On January 15, five days before the inauguration of Donald Trump, a thousand writers at nearly 100 events around the United States will gather for a very different kind of event: a “re-inauguration” aimed to “focus public attention on the ideals of a free, just, and compassionate society.”
This movement, called Writers Resist, began when poet Erin Belieu posted this on Facebook after the election:
We will not give in to despair. We will come together and actively help make the world we want to live in. We are bowed, but we are not broken.
The events, held on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, are based on this collective declaration:
Our democracy is at risk. Growing public cynicism and an alarming disdain for truthfulness is eroding our most dearly held democratic ideals. As writers we have tremendous power to bypass empty political discourse and focus public attention on the ideals of a free, just, and compassionate society.
The events will feature a wide array of writers ranging from Syrian exile (and Chicago cab driver) Osama Alomar to former US Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky. On the steps of the New York Public Library at 2 pm, PEN America is hosting the biggest of the Writers Resist events, featuring Pinsky, Belieu and a wide range of writers united “to defend free expression, reject hatred, and uphold truth in the face of lies and misinformation.” More than 60 writers are scheduled to speak, including Rita Dove, Andrew Solomon, Masha Gessen, Laurie Anderson, Rosanne Cash, Jeff Eugenides, Amy Goodman, Jacqueline Woodson, Monica Youn, A.M. Homes, Moustafa Bayoumi, Alexander Chee, Art Spiegelman and Michael Cunningham.
Some authors will be reading their own work, while others will be reading a diverse array of historical works, including the words of Martin Luther King Jr., passages from the Constitution and writing by George Orwell.
Chicago will hold seven different events with dozens of writers, including Audrey Niffenegger, Quraysh Ali Lansana, Dipika Mukherjee, Maudlyne Ihejirika, Bennett Johnson, Eduardo Arocho, Cynthia Gallaher, Jose-Luis Moctezuma and Zoe Zolbrod.
Other events are being held in Houston, Austin, Denver, New Orleans, Spokane, Los Angeles, Boston, Omaha, Kansas City, Jacksonville, Madison, Milwaukee, Indianapolis, Baltimore, Oakland, Tallahassee, Iowa City, Minneapolis, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Newport, Reno, Santa Fe, Salt Lake City, Washington, D.C. and many other locations.
Writers Resist events will also occur beyond US borders, in London, Amsterdam, Hong Kong, Singapore and Zurich. Russell Bennetts, the editor of Berfrois magazine who is organizing the London event, declared: “We may be based in the UK, but this is a sign of our support for writers worldwide.” According to Bennetts, “We think it is important for writers to keep up the pressure on Trump and to call him out on all his lies. Events like Writers Resist can bring writers and readers together allowing for the sharing of strategies and enthusiasm! There is a fear that Trump will use his power and influence to try and silence dissent…. That would be a disaster for democracy.”
Darcy Alexandra, a poet and filmmaker organizing the Writers Resist event in Zurich in partnership with Action from Switzerland (a refugee relief organization), noted: “In anxious, ‘post-truth’ times that seem increasingly authoritarian, independent and principled voices are crucial. I’m looking forward to reading, but just as importantly I’m looking forward to the discussion.”
Belieu said, “I was so despondent after the election,” adding that “hearing the phrase ‘post-truth’ after the election” inspired her to organize an event devoted to speaking the truth.
website declares: “We urge local organizers and speakers to avoid using the names of politicians or adopting ‘anti’ language as the focus for their Writers Resist event. It’s important to ensure that nonprofit organizations, which are prohibited from political campaigning, will feel confident participating in and sponsoring these events.”Although “Resist” is part of the mobilization’s name, and the election of Donald Trump inspired the movement, its
Instead, according to the website, “Writers Resist is not affiliated with a political party. We wish to bypass direct political discourse in favor of an inspired focus on the future, and how we, as writers, can be a unifying force for the protection of democracy. In order for us to heal and move forward, individually and as a nation, we believe people need something to be for in this anxious moment. The only thing we ‘resist’ is that which attacks or seeks to undermine those most basic principles of freedom and justice for all.”
Belieu said she’s “profoundly grateful” for the response to her call to action, and she hopes to continue this movement beyond January 15, to encourage writers and educators to “#WriteOurDemocracy” and defend the values of free expression.
Note: John Wilson is a co-organizer of the Writers Resist event in Evanston, Illinois.