Words by JaQuette Gilbert
We’re often told the squeakiest wheel gets the grease. Yet, what does this mean for writing activists? Is our writing noisy enough to be heard and to make a difference? How do we measure up with the dynamic, charismatic speakers at rallies? Or even our brothers and sisters chanting proudly at protests and marches? Clearly, their voice and presence are the “squeaky wheel” most tend to remember. There’s an undeniable power in confidently speaking out against injustice. There’s also power in large, unified gatherings.
But what about the power in the words of a solitary political essay? Or a book of poetry documenting the political unrest of the times? As writers, we may feel as if our words sometimes go unread or are easily dismissed. We may even be tempted to believe writing is too passive to create real change. I know I’ve felt this way at times.
Yet, it’s literary activists like Frederick Douglass who remind me that our words do matter. Our words can bring forth political change. Douglass’ autobiographies, My Bondage and My Freedom and Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave are living proof that our stories create ripple effects. Those ripple effects create awareness. Awareness leads to intentional action and our action leads to change. While change doesn’t always manifest as speedily as we’d like, we must persist.
Rest assured, we don’t have to be the next great orator to “get the grease”. We don’t even have to have the clout of Frederick Douglass. What we need, however, is courage and tenacity to tell our story.
I admit it’s not easy to use our pens to call out injustice. We live in a time where posting about personal political views could land you in the unemployment line or with a permanent scarlet letter upon your chest. For this reason, writing activist Jay Baron Nicorvo suggests “though it feels passive, writing is one of our most powerful forms of activism. It’s the reason authoritarians jail authors soon after they seize control” (Hutton, 2017). Through writing, we have the power to influence the perspective and beliefs of the masses.
There is more power in our pens and keystrokes than we may realize. With this power comes great responsibility. The responsibility to document the times as accurately as possible. The responsibility to stand behind our rebukes and disdain for political injustice.
The form of writing activism you pursue may look different than that of another writer. You may choose to write letters to your state representatives. Another writer may choose to write politically charged spoken word or novellas. Whatever form you choose, be confident that your words are part of the squeaky wheel that’s necessary for the upheaval of injustice in our nation and abroad.
Citation: Hutton, P. (2017). Writing as Activism: An Interview with Jay Baron Nicorvo. Retrieved from http://blog.pshares.org/index.php/writing-as-activism-an-interview-with-jay-baron-nicorvo/.
Morning Pages Writing Prompts
What does literary activism look like to you?
How can activists change the world through writing?
What type of injustice do you feel most compelled to confront? Why?
Write about a moment in which you may be afraid to write about injustice.
Describe a moment where you witnessed an act of injusti
JOIN THE MONTHLY PTW NEWSLETTER FOR UPDATES ON WRITING OPPORTUNITIES, INSIGHT ON CAREER AND CRAFT AND MUCH MORE!