How long is now?

Posted: Wednesday, 17 August 2011 | Posted by k | Labels: , , , 0 comments

... Notes on a Protest Movement

These busy intersections, plenty of buses, cars, bikes, pedestrians – all in a rush getting somewhere other than this place. The streets of Tel Aviv know the hum, the honk, the hustle, particularly since the middle of July 2011, when a rather unprecedented level of socio-political awareness started getting a hold of an impressively increasing amount of (predominantly Jewish) Israeli citizens. The streets, Rothschild Boulevard most prominently, now not only know about the hum, the honk, the hustle, but are learning to host all sorts of people’s desiring and demanding calls for a rather blurry concept of “social justice”. Faced with an outrageously high cost of living which forces a lot of people formerly known as a “middle class” to work several jobs and still perceive their lifestyle as precarious, “the people demand social justice” (Hebrew “ha’am doresh tzedek chevrati”) now. And here. Be it during the massive demonstrations in Israel’s urban hubs or peripheral cities, be it in between a circle of tents during a public lecture or over a beer on someone’s terrace – “the people” in its and their heterogeneity talk, discuss, move ideas and engage in lively debates. Whereas during the first weeks of the growing protest movement the media and the struggle’s representatives constantly reiterated an non-political (whatever that may have been), solely social understanding of their plight, more recently the surprisingly non-disappearing connection between Israel being an occupying and oppressive state with a yearly security budget in the billions and therewith lacking financial backing elsewhere, has risen to a non-negotiable (oh, I meant non-negligible, silly) fact on the ground (or rather – in the heads) of this grassroots movement and media representations thereof.

These moments of shifts, these ruptures in societal and socio-political constitutions, they are, one could argue, even more prone to know the hum, honk and hustle accompanying it. Some of these alliterations not only concern language but also are bloody serious, result in burning streets, dead people, and dictators in cages.

Some others are fun. Or rather fun that makes one wonder.

So, there are three actual intersections. Busy ones. Within the bigger context of a seemingly hot-headed, impolite and chaotic – qualities that are unquestionably perceived differently in different places and habitualized forms of socialization. I grew up in Germany, and lived in England – public sphere, which I am currently part of, interrupting the chaotically choreographed order of things is not usually met with cheers and smiles. Arguably, the ruptures described above are so far being met with an understanding and supportive public response and participation.

One might presume it has to do with so many individuals’ own immediate needs and frustration that are suddenly on the forefront of a collective protest, and some form of desire for unity within this struggle seems to suggest itself as the way to go. A person’s own urgent and tangible will for change of their way of living is, apparently (and almost sadly so, given the fact that in most cases these needs are obviously intertwined with others’), a rather motivating force for activism. “I have a problem, therefore I act.” is easier said and done than, “I see you have problem, which may or may not have something to do with me, therefore I act.”


“If not now – when?” … Not only part of one of Hillel’s most famous sayings (“If not us – who” precedes the time), but also a chorus line of Yehoram Gaon’s “Od lo ahavti dai” (I have not yet loved enough), a catchy and sunny tune, frequently used for big circle dances that have had their share in a Zionist identity formation during the first decades of the State of Israel.

This song now, and, “If not now – when?”, is played at these busy intersections one Tuesday evening in August. A portable speaker placed in the middle of the road, and suddenly, out of a regular group of pedestrians waiting for the traffic lights to allow them passing, a group of about 30 to 40 people emerges, forms a circle and dances, claps, jumps and sings along. Two and a half minutes the intersection is blocked. Pedestrians see, halt, look, some smile, some are obviously irritated. Drivers are faced with people on the street, which does not seem something most of them appreciate. Many cars and motorbikes meander around the circle, forcing it into some other, more elliptical form, breaking apart the chain of hands joint. Bus drivers argue with wild gestures, impatient passengers are pointing at their watches, metal pushes into people. It is fun, frighteningly so. One would think – people, it is two and a half minutes, why can’t you just let them do their thing? Why push push push? The shove of metal pushes people down, almost.

However, at such a time when push comes to shove, now, more precisely, one wonders why and how people react to interruptions of their being so aggravated, so annoyed, so ignorant. What makes one form of rupture okay, and another one a problem one needs to deal with aggressively? To which level are people here, now, willing to let others voice their concern, their being, in a public sphere?

Public Movement who organized these three little public interventions facilitated a sense of uncertainty for the people being faced with it (and, partially, for the participants too, I am sure) – How does this action relate to the current protest? Why are they dancing a folk-dance? Who are these people, there is no banner, no shouting, no youth-group-shirt? Why are they doing this? Why the fuck are they blocking the damn road and make me be late for this appointment by two and a half minutes? Why this song? Who are they? What do they want? How am I supposed to react? Can I join in? Do I like it? What do I like about it? Would I like to join in? Why am I so angry when someone is 1.) apparently having fun and 2.) is really not that violent or bad?

Am I getting my way? Is that what the angry reactions were asking? Am I getting my problem solved by their action? Do they have a problem? Would I want to listen? Engage with them afterwards? Would I want to know? Why would I want to know? Does it relate to my problems and me?

I have no patience.
I demand social justice.
How long is now?