This article was originally published on March 4, 2016, in the Viet Tide. It was written by Ness White. It has since been updated and edited accordingly.
During my nearly one year of 2016 presidential elections coverage, I have reported for the Viet Tide on many issues -- from immigration, the economy and wars abroad to trade deals, race issues and gun control. However, I have been made aware that there is an important issue that has not been discussed -- an issue that greatly impacts the public on a collective scale.
Sara AbiBoutros, a Queens, New York-based community coordinator, activist and law student, told the Viet Tide that the use of public and private space is not a "sexy" topic and does not resonate with the American public. As such, mainstream candidates are not likely to talk about it much -- if at all.
"To make the connection about how the dichotomy between public and private space impacts their lives is not so simple," she said. "There is a connection, but when people are worrying about how they are going to pay their rent next month and things like that, the issue doesn't seem so relevant."
But to readers paying attention to national news, mainstream or otherwise, the issue of public and private space might be considered an important one. Not only are there racial, environmental, labor, pro- and anti-immigration, and anti-war protests happening throughout the country, there are also protests against the potential Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement -- which involves the U.S., Vietnam and 10 other countries, and has been criticized for its possibility to increase human rights abuses, despite the jobs and economic boost it is projected to encourage. Public space is considered to make these protests possible, to make space available to the public so people can voice their concerns and grievances. It can assist in bringing about change.
AbiBoutros said that the use of public space has a long history in various social movements throughout U.S.
history. In a graduate paper she had published in the CUNY Law Review, "The Issue is not the Issue," she
detailed some of this history, specifically focusing on the 1960s Free Speech Movement (FSM) and the 2011 Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement. In both instances, public space was used as a medium to address social issues that were largely being ignored in the national mainstream discussion, and in both instances the public spaces being used were violently targeted by the government and private institutions that sought to squash the public discourse -- especially as that discourse was directed at their institutions.
"The use of public space was critical for both movements to create a confrontation in which society could no
longer ignore the systemic issues plaguing the country," AbiBoutros, who participated in the OWS movement, wrote. "By centering their issues around public space, the FSM and OWS were able to gain political victories, but most importantly they were able to foster a sense of community.
"Without a space for people to come together, it would be impossible to engage with one another, to plan, and to make our civil disobedience visible to the public."
Although mainstream candidates have not focused on the issue of public and private space, AbiBoutros said that of the candidates running, Republican frontrunner and business mogul Donald Trump is the most likely to support reducing public space to expand private space, as he is pro-big business and a land developer whose rhetoric is "public space [is] disposable for the right price, or any price for that matter." While AbiBoutros did not specifically say that Democratic candidate and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders would support the expanding of public space, she did mention that his rhetoric is similar to what OWS focused on: one percent of the population accumulates the wealth in the U.S., while 99 percent of the population's economic situation remains stagnant.
Added to the probability that mainstream candidates will not likely discuss public and private space this
elections cycle, the mainstream media is not likely to bring it up either. AbiBoutros said that the media seems to view social media presence as more important than physical presence. Not only is everything analyzed by
polling, she said, but if someone wants their viewpoint recognized, they have to sign an online petition or be
part of a poll. Mainstream media outlets, she continued, will show clips of Tweets and have entire discussions about them.
"All of this has had a negative impact on the importance of public space and the use of it because when the
[public] space is not being used, governments and private entities will try to take it away,"AbiBoutros said.
"Before the internet existed, people took to the streets.
"The use of public space to peacefully assemble is essential to the success of any social movement fighting for social justice."