On March 24, 1933, the Reichstag of the Weimar Republic passed the Enabling Act, which gave the German Cabinet the ability to enact laws that bypassed the Reichstag, essentially conferring dictatorial power upon Adolf Hitler.
On October 27, 1917, the October Revolution by the Bolshevik party established the Soviet government in Russia, a government that under the leadership of Josef Stalin would be responsible for the deaths of between ten and twenty million people through political executions, mass slaughter, and preventable famines.
When George Orwell published his dystopian classic Nineteen Eighty-Four in 1949, he knew exactly how devastating a totalitarian government could be, especially if it were successful in controlling every arm of the media, because he had just seen it in action. Had technology been a little more advanced—had the internet been around—Hitler’s vision of complete control might have been realized. When Orwell was writing, the shadow of Nazism had passed, but the dark clouds of U.S.S.R. communism were gathering. By the time Orwell’s book was published, Stalin and Hitler together had already been responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of people. His bleak vision of the future might have been fictional, but it was written as one of many possible realities that could have played out over the next forty years as the specter of totalitarianism spread to other nations across the world. In writing Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell was protesting the dictatorial actions of foreign leaders. It was also a call to action for ordinary citizens and powerful politicians to take up active opposition to authoritarianism. His book was an act of political resistance.
On December 18, 1865, Secretary of State William Seward proclaimed the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery on a constitutional level in the United States.
On July 2, 1964, almost a hundred years later, Lyndon B. Johnson ratified the Civil Rights Act, a piece of legislation that restored voting rights to African Americans and ended Jim Crow forced segregation on the basis of race, which, despite abolition, had pushed former slaves back down into servitude and subservience to their former white masters.
When Richard Wright published Native Son in 1940 in between these two critical dates, his portrayal of race relations in the northern city of Chicago devastated both white and African-Americans. His depiction of a young black man caught up in an inevitable web of racism, lies, violence, and guilt laid bare the systemic forces, both visible and invisible, that all black men and women were faced with at the time. Bigger Thomas was a fictional character who represented the struggle of black Americans at large. The publication of Wright’s novel was an act of political resistance that changed American race relations forever.
Writing is political. Orwell’s dystopian novel about a totalitarian government with perfect control over its citizens helped convince ordinary citizens in the Western world that authoritarianism must be resisted long before it ever got to that point, and that democracy had to be protected at all costs. Wright’s contemporary protest novel about a young man falling victim to forces of systemic racism helped convince Americans, especially white Americans, to act politically to end institutional discrimination on the basis of race. (Black Americans were already hard at work.)
Even writing that seems innocuous on its face is political. Harry Potter, a children’s/young adult series which is ostensibly about a boy with magical powers attending wizard school, doesn’t seem on its face like a political series. But look deeper into the narrative and you’ll find themes of political resistance, subversion, defending minorities and fighting discrimination, and combating evil that doesn’t always look, act, and talk like evil.
Even romantic comedies, such as Bridget Jones’ Diary or The Devil Wears Prada, which seem as far afield from politics as you can get, are political. They present a vision of romantic love that conform to or defy traditional notions of love. They define gender roles. They assign values to certain types of relationships, and they give cues as to when and how women and men should behave in their careers, in their friendships, and in their relationships.
Writing, by definition, is political.
Let’s get back to some important dates.
On November 8, 2016, Donald Trump was elected to the presidency of the United States of America.
On December 19, 2016, the electoral college confirmed the votes of the states and certified that Donald Trump will enter our nation’s highest office.
On January 21, 2017, he will be sworn in.
He brings with him a host of cabinet members who, taken together, have more combined wealth than the bottom one-third of America’s entire population. They range in personality from ignorant buffoon (Rick Perry) to white nationalist fascist (Steve Bannon). His platform consisted of little more than “Build A Wall,” “Lock Her Up,” “Drain The Swamp,” (ha ha, very funny) and “Make America Great Again.” He has promised to alter libel laws so that journalists cannot write negative things about him, he plans to institute a national registry of Muslims, he has a Supreme Court pick available to him, and he is poised to implement legislation that will tangibly affect the rights of women, immigrants, minorities, and LGBTQ folk.
It is hard for me to see how his proposed policies will help any of the people I care about. To the contrary: I fear, based on his stated policies and ambitions, a concerted effort to suppress freedom of speech, access to information, civil liberties, and human rights.
We need to resist his proposed vision of the world with all our might.
Now more than ever, our writing is necessary. Now more than ever, our art must be political. Now more than ever, we as writers must bring to bear the power of words to bring the facts to the people, to show them the dangers of conformity and toeing the party line, the value in speaking out, the importance of protecting all citizens, all people, all humans from harm and injustice. Through journalism, through narrative fiction, through poetry, through essays and opinion posts, our writing must be an act of political resistance. We must speak for the voiceless. We must defend the defenseless. We must protect through words and ideas the rights of those who cannot protect themselves.
We are writers, and writing is political. Writing has never been more important, as we are now the voice of the resistance.
Think. Write. Tell stories. Tell the truth. Resist.
Your freedom depends on it.