Taxonomy of Tents - article and drawing by informal strategies
Originally published in SKOR's publication Social Housing, Housing the Social.

Not so long ago, a chaotic collection of cheap dome and pop-up tents reminded one of the many pop festivals. Since 2011, it became the unmistakable symbol of the Occupy movement. Inspired by the Arab Spring and following the May 15 uprising in Spain, protests in Israel and in Greece, tents where pitched in Zuccoti Park on September 17 - Occupy Wall Street had begun. Soon this example was followed by many other Occupy camps on public squares worldwide. Also at Beursplein, a square in the center of Amsterdam in front of the stock market, the multi-colored tents were pitched.

The media images of all these camps were remarkably interchangeable. Again and again we saw a public square containing an improvised encampment of half sagging tents covered with blue tarpaulins and hastily chalked slogans on pieces of cardboard. Unlike earlier protests, the Occupy movement does not oppose the excesses of liberal representative democracy, but it opposes the system itself. The physical occupation of urban spaces enabled the activists to reclaim these spaces from private parties with the aim to reshape the notion of the public. The camp functions as a flexible test set up, where new ideas about politics, economics, education and democracy can be discussed and where these ideas can be inhabited. The dome tent is now not only a pragmatic choice, but the embodiment of the protest itself. This makes the tent the symbol of the movement.

With the tent as a symbol, the Occupy movement explicitly takes distance from old signs used by unions, political parties and activists. There are no leaders and the movement is all inclusive. The dome tents are the embodiment of the new covenant that forms on the square. The demonstrators occupy the public-private space to claim their rights to the city and to attract attention for their struggle. The tents give the protest visibility and identity. Moreover the vulnerability of the tent reflects the peaceful nature of the action. The thin canvas provides a minimum shielding between outside and inside, between public and private. The tents provide just enough protection to the demonstrators to be able to sleep in the streets while, at the same time, they communicate the physical presence of the sleepers to the outside world.

It is important to reflect on the ambiguity of the tent as a symbol. Due to its flexibility and effectiveness, the tent and the camp have a long history, both within protest movements as elsewhere. This gives the tent many different connotations. In the beginning of this text, we made the comparison of the Occupy tents to the tents of festival-goers. Although on a superficial level they seem alike, this comparisation tells us little about how we should interpret the camp. With the following taxonomy of tents, we have tried to map different types of camps. In a river delta the concept of CAMP spreads out in multiple categories. Already at the first branch the festival camp separates from the Occupy camp, although both consist of the same type of tents. The festival camp stems from the branch TEMPORARY BREAK FROM LIFE, while the Occupy camp stems from CONTESTED GROUND. The Occupy camps are closely linked to other action camps such as anti-globalist, environmental activist and hackers camps, but share at the same time, more than the other protest movements, a similar strategy with military and paramilitary camps. While the other action camps are aimed to prevent for example the G8 or to facilitate meetings, the main goal of Occupy is the occupation itself, and the reclaiming of public space on the progressive privatization.