In anticipation of the imminent inauguration of donald trump, today, Sunday, January 14th 2017, Prison Writes attended WRITERS RESIST, a ‘read in’ featuring famous authors and their writings held on the steps of the NYPL Bryant Park 42nd street branch. THANK YOU NYPL and ALL Libraries and Librarians for your commitment to the First Amendment, Freedom of Expression, and Freedom of Ideas.
The days readers included, (not necessarily in this order) Eve Ensler, artist Art Spiegelman, journalist Masha Gessen, writer Jason Reynolds, “Democracy Now!” creator and host Amy Goodman, singer songwriters Laurie Anderson and Roseanne Cash, novelist Francine Prose, and former United States Poets Laureate Rita Dove and Robert Pinsky.
Writers included Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, Harry Belafonte, James Baldwin, Leonard Cohen, Sherman Alexie, and Martin Luther King whose birthday the event not coincidentally coincided with.
“WRITERS RESIST: #LouderTogether” was organized to support the right to free expression. The rally’s primary organizer PEN America described the event as a “literary protest” to “defend free expression, reject hatred, and uphold truth in the face of lies and misinformation.”
Poet, feminist activist, and VIDA co-founder, Erin Belieu launched WRITERS RESIST to inspire a unified vision for the future of Democracy. WRITERS RESIST events were held in NYC, Houston, Austin, New Orleans, Seattle, Spokane, Los Angeles, London, Zurich, Boston, Omaha, Kansas City, Jacksonville, Madison, Milwaukee, Bloomington, Baltimore, Oakland, Tallahassee, Newport, Santa Fe, Salt Lake, and Portland (Oregon AND Maine) and many other cities.
The First Amendment, passed by Congress September 25, 1789. Ratified December 15, 1791, is as follows:
‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.’
The First Amendment and Freedom of Expression must be protected even in it’s most severe forms. This includes flag burning, which was mentioned at today’s rally. It is important because we must protect the margins, for the margins are what protects ourselves.
While the ‘donald’ believes that flag burners should loose their citizenship, even the entrenched conservative justice Scalia wrote that right is protected as free speech by our constitution, “"I mean that was the main kind of speech that tyrants would seek to suppress," he added. "Burning the flag is a form of expression -- speech doesn't just mean written words or oral words -- burning a flag is a symbol that expresses an idea.” Surprisingly, Mitch McConnell wrote a 2006 op-ed for the Central Kentucky News titled "Flag stands for freedom, even to desecrate," in which he defended the right to burn the flag.
When it comes to the First Amendment, even @realdonaldtrump has an argument against himself. In 2012 he tweeted a quote from president George Washington “Truth will ultimately prevail where there is pains to bring it to light." We certainly all hope so.
Personally, I think flags can be pretty, and I like how they can express the history and culture of a nation, but I don’t like how prone they seem to be for flying for xenophobia and oppression. But we are talking about something greater than that, which involves us all. The freedom of expression necessarily includes freedom of information. Trump is positing some type of argument against any expression against his regime. This is the beginning of the end of democracy.
Tonight, though I returned home tensed by the cold and tired from standing outside for hours, I am buoyed by today’s event. It was inspiring standing today with several thousand fellow writers in the cold on the library steps for over two hours listening to words of strength, determination and resistance read passionately by our literary leaders.
Perhaps I am mistaken, but I did not hear this poem by Martin Niemöller read today;
When the Nazis came for the communists, I remained silent; I was not a communist. When they locked up the social democrats, I remained silent; I was not a social democrat. When they came for the trade unionists, I did not speak out; I was not a trade unionist. When they came for the Jews, I remained silent; I wasn't a Jew. When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out.
What I did see, and hear, today, were thousands of concerned citizens, artists and writers coming together to reject complacency, refute normalizing or accepting trump, and rallying for human rights.
Prison Writes stands for the principal that freedom of speech is not only for the ‘free’. Prison Writes knows that ‘Prisoners Rights are Human Rights’, and the First Amendment is for ALL Americans, including, and perhaps especially, the incarcerated.
About three hours after gathering on the steps of the New York Public Library we marched to Trump Tower to deliver a petition with over 165,000 signatures expressing our desire to protect United States Citizens First Amendment Rights.