The last few weeks have been tumultuous in this country, in my circle of friends, in my own life. After a major political upset on Election Night, many are worried about the direction we’re headed in — and rightly so. We’ve elected a man with disturbing authoritarian leanings; who believes dissent should be punished and advocates for limits on our First Amendment rights to free speech, religious exercise, peaceful assembly, and the press.
As an artist, I am deeply troubled by these remarks, however off-hand they may seem. Even a veiled or vague threat against free expression is a threat to be taken seriously. What are creative people supposed to do when a person who makes those kinds of threats assumes the highest office in the land?
Write like hell.
Whatever your medium, use it. Write stories, poems, protest songs. Scupt, paint, dance, blog, or tweet. Art has always been there to challenge structures of power.
- In 1945, Boris Pasternak started writing Doctor Zhivago on paper that was sent to him by the widow of a friend who had been executed by the Soviet Union for his poetry. Pasternak’s novel dared to question the bloodshed of the revolution and his manuscript had to be smuggled out of the country to be published (it was later smuggled back in by the CIA).
- In the 1960s and ’70s, musicians wrote songs protesting the Vietnam War and highlighting its many injustices, like Creedance Clearwater Revival’s Fortnate Son, a song about how the rich and well-connected were able to keep their sons from going to war.
- This year, 130 writers and journalists were jailed after an attempted coup in Turkey, including novelist Aslı Erdoğan, whose novels, stories, and articles deal with human rights, violence against women and Kurdish rights.
Your work could be protest, but it doesn’t have to be. A friend and I are redoubling our efforts to write a how-to guide for people to have respectful political conversations. It’s nothing new or earth-shattering, but with luck, it can be a small part of the solution to the toxic partisan environment that surrounds American politics.
The world needs art. Especially art that unflinchingly holds up a mirror to us and our society. Art that nudges people to think and question and come to their own conclusions. Write about what you’re passionate about. Write with conviction. Write the truth. The pen truly is mightier than the sword.
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Jonny Eberle is a writer in Tacoma, WA. You can find him on Twitter or working on any one of a dozen writing projects. Thanks for reading.