Decentralized Dance Party: Managing our own public space with a party
It is not surprising that the Vancouver Police did not find fault with its inability to control this summer’s riot, there was just too many people. I think we all understand this. But I’m concerned about the most recent suggestions that what we need to do is to give more money and resources to the police so that this may not happen again. The reason I am troubled by this suggestion, of creating a police lock-down on social activities in public spaces, is quite simple. In a democratic society “we” do not “need” the police to control “us.”
Quite simply, it is not the job of the police to control public space. Their job is to ensure safety and security. Our job, as active members of society, is to ensure that our shared public space is under control. We are our public spaces. This might sound odd. But this is precisely the problem. It sounds odd because we have been slowly separated from our public spaces by laws and security protocols. Responsible people do not destroy their own property. They enjoy it together. We have to learn to take back our public spaces from police and government services. But we have to do this by first acknowledging that we are forcing our governments and police services to handle our comfort and security for us because we are shirking our responsibility.
So what is the solution?
One solution is education. Civic education can take many forms. Consider my recent favorite form of civic education: the Decentralized Dance Party. Tom and Gary’s Decentralized Dance Party is a social event that uses old technology: a portable radio transmitter and “boomboxes” tuned into the “party” frequency being emitted by the transmitter. And new technologies like an ipod (hooked up through a glove to the transmitter) and a facebook site that lets people know where and when the party is going to happen. One last piece of contemporary technology is required: a funding apparatus to get Tom and Gary to the cities where the party will happen. Tom and Gary’s travel (and the party safari) is crowd funded through Kickstarter.
Picture this: You are walking in downtown Calgary this Friday night and all of a sudden a dancing groups of a few hundred people absorb you. Everyone is carrying boomboxes playing the same music. It is a dance club without walls that ramps up the social energy of public spaces in a way that is socially constructive. Our public space becomes a shared experience made possible by those who choose to get involved.
The civic lesson is as visceral as it is hard to explain. If you want to know how to live in public, you have to learn by first, learning to live in public. Being social is the only way to learn to be social. It is also the only way to learn about how democracy can work. I believe that there is no other way to manage our public spaces in a democratic world, we have to learn to do it ourselves, one dance step at a time.