The “promise of democracy” that Martin Luther King Jr. spoke about in his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech feels very distant today, but not just because of the controversial recent election, Daniel Evans Pritchard told a somber audience at a “counter-inauguration” hosted by a group that called itself Writers Resist.
“The president-elect’s role in this drama is small compared to the forces that put him where he is,” said Pritchard, an organizer of the event, to a packed auditorium in the Boston Public Library. “The forces that today, here, across the globe, we have come together to resist.”
Writers Resist is a network of activist writers founded in response to the election of Donald Trump as the nation’s 45th president. The writers united in concern about the preservation of democracy in light of his rhetoric and proposed policies. A protest in New York — the flagship event — was accompanied by more than 90 other protests scheduled in other cities across the country Sunday, King’s birthday. The PEN America literary association sponsored the New York event, and the New England chapter sponsored the Boston Public Library event.
“I’m a big fan of Dr. King and his work for nonviolent resistance, and kindness and compassion,” said Margaret Zamos-Monteith, who organized another Writers Resist rally in the South End. “I think the fact that so many people want to get together and celebrate our democracy through arts and literature is a success right there.”
The diverse group that performed readings at the Boston Public Library addressed issues ranging from racism and homophobia to disability activism and Planned Parenthood.
Michelle Garcia, an 18-year-old high school senior at KIPP Academy in Lynn, deftly switched between lines that were humorous and painful, slow and quick, light and deep all at once, in her poem about being “bougie.”
The word, which means acting higher than your class, is never used for white women, she said. Only women of color, like her — and her mother.
“My mother walks like God made floors for her,” said Garcia, reading from her poem in a voice that radiated a quiet power. “… Always trying to act all articulate, like she can’t pronounce everything we eat, but we eat … Her chicken won’t wear anything that ain’t Goya-imported.”
To thunderous applause, poet and UMass Boston professor Krysten Hill read aloud a poem she wrote about the helplessness she felt when witnessing a knife fight between two boys outside an Orange Line station. It was the same kind of helplessness she feels when she can’t protect her own students from violence, she said.
Urgency built in her voice as she read the poem: “Words can feel useless in a knife fight.”
Many other readers spoke with angst and defiance about the same theme of helplessness. And when society is facing such a level of uncertainty, they said, that is when the arts are the most needed.
Nicole Fleming can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.