How does a city get made—and remade, and deconstructed, and reconstructed? In learning about the Paris Commune through the La Commune 2021 Free School, what seized my imagination was the workers’ own seizure of the city; their intent to occupy Paris in a new way, and in so doing, make the city mean something new. Occupation has a way of turning a place upside down; as Alexander Vasudevan writes in his article about protest occupations, “Occupation […] involves different ways of extending bodies, objects and practices into space in order to create new alternative lifeworlds” (“The autonomous city: Towards a critical geography of occupation,” 323). I have been reflecting on this in connection to the land defense occupations I have participated in here on Lekwungen territory—in the winter of 2020, in support of Wet’suwet’en land defenders, how the land around the legislature became another place altogether, one filled with people gathered all over the steps of the building and on the lawn sharing stories, making music, eating food from the abundant supply, doing chores, and listening to visions of a future beyond the settler state and its control of land and bodies. As Black and Indigenous folks and settlers gathered in support and protection of the Indigenous youth occupying the steps for days on end, new rhythms and ways of extending formed the space into something altogether new, and also very very old. The experience struck something in my ancestral memory or imagination: a time and place where communal spaces for gathering, discussing, learning, eating, and working together were embedded into the fabric of society; when there was a shared responsibility to make the spaces we lived in together; and to tend to the needs of all those around us.
How is a city made material? Through transforming what we think of as protest—“a displacement of political action onto the lived rhythms and material foundations of daily life” (Vasudevan 321). From one action to an action repeated; the building of habits, desire lines, and connections that assemble a city, a life. As I traced the streets of 19th century Paris and stitched them into thin cotton—plain like a sheet, or a would-be protest banner—the repetitive action of sewing brought me closer to these questions of how I participate in the city, and what I make of it. Looking for a way to document the piece outside of my apartment, I landed upon hanging it from the soccer goal in a park near my house. Through the pandemic, I have gathered there in hail, rain, wind, and sun to be with friends, play soccer, catch some sun, sew. The wind collaborated with me to billow the fabric, rippling, and twisting it, revealing the loose threads and knots from the back of the fabric, taking hold of the work I spent hours over, and in turn making it something new.
- Vasudevan, Alexander. “The autonomous city: Towards a critical geography of occupation.” Progress in Human Geography 2015, Vol 39 (3), 316-337.
Kara Stanton is a poet and cultural worker based on Lekwungen territories. Through poetry and interdisciplinary projects, they trace the relationships between land and body, articulating their entangled experiences of water, the weather, chronic migraines, and dyke embodiment. They have shown projects at the fifty fifty arts collective and the Comox Valley Art Gallery, and published poems in Poetry is Dead and Arc Poetry Magazine.