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Several years ago, a friend was part of a group that got arrested for leafleting in a mall about sweatshops. This was deliberate. The goal was to establish a precedent that shopping malls had become the modern equivalent of the public square.

The case went to court. It was a simple case of the Bill of Rights versus Private Property and--you guessed it--the Bill of Rights got creamed.

This happened during the late 1990s, before Leader Worship became an official religion and mall visitors had to face immediate exit or arrest if they wore insufficiently reverential tee shirts.

This is another illustration of how the privatization of American life threatens democracy. When the public sphere is eroded, so are basic rights. This is the theme of a book mentioned here before, The Fox in the Henhouse by Si Kahn and Elizabeth Minnich.

West Virginia already experienced her share of extreme anti-worker privatization in the form of coal camps, company towns totally owned and controlled by (usually absentee) corporations where workers lived in company houses, went to the company doctor when sick or hurt, and bought goods at the company story with company scrip. Often company control extended over schools, churches, and the flow of information (the post office often being in the company store.

Order was maintained by private mine guards in the interests of the owners and trying to exercise rights of free speech and the freedom to assemble could get you kicked out of your house and job...or worse.

There was no public sphere.

The ultimate extreme of privatization is slavery, where people are literally privatized, with no rights or public standing.

At the other end of the spectrum, a contemporary example of upscale privatization is the gated community, which in its own way can erode public spaces and institutions. People living securely behind the gates and receiving private services are likely to resent and resist paying taxes to maintain public services, which can cause these to deteriorate.

It's the same strategy being used to undermine public education and (so far without success) Social Security.

The attack on the public sphere and the transfer of remaining resources and power into the hands of corporations is ultimately an attack on democracy.

As Kahn and Minnich put it:

When a government established to promote the public good is "shrunk," so is the possibility of acting for, preserving, and enjoying the rights conferred and backed up by that government. This is obviously reason to be deeply concerned about privatization. But to understand fully what we lose with the increase in privatization, more of us need to realize that whether we have or lack public rights has great effects on all aspects of our lives.

If we do not have the legal, political rights that protect free and equal public lives, we also do not have the rights that protect private lives.  And without protected private lives, our personal lives are not safe, not free.

This is adapted from an earlier post in The Goat Rope, a social and economic justice blog with gratuitous animal pictures.

Originally posted to El Cabrero on Wed Jun 28, 2006 at 05:53 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  The Brave New Gilded Age (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    va dare, El Cabrero

    The public policies and cultural attitudes of the last 30 years have resulted in the privatization of civil society. The affluent have opted out by retreating into their own private gilded ghettos leaving everyone else on their own to fight it out dog eat dog style in between visits to worship in the temple of consumerism that is the shopping mall.

    "Television knows no night. It is perpetual day. TV embodies our fear of the dark, of night, of the other side of things." Jean Baudrillard

    by Commodify Your Dissent on Wed Jun 28, 2006 at 06:35:54 AM PDT

  •  I'm pimping the hell out of this diary. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    El Cabrero

    on other economic-related threads. Love the coal camp analogy.

  •  Thanks! It's easy for one to get lost. (5+ / 0-)
  •  'Free Speech Zones' (0+ / 0-)

    And here I thought that the whole country was a free speech zone.

    This country is getting seriously messed up

    "Like the mirror told me this morning, it's all done with people" - Wavy Gravy

    by offgrid on Wed Jun 28, 2006 at 10:07:31 PM PDT

  •  A mall isn't a public square (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    va dare

    Sorry, I respect the overall thrust of what you're trying to say but just because thousands of kids like to congregate at malls and create a social atmosphere does not make it a "public square" in my opinion.  It's private property and I don't see how the court's decision was wrong in that regard.

    I think gated communities are somewhat the same.  They're private property, aren't they?  It's not like they decided to put gates at the entrances to neighborhoods on public streets.

    I agree that corporations are not exactly doing what they should to be good citizens.  Shipping jobs overseas to the detriment of American workers is bad.  Moving corporate HQ's overseas to escape taxes is bad, too.

    Today I signed up for a Google serive and I noticed in their privacy policy the following:

    Google may access, preserve, and disclose your account information and any Content associated with that account if required to do so by law or in a good faith belief that such access preservation or disclosure is reasonably necessary to: (a) satisfy any applicable law, regulation, legal process or enforceable governmental request, (b) enforce this Terms of Service...

    They clearly are caving to the new Bush domestic spying program here.  I had hoped they would disclose information only upon issue of a valid subpoena.  Looks to me like they'll turn over information to any government investigator who asks.  Google, it seems, doesn't care that the domestic spying program violates the laws or the Constitution.

    I agree that some privitization goes too far and does more harm than good in a lot of cases, like Social Security and public education.  I wish somehow the greed of big companies could be reined in.

    A pessimist sees a glass half empty. I see a paper cup with holes punched in it.

    by Paper Cup on Wed Jun 28, 2006 at 10:10:07 PM PDT

  •  And the American experiment goes on (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    va dare

    The founders may have had a progressive vision, but it's always been two steps forward one step back, and sometimes one step forward two steps back...

    This is a dynamic America seems to have to play out over and over again in different ways - the individual vs the collective. Maybe one day the country will get it enough to view the issue rationally, the way most other developed countries do, and a proper balance can be struck. But that seems a far-off hope right now.

    No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a part of a continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, [America] is the less

    by Alien Abductee on Wed Jun 28, 2006 at 10:15:21 PM PDT

  •  Sadly, there is a 'vicious circle' effect (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    va dare

    The more run-down the public realm becomes through lack of support, the harder it is to get taxpayers to agree to fund it. They've already made other arrangements.

    I keep wondering when the hollowness of the privatized, motorized suburban lifestyle will occur to people; they don't seem to be able to imagine living differently. And our impoverished public realm doesn't give them much to stimulate their imaginations.

    Probably people will only rediscover the vibrancy of real communities and neighborhoods with real public spaces when they're forced to abandon suburbia by the high price of fuel.

    News is what they don't want you to know. Everything else is publicity. --Bill Moyers

    by RobLewis on Wed Jun 28, 2006 at 10:26:22 PM PDT

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