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Ben Shaw 2-9-11 Project 1 Public writing and what it means

The freedom to form and express ones own unique opinion, in whatever forms conceivable, has been an essential cornerstone of this nation since its first inception. Every American citizen has the right to speak freely, no matter what his or her opinion, or cause, may be. While there are several different types of media in which this can be achieved, they can all boil down to a couple central forms; one of which is public writing. Citizens have engaged in public writing as a way to affect social change as long as there have been countries to be citizens of. However, with the advent of the internet and resulting social medias, the definition of what is and what is not public writing has become blurred and therefore misunderstood by the general populace, and in effect causing a lack of true public writing in our modern society. Public writing is writing to produce change through engaging an audience, and ultimately leading to action; whether political, social, economic, or otherwise. Though this definition is wide reaching, we will examine its separate parts and thoroughly discuss the true forms of public writing, and how the average Joe can use it to change the world. In order to accurately define and apply public writing, the first question that must be answered refers to the first word: who are the public? Right away the first thing that comes to mind is that public refers to everyone in a society, or at least anyone who has the ability to access the writing. However not every person is affected by that which the

author seeks to change. No cause, besides perhaps feeding the world, is all inclusive, which means that there is undoubtedly a portion of the population that will be left out, and rightfully so if the aim of the writing is to get the article, letter, or other appropriate forms in front of those who will seek action in favor of the cause at hand. The “public” involved in public writing are those who are affected by the author’s cause, and therefore the target audience in which the author hopes to reach. For example, in our text book1 we looked at the example of a man in New York city, Aaron Freidman, who was bothered by the noise of car alarms on the New street he lived on. It bothered Mr. Freidman to the point that he wrote a letter to the editor, started a website about getting a bill passed to stop car alarm use, which lead to two city councilmen showing their support, eventually bringing the bill in front of other local legislators, and are still attempting to get it passed. In the case, the “public” in question include those who live in New York, are annoyed by the car alarms, and who seek to aid in changing this distraction. If Mr. Freidman had tried to bring his cause to the world stage, his grievances would go largely unheard; conversely he wrote a letter aimed at attracting those he knew could help him in shutting off the car alarms he despised. Mr. Freidman’s choice in medium was a letter to the editor, and even though this is a common application of public writing, it is not the only form. The second question to be answered when discussing what is public writing, involves the medium in which the author chooses to make his or her stand. Although we consider writing to encompass only the written word, when applied to public writing, we must also consider what comes from after that written word. Obviously discussion is a large part about what makes public writing such important part of our democratic

process, but furthermore the presentation of the writing in question becomes equally or even more important than the written word it began as. Consider Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech, would it have been nearly as effective or reached so many people if he had sent it out as a letter, or had it published in a magazine? In addition, what brought so much power to his speech was King’s reading of it, and the importance he seemed to place on every word and phrase. His inflections and precisely placed emphasis are what helped instill passion in those who listened to it; even several years after he delivered this speech, the power in those words still resonates. It could be argued that every public speech was first written out before being publicly spoken, thereby constituting it as a form of public writing as it is technically a written statement created in an effort to promote change. This also brings up the question of if poetry, or more specifically song lyrics, can be considered public writing. Clearly the importance in public writing is that it’s a chance for one person or group to change the world. Musicians throughout recorded history have sought to use their music as a way to state their opinion and beliefs, whether political, social, or otherwise. In addition, even if the main purpose for writing a song isn’t to provoke change, it still has a great effect on the listening audience, and is a great medium to connect people with new ideas. For instance, Bob Dylan’s song 2“The Times They Are A-Changin’”, in which he speaks of the social and political divisions of the civil rights era. In the third verse, he bluntly sings to America’s representative’s by saying: “Come senators, congressmen/ Please heed the call/ Don’t stand in the doorway/ Don’t block up the hall/ For he that gets hurt/ Will be he who has stalled/ There’s a battle outside and it is ragin’/ It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls/ For the times they are a-changin’”. He puts it upon those we’ve

elected to concede to the change that surrounds them, and to either help or get out of the way of the coming revolution. This song was a cry to all those in the civil rights movement, and because of Dylan’s popularity spread to a far greater audience than a simple article would have. While it may not be true for every song written, in this particular song’s case, Dylan is aiming directly at those in power. The argument for lyrics as public writing brings up another, if not more, important question: what is not public writing. As discussed above, public writing takes many forms. From speeches and songs, to letters to the editor and magazine articles; several forms of media can be covered under the umbrella that is public writing. However, many public forums are misconstrued as public writing. The best example of this is social media, specifically Facebook and Twitter. While there is a public element to both websites, the public in question is not as far reaching as one would expect. If you post a status about your desire to “save the whales” on Facebook, the only people you will reach are those who are your accepted friends, and even if you change your privacy settings to allow anyone with access to Google to see your wall, the chances of them coming across it randomly are slim to none. The same goes with Twitter; only those people who are following your tweets will see what you write. Email is another outlet confused as public writing. Even if you include a large number of people in your email chain, you still vastly limit the potential for people reachable. And even though it may be obvious, any document that remains unreleased to the public is of course not public writing. Public writing is theoretically able to reach an unlimited amount of people. With that said, all these mediums reach only a very specific selection of people, and thereby are limited. These forms of writing, while public in

some fashion, still don’t constitute public writing. Now the only question that remains is this: what is public writing? As stated in the opening, public writing is meant to provoke action towards a cause, no matter what that cause may be. In order to be effective, any author producing a piece of public writing must first identify the audience they wish to reach. From there, the author brings his or her cause to the public in question’s attention, which leads to further discussion of the problem, engaging those affected and in turn resulting in action to fix the issue. While not all public writing is exclusively delivered through writing, the aim of each piece is still the same. The ability of one man or woman to reshape our nation’s history, through modes such as public writing, has continued to remain prevalent even in our over-exposed society. While some may believe they are active participants in this democracy, the sad truth is that without a clear understanding of what is defined as public writing, these people are unaware of their writing ineffectiveness in the public’s view. By relying on social media to bring our beliefs to the world, we limit our scope, and in turn greatly diminish our chances to effect change. However, any person who writes a letter to their local newspaper’s editor about the increasing lack of funding towards school programs, or gives a speech at a town meeting about their desire for more traffic lights in their town, is participating in public writing. Public writing seeks to involve those who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to affect change in their communities. Freedom of speech is most important right we all share as human beings, and public writing continues to ensure that our voices are heard.



Shamoon, Linda K. Public Writing. Print.


Dylan, Bob. "The Times They Are A-Changin'" Rec. 06 Aug. 1963. The Times They Are A-Changin' Bob Dylan. Tom Wilson, 1963. CD.