The week of November 10, characterized now by the dramatic occupation of Millbank and described as “the event of the generation of debt, precarity, and unemployment,” brought 50,000 people into the streets of London.[footnote See →.] Entering the halls of Britain’s Conservative Party headquarters, many of us found ourselves overwhelmed by a movement we did not know existed. Formerly tucked in the folds of student unions, further education colleges, local councils, trade unions, and classrooms, a mobilization that seemed almost unthinkable only the week before materialized before our eyes. At once beautiful and perplexing for many of us involved in the formerly benign feeling of London’s cultural scene, was to see how quickly so many of us—artists, lecturers, students of fashion, design, music, and theatre—shed years of a neoliberal lockdown on the arts to re-conjugate ourselves as active political agents.
What can only be described as an ideological attack on the poor, on arts and humanities—on critical thought and production and on what little remains of the British welfare state—threw Britain into a state of crisis. In response, we demanded free education for all, for cultural assets to be managed through democratic processes, for decisions about the future of culture and education to stay out of the hands of non-elected “advisors” (such as Lord Browne, former Chief Executive of British Petroleum and current Chair of Trustees of the Tate Gallery). We also shouted that our resistance to the current cuts is not a call for the restoration of New Labour’s public-private confusion, but something else: the articulation of a cultural and political commons. Finally, we demanded an end to police violence and showed solidarity with those who have been arrested, and against those who have suspended our right to be in the streets.
In the frenzied chronicling of this autumn of discontent, and of a movement with no end in sight, it is impossible to analyze from outside, to make reviews or predictions about “them”—the students, artists, or activists. With the force of life that has moved us from art school to art school, from campus to campus, from meeting to meeting, those regimes of spectatorship, observation, and aesthetic judgment (in all their contemporary pseudo-critical wrappings) that felt so impenetrable before, suddenly seem anachronistic in the context here and now.
We therefore write our recount in fragments, moments, and movements from the multiplicity and power of these recent events that we do not yet know how to name. Names will surely come, but there is also tremendous happiness in the semioclasm of the early days and nights of a movement at its beginning.
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