August 23, 1996. Saint-Bernard de la Chapelle (St. Bernard’s Church). Paris. Sans Papiers OCCUPATION. 98 men. 54 women. 68 children. Mali. Senegal. Guinea. Mauritania. Tunisia. Morocco. Algeria. Zaire. Haiti. All former French Colonies. Demonstration 10,000+ strong. Hunger strikes. Forcible removal. Deportation. Residence Visas. Asylum. Repatriation.
Occupation is all the rage nowadays thanks to the Occupy Movement and the Arab Spring (particularly Tahrir). But what is occupation? The interpretation that makes the most sense to me is the contestation and disputation of the public character of space, or the redefinition or reclamation of the public through a spatial collection of physical bodies and voices.
While a debatably effective political tactic, there seems to be something categorically important about political asylum seekers employing the tactic of occuptation. When political asylum seekers make a claim to space, at best they call into question the legitimacy of a sociopolitical system that casts foreigners into the dangerous margins of clandestinity, and at they very least they draw attention to the physical reality of their existence. It seems to me that the political asylum seeker is the occupier par excellence. For what is the act of seeking political asylum than an act of laying claim to the right to exist, to occupy space – to be, not simply an idea, or a victim in need or charity, but a physical presence, a living being.