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Keywords:

  • urban social movements;
  • urban social justice;
  • green bans;
  • the people;
  • the right to the city;
  • Sydney

Abstract

How can we act to contest urban injustice? This article grapples with this question through an analysis of the green ban movement that emerged in Sydney in the 1970s. For a time, this unruly alliance of construction workers, resident activists, and progressive professionals powerfully enacted a radical right to the city, blocking a range of unjust and destructive “developments” worth billions of dollars and proposing alternative development plans in their place. Drawing on archival research, I demonstrate how the figure of “the people” was crucial to their action. The article examines the rights and the authority that was invested in “the people” by green ban activists, and traces the work of political subjectification through which “the people” was constructed. “The people” was not invoked as a simple majority or as a universal subject whose unity glossed over differences. Rather, in acting as/for “the people”, green ban activists produced a political subject able to challenge the claims of elected politicians, bureaucrats and developers to represent the interests of the city. The article concludes with reflections on the implications of this construction of “the people” for urban politics today.