Activism

(last updated 6/26/17)

It might seem strange to combine my (non-political) novels and my political activism in one site. But many people meet me through one and then become curious about the other–and they’re both, clearly, part of me.

I’ve written elsewhere about the nexus between activism and art: the habit of resistance. Another way to think about it is simply truthtelling. There’s not a lot of truthtelling in politics–but there should be. And the finest moments in our history, which almost always involve words (the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Gettysburg Address, the Second Inaugural, the I Have a Dream speech, RFK’s speech the night of MLK’s death) have been the times when politicians have, through pressure of the moment, as well as grace, told the truth.

The irony of course is that my main method of truthtelling, fiction, is by definition untrue. At the same time, if fiction contains no truth, it’s worthless; or, as Camus said, “Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.”

As my friend Marie Myung-Ok Lee and I wrote when we founded Writers for Bernie, “We believe truth should not be a rare commodity in civic life, and that both leaders and citizens have an obligation to speak the truth as they see it.” As it does for so many, my activism centers around that principle. Truthiness never should have been a thing at all, and its moment is long, long past.

Marie and I founded W4B during the 2016 primary. It was the first time I’d been actively involved in politics. When the primary was over, I began to dig into the issue of money in politics, feeling that it was a foundational problem. I began volunteering with American Promise, a national, nonprofit org working to pass a constitutional amendment declaring that corporations are not people and money is not speech–in effect, overturning Citizens United–and also with We the People Massachusetts, a group working at the state level.

I kept writing on Medium about what still mattered to me, unable to disengage from the spectacle; after the general, though, I figured I would continue in a part-time way with the fight against big money, but mainly take a breath and go back to my languishing novel.

Of course, the election didn’t go the way many of us expected. And now, in addition to the big-money struggle, I’m running an Indivisible group here in my hometown and also working with Free Speech for People on various projects to defend the Constitution.

This is not where I thought I’d be, but we are living in a uniquely urgent moment where political engagement is vitally important — but so is art, always. I’ve begun focusing on poetry, a new genre for me, feeling that I and many others need the intensity of that language and that particular mode of truthtelling. And I think almost every day of a particular Theodore Roethke poem. Like everyone, I must learn by going where I have to go.

Organizations mentioned here:

American Promise

Free Speech for People

We the People Massachusetts

Indivisible