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221 Daniel Kemmis Introduction In 1996, I was producing a thirteen-part documentary radio series entitled The Spirit of Place. I traveled throughout the American West in the old Chevy pickup truck that served as my home away from home. In my kit, I packed a small library that included one of the most provocative books I’ve ever read. It was entitled Community and the Politics of Place (1990), by Daniel Kemmis, then mayor of Missoula, Montana. On the eve of my sixtieth birthday, I camped on the eastern aspect of the Continental Divide near Missoula. I awoke to the new decade intent on celebrating this “youth of old age” in finest fashion. I bathed in a creek, brushed my teeth, and drove into Missoula to city hall. There I found Daniel Kemmis, who was willing to be interviewed, and thus I had my intellect torqued by this brilliant man. Only rarely have I met politicians whose vision has had more than moderate scope. Mayor Kemmis’s sense of history and mental facility invigorated me enormously, and I came away with a sense of hope for the biotic community of the North American continent. His other books include The Good City and the Good Life (1995) and This Sovereign Land: A New Vision for Governing the West (2001). Daniel Kemmis, photo by Jean Larson 222 / Seeking the Path of Common Sense Daniel Kemmis JL: In your book Community and the Politics of Place, you do a superb job of defining the sense of the public—the word itself and the notion of the republican in the traditional sense, not the current political sense of the word. I’d like you to please define your sense of public as you did in your book. DK: Well, as with a lot of other words, I tend to try to go back to the roots and understand what we can learn from that. My understanding of the roots of public is that it has something to do with the people, that what is public is of the people, and therefore it immediately evokes something of the communal in us. What is public is not mine or yours, but ours. Then what I did was to move from that to the sense of the republic, which in Latin was the res publica, the “public thing.” That phrase is, on the face of it, fairly meaningless, but if you start digging into it, you start to realize that those things—those real physical objects, tangible , touchable things that we care for together—maybe do have something to do with the way that we are together. I came across a wonderful little image in the work of Hannah Arendt where she talks about the “public thing” in terms of a table and says you can imagine people seated around the table, and then you can imagine the table just suddenly vanishing. And these people are then unrelated to each other. They suddenly are out of relationship with each other. Her argument, which I believe is sound, is that we have come to be out of relationship with each other because we’ve ignored the importance of those things that hold us together and that we hold together. JL: Apropos of the table and the things that have brought us together in the context of the body politic, so to speak, the political body serving the public has taken on many connotations, and unfortunately a lot of Americans are now very cynical about public office. I think that this is one of the great tragedies of our time. You really address well in your book the sense of responsibility Daniel Kemmis / 223 that must be maintained not just by the elected political official, but also by the individual citizenry and how it becomes a collective event to really participate within a community. I’d like you to talk about that if you would. DK: My political career has stretched over a period of about twenty years now, and the last half of that has been spent in local government and specifically in city government. As I got to know more about my own city and started paying more attention to other cities, I became fascinated by the physical being of a city. I became drawn more and more back to the old idea of the city as a living thing, as an organism. We know that it has systems within it, circulatory systems, and so on...


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