The Leadership Center for Social Justice Podcast

Decolonization in a World of Global Capitalism: A Conversation with Nandita Sharma

May 31, 2023 Nandita Sharma Season 1 Episode 13
The Leadership Center for Social Justice Podcast
Decolonization in a World of Global Capitalism: A Conversation with Nandita Sharma
Show Notes Transcript

This episode’s guest is Nandita Sharma, author and Sociology Professor at University of Hawaii, Manoa. In this episode, we are in conversation with Nandita on nationalism, colonialism, and the rise of xenophobia. Nandita discusses the historical shift from the age of empires to the age of independent nation states. She connects how this shift did not fix the issues of colonization, but instead exacerbated issues through further exclusion with border controls and racialising who does and doesn’t belong in a nation. Nandita also discusses her collaborative project called Eating In Public that pushes back against global capitalism and colonialism.


Home Economics: Nationalism and the Making of ‘Migrant Workers’ in Canada

Home Rule: National Sovereignty and the Separation of Natives and Migrants

Eating In Public

Nandita Sharma’s Website

Episode Transcription available here

Host: Ry O. Siggelkow

Producer: Adam Pfuhl

Podcast Engineer: Michael Moua

Music: Kavyesh Kaviraj

Episode Recorded on December 9th, 2022

You can find out more about the Leadership Center for Social Justice on our website and on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

In Conversation with Nandita Sharma

Ry Siggelkow [00:00:01] You're listening to the podcast of the Leadership Center for Social Justice at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. We seek to open a space for critical theological conversations about pressing social issues we face in our world today. Thanks for listening. 

Ry Siggelkow [00:00:27] Hello, everybody. I'm Ry Siggelkow and I direct the Leadership Center for Social Justice at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. 

Today, I'm excited to be in conversation with Nandita Sharma. Nandita is professor of sociology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She is an activist scholar whose research is shaped by the social movements she is active in, including no borders, movements and those struggling for the planetary commons. Nandita is the author of Home Economics: Nationalism and the Making of Migrant Workers in Canada, published with the University of Toronto Press in 2006. And Home Rule: National Sovereignty and the Separation of Natives and Migrants published by Duke University Press in 2020. Welcome to the podcast, Nandita. 

Nandita Sharma [00:01:23] Thank you so much. I'm so pleased to be here with you. 

Ry Siggelkow [00:01:26] Well, I'm very excited to be speaking with you today, Nandita, because I recently finished reading your book Home Rule, and I have to say it really is a thought provoking and perspective shifting text. The book presents a serious challenge to so many of the deeply held orthodoxies that have shaped our present moment. The book is incredibly complex and quite wide ranging in its scope of analysis, and I hope you will unpack some of its key insights for our listeners in this conversation today. 

But if I could just state it briefly as I understand it, and please correct me if I'm wrong. The central claim of the book is that our contemporary age of the nation state, far from delivering us from the global structures of hierarchy and domination, so obviously characteristic of the age of empires has been and is profoundly violent, deeply exclusionary and generative of a host of contemporary global crises. This book is perhaps the strongest, most daring and damning critique of the nation state I have ever read. 

But before I ask you to unpack some of the key arguments of the book for our listeners, I wonder if you could share with us a bit about why you decided to write it. 

Nandita Sharma [00:02:53] Well thank you for all of those kind words about the book, first of all. And I'm really glad that you so quickly got to the heart of the argument, which is an argument against seeing nationalism as something that will save us from colonialism. But why I decided to write it is actually quite personal in a sense. As a feminist, of course, I understand that what's personal is also political. So for me, I was fortunate to have grown up in a communist household, where it was internationalist in perspective. The politics were internationalist and my family moved from India to Canada when I was about five years old. And what we encountered in Canada, of course, was enormous racism directed at us for not being white, but also, of course, directed at people who are identified as native around us. 

And it was very clear to me that my mother in particular was able to see some shared experience between her experiences of colonialism under British India. She was born when India was still a colony of the British Empire. She was born a British subject. She was able to see the connections between how she experienced life and how people around her in Canada were experiencing life under Canadian occupation. So I always had that perspective that there were a lot of fruitful, important political connections to be made between people. 

And then I moved to Hawaii. And here in Hawaii, I encountered an argument that said that "Asians" in Hawaii, by which was largely meant the indentured workers who were recruited to work on sugar and pineapple plantations in Hawaii from China, Japan, the Philippines, Korea and somewhat Portugal. When I arrived here in the early 2000, people were arguing that those indentured workers, as well as their descendants, were now to be considered Asian settler colonizers.  And I was so disturbed by that idea that the only way that those people could be imagined was as colonizers. And that was only on the basis of their not being "native" to Hawaii. 

Because, of course, they were not colonizers. Right? They were indentured plantation workers exploited for their labor, displaced from the places that they were leaving because of acts of expropriation that they were experiencing. And so I just felt something is wrong if this is the way we're going to set things up, is to really kind of cleave people categorized as natives from migrants. I thought, this is incredibly dangerous and I need to figure out how to respond to it. 

Ry Siggelkow [00:06:31] For those of us who have grown up in a world that consists of nation states, it's hard to imagine the world in any other way. I still remember learning geography in elementary school. Of course, first we were made to memorize the states and state capitals that constitute the United States of America, our own nation, that is. And I remember we had this great big poster map on the wall of the classroom depicting the U.S. and its national territory. Hawaii could never quite fit on the map, so it was placed in a separate little box for the purposes of representation, I suppose. And of course, we had a flag and we stood for the Pledge of Allegiance every morning. We knew who we were and where we were. And I remember spinning the globe around as a kid in elementary school, looking at all the countries out there.

These days I've been watching the World Cup with my son, who is 16 and loves soccer. And of course, the celebration of the diversity of nations is on full display. I suppose the World Cup offers us a moment where we are to be put at ease by the fact that rather than warring with one another, as they usually do, these nations are playing a game together. But if you think about it, and I know you've thought about this a lot, the nation state as a form of sovereignty is a new historical phenomenon. 

You point out in your book that between 1945 and 1960 alone, three dozen new nation states in Asia and Africa were granted either restricted autonomy or outright independence from empires. That's very, very recent history. So the nation is neither a natural nor an eternal form of organizing life on this planet. And yet its hold on our imaginations is so strong. In part, I think, because we learn to view it as a fundamental advance from previous eras, from the age of empires, from colonialism. 

But you argue that our post-colonial New World order, as you call it, while marking the end of the political legitimacy of imperial state sovereignty, ushered in the beginning of national forms of state sovereignty, which have everywhere been predicated on radically exclusionary policies, along with new forms of hierarchy and domination. 

So I wonder if you could unpack for us how you understand this transition from the age of Empires to the post-colonial new world order of nation states, and why you do not see this as an advance? Why you do not see nationalism as a good response to the problem of colonialism? 

Nandita Sharma [00:09:15] Right. I'm going to start answering that question backwards. I think it's really evident if we look around the world today why a world of nation states has not resolved any of the fundamental inequalities, injustices of the age of empires. Poverty is rampant. The disparities between rich and poor are rampant. The exclusion of people from accessing their means of life are built institutionalized within this world order of nation states. So it's impossible to think that this was the world that people wanted when they were fighting empires. 

So I think that, that hopefully is self-evident to us. So then we need to figure out how did we get here? And I think that there's several, several historical processes that led to this shift from an age of empires to a world of nation states. And one of them, of course, is the anti-colonial activities of people within those empires.  What's interesting about that, however, is that the story is always about national liberation struggles. But those weren't the only movements fighting colonialism. Those were the movements that became dominant and that eventually were institutionalized in the form of these new national sovereignties in the Americas, in Asia, Africa, etc.. So those you know, those movements against colonialism were absolutely important. To me, it's a deep historical tragedy that the national version of anti-colonialism won out from other versions that existed across the world. So that's one strain, right? We got the national liberation movements that equated decolonization with national territorial sovereignty. 

Secondly, of course, we got the United States. The United States is today labeled as an empire, which I actually think is analytically kind of incorrect. But nonetheless, the United States was very, very interested in also ending the age of empires.  The United Nations was a project of the United States, and it was during World War Two before the United States was a party like a formal party to the war, to the allied war effort, when Britain was being bombarded by Nazi bomber jets, when France was occupied by the Nazis. And the United States was not actively militarily involved in the war. It was at that point when British Prime Minister Churchill met with U.S. President Roosevelt in 1941, seeking some kind of assurance from the United States of continued financial assistance, which was crucial for the war effort. And what Roosevelt demanded in return for that financial assistance was that at the end of the war, Britain would recognize the national sovereignty of all people within its empires.  Not just within the Metropole, the center of the empire in Britain. But all of the empire. And of course, Churchill knew that what that demand meant was an end to the empire. But that was the cost that the British were made to pay for continued U.S. reliance. 

Now, why? Because, of course, that should not be interpreted as all of the United States is a defender of colonized people. It's seeking their freedom and their independence from imperial control. Far from it.  The United States interest in ending the age of empires was the understanding that empires were also closed markets. Empires were political units, but they were also economic units to invest and profit from British imperialism, you had to go through the British state, the British imperial state. The United States was unable to do that, and was unable to set up its own empire in competition to the British Empire. It tried. The United States tried to have their far flung territories under its sovereign control, but it was no match for the British Empire. So the United States was very interested in breaking up empires, having them become, each part of the empire, former empire becoming independent nation states, so that all they had to do is negotiate with the new leaders of these independent states. And this is an important way that the United States became the world's hegemon that it did after World War Two. It was not a world hegemon prior to World War Two. It became a world hegemon because the age of empires collapsed. And it could very easily use its financial clout after World War Two. 

The United States was in an enormously strong financial position to offer grants, to offer financial assistance, to offer loans to people across the world. And it used its financial leverage to ensure that the capital that it was protecting was able to infiltrate markets, infiltrate people around the world and turn those people into dependencies of the financial markets that the US controlled. And of course, it did this through institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund that the United States controlled. So those are two main forces behind the creation of this world of nation states. And I'm hoping that through examining those two forces, we can see that the dreams that people had to end colonialism would not be met with this new system that was put into place after World War Two. 

Ry Siggelkow [00:16:38] Progressive movements in the United States encourage us to celebrate difference and diversity as the hallmark of a truly liberal democratic nation. Against, for example, the conservative desire for homogeneity and exclusionary notions of the nation. Progressives aspire to an inclusive nation defined by welcoming the other people of all hues, not shutting them out. We can think of the messaging of the Statue of Liberty or the popular slogan that we are a nation of immigrants, things like that. And I think many people tend to associate this desire for homogeneity with illiberal forms of nationalism, nationalism that has somehow gone terribly wrong. Of course, the worst case being the policies of Nazi-ism with its quest for racial purity rooted in its Aryan myth ideology of blood and soil. But Nandita, you seem to argue that racialized myths of nationhood are not at all unique to the overtly fascist politics we associate with Nazi-ism. 

Rather, you seem to suggest that all nationalizing projects rest on some variation of an ideology of blood and soil. The notion is that certain people belong in certain places while others are constituted as foreigners, aliens, people who belong elsewhere. The nation state then produces, you argue, the figure of the migrant who becomes the quintessential person out of place, an outside contaminant who must be managed, surveilled, disciplined or purged for the health of this racialized national body. 

So I suppose I'm wondering about these contrasting visions of nationhood, the sort of liberal inclusive vision versus the conservative illiberal vision. Of course, the progressive vision assumes that a non racial or multiracial nation state is a real possibility, a kind of ideal even. Well, my sense is that you're not so convinced by that. And I wonder what your thoughts are on this. 

Nandita Sharma [00:18:54] Yeah. I think that the idea of the nation from the start and at its core is an exclusionary notion of the political community, that there is no nation in the world that imagines all of the world's people within it. That is actually one of the ways that we can distinguish between a world of imperial states and a world of nation states. Imperial states,each of them, however, you know, small or great, all imagined that they could, if all things went well for them, control the entire world, and have all of the world's people as its subjects. Right? The British Empire, of course, came the closest to achieving that goal. 

But nation states, on the other hand, don't imagine and would see as a nightmare the idea that all of the world's people were part of the nation. So nation states, the idea of the nations and then the institutionalization of that idea in nation states rests on the idea that there is a limited community of people who belong to the nation. The best we can do within that system is to be "welcoming". But it's important to note that when we're welcoming, first of all, it never includes the entire world. And secondly, all the power continues to rest in the welcomer.

The person who wants to move needs to move in order to sustain their life. Doesn't have any control of that situation. Has no power within that equation.  If they're lucky, they might find some liberal minded person that will welcome them or some state that at the moment is governed by some kind of liberal minded party. But if not, too bad.  There's nothing built into this current system that ensures that all of the world's people are included.  So from the get go, that form of political community that is the nation is inherently exclusionary. And that's why immigration controls are so critical to this particular form of state power.

Another major distinction between the age of empires and the world of nation states is that empires were, for the most part, largely uninterested in immigration controls.  They were more concerned about preventing people from leaving the territories that they controlled.  So they wanted to keep people captive in their empires. And in fact, they tried to get as many people into their empires as possible, whether that was through expanding territory, colonizing more and more places and more and more people or whether it was through, for example, the transatlantic slave trade.  Bringing people forcibly into their empires so that they could get wealthy from the exploitation of their labor.  Nation states are exactly the opposite. Nation states, for the most part, don't really have much interest in preventing people from leaving.  And we define liberal democracy, in fact, by having an absence of exit controls.  And we define totalitarianism in a world of nation states as those states that prevent their citizens from leaving. But every single nation state in this world has controls on immigration and citizenship. That is how it continuously reproduces the idea that there is a core group, always racialised, as members of the nation and everyone else needs permission of the nation to live in the places that the nation claims as its sovereign territory. 

So it's impossible, the idea that we could have a good nationalism as opposed to a bad nationalism is a fantasy, right? It's a pipe dream. It's an alibi, in fact, for the continuation of a system built on exclusion. 

Ry Siggelkow [00:23:28] One of the many arguments in your book is that anti-colonial movements for national liberation did not deliver on their revolutionary promises. And you extensively chart the ways in which movements for national sovereignty and self-determination throughout Africa and Asia, but also Latin America, and really almost everywhere ended with restrictive immigration controls as soon as they became independent nation states.

You also argue that placing the blame on neo colonialism as several key anti-colonial leaders have done in the wake of independence struggles is to misinterpret the structural sources of exploitation and expropriation, thereby concealing the violence of the nation state itself. I wonder if you could speak to why you think struggles for national independence and national sovereignty have failed as a strategy for liberation? And why do you think struggles for decolonization must finally be separated from the logic of national self-determination?

I suppose I'm thinking about figures like Frantz Fanon and Amílcar Cabral, who spoke of national culture and its oppositional power. I mean, if the problem of colonialism is not that the foreigner rules us and our land and so they should go back to their own land. What is the problem of colonialism exactly? And how should we refocus the struggle for decolonization? How do we build an oppositional power that's strong enough to build a different kind of world? I suppose that is the question.


Nandita Sharma [00:25:10] I think we start from listening to what people who have been colonized actually are saying. People who have been colonized want their land back.  They want the end. They want control over their own labor. They want to end this system where their entire life's energy is spent making someone else rich. They want to have beauty and love and respect and dignity in their lives. That is what draws us to anti-colonial struggles, right? Because it's a struggle for a world, for a beautiful world where we can live with one another in relationships of peace and justice.  

But instead we've gotten this mess that we're in today. So I really do think that you don't have to struggle very hard to make an argument against nation states. But somehow we still do need to do that.  So I'm interested in why that is, why we still imagine that the only way to end decolonization is to have national independence. And I think the reason for that is the deep seated racism that imbues our sense of self and our sense of our place in the world. That the idea of race and the idea of nation are not very far apart.  As many scholars, particularly at Étienne Balibar, the philosopher has pointed out. And the reason for that is that, of course, all human beings live in place. Live in a place.  And so to make the argument to have exclusive control over that place, ideas of race become very important. That we are a particular type of people, a particular kind of people who belong here, and no one else does. And so national independence becomes equated with decolonization because the colonizer becomes equated with the foreigner.

Once we stop equating practices of expropriation and practices of exploitation with a foreigner and question the existence of those practices, full stop. Are we experiencing practices of expropriation? Do we have our land back? Are we experiencing the exploitation of our life's energy? Do we have control over our labor and the wealth that that labor produces? If we don't, we are not decolonized. Whether we live in a nation state that claims us as its nationals and gives us the status of its citizens. We are not decolonized. 

I'm thinking of my grandparents, both sets of whom were active in the anti British colonial project in India. And if they thought that they had spent all of that time and energy and shed all of that blood and sweat and tears to get the India of today, I think that they would be incredibly upset. The India of today is a fascist place that defines belonging on the basis of whether you are a member of the Hindu religion, is persecuting Muslims and Christians and Parsi and setting up concentration camps for people, particularly Muslims, who aren't able to prove to the Indian state that they belong there.  And the Hindu fascists that are running India argue that you can't belong there if you're most you have to be Hindu. So the nation state as a form tends towards fascism. Tends towards further limiting ever more who belongs to the nation.

And I think that one of the reasons that nation states, all of them tend towards authoritarianism, lack of democracy, even fascism is because, of course, nation states live in a world of capital.  And the imagination that national independence or national sovereignty is going to save you from globally operated capital is another fantasy that is bringing death and destruction to many people on the planet. So the idea that we could somehow counter global capitalism by having nation states has been shown to be impossible. And I think that the term neo-colonialism, why I dislike it so much is because it operates as an alibi for why, particularly nation states that arose from former imperial colonies, like India, like Ghana, etc. haven't become these paradises of decolonization is because of the continued rule of foreigners that interfere in their nation state. 

Neo-colonialism becomes this constant alibi propping up the nation state. The problem is we don't have enough national sovereignty. We need to get rid of more foreigners. And what never gets addressed is how do we possibly become decolonized in a world of global capitalism. So the struggle has moved away from a struggle against global capitalism to a struggle against foreigners. And I think that immigrants, people who get classified as foreigners in the places that they live, bear the brunt of that violence because they become the easiest scapegoat for the continued feelings of colonization that people have. 

Ry Siggelkow [00:31:48] Along with Bridget Anderson and Cynthia Wright, you have called for a no borders politics. At the heart of this politics is, you say, a struggle for the planetary commons. To make this argument, you find resources for hope in the diggers, a radical 17th century social movement who, on the basis of their faith, sought to reclaim the commons from the emerging capitalists who had enclosed it, who had enclosed their land. You write "Seeking neither territory nor sovereignty, but land and the ability to enjoy a livelihood on it without exclusion. The diggers and many others since recognized the integral relationship between freedom and mobility. An essential aspect of this freedom mobility was the ability to change or shift one's identity". 

You also mentioned the ranters, another group of 17th century radicals seeking justice from within the rapidly expanding British Empire, who refuse distinctions of place. In their 1605 pamphlet about God, a justification of the Mad Crew. The ranters argued He is in England, France and Turkey, and therefore the people in England, France and Turkey must become one people and one body for where the one lives there liveth the other also.

And as a mennonite minister, you know, part of a tradition that has its roots in the anabaptists of the radical reformation of the 16th century. I'm quite interested in hearing you speak about why you find the diggers to be so important, and in particular why you believe the ability to shift or to change one's identity, which was and, for me at least, continues to be fundamental to the anabaptists insistence on the need for rebaptism. Why do you think that's so critical for us to take seriously today? 

Nandita Sharma [00:33:52] Well, I love the diggers. I consider myself to be a digger. And I think that what is so wonderful about the diggers was that they fought capitalism and they fought the emerging British state that was emerging at that time. And if we look at what the diggers experience, right, these ruling class people backed by the military power of the British state were coming to take their land and close their commons. They were seeking to enclose the commons so that the people who call themselves the diggers would have no recourse other than to sell their labor to someone who would give them a paltry wage so that instead of having access to food and water and fuel and all of the other stuff of life that you need, you would have to go to the capitalist market to purchase it. 

Can you imagine in today's world, it would be difficult to find a person who would say, oh, you know, those 17th century peasants in England were colonized. We don't imagine them as colonized because we can't imagine that the people who were stealing their land and trying to exploit their labor were foreign to them.  We just talk about this as a process of capitalist formation and capitalist expansion. So I think this ties back to your previous question and my previous answer, which is that if we can recognize these particular practices as the definitional practices of colonialism and decolonization becomes ending those practices rather than this struggle between natives and foreigners, then I think we would actually be able to achieve a world that we could quite rightly call decolonized. 

So the diggers change their identity by claiming to be diggers. And so why are they diggers? They were diggers because their signal action of resistance to the enclosure of their common was to plant foods. So diggers became the identity of the practice of resistance and reclaiming of land in the commons that they were engaged in. So I think identities that are based in our practices rather than in these abstract ideas which are obviously invented to divide us from one another like race, like nation would serve us far better. And so one of the things that's getting in the way of us understanding that decolonization needs an end to class and state rule are our identities right? Our racialized identities, our sense of self as members of nations are getting in the way of us recognizing and seeing our routes to freedom. So I think that as we embark on decolonial struggles, we're not going to be able to do that if we insist on hanging on to those kinds of racial national identities.


Ry Siggelkow [00:37:33] We need to become diggers. We need to find other ways to identify with one another in the work, in the practice, of reclaiming the commons and the practice of growing things. And I know you've lived this out in your life and I'd love to hear more about this organization that you started with Gaye Chan. 

You founded an organization in 2003 called Eating in Public. And you say that it was founded to "nudge a little space outside of the state and capitalist systems". You say "following the path of pirates and nomads, hunters and gatherers, diggers and levelers, we gather at people's homes, plant free food gardens on private and public land, set up free stores and other autonomous systems of exchange generally without permission". I love that part. "Unlike Santa and the state, we give equally to the naughty and the nice. We do not exploit anyone's labor nor offer any tax reductions. We are, in all the words various definitions free". This is an incredibly inspiring and creative project of yours, and I wonder if you could share a bit about sort of this and how you imagine this as sort of living out what you're writing about, really. 

Nandita Sharma [00:38:58] Yeah. Thank you for bringing up Eating In Public. So Eating In Public is a loose collective of people. We don't even know each other necessarily.  People who engage in these certain practices. So it is very practice driven. We're not trying to create a community in its usual sense where we break bread with one another. We know each other. We like each other. We're trying to create ways of living and being in the world that replicates the commons.

And I think a key aspect of the Commons I know you've spoken with Peter Linebaugh and I've learned a great deal from him about some of the principles of the Commons and one of the greatest principles of the commons that does not exist in our world today and we need to bring back, if we have any hope of decolonizing ourselves, is that in the Commons no one can exclude anyone else, right? It literally is a world for all of us, right? We can't solve the problems in this world by closing ourselves off from others. We cannot solve the problems in our lives by putting some people in cages and shutting other people in. You know, zones of hospitality, deporting people to far flung places where we don't have to deal with the consequences of our actions. You know, the commons is for everyone. 

So the systems that we've created are all autonomous, right? We don't have any needs tests like, do you need food? Like how badly do you need food? How badly do you need these things in the world? It's actually open to everyone. And what that does, the systems that we create, like our free gardens, our free stores, our seed sharing stations, our weed eating stations are all meant to, first of all, get us out of the capitalist market. How do you get food outside of the capitalist market? 

You know, one kind of definitional part of capitalism actually was putting food into the marketplace, forcing people into market relationships to get the basic things for life. So we're trying to create systems that allow people to access food out of the marketplace, but also outside of this kind of sense of authority, right outside of these kinds of state-like systems that determine who gets things and who doesn't get things. 

So let me just give you an example. When COVID started we were kind of more or less at home. We started a free store in front of our house, and it was primarily food stuff from our garden like plants, seedlings, cuttings that would normally go into the compost, were just put out and signs were put up. Here's what this is. And people would come by and take them. And then people started coming by and leaving their own cuttings. And so a system of exchange outside of the market was put into place. 

And the thing that I love about this system the most is I have no idea who these people are. At any given morning that I walk out to the free store, there is a plethora of stuff. I have no idea where it came from. I don't know who put it there. And we're relying on each other to maintain this mutually beneficial system for all of us. We don't know each other. We may not like each other, but it's ours as we built this together. It's for all of us. There's no one that is seeing that someone else can't all of a sudden join this system or making people be part of this system. 

So eating in public is this tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny project. I know it doesn't sound like much, but it's a way for us to organize, to talk to people. Like we're not even talking to them. They're actually living it themselves, you know, which is a bonus. You don't even have to talk to people. Right? We're creating a system where people are actually living in a common space. And I do believe that that does carry on to other parts of their lives and other ways that they start imagining things. I think it's very difficult for people who come by the free store and pick up a beautiful Plumeria tree and then to go to a nursery and pay $125 for it. So I think it starts seeping into the imagination of what else can we do with this system? What else could we have in common? And of course, we do lots of other political activities aside from this project. But that project is what sustains our imagination and our faith in one another so that things can work out. 

Ry Siggelkow [00:44:51] Yeah, I mean, it sounds very creative and experimental, right? I mean, you don't know what's going to happen, but you kind of open yourself to it. And I was thinking, as you were talking, it's so interesting that you're not actually in relationship with these people in terms of friendship or communication, like verbally. So I was thinking, you know, it's just sort of like organizing for introverts. You don't have to talk it out to be in the same room. You don't have to build relationships with us. But, you know, this is one way of imagining how to live in relation to each other. 

Nandita Sharma [00:45:23] Two things that I wanted to mention. One is that we do use signage as a means of communication.  And we do have very explicit signage that says this is an anarchist anti-capitalist project. Which is really great because of course, many people who come by are probably afraid of anarchism, afraid of anti-capitalist projects. I think during the whole 2022 elections, we just called ourselves Antifa. But it's just, you know, very explicitly this is actually a political project, but people want that Plumeria tree and they want those cuttings and they want those clippings. And so then they're drawn into this system, whether they agree with the signage or not.  And then because they see themselves as benefiting from this system, I think that that language becomes less frightening to them. And that political subjectivity becomes less frightening to them.

And the last thing I wanted to say is that we do sometimes do social things. Neither my partner or I are actually very social in the sense that we want to hang around with a lot of people all the time. But we do these things called Diggers Dinners and Diggers Dinners are essentially potlucks, but the key criteria for the dish that you bring to the potluck is that the main ingredient could not have been gained through the capitalist marketplace. You had to have hunted, fished, foraged, grown, been gifted or stolen. The thing that is the key ingredient and we've done these actually in public spaces where we don't know the people who are going to come. 

And my favorite story is we did a Digger's Dinner at the university that we work at and an older woman came, I think she was probably in her late eighties. She was smaller than me. So she was, she was about four feet tall. And we had a microphone where people would say to the gathered because there were like over 100 people there. They would say to the gathering what their dish was, how did they get their main ingredient? And we had to get a pedestal for her to stand on because she couldn't reach the microphone. And she stood up and and she started her comments by saying, I've been waiting for this my entire life. I went to the store and I stole this apple and I stole this banana. And I'm bringing this to share with all of you. And I was just like, crying. And it's like the most beautiful experience because here is this person, I don't know who she is. I will never meet her again. But she's brought into a relationship with everyone else in that room that night. 

And I think that, you know, when we're talking about the planetary commons, we are going to have to be in relationship to people we don't know, we will never talk to, we may not even like, but we recognize that this is their world as well. The world is a common treasury as the Digger Gerrard Winstanley said and the eating in public and just trying to actually bring that into life. 

Ry Siggelkow [00:48:55] That's so moving. Nandita, thanks for this rich conversation. Your work is so challenging and thought provoking and really inspiring and I want to to do something similar to eating in public here in Minnesota. It just sounds it sounds fun, it's creative. And yeah, it calls for a paradigm shift in how we think about the world, how we live in relation to one another, and how we live in relation to the land. So I'm really grateful to you for taking the time to talk with me. Take good care. 

Nandita Sharma [00:49:26] Yeah. Thank you so much. It was a real pleasure. Thank you. 

Stella Pearce [00:49:39] Thank you for listening to the Leadership Center for Social Justice Podcast. To learn more about the center and its programs, visit or follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter at united_LCSJ.