Imagining Public Spaces

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Imagining Public Spaces

Women have once again lost space. On Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that a Massachusetts law establishing a buffer zone around reproductive health centers, intended to protect the privacy and safety of patients and staff, was unconstitutional. This came right after the court’s ruling on Wednesday that police may not search the cell phones of arrested individuals without first obtaining a search warrant. This sends a mixed message on how we should see space, and also an ironic and disturbing one: The place of commonality or gathering has turned into the safety of distance and disengagement. Instead of having democratic spaces where we define ourselves collectively through debate or just by hanging out, we have a safety zone that protects (or, in the case of women visiting an abortion clinic, used to protect us) from each other. The virtual space of connection and sharing is something that now is not only invisible, existing as it does more and more in the ether, but is also out of bounds, hidden and dark to common oversight.

What particularly disturbs me is the manner in which the sense of security and well-being that space gives us (“I just need some space”) is now tied completely with ownership and individual rights. From the mundane (fighting for armrest space on the airplane, fighting over property lines with your neighbor) to the important—such as giving women a chance to work through their own life issues without being confronted by protesters—space matters. But it only matters in a negative way, as a way of keeping others out. What we have lost is the sense that space is something we venture into because it is a stage for society, a place where we can realize ourselves in relation to others and the reality we share.