The Minera, Melisma and the Miners

For today, I want to take eight minutes of your time that you might normally spend reading this site for watching and listening. Go to this video of the flamenco singer Rocío Márquez Límon performing a minera in a striking coal mine on July 5 this year. (Thanks to Matthew Bain for posting this on Facebook, where I saw it). Ignore the ad at the front of the piece.

The miners had been underground for 45 days at this point. The austerity regime of conservative prime minister Rajoy has withdrawn all financial subsidy from the mines in Asturia and Leon. As a result, the coal will become unprofitable and the mines will close, putting thousands out of work. They have walked from their homes 250 miles to Madrid to protest to be greeted with riot police. Over 100,000 people assembled in Madrid this week in further protest at yet more cuts demanded by the “markets” otherwise known as Germany.

If you’re my age, from where I come from, you’ve seen this before with the British miners’ strike of 1984-85, which brought the world the delights of Billy Elliot. In the real world, people lost their jobs, communities were devastated and, just as she intended, Mrs Thatcher consolidated her neo-liberal regime. Let’s hope it doesn’t turn out that way this time.

OK, now really do watch the video. Watch the way the singer’s performance changes the faces of the strikers from defeat through grief to a renewed engagement. The faces are extraordinary, reminiscent of Ribera or other Spanish painters of the period–which is to say, one of the few moments in Western art when the faces of actual people could appear in representation.


The trace of Arab culture is audible in flamenco, five hundred years after the Reconquista, in the melisma that echoes the quarter tones of Arabic music. In recent years, this evocative sound has been reduced to an audible cliché by its compulsive overuse in pop music of the American Idol variety. There it speaks to the simulacrum of emotion, the unreal reality of Reality TV that is increasingly indistinguishable from mainstream political and cultural discourse.

It’s not that Límon has access to a “real real” that media can’t depict because we are, after all, watching it on video made available by El Pais, a major Spanish newspaper. My point is that the minera is a song form about the hardship of the mining life that is able to create a connection between these people based on common experience that has history behind it and a sense of purpose other than the circulation of commodities. You might find all these qualifications a bit tiresome and academic but the market has so capitalized even the expression of human emotion that they are, I think needed, at least in words.

But if you watched and listened you already know what I mean.


The rhythm of the global movement

The new wave of global protest is inventing public space in global cities. Global capital likes space to be isomorphic and consistent–like a McDonalds hamburger, it should look, taste and feel the same wherever you actually happen to find yourself. In this world-view, there is no such thing as public space in global cities. The global precariat–meaning precarious workers, or everyone who doesn’t benefit from capital investment– is inventing it. It’s a globally mediated combination of certain sounds and certain actions. The “movement” is about learning how that goes and what to do about it.

Since 2011 we’ve seen a wave of efforts to reimagine bodies, spaces and lives resistant to, or outside of, the flows of finance capital. The first tactic was “take the squares,” a specific effort to reinvent the space of circulation into one of belonging. It flowed from Tahrir to Sol, Syntagma, Zuccotti, St Paul’s, Pershing and many more. Zuccotti was the exception that proved the rule, a fragment of striated space in the frictionless smooth zones of hyperpoliced finance capital’s capital. Otherwise these spaces were well-known locations in historic centers of power. As such, they were in many cases all too easy for determined police to retake with the obvious exception of Tahrir. Indeed, since the revolution, the military regime has isolated the revolution “in” Tahrir, that is to say, the conceptual space of the movement.

So when we say that the movement is about “bodies in space,” we’re saying a set of interrelated things that we’re learning to understand as we go along:

  1. That the body is any body, not one (un)marked by codes of ethnicity, race, gender, able-ism, sexual orientation etc.
  2. That this body “moves,” both literally in the ways that it can depending on its age, capacities and desires, and also conceptually in that it refuses to stay in its “place,” the place allocated to it by authority.
  3. That this movement, which is also a refusal to “move on” as the police want us to do, invents mediated public space that did not previously exist, whether by occupying, marching, dancing, or displaying.
  4. That this movement is not any movement whatever but has a rhythm, one that is altogether different to the metronomic beat of capital’s 1-2-3-4.
  5. That this rhythm reclaims and invents the time that gives the new public space dimension.
  6. That these interactions are disseminated globally by video/photo/MP3 using social media and that this mediation is constitutive of resistant global space.
  7. It is unlimited/illimité/ilimitado.

In this video from Montréal that everyone loves, you can see this process at work. Filmed two days ago, edited yesterday, a global talking point today:

What if you don’t happen to have a thousand people available? Since 2008, the Spanish anti-capitalist activist collective flo6x8 have been reterritorializing the “any space whatever” of global capital. They use Spanish regional music and dance to disrupt its smooth flow with rhythms and sounds that cannot help but recall their North African origin.

Yesterday they intervened at a branch of Bankia, the nationalized amalgam of savings banks (thanks to Matthew Bain for pointing this one out to me).  Bankia announced that the 11 billion euro bail out they need is more like 19 billion. While this sum may seem minimal to those of us accustomed to the staggering amounts handed over to US and UK banks, in Spain, caught as it is between falling revenues due to the crisis and European Union-mandated austerity, this is a real number.  flo6x8 adapt a flamenco to lament this and to draw bank customers into their dance:

Here, just for fun, is an action from February this year in Barcelona, where the bank customers really get into it:

OWS is starting to work in this frame. It’s important to point out that the Spanish actions have roots in the long anti-fascist struggle and the depth of Spain’s financial crisis since 2008. Canadian organizers have been pointing out that their student strike is the result of two years hard work and the historical situation of Quebec.

The “New York” that is imagined as the epicenter of neo-liberal finance capital has visualized itself outside of historical space and time since its neo-liberal reinvention in the 1980s. Activist movements have been localized and divided. So OWS was, as many have pointed out, enabled in considerable part by the global experience and diversity of its activists. We still have much to learn.

Starting today, OWS is holding Summer Disobedience School at a variety of locations in Manhattan, combining non-violent direct action training with skill shares and teach-ins.

I’m going to go even though I don’t do many of the disruptive direct actions because what the rhythm of the movement from Montreal to Mexico City is teaching me is simply that we have a lot to learn.


And the whole Congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wildernesse.

Exodus 16: 2 King James version 1611


They sat in an “assembly.” They mike checked Moses. And Aaron.

And Moses said, This shalbe when the Lord shal giue you in the euening flesh to eate, and in the morning bread to the full: for that the Lord heareth your murmurings which ye murmure against him; and what are wee? your murmurings are not against vs, but against the Lord.

[yes, the text is right. It was before copyediting–u and v are interchangeable, so it’s ‘give’ in line 1 but ‘us’ in the last line]

So the leaders always say. Your murmurings are not against us, but against the Lord, against the Authority of Authority. Moses bought off the anarchism of the people with the appearance of “manna,” or free food. Nice trick.

A murmuration of birds

The murmur is the voice of the multitude. Its form is the murmuration, which cannot be policed.


Rancière tells a story about ancient Rome. It varies a bit depending on where he tells it but the gist is that once the people approached the Aventine Hill, where the Senators lived, intending to make a set of claims on the Republic. But the senator Appius approached them and explained that he could not hear them, for while he could tell that they were speaking, all he could perceive was noise, the murmuring of the multitude. Shut out by the division of the sensible, the people retreated.


In the Arcades Project, Walter Benjamin listened for the sound of the time in which social nonconformism was intertwined with the proletarian revolution. But he was not naive:

In the flaneur, one might say, is reborn the sort of idler that Socrates picked out from the Athenian marketplace to be his interlocutor. Only, there is no longer a Socrates. And the slave labor that guaranteed him his leisure has likewise ceased to exist.

Leisure is schole in Greek, the root of scholarship. The dialectic method depends on that slave being there for the master. Benjamin was, as Adorno liked to point out, no Marxist scholar. He was, however, aware where you might hear the revolution:

the muse herself turns away from the poet to whisper words of inspiration to the air.

Who was listening, there in the air? The ragpickers, the street-walkers, the revolutionaries, the flâneurs: the people of the street.


In an interview published in 2011, Rancière responded to a question about whether he was an anarchist:

At a fundamental philosophical level my position can be called anarchist stricto sensu since I hold that politics exists insofar as the exercise of power does not rest upon any arkhê.

The murmur rises–no authority, no hierarchy, no scholarship.


Once again, though, the loud chatter raises itself: Occupy is corrupted, the anarchism must be eliminated. Murmur back: there is no Occupy without the anarchism of the streets, the claims that must not be heard. There is no more manna to hand out. Perhaps the murmur might be heard a little more clearly now.

Car 59, where are you? The voice of the police, of arkhê, of authority is loud. It does not want to talk. But there’s this noise, it makes it hard to hear. How they long for quiet, the return to leisure, to scholarship and the dialectic. Sorry about that.

Jan. 5: Sounds Like Fun

Occupy sounds like fun. It has a pleasant, amusing sound. It creates a soundscape that promises better things. It is not a metaphor: it is an analogy, it is analog. Since the days of the Puritans what the capitalist U.S. cannot stand is precisely the thought, let alone the sound, of someone else having fun. Here I’m going to assemble some nodes within that soundscape from memory and experience. Later I’ll try and formulate some more general thoughts about the analog and the digital in Occupy.


*Yes, I know it’s a noun for birds en masse but I’m appropriating it!
The overall sound of Liberty Plaza or the Atrium at 60 Wall Street, where most of the working groups that I’m involved in meet, was a loud collective murmur. The left usually discourses in a shout, whether addressing a meeting or arguing amongst ourselves. It makes such a nice change.

Mic check

This is the signature gesture of Occupy, which breaks through the murmuration of a meeting or the ambience of public space.

Occupy Wall Street: Mic Check from NYU Local on Vimeo.

Although it’s now come to be used to challenge politicians and others (usually using amplified sound so they can easily drown out the challenge) the mic check was originally the analog equivalent of tapping the microphone: only much more fun. There’s something very exhilarating about shouting as loud as you can in a public space and having people shout back.

The People’s Mic

Which forms the people’s mic. The call-and-response pattern of OWS discourse has a number of interesting features. Unlike religious or choral patterns, it is not given in advance what people may say. Some people, especially academics, tend to speak for too long before pausing so the crowd has trouble repeating the phrase. A skilled user knows how to break sentences into four to six syllable phrases but also to let conjunctions stand by themselves.

The stress pattern of the People’s Mic changes the dominant demotic speech of the past decade. On the one hand, you can’t use Valley Girl intonation because “Occupy? Wall Street?” is altogether different to “Occupy Wall Street,” let alone “Occupy! Wall Street!,” which is how it has been mostly used.

Nor is it the ironic, hipster tone of more recent years, the Brooklyn-ese of the 2010s. Rather than fall away on the last syllables–as in “what-ever“–People’s Mic uses strong but even stresses that generate a sense of confidence and optimism. When it’s being used, people smile, even when the content is challenging. Or perhaps especially when it’s challenging, the pleasure coming from the disjuncture between content and form.


Another aspect of the Occupy soundscape is, however, loud noise, whether in the form of drumming, noise makers or musical instruments. At Liberty Plaza, the drummers sat on the West side in a circle, making an almost constant percussion for the first six weeks until negotiations reduced the time slots, at least a little. The noise marked presence in a direct and unavoidable fashion, in intended contrast to the spoken discourse of the East side centered around the steps.

It is not wholly random. For example, the “Noise Demo Against the Prison Industrial Complex, for the Liberation of Political Prisoners & Prisoners Of Wars,” held in front of Metropolitan Correctional Center downtown on New Year’s Eve, noise was used to get the attention of those detained. Then the people’s mic declaimed: “You. Are. Not. Alone.”

Yelly people

On the other hand again, there are the Yelly people. These are people who come to the General Assembly or Spokescouncil–rarely, in my experience, to the working groups–and yell. Often these yellers are permanent occupiers, sleeping in Liberty till the eviction, now in churches and other refuges. They are not easy to talk to and I don’t know many of them personally so I can’t generalize: some people assert that they are police provocateurs. Some yellers, like Nan and Sage, have become sufficient characters that they seem more driven by their role as disrupters and the attention it brings. Right-wing hack Andrew Breitbart is happy to give them as much publicity as they want.

Each person at Occupy is, in the manner of Sabina Spielrein, a “dividual,” yelling to themselves, calling-and-responding internally and externally, trying to work out perhaps the hardest question: are you having fun?