And then Judith Butler Showed up at Occupy Wall Street

Theory and direct action made-out in public this week when Judith Butler showed up to voice support of Occupy Wall Street at Zuccatti Park as reported on Feministing.

Feminist and queer theorist Judith Butler is currently a visiting Philosophy professor at the New School in New York. (Can I sneak into a class or something? Any New School readers, lemme know.) For a recap  of her work, check out Julia’s Judith Butler 101 post published  last year.

Judith Butler (Credit: Hendrik Speck/egs.edu/AP)

Judith Butler made a longer speech at NYC’s Washington Sq. Park and speaking through the people’s mic, Butler appealed to the power of the physical body in politics noting:

It matters that as bodies we arrive together in public. As bodies we suffer, we require food and shelter, and as bodies we require one another in dependency and desire. So this is a politics of the public body, the requirements of the body, its movement and its voice.


And the full transcript for Judith Butler’s Washington Square Park speech:

Hello everybody. I’m Judith Butler. I have come here to lend my support and offer my solidarity for this unprecedented display of popular and democratic will. People have asked, so what are the demands that all these people are making? Either they say there are no demands and that leaves your critics confused, or they say that demands for social equality, that demands for economic justice, are impossible demands, and impossible demands are just not practical.

But we disagree! If hope is an impossible demand, then we demand the impossible. If the right to shelter, food, and employment are impossible demands, then we demand the impossible. If it is impossible to demand that those who profit from the recession redistribute their wealth and cease their greed, then yes, we demand the impossible.

Of course, the list of our demands is long. These are demands for which there can be no arbitration. We object to the monopolization of wealth. We object to making working populations disposable. We object to the privatization of education. We believe that education must be a public good and a public value. We oppose the expanding numbers of the poor. We rage against the banks that push people from their homes, and the lack of health care for unfathomable numbers. We object to economic racism and call for its end.

It matters that as bodies we arrive together in public. As bodies we suffer, we require food and shelter, and as bodies we require one another in dependency and desire. So this is a politics of the public body, the requirements of the body, its movement and its voice. We would not be here if electoral politics were representing the will of the people. We sit and stand and move as the popular will, the one that electoral politics has forgotten and abandoned. But we are here, time and again, persisting, imagining the phrase, “we the people.” Thank you.

It’s stimulating to see an academic engaging with direct democracy in the streets but it’s not lost on me that Butler is teaching at the New School which has, to my mind, an outrageous tuition. ($1,645 (per credit).) I can’t imagine it will be long before there will be an academic panel dissecting the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon, so we will keep you posted!

Jamie lives in Boston and is currently a PhD student in Global Governance and Human Security at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She is a freelance writer and also a team associate for the Boston chapter of Hollaback!.

Jamie has written 79 articles for us.

32 Comments

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  2. Um guys, am I the only person with an older woman crush on Judith Butler? There’s something about the confluence of leather jackets, swagger and queer theory that really does it for me.

  3. Ugh this makes me regret dropping out of the New School. I did go to a panel she was supposed to speak at last year… but there was a death in her family and she ended up skyping in to the New School, and instead of speaking on queering anarchy she ended up speaking about Israeli-Palestinian conflict… it was really disappointing, but still FUCKING AWESOME, because JUDITH BUTLER.

  4. leather jacket!!!!!!!!!!

    it is somehow SO comforting to me that she is like, a person, who has actual politics and is willing to make statements like this that are sort of a different tone than her writing.

    also, does anyone know if the “people’s mic” thing is out of absolute neccesity or is more of a symbolic thing? in this particualr context i found it very distracting.

  5. Ah, Judith Butler, my old nemesis. We meet again. Her statement here only proved that she can, in fact, form sentences like a normal human being. So there is no excuse for her books. NONE. JUST FUCKING SAY WHAT YOU MEAN, JUDITH! FUCK!!!!

    I have a master’s degree in Women’s Studies and her books are about 30% of the reason I spent the better part of two years barely fighting off the urge to jam a highlighter through my eye socket and into my brain.

  6. I’m just impressed that she managed to speak in actual understandable human sentences that don’t need three hours of parsing to understand/make my brain hurt. Gives me hope for when she comes to speak at my school in November.

  7. Judy is coming to bryn mawr college and living in residence with us- SO EXCITED. She’s holding 3 public lectures buuuut I think they’re all sold out? But five words: coffee hour with Judith butler. Heck yes.

  8. the above speech is an instance of shameless ill-guided populism. It betrays all intellectual achievement of the Left and is reminiscent of the worst rhetorical abuses of the ‘Popular Will’

  9. i know this comment is late to the game but it just occurred to me… “TOP TEN Queer/Trans Feminist Books for the Occupy Movement”
    1. “Without a Net: The Female Experience of Growing Up Working Class” Edited by Michelle Tea. This is a fav contemporary anthology of mine for illuminating some of the everyday experiences of economic injustices in the USA as lived by women and trans folks with a strong queer focus. Great to share across generations when talking about class.
    ….ok yall contribute to the rest of the list…

    • I second this! Without a Net is one of my absolute favorites!

      2. “Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison-Industrial Complex”

      This book taught me a lot about prison abolition in general but more specifically about the injustice faced in prison by women, queers, trans*folk, people of color, and people with disabilities (these categories are not exclusive, of course).

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