Public spaces in the United States have always been ardently political. Such spaces have served as sites for military battles, for protests, for lynchings, for law making, for exploration and for celebration.
These spaces — our government buildings, town squares and public lands — exist to be shared. They are political because they are communal, because those seeking power will always attempt to dominate them.
When groups occupy public spaces to exercise power, like pro-Trump insurrectionists did at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, they breach our nation’s civic code. It is an understanding that has been broken time and time again throughout United States history.
The seizure of public lands and buildings stains our country’s past: the (ongoing) occupation of Indigenous lands, the theft of public bathrooms and buses from Black communities in Jim Crow south, the armed takeover of Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge by far-right extremists.
The insurrectionists involved in last week’s siege of the Capitol momentarily halted our country’s democratic process. Yet they also claimed a symbolic national space as their own, transforming the building into a den of intolerance.
The images from the siege are jolting: a Confederate flag juxtaposed against the Capitol’s walls, the words “Murder the Media” etched into a door, a noose erected above the National Mall, a written threat atop House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s desk, a blood-like substance smeared across Zachary Taylor’s presidential bust.
Like many of the other seizures of public space in United States history, Wednesday’s occupation of the Capitol was spurred by hate and racism. What separates the occupation is that the effort was carried out in allegiance to a singular man, not a political party, demographic group or country.
In recent years, the term “holding space” has become increasingly prevalent in our vernacular. The phrase centers around withholding judgement, providing a neutral place where people’s authenticity and truth can flourish.
And though holding space usually refers to the emotional experience, I believe it too can relate to the ways we interact with, and honor, our public spaces.
Think of how our community held space for the Black Lives Matter movement and local first responders outside the county courthouse this summer; the ways we steward Lake County’s forests, lakes and river for all to enjoy; and how we honor each other’s good health by wearing face coverings in Leadville’s parks and buildings.
In these instances, we hold space to share, not occupy. For love of this nation is found in allegiance to each other, not the few, not the one.