To share space is to give of something we do not own, are not entitled to and which has been gifted to us. I did not learn this on my own, as on my own I am selfish and entitled, believing I own the space I inhabit. If, like the proverbial lesson in kindergarten, I have learned to share, it is because the people at the Aurora Commons have taught me how.
I run an art program at a low barrier drop-in site, a neighborhood living room on North 90th Street and Aurora Avenue North called the Aurora Commons. We live life alongside neighbors who struggle with being unhoused and drug dependent, are defined by the world through their less-ness, their home-less-ness, their identities identified by existing perpetually in the wrong place. “You can’t be here. … You can’t be here either. … Well, you can’t be over there either” are the messages Andy, a friend of the Aurora Commons, tells me he receives daily.
“Where should I go?” he asks in response, but the answer almost always is “anywhere but here.”
These termed home-less people live lives being pushed out into the margins of space, and in their marginalization they step into the Aurora Commons and teach me that space is something we equally share. As humans who inhabit space, our responsibility is to make sure those who are oppressed have access to space with respect and dignity. Without a space of their own, they teach me that the more they give, the more they have, while we as a nation are gripped within the ideology of the pie — meaning if you get a bigger slice, then I am left with a smaller slice.
Our deep fear of lack, of loss, of losing part of the pie we believe we are entitled to leads to a culture that colonizes space. Those of us who are privileged enough to have access to space without dissention often do not think about space — this is the path of privilege, not having to think about what others wrestle with, what others lose their lives over.
Colonization of space means those in power regulate the rules of who can be where, and in tandem, designate who we deem has value and worth in our society.
In America, we come from a dark history of taking space, of regulating the bodies that enter into spaces we have deemed improper to inhabit.
Colonizing space means we create criminals out of people trying to survive, thus perpetuating the cycle of violence, trauma and distrust. This, coupled with our fear of those who are different, means space becomes the canvas upon which we inscribe our fear and discrimination — justifying it through economics, safety and the belief that if people just tried a little harder they wouldn’t have to be living on the streets, wouldn’t find themselves in the painful situations they are in.
To share space is something I learned from those who have been excluded from it, from those who experience space on the fringes, who learn that they are not only sleeping in the wrong places, but that they are in their embodiment themselves the wrong people. We must give up the belief that we have exclusive rights to the space around us in order to listen to the voices in Seattle, to the voices in our nation and across our globe who hear the message “anywhere but here.”
To exist as a human means to always be in relationship with space, and our existence depends on our shared lives with one another, delegating space as a relational sphere.
Human dignity and freedom is a battle fought within the landscape of space. This relational sphere of space goes beyond what we believe are objective modes of regulating space and speaks to our imbedded beliefs of others and ourselves. To share space is the work of empathy and equality — of radical resistance.
Jacqueline Moulton is an artist, writer, and art program coordinator at the Aurora Commons.