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The resistance: Everything old is new again

By , For , On 12 January 2017, Read Original
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Sometimes fighting for something beautiful is more important than fighting against something

ugly.

 
 
 
   JAN 11, 2017 4 PM
 
 

Dream of resistance.Dream of resistance.Resistance.

Think about that for a moment. What does it mean to resist?

"It's about courage, it's not about fear. It's about human rights; it's not about Trump," Sarah Lain says.

On this, she is crystal clear: When Peter Meinke, Gloria Muñoz, Helen Wallace, Jay Hopler, Hassan Shibly and a team of other eminently talented and well-spoken artists gather at Sunday's Writers Resist in south St. Pete, they're not going to talk about the president-elect. While other protests include the angry and the scared, this resistance looks different. Instead, it looks like...

A dream.

Which may seem not quite right, given the fears some have about the PEOTUS. But Lain and her crew focus on a man bigger than Trump: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Everyone knows — or should — King's "I Have a Dream" speech, but probably at least a few people don't realize it was part of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. There's a reason, Lain says, that people remember the speech.

"What is it about a dream that lasts through so many years, and why do we go back to that every single year? Why are people so enamored with this idea of a dream? I think when you get to times of serious human rights violations and you can see the dichotomy of worlds around you on a daily basis, you begin to realize the necessity of what it means to imagine. Can you imagine — are you capable of imagining a world that you actually do believe in? What does that look like?" she says.

Because it speaks to beauty rather than fear.

"The reason Dr. King's speech was so powerful is because he did articulate that. He wasn't speaking against, against, against — he was speaking for. The reason that people — all people — can get behind that protest is that he's saying, 'this is a beautiful world; can you see this? Can you see all these people together? What does that look like? Can you smell it, can you taste it, can you touch it?"

That may not sound like much, but that, she says, "is an act of protest." It's what Dr. King did, and it's what, on his birthday Sunday afternoon, Writers Resist will do again.

Writers Resist focuses on human rights, not any one person, and they're bringing some heavy hitters to do just that, including the head of the Council of American Islamic Relations and Florida's poet laureate. In New York, former US Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky and journalist Moustafa Bayoumi will speak.

But, wait — it's not about Trump? Organizer Erin Belieu announced the international event after the elections, and in the CL office, this caused some hot debate about whether the event really was about President-elect Trump. One of our freelancers had written about the event, suggesting that it was about writers coming together to "vent Trump fear," causing Lain and her colleagues no small amount of consternation.

"I've been doing this for five years," she says. "Yes, I understand this happened in the aftermath of the election, but these types of protests have been going on for years. We have to become more creative about the way we promote human rights. It was happening before he was elected. I was at the Trayvon Martin protest in 2012."

She's weary of the traditional protest.

"I've been at all of these protests and I've been speaking against against against for five years. You can only do so much speaking against before you say OK, well, what is it that I'm really for? What is the world that I do believe in? What does it look like? We can't just write the same things on the signs year after year after year. We have to find a new language that somehow gets at the truth of what we see in the world."

"This is not a place to come and listen to people bitch about Trump; it's a place to hear talented artists talk about how they resist," Lain says as she comes around to my side of the table to show the phrasing on writersresist.org: "the only thing we 'resist' is that which attacks or seeks to undermine those most basic principles of freedom and justice for all."

Her hope is to affect policy change.

"How can we bring together various groups in such a way to catch the attention of those who are making policy, who are writing policy, who are funding policy?"

Dealing with anger, she knows, is part of it, and then she explains a Buddhist concept:

"People who want things to be normal have a resistance to fear, a resistance to anger. Maybe there's a place for it, but maybe we can sit with [our anger] rather than act on it. Maybe we can sit with it until it feels safe, and then move forward," she says.

It's at this point in our conversation that a woman, speaking in a foreign accent, approaches us.

"Excuse me," she says. "I want you to know, Trump is the best thing that ever happened to this country. I'm an immigrant and I say that."

We thank her and she gets into a car and leaves. Lain turns to me and smiles.

"I want her to feel comfortable at this event. When there's so much divisiveness that people don't want to listen anymore, that's where we have a problem. If I can't look at somebody who thinks differently than I do and say 'you are welcome here,' then all I'm doing is speaking to people who think like me. When you have an open forum where people speak... you realize that maybe your experience isn't the only experience in the world.

"There's a great deal of alienation and the last thing I want to do is alienate people who don't think like me. What I hope to do is create a forum that's open enough that we can all hear each other. All people are welcome. The fact that the head of the Council of American Islamic Relations, Hassan Shibley, is welcome and speaking at a progressive Baptist church should speak volumes to what this event is about," she says.

"We make space for each other."

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