The City Cannot Be Occupied: Urban Movements and Revolutionary Memory in Paris, Prague, and Tehran
Deaton, Clifford D.
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This dissertation concerns the role of urban spaces and political memories in revolutionary mobilization. The theoretical framework suggests that movements will use central urban spaces like streets and plazas to connect the contemporary movement with the memory of past political events. Memories of previous revolutionary movements, police violence, and martyrdom, help activate an urban population. Primary urban mobilization on the street, and the use of memory, has the potential to activate ‘secondary’ cultural spaces that can shelter and provide leadership for the movement as it challenges the state. This dissertation argues that movements will be more successful in their political challenge, and more resistant to demobilization, if they are able to organize within a secondary space. To explore the theory, this dissertation develops three case studies of urban movements: the May 1968 movement in Paris, the Velvet Revolution of 1989 in Prague, and the 2009 Green Movement in Tehran. The student uprising at Parisian universities quickly spilled over into the streets of the Latin Quarter in Paris. While connecting with memories of the 1871 Paris Commune by building barricades in the streets, student protesters also developed a vivid iconography in the form of revolutionary posters made at the Atelier Populare. Ultimately unsuccessful at transforming the state, the May ’68 movement still had a dramatic effect on politics and culture. The Velvet Revolution brought an end to the communist regime in Czechoslovakia by a continual process of urban mobilization in central Prague and by connecting with past memories of martyrdom during Nazi occupation and communist rule. The urban movement allied with the vast theater network of Prague. This secondary space provided a safe haven for the movement to ‘come in off the streets’ and successfully challenge the communist state. The Green Movement of 2009 in Tehran arose as a response to an electoral coup d’état by the incumbent regime. By drawing on Islamic imagery and the memory of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the movement further undermined the legitimacy of the Islamic Republic. Unable to organize within a cultural space like the mosques or the bazaar, the movement relied upon rooftop protests and cyberspace after being forced off the streets by police violence. Though these spaces indicate new potentials for organized protest, as of 2009 they were not sufficient to organize a transition in power. The dissertation concludes by reasserting the theoretical formulations in a synthesis of the collected case study insights. Streets and plazas act as primary locations of protest. These spaces are the location for political memories that give justification and legitimacy to the contemporary movement. Political memories can link an urban movement with significant secondary spaces, like theaters in Prague or mosques during the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Movements that rely on organizing within secondary spaces, like the Velvet Revolution did in Prague, are more durable and more successful at transforming the state than movements that rely on occupying streets and buildings like the May movement did in Paris. Ultimately it is concluded that the city cannot be successfully occupied for a long duration, and that organization within secondary spaces is a more viable protest tactic.