Walking barefoot is a lot like cuddling naked with someone you love. The intimacy of cuddling is closely connected to the vulnerability, both physical and emotional, to which the participants open themselves. At any moment, with just a swift jerk of the knee, your partner could send you doubling over in pain. And yet, despite all survival instincts to the contrary, you open yourself. You drop your defenses. You drift off to sleep, and the vulnerability is absolute.
Such an intimate vulnerability, every time it happens, is a revolutionary state of consciousness. It unclenches the mind, just as the physical act of cuddling unclenches the body. What once was closed and afraid becomes radically open and trusting in an intimacy to which only a madman would give consent.
This insanity, this irrational willingness to open unconditionally to the world, this radical trust, is among the most remarkable powers we possess as humans. We can overcome our self-protective instincts in the name of intimate connection, whether a connection to the person lying naked in bed next to us, or a connection to the stranger we invite home for tea, or a connection to the earth beneath our feet.
Which brings us back to bare feet. I’ve been barefoot for a few weeks now, ever since Ithaca's weird half-winter turned into an eerily early spring. I’ve yet to encounter a librarian or professor who cares much what I wear or don’t wear on my feet. What little criticism I do receive comes mostly from my peers and ranges from “Go back to California, you dirty hippie,” to “You might step on glass/stub your toe/get ringworm!”
And it’s true: When I leave the house barefoot, I take upon the soles of my feet the risks of broken glass, stubbed toes, ringworms and all such hazards of the earth. Maybe I’ll end up with a rusty nail through my toe, and that’s okay. Vulnerability is part of what makes going barefoot such a deeply transformative practice. I like to think of it as cuddling naked with the earth. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Modern American consumer culture so thoroughly alienates us from the land from which we draw sustenance that the simple act of walking barefoot has become revolutionary. In a society where alienation, from the earth and from each other, is the norm, the greatest revolution possible is the rejection of fear and the voluntary assumption of vulnerability. We have been raised to distrust each other, and to distrust the land we walk on. Let us revolt.
This is the banner under which the practice of direct democracy, like the practice of walking barefoot, is a revolutionary act. When a group of strangers comes together in a public space to openly and democratically deliberate and take action, a revolutionary claim is being made: We don't need institutions to speak for us or to protect us from each other. With nothing but some hand signals, a few basic facilitation guidelines and radical trust we can create a safe, open space in which every voice is heard. This practice of direct horizontal democracy is, in my opinion, the core of the Occupy Wall Street movement; it is a profoundly intimate practice. It is the political equivalent of bare feet, or, when it goes really well, naked cuddling.
The connection I’m drawing here between direct democracy and bare feet will probably seem like a stretch to some readers, especially to those readers who have little personal experience with either. Many of you probably regard the Occupy movement much as you regard bare feet in late October: a foolish and meaningless gesture that won’t survive the winter and certainly doesn’t deserve to bear the name of revolution.
I can only tell critics of the Occupy movement the same thing I tell critics of bare feet (and the same thing I would tell critics of naked cuddling, if I could find them): Don't knock it till you try it. Until you've spent a few days walking around campus barefoot, you just don’t get it. You can't really understand how it transforms you, in your relationship with your feet, in your relationship with authority and in your relationship with the earth. By the same token, unless you’ve really immersed yourself in the practice of direct democracy, you can’t really understand the transformative power of radical trust.
As children of the “War on Terror,” my generation was brought up to fear and never to trust. After all, that strange, quiet man who lives in the next apartment might be a terrorist. And there might be a hypodermic needle lurking in the grass on the Arts Quad. And the girl you're cuddling with might be a vampire.
So how much are you willing to let fear govern your life? The choice between fear and trust is ultimately yours to make, which is why the “War on Terror” will never be won by dropping more bombs. It will be won by learning to trust each other enough to practice direct democracy in public spaces, no matter how the police feel about such trust. It will be won by reconnecting to the earth through the soles of our bare feet. And it will be won by cuddling.
Tom Moore is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. What Even Is All This? appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.