The business of government is typically carried out by representatives in parliament, at local town halls or in the cabinet office, but make no mistake: politics is done everywhere, by everyone. Around the world, social and protest movements empower people to push for change from outside of established institutions. In recent years, another form of protest has been added to the familiar repertoire of community activism, marches of protest and social media campaigns: the protest camp.
From Tahrir Square in Cairo, Puerto del Sol in Madrid and Syntagma Square in Athens to New York’s Wall Street, central squares in major cities across the US and Saint Paul’s cathedral in London, urban protest camps featured prominently in the wave of uprisings that have swept the world since 2011. While protesters’ grievances and demands differed from place to place, research from around the world has found that the protest camps themselves showed striking similarities.
Amid the assembly of tents, each of these camps featured common spaces such as kitchens, libraries, learning centres, crèches and places of worship. Places of democratic deliberation and assemblies for collective discussion and decision-making were central to all camps. They often had media centres, where journalists could report about the camp, while participants produced their own media, including newspapers, radio shows and leaflets, as well as spreading their message using social media.