Polis, public space

Image: Mike Chai
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By LUIZ MARQUES*

Urban space, a permanent stage of dispute between the interests of real estate capital, is transformed into a mere commodity, without commitments to citizenship values

The word “politics” has Greek origins, comes from polis, the city understood as a collective institution founded on laws and rights. In this regard, polis It does not designate a simple urban space, but rather a public space. Its Latin counterpart is civitas, where the word city also comes from as a public space. The Romans reserved the term cities (urban) for urban space.

In the neoliberal phase of capitalism, the city becomes the stage for a permanent dispute between the interests of real estate capital, for whom the city is just an urban space, and the interests of the population in general, for whom the polis / civitas is above all a public space, points out David Harvey, in Rebel cities. Instead of positioning themselves on the side of the people, however, many municipal leaders position themselves on the side of the former, with amendments to city constitutions – the master plans and laws for land occupation – in order to meet an obsessive demand for spikes and by the irrational appropriation of res publica, public affairs. The environment is detail.

To legitimize the predatory process: (a) deliberative bodies are restricted, increasing the powers of the Executive and removing the competence of control bodies to judge and; (b) participation in the development of policies is limited to those who “are more equal than others”. At the same time, business corporations prioritize political parties to financially support in elections. Democratic and republican principles are manipulated by majorities in legislative houses to obey the will of minorities in society. This is an obvious distortion.

The increase in the cost of electoral campaigns establishes an economic filter between candidacies, which are then sanctioned at the polls. But, before choosing individual candidates, class selection is carried out to guarantee a majority representation of the ideological prescription of backward elites. Thus, laws and rights lose their impersonality in content, maintaining it only in form. Neoliberal governance restricts democratic ideas and practices, with the help of corporate media. In the mid-1990s, Norberto Bobbio was already denouncing the serious threat of monopoly or oligopoly ownership of the media which, contrary to what they usually self-proclaimed, are not the guarantors of democracy. They are vehicles of his destruction. They paved the way for the rise of the genocide.

The city's owners

The site’s excellent investigative reporting On the 21, titled City owners, in the chapter “Porto Alegre prepares a 'very liberal' Master Plan at the request of businesspeople”, is illustrative of the exponential conversion of urban space into a mere commodity, without a commitment to the values ​​of citizenship. When it became the headquarters of the World Social Forum (WSF), Porto Alegre was the international reference for polis in defense of public space, built based on the Participatory Budget (OP). Now, the metropolis of Rio Grande do Sul is dominated by the greed of construction companies and the factional support of radio, television and printed opinion that endorses the mayor on duty.

The logic of the convergence of interests lies in the commodification of everything and everyone, supported by the laissez-faire, including in parks to accommodate car parking. Like other centers, Porto Alegre is no exception on the national scene in paving the way for initiatives that go against sustainable progress. The privatist playbook is the same in any region of the country. The social authoritarianism in force in previous eras has never been overcome in the trajectory of the Brazilian nation.

The extreme right, both those who eat with their fingers and those who use cutlery, even subvert the reason for having periodic elections so that those governed can elect new rulers. The presumption of alternation, observes Marilena Chaui, in about the violence, “symbolizes the essence of democracy, that is, that power does not identify with those who occupy the government, it does not belong to them, it is always an empty place”. In the context of hyper-individualistic culture, there is no shortage of authorities to endorse conceptual corruption with voluntary servitude. Root neoliberals have in common with neofascists the vocation for totalitarianism, with the overflow of urban space into the public.

Only democracy allows for a clear separation between public and private; is equivalent to stating that, in theory, representatives do not find support for identifying with power. In exceptional regimes, imaginary or not, those in decision-making positions place themselves in the abusive role of sellers of state assets in areas of essential services, to satisfy the appetite of the “parasitic classes”. Instead of defending, they outsource rights – with few duties – to their friends at court, under the fallacious pretext of better management. Let the poor residents of Brumadinho say so.

Right to have rights

If there were real journalistic coverage about the provision of services after privatizations, the truth would certainly come to light. As there is none, problems that arise later (MG, RJ, SP, RS) are minimized or elided. There is silence about the added cost to companies in the search for profit, the transfer of dividends to shareholders and the scrapping of functions. The efficiency argument hides the philosophical background of opting for the private over the public, no more. Disalienation happens at the moment when: “The weakened, discouraged, raise their heads and / Stop believing / In the strength of their oppressors”, in the poetic description of emancipation, by Bertolt Brecht.

Such is the fear of the powerful. Hence the permanent attempt to control the expansion of rights in the minefield of gender or race relations, morals and customs, conditions of sexuality, teaching-learning, dialectics of capital and work or distribution of public surpluses. The guard dogs of those “above” protect the status quo and privileges. Progressive movements incorporate the “right to have rights” into the fight for substantive democracy, within a cumulative logic.

A quick look at the history of Brazil shows that the denial of rights marked, with iron and fire, from the beginning, the formation of our Brazilianness. The zombies camped in front of the barracks, who vandalized the physical headquarters of the powers inside the yellow-green pavilion, are against the universalization of prerogatives to those “from below”. The middle class's adherence to authoritarianism reveals the persistence of the grammar of domination and subordination, inherited from colonialism (racism) and patriarchy (sexism). The deepening of inequalities flirts with the civilizational abyss.

Rescue the dimension of public space from what the ancients called polis (Athens) or civitas (Rome) is the task of the democrats and socialists at present. The paints that paint the modern dystopia in cities with the colors of convenience, for real estate capital, block conviviality in diversity, the richness of humanity. Urban space stores fear, resentment and hatred that emerges in the corners of life and the internet. Public space welcomes freedom, equality and solidarity. Those who speak metonymically in the name of the collective must be careful with this.

* Luiz Marques is a professor of political science at UFRGS. He was the state secretary of culture in Rio Grande do Sul during the Olívio Dutra government..


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