Part 1 : Autumn
In November of 2003 we planted twenty papaya seedlings on public land near our house in Kailua, Hawai'i. In doing so, we broke the existing laws of the state that delineate this space as 'public' and thereby set the terms for its use. Our act has two major purposes: one is to grow and share food; the other is to problematize the concept of 'public' within public space.
Our questioning of public space may, at first glance, seem odd, perhaps even reckless. Many progressives, after all, see the defense of all things public as a necessary response to neo-liberal assaults on state-funded spaces and services. The maintenance of resources as 'public' is seen as working against processes of privatization. These sentiments are based upon two assumptions: that public space is the antithesis of private property, and that the existence of public space represents a victory of "the people" over nefarious special interests. The concept of the 'public,' however, is a corollary of nationalist ideologies of state power that legitimate and sustain unjust social relationships, particularly those organized through private property rights. The liberal democratic national state, in particular, is camouflaged as a political apparatus, indeed the political apparatus, designed specifically to serve 'the people.' The legitimacy of modern state power within liberal democracies, such as those of Canada and the United States, is widely regarded as being derived from popular, public consent. Concomitantly, the 'public' is touted as holding the power to revoke this legitimacy through their votes or their participation in the state's daily operations. The idea that the national state exists because of the will of 'the people,' however, conflates the existence of the national state with the actions of political rulers/administrators of the moment and promotes the assumption that all have equal access or say in the making of decisions. It also obfuscates how the historic formation of national states is rooted in the struggle over land, labour and life - a struggle lost by those who fought against capitalism and for common, rather than private or state (i.e. 'public') property (Hardt and Negri, 2000). Finally, the conflation of the state and 'public will' conceals that the 'public' is never the sum of all those who are born, live, work and die in any given space, but is limited to members of an-always gendered and racialized discourse of 'citizenry'.