Thursday, June 28, 2007

The New Wave of the Free Spirit

A new wave of protest movement is emerging in Europe that does much to harken back to the "revolutionary millenarians and mystical anarchists of the middle ages" (Norman Cohn).
The Hamburg and Dresden for Free collectives engage in bold, often humorous actions underpinned by a belief that goods should be held in common. They raid expensive supermarkets dressed as superheroes stealing goods which are then redistributed among the low-paid workers and unemployed. In another stunt they marched into an exclusive Hamburg restaurant dressed in carnival masks plucking food from the plates of the millionaire diners and hoisted a banner aloft proclaiming "The Fat Years Are Over". Their slogan of , "Everything for everybody. And everything for free" recalls the English Ranters of the 17th Century who declared "All Is Ours" as they preached against contemporary morality and private property.

The call of the ‘For Free’ movements for "the reappropriation of privatised previously public spaces" is an echo of Winstanley’s Diggers setting up camp on St George’s Hill in the belief that the land was a common treasury.

The Spanish anti-consumer activists YoMango! say that their politics is "the politics of happiness, of putting the body first. Be happy, insultingly happy. YOMANGO: feel pretty!" and extol people to liberate goods from shops, creatively shoplift in the name of the higher ideals of their cause. They are also summoning up the same form of antinomianism that adepts of the Free Spirit used to justify their displays of public nudity, fornication and blasphemy in the medieval streets and squares.

So why are we falling back on ideas and forms of protest 500 years old? Probably because the problem remains the same, that capitalism still commodifies the spirit, the wealthy still insist on stealing our space and seek to further encroach upon the few freedoms we have left with pervasive surveillance and biometric ID cards. Public land is sold off and turned into shopping malls and luxury apartments. Even the building blocks of life, the DNA of living organisms is being patented by multinational corporations. In light of actions such as these, donning fancy dress costumes and entertaining corpulent diners for free seems to be quite a mild response.

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