Tuesday, March 21, 2017

10 Fabulous Reasons to Attend the 2017 DC Youth Slam Team Grand Slam Finals!

Each year, through a series of poetry slams held throughout the city, Split This Rock selects a team of youth between the ages of 13 and 19 to serve as ambassadors for Split This Rock and the DC metro area as part of the DC Youth Slam Team (DCYST). Members of the DCYST are coached on writing and performance; speak out on social issues; serve as leaders within Split This Rock Youth Programs; participate in youth poetry gatherings such as Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam Festival (BNV) where the team took 1st place in 2014; and travel to perform regionally, nationally, and periodically abroad. 

Find out which five brilliant youth poets will be on this year’s DC Youth Slam Team! Join us for the 2017 Grand Slam Finals, this Saturday, March 25, 2017, 7-9 pm at the Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater (1101 6th St SW, Washington, DC). Tickets are $15 in advance, $20 at the door, and $5 for youth 18 and under. Group sales are available. Buy your tickets online today!

Need some convincing to attend? Here are 10 fabulous reasons! Plus, videos from past events like BNV to get you energized for Saturday!


1. Get your hope renewed by the deep wisdom of youth poets!



In the face of a 24 hour news cycle that often leaves us feeling dismayed, distraught, and down-right in despair, the poetry of DC’s young people is a burst of energy, fresh perspective, and hope. Upon hearing their powerful and socially engaged poetry, one thing becomes clear: these youth are not the leaders of the future, they are leading us today into a more equitable, peaceful, and poetic world. Check out Malachi Byrd and Thomas Hill performing Columbusing at Brave New Voices in 2014 to see what we mean! 


2. Help sustain the DCYST as it amplifies youth voices!



Split This Rock’s DC Youth Slam Team provides a space for youth to break through barriers and build their confidence by performing in front of audiences of their peers, the greater DC community, and beyond. Split This Rock Youth Programs provide young people the opportunity to travel nationally and internationally to perform their poetry and spread their messages of hope and resilience. Even when youth perform here in our local community, their words have a far greater reach through performance videos posted online, with thousands of views. The video above by 2013 team, which went viral, has close to two million views! Be among the thousands to be deeply moved by the necessary words of our youth!


3. Find out who'll represent DC at Brave New Voices!



Each summer, the DC Youth Slam Team has the opportunity to travel and participate in poetry slams and open mics, including the Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Festival. Annually, Brave New Voices convenes outstanding youth poets from around the world for 5 days of workshops, showcases, community service, civic participation, and a series of poetry slams culminating in one team of youth poets being crowned  the champions. In 2014, the DCYST took 1st place (see video above of one of their performances at BNV finals). Last year’s Brave New Voices was hosted right here in DC and youth had the opportunity to perform onstage at the Kennedy Center. Come cheer on all the outstanding youth as we find out who'll be selected for the 2017 team and participate in Brave New Voices this summer in the Bay Area.


4. Affirm youth by listening to their experiences and perspectives!



Whether its celebrating culture and community, recounting trauma and healing, naming injustice, professing love, or commentary on Kim K's cornrows as in the video above of 2016 DCYST members, the poetry that youth write and perform onstage takes incredible courage and vulnerability to share with an audience. When a young person writes a poem, practices performing it, and then shares it during a slam, we witness youth empowerment. The slam becomes less about competition and more about the courage it takes to get on stage and speak truth. Come be part of an audience of people reflecting back to the youth onstage that their voices and their perspectives matter!


5. Resist the proposed cuts to arts funding by investing in your local art scene!



Agencies, such as the National Endowment for the Arts, that are being threatened make programs like Split This Rock’s DC Youth Slam Team possible. Freedom of expression is a fundamental right that we value at Split This Rock. Through youth programs, like the DC Youth Slam Team, we witness the power of youth expression to transform the culture of  classrooms, schools, communities, and young people themselves. Lauren May, for instance in the video above often tells us poetry saved her life. Attend and stand with us!


6. Get the teens in your life inspired!



Are you a parent, guardian, auntie, cousin, teacher, youth worker, mentor, coach, or anyone else who works with and cares about young people? Then come and bring a young person along (or a whole group!) to watch their peers perform and get excited about the power of the written and spoken word! Show them that poetry can be fun, like the video above of Morgan Butler and Malachi Byrd. Attending Finals is a great way to inspire the teens in our community and demonstrate to youth that their perspectives, experiences, and struggles matter! Youth group sales are available! Contact Chelsea at chelsea@splitthisrock.org! (Be aware, however, that this event offers space for youth to exercise free speech. Poems shared by youth poets may include profanity and sensitive subjects.)


7. Support youth efforts of resistance!



The youth on the DC Youth Slam Team are aware of and connected to many of the social, economic, and political challenges that adults are discussing each day. Whether it’s funding cuts at schools, street harassment, or the political climate of the nation’s capital, youth are taking part in the resistance and by supporting them and their poetry, we too resist! Give a listen to 2017 DC Youth Slam Team Finals participant Kenny Carroll in the video above for an example.


8. Shatter your misconceptions of youth!



Stereotypes work against all of us, and when it comes to young people, many adults think of teens as being preoccupied only with cell phones and selfies, school crushes and social media. DC Youth Slam Team Finals will introduce any adults led astray by these misconceptions to what’s really going on in the minds and lives of DC's young people, such as Nesha Ruther in the video above. From reclaiming the power of a selfie as an act of self-love, to speaking with wisdom and insight on surviving trauma, these youth prove to us that they have their own voices and the ability to speak for themselves. Let’s support them by showing up!


9. Be part of a youth-led movement of love, acceptance, and empowerment!



Through their poetry, youth invite us into their dreams and visions for themselves, their communities, and the future. Together, these youth poets are leading a movement that includes everyone, where there is space for everyone to be accepted and to thrive. Connecting to the DC Youth Slam Team and Split This Rock Youth Programs helps them build a sense of community and family among their peers. Come feel the love! Prepare for all the goodness by listening to what Amina Fatima has to say above.


10. Get engaged with a community imagining a new world!



Whether you are a poet or not, everyone has the ability to be creative and engage in generating new ideas, new solutions, and new ways of connecting. Attending the 2017 DC Youth Slam Team Grand Slam Finals is an incredible way to join with others and revive your own sense of possibility. Hearing these youth share their cultural, familial, and community experiences -- like Amina Iro and Hannah Halpern in the video above -- helps us build bridges across difference. Feel the transformative power of poetry yourself as we cheer them along and leave with new understandings, deeper compassion, and revived determination to work for change!



Thursday, February 23, 2017

Haiku Postcards - AWP 2017


This is an image of the Haiku postcard -- it features 3 poets. Then Split This Rock's logo

Split This Rock was in full force at the Associated Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) Conference in Washington, DC, February 8-11, 2017. This year's conference was jammed pack with poetic resistance and one of our favorite highlights is the Haiku postcards, inviting attendees to send messages to the President or their representatives. We're sharing some of our favorites here.

HAIKU

it is beautiful
but it is just too damn cold
help them find their warmth

-- anonymous

Mom, I say, Please don't
leaves fall slower than my hope
Another let down

--anonymous

HAIKU TO PRESIDENT TRUMP

Oregon is real dope
Try not to ruin Portland
Save the arts alright

-- Will Schweinfurth

Words of history,
cold on the page, flare in the
flame of burning books

-- Virginia Gilbert

Mr. President
You depend on our silence
I have some bad news

-- anonymous

Hey Donald J. Trump
Help us save our grandchildren
Climate change is real

-- anonymous

this land was never
yours. Didn't your mother teach
you better than that?

-- anonymous

DeVostation comes
to publicize education.
Come on! Grow a spine!

-- anonymous

The earth is dying
My body is no longer mine
Not one of you care

-- a student afraid for the future

I wonder if
you've sat down
to eat at a
Persian Restaurant
ate Lebanese food --
Heard poetry from that world?

-- anonymous

I dislike you. Please
Do not do anything ever.
Eat Mexican food.

-- anonymous

How long will my gay
marriage last? forever is
relative these days.

-- anonymous

Gentle, angry -- we
Life up. Fists, hearts. And justice,
Holds us. Does not die.

-- Brook Petersen

Save us from today
Help us stand for peace and love
We did not choose this

-- anonymous

Orange ogres are not
fit to decide who should get
rights and who should not

-- Alex Carrigan

History and glass
capitol like the country
yes, it can be broken

-- RJ Hazard

HAIKU TO REPRESENTATIVES

To Congressman Earl Blumenaur

This is a shit show
How can we get to that point
Four years is so far

-- Kole Nakamore

To Congressman Tom McClintock

The Cabinet
Before spring blooms
Our land has seen such darkness
Facism is a slippery slope

To Attorney General

This fox, in his suit
Will be the one to assume
No hens face injustice

-- Robin Martin

Sunday, February 19, 2017

We should have truth processions, we should have poetics of truth

photo by Val Neiman
On Saturday, February 11, 2017, over 1,000 writers gathered in Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House, to speak out for free expression.

Split This Rock and a number of hard-working individuals joined together to organize the vigil to coincide with the annual conference of the Associated Writers and Writing Programs (AWP), which brought thousands of writers to the nation's capital. Thirty organizations cosponsored, spreading the word and helping writers gather at this time of intense threat to our basic human rights, of which freedom of expression is one of the most fundamental.

Split This Rock is publishing the statements of those who spoke, Kazim Ali, Gabrielle Bellot, Melissa Febos, Carolyn Forché, Sanaz Fotouhi, Ross Gay, Luis J. Rodriguez, and Eric Sasson.

Statement by Luis J. Rodriguez for the Candlelight Vigil at the White House, February 11, 2017


photo by Kelly Thompson
I’m here as a poet, also a journalist and a fiction writer. I do all genres. But I’m also here as a Native person. I say this because we are all standing with Standing Rock. We’ve all been standing together for the water, for the land, and for Native voices to be heard.

Yes, I’m a Mexican but I’m not an immigrant. My mother had roots with the Tarahumara tribe from the state of Chihuahua, Mexico. A tribe aligned to the Hopi, Shoshone, the Paiute, all the way down to the Mexika, to the Pipil of El Salvador. We are all tied together.

I’m an anchor baby, by the way, and proud of it.

When my mother went from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico to have me born across the border in El Paso, Texas, we went from our land to our land.

Still Native peoples have never said other people don’t belong here. We’ve never said other people shouldn’t be here. This land is for everybody. No matter what you are, you belong here. You all belong. And when we're seeing that poison coming up from the White House, that poison from our history that includes white supremacy, misogyny, xenophobia, gay hatred, the hatred of people who are different, it's coming up against what?

Us!

We're the antidote! We're the medicine for that poison.

Native peoples see everything connected. We see how we are actually one. My peoples have a saying when they greet each other, Kwira Va. This means “we are one.” That’s who we are. One people.

When they say, "Well, I love my country," that's fine. I love my country. But I love the world more! It's more important that the world be safe. It's more important the world have clean air and no more poisons. It’s more important that there be no more war, no more poverty. It’s more important that the whole world be a place where everyone feels “we’re human beings.”

If the world is safe, peaceful, just, clean, that also include us!

Mother Earth accepts everything, all our footsteps, where everybody belongs. It doesn’t matter if you’re gay. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been to prison. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been a heroin addict. The Earth doesn’t care about that. The Earth holds you. That’s what we want, a world that holds all of us.

So let’s be for the world first—where everybody on earth matters.

One of the big antidotes is truth. The first thing that anti-democratic forces do, that fascists do, is change the idea of truth—that there is no truth and only their truth matters. Well truth now is revolutionary. Now to be about truth means you have to be about a subversive act. Isn't that great? Let’s do it. Truth is our cause, we should have truth processions. We should have poetics of truth. We should have acts of truth and acts of beauty everywhere! That is freedom of expression to me! That is what free speech is—where everybody becomes creative and imaginative.

And it’s not just Trump we have to deal with. It’s a whole political and economic system that is behind him, including people who have no imaginations. They’re caught in their own poisons.

But as the antidote and the medicine and the truth, we must be more creative and imaginative than ever. This is the time to reach out. Even with all our differences, and all our struggles, we all are united now. We are all one struggle, one cause, one battle—a world for the few or for everyone.

We must never be divided again.

I want to end with one thing. I come from a beautiful community, the second largest Mexican and Central American community in the US: the Northeast San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles. We have a great cultural center there my wife Trini and I started 16 years ago called Tia Chucha’s Cultural Center & Bookstore. We also have a beautiful press, Tia Chucha Press, which I’ve been doing for 28 years.

But that community is under siege right now. For the past two days, ICE has been raiding this community and deporting people. Again the Native people are now the foreigners, the strangers, and the “illegals.” Everything has been turned on its head. We have to put things back right. We’re going to do everything we can for this community.

What’s beautiful is that this is not just my cause, it’s not just the cause of a few of us—this is our cause. Just like all these causes are ours. Rights for the LGBTQ community is our cause. Standing Rock is our cause. And whenever a working class person cannot get paid properly that’s our cause.

So every writer therefore has to now do acts of beauty and acts of truth. Write, write, write, tell the truth, write for the truth, and never let anyone tell you that lies are “the truth.” We know the truth. Nobody has to pull the wool over our eyes. We see it everyday and I see it in your eyes. You are the truth. Stand up for who you are. Because you’re the truth that’s going to be the medicine for all the poison rising out of the White House, throughout this country, and from the capitalist system. Thank you all, brothers and sisters.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

We have known bravery, we have known fury

photo by Kim Liao
On Saturday, February 11, 2017, over 1,000 writers gathered in Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House, to speak out for free expression.

Split This Rock and a number of hard-working individuals joined together to organize the vigil to coincide with the annual conference of the Associated Writers and Writing Programs (AWP), which brought thousands of writers to the nation's capital. Thirty organizations cosponsored, spreading the word and helping writers gather at this time of intense threat to our basic human rights, of which freedom of expression is one of the most fundamental.

Split This Rock is publishing the statements of those who spoke, Kazim Ali, Gabrielle Bellot, Melissa Febos, Carolyn Forché, Sanaz Fotouhi, Ross Gay, Luis J. Rodriguez, and Eric Sasson.

Statement by Kazim Ali for the Candlelight Vigil at the White House, February 11, 2017

Hello, DC, hello! I LOVE YOU! Listen, we are here under the cold cold sky, this beautiful dark sky—yes the world is still BEAUTIFUL!! We might be feeling cold, but our hearts are warm. We are not afraid. We’ve been here before. We have known loneliness, we have known fear, degradation, we have known bravery, we have known fury.

Listen, I am a Queer Muslim in the United States of America, I know something about being hated by those in power. We are writers. From the beginning we have been building our lives from the ground up. And we have been building a world by telling the truths of our lives and the lives of others. We act with love, with honor, and most of all, with hope.

photo by Kelly Thompson

In these days we must all hope more, live more, write more, kiss more, pray more, make love more!

As great poet-saint Adrienne Rich said—hey, let’s put Adrienne Rick on the ten-dollar-bill!—Adrienne Rich wrote, “Art means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of the power which holds it hostage.”

We know art is for more, poetry is for more. We know our role is to open our mouths and speak the truth. Yannis Ritsos did it, Mahmoud Darwish did it, Lucille Clifton did it, Carolyn Forché did it—and Lorde and Baraka and Pat Parker and Marilyn Chin and Solmaz Sharif and Natalie Diaz and Layli Long Soldier. These poets are among us, they are not statues in a gallery but among us now, writing and living…

These are the roads we must travel now. We must speak up for those who are silenced and we must speak up about the deep truths of our own hearts; after all the great poet-saint Stanley Kunitz taught us that to recount the joys of being alive as a beautiful human is itself political.

I want to quote to you just briefly from the wonderful essay “Poetry and Commitment” by Adrienne Rich. She wrote here, “In my lifetime I’ve seen the breakdown of rights and citizenship where ordinary ‘everybodies,’ poets or not, have left politics to a political class bent on shoveling the elemental resources, the public commons of the entire world into private control. Where democracy has been left to the raiding of ‘acknowledged’ legislators, the highest bidders. In short, to a criminal element.”

Rich goes on to say, “We often here that—by contract with, say, Nigeria, or Egypt, China or the former Soviet Union—the West doesn’t imprison dissident writers. But when a nation’s criminal justice system imprisons so many—often on tawdry evidence and botched due process—to be tortured in maximum security units or on death row, overwhelmingly because of color and class, it is in effect—and intention—silencing potential and actual writers, intellectuals, artists, journalists: a whole intelligentsia. The internationally known case of Mumia Abu-Jamal is emblematic but hardly unique. The methods of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo have long been practiced in the prisons and policing of the United States.”

This essay was published more than ten years ago! We have a LOT of work to do!

We must speak truth to power. We must not be intimidated. We must stand up for each other and with each other.

“The poet is a citizen first,” said Yannis Ritsos.

“You who appear at our doorway, come in, have Arabic coffee with us, you will see you are men just like us,” wrote Mahmoud Darwish.

“Some of the ears caught this scrap of his voice,” wrote Carolyn Forché. “Some of the ears were pressed to the ground.”

We hear the scraps of your voice Mister so-called President! Our ears are pressed to the ground! And soon, very soon, you will hear us!

In the end, Ms. Lucille Clifton said it the best:


won't you celebrate with me

what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.


"won’t you come celebrate with me" from The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965-2010, copyright 2012 by "The Estate of Lucille T. Clifton," reprinted courtesy of BOA Editions, Ltd., www.boaeditions.org. More on this essential collection on the BOA website.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

A world in which I can have the freedom of speech to state my dream is the first step to making it come true

photo by Meagan Jones

On Saturday, February 11, 2017, over 1,000 writers gathered in Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House, to speak out for free expression.

Split This Rock and a number of hard-working individuals joined together to organize the vigil to coincide with the annual conference of the Associated Writers and Writing Programs (AWP), which brought thousands of writers to the nation's capital. Thirty organizations cosponsored, spreading the word and helping writers gather at this time of intense threat to our basic human rights, of which freedom of expression is one of the most fundamental.

Split This Rock is publishing the statements of those who spoke, Kazim Ali, Gabrielle Bellot, Melissa Febos, Carolyn Forché, Sanaz Fotouhi, Ross Gay, Luis J. Rodriguez, and Eric Sasson. We continue today with Gabrielle Bellot, who calls us to imagine and recognize her place in the United States as a Black trans woman.


Statement by Gabrielle Bellot for the Candlelight Vigil at the White House, February 11, 2017

photo by Jessica Kramer
I have a dream--a dream similar to the grand dream a man dreamt before me, a dream that seems black next to a house so white. I dream that one day, not only will a black man have been president--again--but that a black woman who is trans can be president. Imagine an America like that, an America where it would be possible to elect not simply a woman but a woman of colour--and, most of all, a trans woman like me. America, I used to believe, like so many immigrants, was a place where it was at least possible to be yourself, regardless of what that was.

But that man’s dream, to some degree, has come true. Why hasn't my dream come true? How do we turn dream into non-dream? 'It comes as a great shock,' James Baldwin said in his 1965 debate against William F. Buckley, 'to discover that the flag to which you have pledged allegiance...has not pledged allegiance to you.'

An America where such a thing, a trans girl becoming president, could even be possible--where we would not shrug it off as an impossible imposition, where a young trans girl could truly believe she could win--what a world that would be. As a trans girl who lost her home in one country after coming out, who has been disowned and re-owned and disinherited and told I am an abomination against a god I do not believe in anymore, it's hard to believe in dreams sometimes.

But I refuse to give up on that dream. I will never give up on it because a world in which I can have the freedom of speech to state my dream is the first step to making it come true.

But there is a man, whose name we all know, who does not quite like dreams.

A man who wishes to open up the libel laws, so that we cannot truly say what we want. A man who, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, did not remember the Holocaust. A man who, at the start of Black History Month, spoke more about 'fake news' than black history and whose Vice President praised Abraham Lincoln instead of any black American.

Frederick Douglass famously asked what the 4th of July could mean to an American Negro--and what it means to him is a world apart from what it means to Donald Trump. That Donald Trump does not know this is the problem. Ralph Ellison was not wrong when he said in 1970 that America would not be America without those of us who are black; America has always been defined by race.

We need to stop acting as if it is NORMAL after the Second World War for NAZIS to tell the leader of a country what to do. We need to obstruct the appointment of politicians who want to take this country back to the days before integration. We need to stop acting like Trump even knows that the treaty of Tripoli says America was NOT founded on Christianity and that Muslims are welcome and that this treaty was with one of the very countries Trump has banned; but Trump does not even know what Tripoli is because, as his ghostwriter tells us, he does not read, virtually cannot read.

How sad to say this when some of our powerful Muslim writers are not here tonight simply due to their nationalities.

But we live in a country where many voters believe the real news is fake and the fake news is real. A world where a hateful troll like Milo Yiannopoulos is given a book deal on the grounds of free speech by the same company that refused to publish American Psycho on the grounds of 'decency.' We live in a world where our politicians tell us now to abandon the spectre they call identity politics--when ALL politics is based on identity, when we NEED representation and rights.

I believe in freedom of speech. In allowing many voices to speak--even those I disagree with. All the same, we can build a better America, where hate speech is heard less and less not because it is banned but because we have taught those around us WHY it is hateful. I do not believe in banning; I believe in making change so that people CHOOSE to do what is right.

But I'm also tired. I am tired of being told not to talk about slavery, when slavery is the very foundation of many of our current inequalities--even going beyond racial lines. I am tired of being told by Bill Maher that my right to use a fucking restroom is a 'boutique issue.' I am tired of being told by the very person Simon and Schuster gave a deal that I am a danger to cis people simply by virtue of being trans.

I truly believe in love. I want to work together with people to make a world where we have to dream less--no matter their skin colour, no matter their gender or race or even their political affiliation. We need unity, not segregation, more now than ever if we are going to win back our freedoms.

I may call for fighting but I am a lover at heart because I believe that is what makes us the most human of all.

I believe in fighting for our freedom to write and speak. As a queer trans woman of colour who is an immigrant and a dual citizen of this nation, I stand by this house and I say, on the one hand: FUCK YOU. But on the other--once I've gotten that off my chest--I say: now, let us begin to turn our dreams into reality.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

When the administration demonizes any one of us, it demonizes all of us

photo by Kierstin Bridger
On Saturday, February 11, 2017, over 1,000 writers gathered in Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House, to speak out for free expression.

Split This Rock and a number of hard-working individuals joined together to organize the vigil to coincide with the annual conference of the Associated Writers and Writing Programs (AWP), which brought thousands of writers to the nation's capital. Thirty organizations cosponsored, spreading the word and helping writers gather at this time of intense threat to our basic human rights, of which freedom of expression is one of the most fundamental.

Split This Rock is publishing the statements of those who spoke, Kazim Ali, Gabrielle Bellot, Melissa Febos, Carolyn Forché, Ross Gay, Luis J. Rodriguez, and Eric Sasson. Below we present Eric Sasson, who spoke first, welcoming and thanking participants and organizers, while reminding us of what is most precious in our creative lives.

Statement by Eric Sasson for the Candlelight Vigil at the White House, February 11, 2017

Thank you all for coming. You have no idea how much joy I feel to see so many people here in front of me, especially considering how this event got started.

Back on December 14th, I posted a Facebook event page and invited about 400 of my writer friends to what I think I called “An AWP anti-Trump rally.” I had no idea what I was doing. I only knew that all of us were gathering in D.C. in February, and I couldn't imagine 10,000 writers staying silent in the face of what is looking more and more like an authoritarian regime with each passing day. I was shouting into the void, hoping someone would hear me. I said I didn't really know how to organize anything, beyond maybe a pretty decent Oscar party.

Luckily, people did hear me. People like Dana Cann, who worked through the grueling process of securing a location and permit for this vigil. People like Daniel Hoyt, who came up with the idea of a candlelight vigil for free speech and who was always ready to do everything, including purchase the candles many of you are holding right now. People like Sarah Browning, the executive director of Split This Rock, with her incredible network of connections and tremendous organizing skills, without which this crowd would never be as large as it is now. People like Sequoia Nagamatsu, who helped design our postcard. Simone Roberts, who helped secure the sound system. Julie Carr, who helped secure the funds and create the signs many of you are holding.

And of course, all the speakers you are about to hear: Kazim Ali, Gabrielle Bellot, Melissa Febos, Carolyn Forché, Ross Gay, and Luis J. Rodriguez, who generously offered their time to share a few words with us.

I am grateful to these people, as well as to the cosponsors who signed on and spread the word about this event. We have so many cosponsors—way more than we could have ever hoped for—that I can't name them all. I am grateful because all of you have helped me realize that I am not alone in my horror and fear. As a gay man, as a Jew, as a journalist, I am fearful for our country and what the next four years might bring.

But all of you make me realize that I do not need to succumb to my fear. You make me realize that I am not powerless, that together our voices can be heard and we can make a difference. That we as a community of writers have a specific duty to stand up and speak, especially for those who are marginalized and oppressed and might be targeted under the new regime.

I'm going to let the others get into more detail about that but what I want to talk about tonight is despair. Some of you might have felt despair these past few months. I know quite a few writers who have told me they haven't been able to get any work done since the election, that they've been so consumed by all the horrifying stories in the news that it's been impossible to concentrate on their work. It feels selfish, somehow, to work on a historical novel, or a collection of interrelated short stories, or your next book of poetry, in the face of the real world terror that is constantly surrounding us.

But I want you to not punish yourself for doing what you do. More than ever, you need to embrace your freedom to express yourself however that freedom manifests itself, and never be ashamed of your voice and your story. Some of you might find yourself called to writing more non-fiction. Some of you might find dystopic visions creeping into your creative worlds. Many of you will continue to work on exactly what it is you are working on now.

And that is the point. Every story, every poem, every essay matters. Every time you express yourself you must view it as an act of resistance against a world which seeks to silence or marginalize you. It is not your obligation to write about anything in particular. To quote E.B. White, “A writer has the duty to be good, not lousy; true, not false. Lively, not dull. Accurate; not full of error. Writers do no merely reflect and interpret life, they inform and shape it.”

We writers are the custodians of history. Through our words, we hold up a mirror to our society, so that it can view itself in all its glory and shame. We are here to shine light on what is meaningful, framing for our readers what matters in the world, but also why it matters. When we stay true to these responsibilities, we hold our freedom of expression sacred.

This freedom is the most sacred freedom. As George Washington said, “If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent may we be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” But we will not be dumb and silent. We are going to use our voices collectively to stand up to this regime, each and every day. We will not let any attacks go unanswered, not on Muslims, or people in the LGBTQ community, or people of color, or immigrants of any background or status, or Indigenous people, or Jews, or people with disabilities, or any community that rightfully should take pride in its identity.

Look around you: we are those people. When the administration demonizes any one of us, it demonizes all of us. When it tries to pit communities against one another, we will stand together more firmly, more united.

So do not give in to despair. Look at the next few years of your life as an opportunity to stand up for your values in a way you may have never been called on to do before. Embrace this challenge to give your voice and your words more power and more purpose. Our voices matter even more now that our country is under siege. Truth is under siege, and it is up to us to serve as reminders of that truth. By doing so, we are doing nothing less than preserving one of the foundations of our democracy.

Again, thank you so much for coming. I couldn't have imagined a better way to celebrate the end of AWP.

There is already mercy in you, to be given, to find

photo by  Mai Der Vang

On Saturday, February 11, 2017, over 1,000 writers gathered in Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House, to speak out for free expression.

Split This Rock and a number of hard-working individuals joined together to organize the vigil to coincide with the annual conference of the Associated Writers and Writing Programs (AWP), which brought thousands of writers to the nation's capital. Thirty organizations cosponsored, spreading the word and helping writers gather at this time of intense threat to our basic human rights, of which freedom of expression is one of the most fundamental.

Split This Rock is publishing the statements of those who spoke, Kazim Ali, Gabrielle Bellot, Melissa Febos, Carolyn Forché, Ross Gay, Luis J. Rodriguez, and Eric Sasson. Today we bring you Melissa Febos and her rousing call to love and action.

Statement by Melissa Febos for the Candlelight Vigil at the White House, February 11, 2017

When I was asked to speak here, my first thought was, free speech, yes. But “candlelight vigil”? That sounds like a funeral for free speech, or a prayer circle. And while I believe in the power and necessity of both funerals and prayer, neither fits my mood so far under this administration. I don’t really feel like lighting a candle unless that candle is intended to burn the house down.

But then I looked up what vigil was. Here’s what I found: “a period of keeping awake during the time usually spent asleep.”

That sounded exactly right to me. Because awake as I have always believed myself to be, I also know that I’ve spent more time sleeping than I can now afford.

When I woke up on November 9th, I felt powerless. I felt naïve. I felt like I wanted to call up Obama, or my mother, or God, and cry mercy. And say: "This is more than we can handle. It is even bigger than we thought. I have already been fighting. I am already tired. If what I have been doing is not enough, then I am not enough." That morning, I whispered what I have always whispered when I cry: “I want to go home.” This has never been a longing for a place, at least not any place outside of this body. It has been a wish to find a home in my own body, something on which to brace myself as I move through a world that often hates such bodies.

But I didn’t call my mom, or Obama, or God. Or at least, none of them picked up. And then I remembered that I am a fucking adult. A grown woman, whom, though not always at home in her body or in this world, still has access to resources, and language, and more safety than the vast majority of humans on this desecrated planet.

Mercy has never come to me through any man, or my mother, or even God. It has come to me over and over and over in the hands and mouths and hearts of other people. It has risen from my own hands, and throat and heart.

So, I stopped crying. Because I am a writer and a teacher and a feminist and a fighter, and it not anyone else’s job to rescue me. I don’t need rescuing.

What I mean is, I have already been lucky enough to find the ways that I can be most useful in the world. I am not a politician or a political scientist. I am not a journalist, and I do not form fast opinions. I change my mind a lot. I have no desire to police the manner in which other people respond to their fear.

But I know the power of a person’s story. I know the power of mine. I know how to raise my voice, and, even more importantly, how to amplify and listen to those of others. I know that my own tender parts are also my strongest.

Part of my fear on Nov 9th was that the ways I found of speaking freely might be trivialized by what is happening, and will likely keep happening.

But I don’t think that is true.

You don’t have to be Van Jones, or Ta-Nehisi Coates, or Chimamanda Adichie or Charles Blow. You don’t have to be an expert at anything other than what you already are. There is already mercy in you, to be given, to find. The thing is not to become something else, it is to bring what you are into greater service to this resistance.

If that is make phone calls, make phone calls. If that is marching, you fucking march. And if that is writing the stories of humans, including your own, then that is what you must do. That is the knife you must sharpen and use to carve a way for all of us through this nightmare.

If I have learned anything in my life, it is that I can walk through fear, I can work through fear, and sometimes, I can borrow its power for my own.

I’m here on behalf of some organizations that are doing this work – VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, and PEN America. If you are not sure where to start, or where to continue, and you want to join me in working with them, ask me how, or just join PEN America to fight censorship, protect persecuted writers, and defend free expression.

And come to VIDA’s dance party/fundraiser tonight. Because I’m also here to tell you, that yes, dancing is a part of every revolution. And that denying your own joy does not deliver it to anyone else. It only deprives you before they even get a chance to.

So, go ahead and feel afraid if you are afraid. Feel hopeless if you do. Now is “a period of keeping awake during the time usually spent asleep.” Don’t go to sleep, and don’t stop using your words. It isn’t trivial; it is more important than ever. This vigil isn't going to end when we blow these candles out.