Dear Dirty America

DDA

When There Are No Public Spaces Left

April 11
18:00 2012
ADAM MICHAEL LUEBKE
Los Angeles



Consider this part two of In Wildness No Civilization Can Endure.

Beat poet Gary Snyder writes:

Sometimes it seems unlikely that a society as a whole can make wise choices. Yet there is no choice but to call for the “recovery of the commons” — and this in a modern world that doesn’t quite realize what it has lost. Take back, like the night, that which is shared by all of us, that which is our larger being. There will be no “tragedy of the commons” greater than this: if we do not recover the commons — regain personal, local, community, and the peoples’ direct involvement in sharing (in being) the web of the wild world — that world will keep slipping away. Eventually our complicated industrial capitalist/socialist mixes will bring down much of the living system that supports us. And, it is clear, the loss of a local commons heralds the end of self-sufficiency and signals the doom of the vernacular culture of the region (The Practice of the Wild, 191).

It was the 16th century snatching of the commons that eventually led the English Luddites in 1812 to rampage against the industrial powers and demand the right to graze their livestock and have public spaces on which to remain self-sufficient. When those spaces were encroached upon by a greedy state and capitalists, the people raged against machinery and factories and the burgeoning process of making humans into mechanical devices manipulated for mass production.

We Are All Luddites

It is so in the United States. We have very little public space on which to be self-sufficient. You’ve got to be privileged or lucky to have a section where you can grow your own clean (not genetically altered) food, or own livestock, such as chickens, pigs, or cattle. Most of the space in this vast frontier country has been gobbled up by the Nanny State (centralized and powerful Federal Government), or big private interests.

That lack of public commons ownership whips the masses from the ground up. We have very few places to settle, relax, or flourish without first having a fair amount of money.

Even in the city, to sit down or hang around an area, one is usually expected to buy a coffee or a pastry, a cheeseburger or a dessert, or a trendy cup of yogurt sprinkled with gaudy chunks of gummy processed sugars. If you’re not a consumer, you’re loitering. There are public spaces scattered around, like parks and sidewalk benches, but most real estate is owned and guarded by private companies, and allocated only to customers.

That’s problematic because a handful of corporations own such large sections of city space, and they dictate the prices of their goods, and they determine who can sit where and when. As corporations buy up more real estate, they decide the rules and conduct of society, and how individuals must look and act while in that private space.

Karen Sternheimer documents how a mall is different than a truly public space:

Seemingly anyone can enter a mall, walk around and use the restroom if necessary. But unlike a truly public place, management has the right to ask people to leave for a variety of reasons that might seem vague and could be arbitrarily determined. (Public Behavior in Private Places)

Our living systems are slipping away and, as Snyder warns, if we continue letting our capitalist and socialist mix continue as it is, we risk losing the living system that supports us. Yet, we live in a modern world where we, the public, don’t even know what we’ve lost.

Snyder explains that in England, “between 1709 and 1869 almost five million acres were transferred to private ownership, one acre in every seven” (188). The public awakened, got angry, and there was an “open space movement”, which ended the transference of land to private interests and lords, and preserved the Epping Forest.

This is particularly why I like the agenda of Occupy Wall Street. The people stubbornly occupying a public space and making demands about giving back to the people their fair share of prosperity and liberty. Occupy is such a strong, militant word, yet it can be a peaceful sentiment as well. To nonviolently occupy a space means another entity has to forcefully remove the group, and while doing that, the removers are caught using force, while the peaceful occupiers simply stay stubbornly put.

We must reclaim our place in this country. We must realize what we have lost, and then demand it back. To have a country that doesn’t fully value 99 percent of its people like it should, and give preference to them, is not a free country.

Read more about Gary Snyder’s collection of essays at Bookslut
See also, In Wildness is the Salvation of the World and Duncan, the great bear slayer

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