The Global Fight for Public Space

The global fight for public space

Photos and text by Timothy Eastman

  1. Location, Location, Location — Central to protest is the problem of how to control the use of space owned by the state or private entities. These are protesters of the 2013 Bilderberg Conference, a secretive annual meeting of the world’s power elite. The site of the conference is barely visible in the distance; police and private security keep protesters far away from the event’s high-profile attendees.
  2. Whose Streets? — Protesters at the Gezi Park uprising in Istanbul, Turkey form a human barricade on the street to face police advances. The demonstrators had been evicted from the park they were occupying in protest of authoritarian rule, and were being pushed away from the site by police. Even where legal rights to free speech exists, the state will often use force to control the space upon which those rights can be exercised.
  3. Shadows in the Night — Tear gas launched by police forces protesters in Istanbul down a side street.
  4. Speak Softly — An Occupy Wall Street protester is arrested for a noise ordinance on the steps of Federal Hall, birthplace of the Bill of Rights, in New York City. Ordinances regulating not only use of space but behavior within space also place limits on how free speech can be exercised.
  5. Holier Than Thou — The phenomenon of privately-owned public space in the United States subjects public areas to behavior restrictions imposed by private entities. Here, a lone Occupy Wall Street protester enters Duarte Square in downtown Manhattan, the first of a flock of demonstrators who unsuccessfully sought to secure the location for a protest encampment. The space was an unused section of land designated for public use but closed off by its owners, Trinity Church. Trinity controls six million square feet of real estate in the city, much of it bequeathed to them by Queen Anne of England in 1705.
  6. And Stay Out — Occupy Wall Street protesters are pushed out of Duarte Square by police.
  7. All in a Night’s Work — Police look at Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan the morning after the eviction of an Occupy Wall Street protest encampment. Zuccotti Park is also a privately-owned space zoned for public use.
  8. The Mall is Closed for Business — Protesters camp out in Gezi Park, Istanbul, Turkey. Protests were sparked by plans to demolish the park and erect a shopping mall but grew to become a flashpoint for anger at the government’s increasingly authoritarian rule. The encampment continued until a violent eviction by police forces.
  9. Best Tent — A tent at a protest encampment in Kiev, Ukraine. The tent won the camp’s “best tent” competition and featured an army-grade space heater, a dvd player, and a movie projector.
  10. Taking Over — Protesters occupy a building in Kiev, Ukraine. The occupation of buildings is another method for securing protest space. Occupations can also stand to symbolize re-appropriation of power from hegemonic institutions, in this case the government of President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled the Ukrainian capital for Russia on February 21, in the face of increasing calls for his resignation. 
  11. On the Lookout — A protester at the EuroMaidan, or EuroSquare, encampment in Kiev scans for snipers on the rooftops of surrounding buildings not under protester control.
  12. Physical Negotiations — Police form a line beyond the barricades at the EuroMaidan protest encampment. The delineation protest encampment borders is a physical negotiation between demonstrators and authorities.
  13. No More Barricades — In the early morning of Jan. 1, 2012 members of Occupy Wall Street symbolically reclaimed Zuccotti Park by removing the police barricades which still surrounded the space.

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On Sept 19, 2023 ahead of the Climate Ambition Summit in New York City, climate activists gathered for a rally and civil disobedience outside Bank of America Tower in Midtown Manhattan as part of the March to End Fossil Fuels wave of actions resulting in multiple arrests. Activists demand Bank of America to “Defund Climate Chaos and Defend Human Rights” Photo: Erik McGregor (CC BY-NC 2.0 Deed)

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Illustration by Stephanie McMillan. Used with permission