SPATIAL REVOLUTION: HOW ACTIVISM CHANGES CITIES
It’s December 20-something, 2021, I’m in Conakry, riding in my uncle’s car probably on our way to see family and I notice a light pole leaning at a precarious angle. Tonton says something along the lines of “it’s the youth, probably your cousin and his friends, that did this during one of the protests”.
A little background: Guinea (just Guinea, please), experienced a military coup on September 5, 2021 forcing the end of president Alpha Condé’s third-term. The leader of this coup was Mamady Doumbouya, former French soldier, who appointed himself as president for the 36-month transition period, just 2 years shy of a full term as per the 2010 constitution (Reuters, 2022). Now, we can discuss the neo-colonial influences of this junta or the possible western saviour complex playing out, however, let’s keep talking about space.
Protests, riots and other forms of civil unrest are erupt at the peak of disharmony between bodies of power. This is part of the human experience; no matter the scale or subject matter, opposition is inevitable. A small fire can grow to an inferno as triggers intensify an awareness builds. We saw this across North America as people stood for human and land rights through the destruction of monuments and buildings that represented racist institutions. Recently, decades of cultural misogyny under the guise of religion in Palestine and Iran have caused demonstrations across the world. This is not to say that these movements are new, we are just more aware of their recent developments. As streets are flooded with people and shops close their doors in protest, the city centre can no longer continue to hold “business as usual”.
“Never, ever be afraid to make noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.” - Congressman John Lewis
These displays of opposition are all enacted in the public & private arenas; streets, shops, government buildings, museums and everything (and some bodies) in between. The functions of spatial elements are being contested and reclaimed by those who are continually disregarded or belittled. Some street names in Toronto have been officially renamed to recognize Indigenous history, through the Idle No More Movement in 2013 and the Ogimaa Milkman project initiated by activists Hayden King and Susan Blight (CBC News, 2016). Tiananmen Square in China, the largest public square in the world and its name meaning “Gate of Heavenly Peace”, is mainly recognized as the place where student-led protests calling for political reform in 1989 were met by deadly military repression (History, 2019-2020). There are numerous examples of how the intended form and function of a space have been disrupted by means that counter “civil” protocols. They also serve as a spotlight on the failed democratic process that some states claim to espouse all the while downplaying any wrongdoings and responsibilities.
It’s very much giving 1984…still.
“Activism is something that no one can fake. You get angry. You cry. But you never throw in your towel, because that anger is what is propelling you to further action.” - Leymah Gbowee