here). In the last post, I looked at the different kinds of issues which protest stickers address, the different types of stickers you can find, and some of the most common themes in the stickers I found. This post is far less organised I’m afraid, its just everything else that I wanted to include!

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Some American industries. including the building trade, still have very strong unions. Builders in New York tend to plaster their hard hats with stickers, so that they become a walking representation of their unions and the causes that they consider to be important (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Last week I talked about some of the most common themes that came up in protest stickers, police brutality and the upcoming Presidential election. Animal rights was another common theme; this sticker contains the web addresses of meatvideo.com, which shows abuse at factory farms, and In Defense of Animals, a group which campaigns for animal rights, welfare and habitat (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This sticker also references meatvideo.com, but it is not quite as well made as the last one. I remember seeing this sticker design when I was here in 2015, so there’s a chance this particular sticker has been there quite a while (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This sticker criticises people who wear fur. The picture is unclear because the sticker has been wrinkled by rain, but the message is still pretty clear thanks to the huge red writing (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Feminism was a less common theme, but it did crop up now and again (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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I found this sticker on some scaffolding right outside our hotel when we first arrived- I took it as a good omen for the trip! (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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The East Village is one of the ‘coolest’ neighbourhoods on Manhattan, and some stickers are local to this area. The Shadow claims to be New York’s only underground newspaper, and is published from the lower East Side. It was started in 1989, after local people were disillusioned by the mainstream media’s coverage of the Tompkins Square Park riot in 1988. I featured one of The Shadow‘s stickers last time, but didn’t know the story behind it until this trip (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This sticker was produced by the Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space, which is located in a squat on Avenue C. The Museum is volunteer-run, and focuses on grassroots campaigns to keep communal spaces in the city out of corporate hands (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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The clenched, raised fist is a common symbol of dissent (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This sticker has been partially obscured, but it reads “We stand with Texas Women, and we won’t sit down!” It was produced by Ultraviolet, a group that campaigns for women’s rights. This particular campaign is about preventing attempts to restrict access to abortions in Texas (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Being a millennial myself I find this a little harsh, but everyone is entitled to their opinion I guess! (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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The SEIU is the Services Employees International Union, and 32BJ is the local New York branch. It represents cleaners, security guards, and others whose work involves the maintenance and servicing of buildings (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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New York City has rents comparable to London, and it must be difficult for small businesses to survive. Save NYC is a campaign to “preserve the diversity and uniqueness” of New York. This was in the window of a dry cleaners in the East Village (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This sticker has adapted the design of the one dollar bill to call for the legalisation of cannabis (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This stickers celebrates the actions of Edward Snowden, a whistleblower who leaked information from the National Security Agency in 2013 which sparked intensive debate about the balance of individual privacy and national security. PeaceSupplies.org sells stickers, shirts and patches related to various campaigns (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This sticker promotes Save Stonewall, a campaign to create a national park to commemorate the Stonewall Riots, which took place in Greenwich Village in 1969 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Parent Team is a group which supports parents of children dealing with drug or alcohol addiction. Here they are calling for free childcare for all, which doesn’t quite match up with their main purpose, but is an admirable goal none the less (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This is a sticker produced by the street artist and anti-war activist Jef Campion (a.k.a. Army of One/JC2). He used his art to emphasise the ill effects of war. He passed away in 2014, but his memory lives on in his street art (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This photo illustrates how the location of a sticker can influence or reinforce its meaning. This sticker was placed on the stop sign at a pedestrian crossing, emphasising its anti-gentrification message (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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The International Museum for Activist Art is a website which displays art that aims to raise awareness of the issues facing society, and I would definitely recommend having a browse through it (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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I found this in Washington Square Park on my last day in New York. It uses the story of Goldilocks to call for the preservation of our planet. Earth is ‘just right’ for human habitation, a rare attribute that we shouldn’t take for granted (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Protest Stickers: New York City 2, Part 1

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A doorway in Greenwich Village with a high concentration of street art and stickers (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

New York City has a thriving street art culture. Almost every neighbourhood has walls covered in art, both official and unofficial. There are also a lot of stickers, of all kinds- I spotted one sticker advertising a new novel, which is something I haven’t come across in London before. Lots of stickers generally means lots of protest stickers, and during the week that I was there in early March I found loads. I wouldn’t like to say whether the amount of protest stickers is increasing, or I have just got better at spotting them since I visited last time, but it certainly felt like there were a lot. I found so many in fact, that I have decided to split this post into 2 parts, with Part 2 being published this time next week.

Protest stickers are a great way of seeing what kinds of issues are important to the people of a city. Some themes crop up again and again, whilst other topics just appear to be a particular bug bear of one zealous stickerer (I am still looking for a less clumsy way of referring to people who put up stickers!) Stickers are just one of the ways in which protest imprints itself onto the physical fabric of a city, but they can also be one of the most long-lasting, although their transience is one of their defining characteristics.

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As in London, gentrification is a contentious issue in New York City. These stickers are drawing attention to the issue in a tongue-in-cheek manner (at least I hope it is!) (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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You can find stickers about a whole range of issues, relating to a whole range of scales. The relevance of this sticker is confined to New York City (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Some stickers refer to national scale issues. The upcoming Presidential election is just about all anyone can talk about in America at the moment, and this obsession is reflected in New York’s protest stickers (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Some stickers are about international scale issues. In case you can’t read the top line, this sticker says “Stop Iran- We Stand with Israel” (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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There are some stickers that defy scale; this sticker doesn’t refer to any issue in particular, instead advocating a more forgiving attitude that could probably help a lot of contentious situations (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This sticker also takes an abstract approach. It is by a street artist called @ApillNYC who, despite the @, has very little information about them on the internet (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Some stickers are not even remotely relevant to New York City. This sticker comes from the Hillsborough Justice Campaign, which seeks justice for the 96 people who died in a crush at Hillsborough Football Stadium in Sheffield in the United Kingdom. I have seen these stickers before in London and I was very excited to find them here, on the viewing platform at the top of the Rockefeller Centre (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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As well as relating to a whole range of scales, protest stickers come in a whole range of forms. This sticker is basic, and was probably quite easy to make (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Whereas this sticker blurs the boundary between protest sticker and street art, and likely took a lot longer to produce. This sticker, which I suspect was pasted to the wall rather than being stuck with its own adhesive, is by someone called Individual Activist (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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One of the most common themes of protest stickers in New York City is policing. There has been widespread controversy in America over the past few years over the treatment of civilians by police officers, particularly when it comes to ethnic minorities. Rise Up October was organised by the Stop Mass Incarceration Network (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This sticker plays on the idea that the police should protect citizens, rather than pose a threat to them. In reality, the police can pose a threat, particularly to members of ethnic minorities (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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To serve and protect is another phrase commonly associated with the police. This sticker is implying that the police serve and protect property, rather than people (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This sticker is advertising a different demonstration against police brutality. I think that #Octresist was also organised by the Stop Mass Incarceration Network, in 2014. If that is the case, then this sticker is getting quite old! (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Garden State Ultras are a sports fan group with a radical edge. ACAB (All Cops Are Bastards) is part of the international radical language (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This sticker wouldn’t win any prizes for subtlety, but sometimes that is the best way to get your message across (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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As I mentioned before, the Presidential Election is a hot topic in America. Donald Trump is a controversial figure who nobody seems to like, yet he keeps doing well in the primaries (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Most New York stickerers seem to be fans of Bernie Sanders. A democrat, he has been called America’s Jeremy Corbyn, he has been giving some people hope that politics can be done differently (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This sticker was produced by The Personal Stash, which sells marijuana-themed accessories and promotes the reform of laws relating to marijuana (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This sticker comes from Bernie Sander’s official campaign. Sometimes, the line between protest and formal politics can become blurred as radicals attempt to reform the system from within (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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And just to end the post on a positive note…(Photo: Hannah Awcock)

Don’t forget to check back next week for Part 2 of Protest Stickers: New York City 2!

Rebellious New York: A Radical Guide to NYC 2

Last week, I was lucky enough to run my Rebellious New York project on the Royal Holloway Geography Department’s second year undergraduate field trip for a second year. I really enjoyed it last year, getting to explore New York’s radical side with a group of enthusiastic students, and this trip was no different. I wrote about some of the many ways to explore New York’s turbulent past and present last year, but this time I discovered some new things, as well as revisiting some old ones.

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The Statue of Liberty, donated to America by the French people to commemorate the centenary of American Independence, is one of the most iconic symbols of New York City (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

I took my group on the Occupy Walking Tour with Occupy member Michael Pellagatti, as I did last year. Michael has added some information to the tour that puts the 2008 global financial meltdown that spawned the Occupy Movement in the context of the boom and bust cycle inherent to capitalism. We also had a talk at the Interference Archive, which provided an introduction to the archive and its collections. It is always useful to know why an archive you are working in was started, as it can help you to understand what sort of material might be present in the collections. The students all found something useful for their projects, and the volunteers were very helpful in pointing out potentially relevant material- a great illustration of how beneficial it can be to have the archivist on your side!

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The Rebellious New York group with Michael Pellagati, the Occupy New York tour guide (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

 

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My group getting stuck in to the collections at the Interference Archive (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The weather was much warmer than it has been on my previous trips to New York, and it was lovely to see the open spaces of the city being used and enjoyed. Union Square Park seemed to be a particularly lively space, with people dancing, drawing, performing and protesting at the south end of the park on the Wednesday evening when we were there. Whilst walking tours and archives are excellent, protest is best experienced by actually experiencing it, and in New York there is no shortage of opportunities!

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This stall was selling posters and t-shirts with a clear anti-establishment theme (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Police violence against civilians, particularly those belonging to ethnic minorities, is a controversial topic in America at the moment (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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It takes all sorts to make up a political campaign! (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

I spent some time on this trip exploring the rich history of immigration that is an integral part of New York. I visited Ellis Island, which processed 12 million newly arrived immigrants between 1892 and 1924. I also went to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, which has preserved 97 Orchard Street, and has restored some of the flats to resemble what they would have looked like at various points between 1863 and the 1930s. Many immigrants crammed into tenements in neighbourhoods like the Lower East Side when they first arrived in America, and the museum does a fantastic job of bringing their stories to life. Immigrant groups did not wait long to get involved in politics in New York. Some of the biggest issues for new arrivals were work related; workers faced long hours, tough conditions and low wages. American workers often saw immigrants as competition, but they eventually realised that more could be achieved if they campaigned together. In addition, more established migrant groups helped new arrivals; German radicals helped eastern Europeans set up trade unions and Yiddish language newspapers when they first arrived on the Lower East Side. Radicals were also affected by the increasingly tight laws which aimed to reduce overall immigration numbers and prevent those considered subversive or unable to provide for themselves entering America. Anarchists were banned in 1903, along with epileptics and professional beggars.

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An image from the 1913 New York City clothing workers’ strike, with placards in Italian, Yiddish, and Russian as well as English. The museum on Ellis Island deals with all aspects of migrant life, including work (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The Stonewall Riots are considered by many to be the the catalyst for the LGBT civil rights movement in America. On the 28th of June 1969 the police raided the Stonewall Inn, a popular gay bar in Greenwich Village. At this point homosexuality in public was illegal in New York, and businesses and establishments frequented by the city’s gay community were continually harassed by the police. This particular night was the final straw however, and a crowd gathered outside the Stonewall Inn and began to riot. The same happened the following night. On the first anniversary of the riots, the first Gay Pride parades took place in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York. The original Inn closed in 1969, but a bar called Stonewall opened up in the western half of the original location (53 Christopher Street) in 1990. In 2007 the name was changed again to the Stonewall Inn, and this bar is still open today. Across the road in Christopher Park is the Gay Liberation Monument, which was constructed in 1992. Although it memorialises the gay rights movement as a whole, the location of the monument so close to the Stonewall Inn demonstrates how significant the location is considered to be.

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The Gay Liberation Monument in Christopher Park consists of 4 figures (Photo: Hannah Awcock)

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Detail of the two male figures. A plaque, which explains the context of the riots and the history of the memorial, can be seen in the background (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Christopher Park itself is small and quiet, but very close to the busy 7th Avenue, and I saw a lot of people coming in to look at memorial during the 20 minutes I was sat there (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The radical history of New York is long and diverse, and it would take far more time than I have to get to know it properly, although I would like to someday. For now, I am content with exploring the traces these turbulent events and people have left in the fabric of the city on my brief visits, not to mention helping the wonderful Royal Holloway Geography undergraduates to conduct their own research on protest in the city. If you ever find yourself in this fantastic city, why not take some time to investigate the city’s rebellious side?

Materialities of Protest: Tarpaulins and Tents at Occupy Wall St.

Laura Shipp is a Second Year Geography undergraduate at Royal Holloway. She is particularly interested in Political Geography and is currently undertaking dissertation research surrounding emotional geographies and perceptions of security in everyday circumstances. Following on from research carried out on an undergraduate fieldtrip to New York, she considers the ways that protest camps can entangle objects, change their associations and recreate their meanings.


My own photo of Zuccotti Park along the Occupy Wall Street Tour in late March.

My own photo of Zuccotti Park along the Occupy Wall Street Tour in late March.

In September 2011, Zuccotti Park, Lower Manhattan became overtaken as the home of Occupy Wall Street. A unique ephemeral environment was established which can only be described as a protest camp. From this picture, the park now has no physical marks of the camp’s existence and yet it had contained a temporary city with its own newspaper, food supply chain and Wi-Fi (Chappell, 2011).

Feigenbaum, (2014, pp.35) defines protest camps “as place-based sites of on-going protest and daily social acts of ‘re-creation’ largely describing both the situated-ness of such camps to their location but also the significance of seemingly banal process within them”. They are spaces where people coalesce and imagine a different social world, often in contention with the state (Frenzel et al., 2013). In make-shift bedrooms, kitchens and meeting places, objects have significance and become bound in new narratives. The meaning and use of objects evolve to fit exceptional environments which alters the legacy of the objects.

With an aim to put focus on some of the seemingly banal objects that became entangled with Occupy Wall Street I used two slightly abnormal methods for the study. The first was a tour of the main sites of Occupy Wall Street and an oral history from Occupy tour guide Michael Pellagatti. The second method was the Interference Archive which stores ephemera and news articles to create an animated story of social history (Interference Archive, 2015)

From what I found, the tarpaulin and the tent seemed to have an importance. Fundamentally, protest camps must negotiate the task of providing basic necessities to its occupants whilst getting across its message; this is partly done by occupying the space through thick and thin. Tarpaulins provided shelter required from the first week of the camp, as shown in the picture below.

Michael’s photograph of Occupy Wall Street encampment in its first week occupying Zuccotti Park (Source: Michael P. Pellagatti).

Michael’s photograph of Occupy Wall Street encampment in its first week occupying Zuccotti Park (Source: Michael P. Pellagatti).

The tarpaulin’s crowning moment, however, was Day 6 of the camp when a storm was forecast to hit Manhattan. After much deliberation, a human-tarp shield was erected around the equipment and the camp physically weathered the storm from under it. Michael stresses the prominence of this instance, claiming it as the “genesis of the movement”. It transformed the camp’s population from strangers with similar frustrations to a group dedicated to its cause. From this process, they were able to create both strong ties in that place as well as maintaining the resources they needed to survive as a protest (Nicholls, 2009).

My Photograph of archived Wall Street Journal article showing Occupiers of Zuccotti Park surviving the winter weather.

My Photograph of archived Wall Street Journal article showing Occupiers of Zuccotti Park surviving the winter weather.

The tarp has another significance, physically representing the struggles faced by the homeless population of New York. Often they are used to create makeshift bivouac shelters, retaining heat on city streets (Newman, 2014). They are the difference between life and death. Using those same items, the Occupiers were a visceral reminder of difficulties and people who may otherwise be ignored. What Ehrenreich (2011) argues is that not only are the two related, but Occupy Wall Street took up the cause of homelessness as its own, as a problem that is not dissociated with the greed of the 1%. As time passed tents became more prolific at the camp. The picture below shows the camp the week before its eviction.

Michael’s photograph of the Zuccotti Park encampment in Mid-November, the week before the eviction (Source: Michael P. Pellagatti).

Michael’s photograph of the Zuccotti Park encampment in Mid-November, the week before the eviction (Source: Michael P. Pellagatti).

From the outside they may have seemed like a sensible shelter for the protesters. From Michael’s perspective, however, they broke down the unity that came from living in each other’s company. The name of the park became sullied with incidents of sexual harassment and drug use (Moynihan, 2015). Without ensuring the security of its occupants a protest camp cannot provide well-being to them. These things are needed in order to create a ‘home’ and therefore sustain the camp (Frenzel et al., 2013).

Overall, the materiality of protests has many entanglements which can reconfigure their meanings. The role of the tent in dividing the camp shows how objects can become entangled within a protest camp in ways that can undermine them but also produces opportunities for objects to be unintentionally constructive, like the tarpaulin. What is so different about protest camps is their ability to politicise “the embodied practices involved in sustaining the protest camp as a home space” (Frenzel et al., 2013, pp.464). Through this process they connect the domestic to the political and give them the ability to influence each other.

Laura Shipp, Royal Holloway, University of London

Sources and Further Reading

Chappell, B. (2011) ‘Occupy Wall Street: From a blog post to a movement’, NPR, 20 October [Online]. Available at: http://www.npr.org/2011/10/20/141530025/occupy-wall-street-from-a-blog-post-to-a-movement Accessed: 19 May 2015

Ehrenreich, B. (2011) ‘Throw them out with the trash’, Tom Dispatch, 23 October. [Online] (Available at: http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175457/tomgram%3A_barbara_ehrenreich,_homeless_in_america/) Accessed 17 May 2015

Feigenbaum, A. (2014) ‘The disobedient objects of protest camps’, in in Flood, C. and Grindon. G. (eds.), Disobedient Objects, London: V&A Publishing pp. 34 – 44.

Frenzel, F. Feigenbaum, A. and McCurdy, P. (2013) ‘Protest camps: an emerging field of sociological movement research’, The Sociological Review, 62, pp. 457- 474.

Interference Archive (2015) ‘Our Mission’, About, (Available at http://interferencearchive.org/our-mission/) Accessed 2 March 2015

Moynihan, C. (2015) ‘Occupy Wall Street, the tour’, The New York Times, 2 April. [Online] (Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/03/nyregion/occupy-wall-street-the-tour.html) Accessed 2 April 2015

Newman, S. M. (2014) ‘Policy and plastic tarps: Surviving winter while homeless’, Next City, 21 November [Online] (Available at: http://nextcity.org/daily/entry/homeless-winter-survival-chicago-mayors-policy) Accessed 25 May 2015

Nicholls, W. (2009) ‘Place, networks, space: theorising the geographies of social movements’, Transactions of the Institiute of British Geographers, 34(1), pp. 78-93.

Protest Stickers: New York City

Like in London, stickers of various kinds are ubiquitous in New York.

Like in London, stickers of various kinds are ubiquitous in New York (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

A few months ago, I visited New York on an undergraduate field trip. As I explored the city, I took pictures of protest stickers as I do in London. This post is about some of the stickers that I saw. At first I thought that explicitly political stickers were less common in New York than London, as it took me quite a while to find any. However I discovered that in some areas, such as the East Village in Manhattan, protest stickers are just as common as in London.

I spotted this sticker in several locations around the city. It is advertising a demonstration that was due to take place several weeks after I was in New York. The treatment of the city's citizens, especially black citizens, by police has resurfaced as a contentious issue in recent months.

I spotted this sticker in several locations around the city. It is advertising a demonstration that was due to take place several weeks after I was in New York. The treatment of the city’s citizens, especially black citizens, by police has resurfaced as a contentious issue in recent months (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Some issues that are common subjects of protest stickers in London also occur in New York, like this one advocating a boycott of Israel.

Some issues that are common subjects of protest stickers in London also occur in New York, like this one advocating a boycott of Israeli produced goods (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Other issues are unique to the US, such as this sticker declaring that 9/11 was the result of a conspiracy. It looks as if it has been scratched with a key or something similar in an attempt to obscure the image, suggesting the controversy of this kind of opinion.

Other issues are unique to the US, such as this sticker declaring that 9/11 was the result of a conspiracy. It looks as if it has been scratched with a key or something similar in an attempt to obscure the image, suggesting the controversy of this kind of opinion (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

This sticker plays on the iconic posters from Obama's campaign during the last election, but replaces the image of Obama with that of a protester in a V for Vendetta mask.

This Occupy sticker plays on the iconic posters from Obama’s campaign during the last election, but replaces the image of Obama with that of a protester in a V for Vendetta mask (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

This sticker also refers to Obama. I saw sever different issues of 'The Shadow' whilst in New York.

This sticker also refers to Obama. I saw sever different issues of ‘The Shadow’ whilst in New York (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Anti-fascism was not such a common topic of protest stickers in New York as London.

Anti-fascism was not such a common topic of protest stickers in New York as London, but it is there (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This sticker was produced by an organisation called Truth Move, which also produced the anti-fascist sticker above. Anti-fascism and environmental issues are not usually tackled by the same social movement groups; Truth Move is an organisation that argues that equality and democracy come from equal access to knowledge and facts (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This sticker is handmade, it looks as if a postage label has been painted over (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

I know I am cheating a little bit with this one, it is in the collection in the Interference Archive. But I liked it too much to leave out!

I know I am cheating a little bit with this one, it is in the collection in the Interference Archive rather than on the streets. But I liked it too much to leave out! (Photo: Hannah Awcock)

I like the design of this sticker, and it's topic, mental health is also unusual.

I like the design of this sticker, and it’s topic, mental health, is also unusual (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

This sticker, advertising a climate march, could also be found in Spanish, a language with is widely spoken in America and New York.

This sticker, advertising a climate march, could also be found in Spanish, a language with is widely spoken in America and New York (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

I love the politeness of this anti-racist sticker in the East Village.

I love the politeness of this anti-racist sticker in the East Village (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Although I do not agree with the sentiment of this sticker, I can't help but admire it's wit.

Although I do not agree with the sentiment of this sticker, I can’t help but admire it’s wit (Photo: Hannah Awcock).