The Capitol building in Washington has become a revolutionary space over which to fight. On January 6th, the building, its doorways, hallways and tunnels became an arena for literal combat for or against a Trumpist insurgency. Who would take the rotunda? Who would barricade their office doors? Who would put on their gas masks correctly? On that day the twin causes—so often depicted as harmless swaths of reds and blues on a map—were concretized as the insurgents pushed forward and then were pushed back, the first battle lost.
But for whom? For some, that occupation of the Capitol if even for hours was a victory for just how vigorous the far right has become. For others, it was a “humiliation” of how close to broken is our democracy. For either side, the seizure of the Capitol has become endowed as a symbol of the fragility of state power.
For we map revolution. Not only communities of ideas or partisans, not just chatrooms and twitter feeds, revolutions occupy place. Whether violent or non-violent, whether sitting-in, occupying Wall Street or laying on the ground for eight minutes and 46 seconds, rebellion is enacted as the taking of space.
Revolts become grafted onto geography: North versus South, Occidental versus Oriental, urban versus rural. Indeed some spaces have the ring of revolution: Harper’s Ferry, Tiananmen Square, Tahrir Square.
And there is a temporal aspect to it. The Russian/Soviet philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin called it a chronotope—when space becomes marked in time. The French fought for their arrondissements as fraternal communes for a new world order against an ancien regime. The Bolsheviks promised a revolutionary Soviet Union, breaking apart from the Old imperialists of the West.
Now the Trumpists map out their own geographical revolution, their own chronotope. They vow to make the United States not one of Eastern elites. They promise to “make America great again” in an imagined geography dominated by the rural and the small-town, indeed, in a penumbra of Southern Confederacy of yore.
An emptied national mall teems with police and special forces. The once-bustling tourist trap has transformed into an encampment. The militarized area between the Capitol and the Washington Monument is likened to that of the Iraq War’s “green zone.” For that swath of American territory, too, has become a revolutionary space over which to fight. It, too, is an echo of a different time, of a post-revolutionary Baghdad. Its landscape, too, has become sacralized as a place to demonstrate dominion. The new “green zone” holds a political capital, its ownership endowed as a symbol of democratic rule or disorder.
And so we will see at noon on January 20th, from the Capitol balcony, if the spirit of a progressivism holds sway in a newly elected President Joseph Biden or whether a swarm of MAGA insurgents take the dais to promise a return of an America First order. The revolution will be concretized. And we will see in capitols across the country whether the Trumpist rebels break through to occupy spaces of their own revolution.