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People Shufflin' Their Feet, People Sleepin' In Their Shoes

essietee's picture

"Rockin' In The Free World" -Neil Young

I’ve spent a lot of time in the past week thinking about Judith Butler’s second Flexner Lecture on “Body Politics and the Politics of the Street,” specifically the notion of public versus private in relation to an individual’s right to appear. This separation of space has been ever-present in my undergraduate experiences, defining at times what I choose expose about myself, the activities in which I engage, and the individuals with whom I associate.

As a first-year student learning about sexuality, I spent a great deal of time reading and learning alone. My roommate, who was homophobic and transferred after our first year, made this task somewhat difficult: how could I become comfortable with myself while living with someone who was not comfortable with me? In private, I felt that I did not have the “right to appear,” while in the public eye of our campus I began to feel more comfortable. This ties back to our discussion last week on the right not to talk about certain experiences or personal components, just as we have the right to disclose such information at will. I am also reminded of the New York Times article we read earlier this semester regarding the therapist who encourages and aides his clients in the act of remaining within the closet.

Bringing this notion into current events: I am especially struck with the contrasting views on public and private space in regard to the Occupy movement. Most recently, the news has been circulating images and videos of a group of UC Davis students who were protesting at Occupy Davis and consequentially were pepper-sprayed by university police. *Trigger Warning* I’ve posted the video below, but please note that this “fairly standard police procedure” may be disturbing -

UC Chancellor Linda Katehi approved this shameful act and ordered the police to evict students protesting peacefully in a public space. See video below, which utilizes a “walk of shame” tactic -

These students were protesting in a non-violent manner, making their opinions on a specific issue known simply through their words and the act of occupying a public venue (though they were blocking a sidewalk, which is against the law). Chancellor Kathei, who represents these students, made a private decision to represent a public group of individuals, a group that she represents.  As Butler said last week, these politics cross the line between public and private. A body must appear for politics to take place, and a body never acts alone when it acts politically. Had these students not been protesting, this event would not have taken place; but had this event not taken place, the issues of the Occupy movement and the politics of private representations of the public may not have been “heard” as loudly.

Turning back to my own experiences, I feel that I have become more vocal about my opinions and thoughts on gender, sexuality, and politics not only through my collective college experience but through several of our prior classes. I am reminded that everything, no matter how seemingly unrelated, is. This class is features the word Interdisciplinary within its title for a reason: our group is composed of individuals varying in age, gender, sexual orientation, religious orientation, economic background, level of education, and degree of life experience. We speak when we choose to and are not called upon unless we decide to put ourselves forward. By remaining silent, one may simply be absorbing the information being expelled (supporting the idea that society’s willingness to listen may be more important than an individual choosing to speak) or may be choosing to disappear, exercising. By coming to class each week, we are appearing. By speaking freely, we are appearing. And, even when remaining silent but physically present, we are still appearing.