the amazing poet, graphic designer, and cultural worker Kenji Liu (who is on the board of Kearny Street Workshop, where I work) just decolonized BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) with this map above, which he created by committee on Facebook. Click here to see the discussions (in comments) on version one, and here for version two.
Kenji has been involved in the Occupy Oakland movement for a while now. It was he who produced the meme-ing postcards about the central Oakland square, called Frank Ogawa Plaza, which Occupy Oakland renamed to "Oscar Grant Plaza" after the young man who was shot by a policeman while facedown on the ground, causing protests and riots in January 2009. His postcards pointed out that Frank Ogawa, a legislator, was also interned during WWII, and his being deposed from his post by Oscar Grant wasn't necessarily an example of historical justice.
Kenji's also producing a series of images, which you can see on his Facebook design page, relating more directly to the Occupy movement.
But you know me: it's the politically motivated toponymy that really gets my juices flowing. I know from experience to expect from Kenji this quality of political/cultural critique in the form of innovative art projects. But it's how OWS is getting the creative juices gushing all over the place that really tells me this movement has legs. I think urban toponymy and memorialization -- and especially the discussions that surround them -- are markers of a healthy, active, living polity. That is, a polity composed of engaged citizens, who are engaged with their environment in the broadest sense of the word: geographical, ecological, political, and cultural.
Kenji's map has also made clear to me something I hadn't thought of before: that OWS is a political movement that takes metonymy -- basically a system of geographical metaphors -- at utterly face value. Wall St -- the concept, as opposed to "Main Street" -- is the center of power. "Wall Street" the center of power is inaccessible to them. So protesters made the geographical location into a reverse metonym for "Wall Street" the banking industry, and occupied it. They can't access the center of power, so they occupy its physical symbol. This is why the locations of the various occupations are so important to both sides. And why a physical occupation is so important to the movement at this stage.
It's important for more than just this reason, of course. The failure of broad-based political movements over the past decade or so, and especially during wartime; the transferance of our base of cultural communications to the internet, and the attempt to organize people politically on the internet -- an only moderate success; and the accession of a new generation of young adults who have never engaged in political movements, have all made face-to-face, real-time, real-place politics exciting and essential.
And in the wake of the worst wave of defaults, repos, and evictions since the Great Depression, moral ownership of place is profoundly emotional. I haven't seen anyone considering this (although I'm sure many have) but for the first time since the colonization of North America, we have a generation reaching adulthood with a seriously questionable prospect of land ownership. In the same way that you see homeless people walking slowly across busy streets, forcing traffic to slow and stop for them, OWS is forcing a momentary ownership of public space by people who mostly don't own space.
More thinking needed on this.
But in any case, Kenji is still refining his map, so go visit the Facebook posting and contribute ideas!