“Literary Protests” Held January 15 in New York City and Scores of Other Cities in the U.S. and Internationally
January 16, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
In 90 cities across the country, as well as in London and Zurich, poets, writers, and artists came together on January 15 for Writers Resist!, a spirited “literary protest” launched by poet, activist, and founder of the feminist literary group VIDA, Erin Belie, and co-sponsored by PEN America, the international organization of poets, essayists, and novelists that defends writers under attack. The theme was “Writers Resist, Louder Together”—a declaration that writers must and will stand up to the threats to free expression by President-elect Donald Trump.
The flagship event took place in NYC. On the steps of the New York Public Library, some 1,500 people gathered to hear readings by an array of noted writers and artists, including U.S. poets laureate Rita Dove and Robert Pinsky; novelists Michael Cunningham, Jacqueline Woodson, and Francine Prose; graphic novelist Art Spiegelman; singer Rosanne Cash; performance artist Laurie Anderson, and many more. A number of those reading spoke to Trump’s racism, misogyny, and xenophobia.
One of the organizers spoke of an unprecedented situation for the organization: whereas historically it has fought for the rights of writers under siege in other countries, now it must prepare to fight in a way it never has to defend free expression in the U.S. Andrew Solomon, head of the U.S. chapter of PEN, spoke powerfully to the danger to all who value dissent and free cultural and political expression represented by Trump’s attack on flag burning. He concluded by quoting from a South African colleague and urging people to take this pledge: “You will remain shocked by the horror you are encountering.” Following the readings, hundreds marched 14 blocks towards the Trump Tower chanting “Writers Resist, Writers Together.” The partners to the event included Asian American Writers Alliance, The Nation, and Revolution Books in Harlem. Organizers for Refuse Fascism were there and saturated the crowd with the Call to Action: NO! This Fascist Regime Must Be Stopped Before It Starts!
In Los Angeles Writers Resist was held at Beyond Baroque Literary Art Center in Venice. Co-sponsored by PEN America, it was a fundraiser for the ACLU. The overflow crowd of 200-250 people was very multinational and of all ages. The room was transfixed as more than two dozen authors, poets, journalists, playwrights, academics, and human rights activists read from either their own work or the work of others. Some of the readers were professors (e.g., from the University of Southern California, UC Irvine, UCLA, Austin Peay State University) while others were award-winning writers for The Nation magazine and The New Yorker.
The program began with one author reciting a version of the statement made by Pastor Niemöller who survived a Nazi concentration camp: “First they came for the socialists, and I didn’t speak up…. and when they came for me, there was no one left to speak up.” The participants spoke with passion and humor. A few spoke openly of the fascism of Trump, even as the guidance of the day was to avoid saying his name. People read works ranging from speeches by Martin Luther King (his “I Have a Dream” speech, and his letter from the Birmingham Jail), to a historical reflection of the WW 2 Japanese American concentration camps, to a poem by Langston Hughes, and a reading of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. A highlight of the program was a powerful reading of the June Jordan 1980 “Poem about My Rights” that linked to the need for rebellion and resistance. There was a sense of community—feeling stunned and sickened by the rise of an American Hitler, but also a sense of resolve to resist in various ways, including real welcoming of the literature from refusefascism.org.
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