Making this world ours

A report from the occupation at Beursplein

Jonas Staal

This week, together with a group of artists, I have joined the occupation of Beursplein, [Amsterdam’s stock exchange] by way of a collective tent.


We believe in public space as a democratic space. As a space where the political process can take place in its most fundamental form. The space where we investigate – through encounter, debate and conflict – what we could consider as common; what the space is where we can find common ground; where a shared language can be developed.


The violent manner in which the Dutch riot police broke down a peaceful artists’ protest in front of the Parliament Building in The Hague on June 28th, 2011 has left a deep mark on all of us. Especially when it became known why the police deemed it necessary to have a battalion of riot police beat the democratic right to spontaneous demonstration off the streets, namely because it would cause hindrance to the shoppers – implying that if it had not taken place in a shopping street, it wouldn’t have been removed. But what is to be done in our cities that nowadays virtually consist only of generic shopping streets? Where do we escape to when consumer right is considered a “greater” democratic right than that of political assembly? Is the Malieveld – the designated space for protest situated outside the city center, in other words: the dumping ground of democracy – the only space we have left to reclaim the political?


The answer – unfortunately – is yes. A despicable field, which only obtains visibility when the media decides it has an interest vested therein, is the sole “democratic” public space that is offered to us.


The occupation of Beursplein shows that there can be a critical mass that does not agree to this. Surrounded by the stock exchange, a funfair on Dam Square, endless shopping malls and tourist streets, they have set up their camp. Without a leader or preconceived structure this extremely diverse and leaderless group attempts to reinvent the political process collectively. The public meetings are the most striking: they are forums where every evening anyone is welcome to come and speak about the form of protest and the practical and ideological functioning of the encampment. Any person may speak and his or her words are collectively repeated by those present in order to make everyone fully aware of the entire political body that searches for a voice: one that reflects the multitude of people who find themselves unified therein.


On the surface, various media have described the manifestation of these ideals at the occupied stock exchange as poor. Rain-drenched armchairs, half collapsed tents, day-trippers, ‘The Socialist’ paper vendors, weak slogans, rainbow paintings and a remarkable surplus of poorly groomed dogs do not form the ideal representation of a collective research of new democratic models. But these superficial appearances are inherent to the process in which politics are re-designed from scratch; in which models are sought that do not merely invite their citizens to outsource their vote once every four years, but rather challenge them to shape it themselves and strive for an openness where this is possible. A non-exclusive space, because politics should not be confined to a parliament, to casting a vote, or taking part in a survey or referendum, nor should it be limited to reading the newspaper or watching the news. Politics means taking the responsibility to see this world as our world, and to shape it as such.


This is what the occupation strives for. The form in which it manifests itself inevitably demands criticism. But that does not exempt us from making the only right choice; to occupy

Beursplein, and make this world ours again


October 22 2011


Occupy Amsterdam. Photo: unbekannt

10th Berlin Biennale