I want to talk a lot about the politics of choice. In a society like the United States, where we place so much emphasis on the individual – the individual’s abilities, capabilities, the ‘you can do whatever you want to do’ mentality – I’d like to use the idea of a choice when talking about things.
“You chose to go to this school,” “he chose that job,” “she chose to have sex.” It’s a really great way to tell someone to shut the fuck up because you chose what you did. But when you really think about the limitations that constrain our choices in this society – no matter where we come from – it allows us to open up our minds more to the politics of choice.
Now, what sort of choices are presented to us? What sorts of narratives guide our lives to tell us what we’re supposed to do or not supposed to do?
In order to bring a more personal side to this like everybody else, I’m going to tell you a little bit about my own narrative. Like a lot of people who have spoken tonight, I come from a family where money has been a central topic of discussion for a lot of my life. It has been the anxiety that drives all other anxieties. I know what it’s like to have a parent unemployed and laid off multiple times, no matter how hard you see them go to work. I know what it’s like to live most of your life without health insurance, and to be afraid when someone in your family gets sick because you might not be able to afford it. I know what it’s like to go bankrupt, and what it’s like to have your the threat of your house possibly being foreclosed.
When my mother told me this summer that she was going to divorce my dad, one of the first thoughts that I had was, “Well, this will get us more money for school.”
I don’t want to live in a society where, when my mom tells me that she decides to end a 27-year-long relationship, my first thought is, “Does this make my life more affordable?” I don’t want to make those kinds of connections.
People say that we have all sorts of choices – we chose to go to this school – but what sort of choice was that? My sister chose to go to the cheapest school in the state of Colorado, and yet she has an equivalent amount of debt as myself. Who let her take out those loans? Should she be punished for those choices?
I don’t know a lot of the answers to these questions. And I don’t know what a lot of these choices really mean. But I do know that we live in a society where I’m meant to feel bad about them a lot of the time. And even if I’m not aware of the true politics of all of these choices, or what they mean, I think tonight, we should be looking at the choices that are in front of us – the good choices to take.
So I’m going to choose to sit here tonight and listen, as I have. I’m going to choose to stand up and tell my story and say, “No. This isn’t just me. This isn’t just Chris Zivalich. This is a political part of my life, and in many ways, it connects to the other people who have spoken tonight.”
I’m going to choose to keep paying attention and keep thinking about my own thinking and not necessarily say that I know what it all means. But I’m willing to listen and talk to others and have the sorts of discussions that we are not having in this country right now – or at least, not a lot of people are having right now.