Columnist John Sheirer: ‘Voices for Resistance’ shows the power of community

  • President Donald Trump speaks at the U.S. Air Force Academy graduation Thursday, May 30, at Air Force Academy, Colo. AP photo

Published: 6/10/2019 9:04:34 AM

Writers can sometimes feel like isolated voices floating in the glow of a laptop screen. In a similar way, living through the Trump presidency has a way of making many of us ask, “Am I the only one who feels this way?”

Fortunately, living in western Massachusetts provides clear evidence that we’re not alone as writers or as people striving to make the world a better place.

A recent event served as a superb reminder of the power of community, for both writers and resisters. “Voices for Resistance: A Celebration” brought together a wonderful group of “citizen writers” at Forbes Library on June 5. Fifteen readers, all members of the area writing group Straw Dog Writers Guild, shared diverse perspectives on what it means to resist the current degradation of what we love about humanity and our nation.

Andrea Hairston got the event off to a rousing start, sparkling the room with inspiring performance poems. She contrasted the celebration of humanity with the folly of those who would wall us all off as enemies.

Chivas Sandage explored the painful irony of life going on as normal while people are tortured around the world. And she contextualized that irony within the depiction of a president so childish that he fumes when his visit to Mara Lago is ruined by rain.

Christopher J. Sparks read from intense, perceptive journal entries about desperately but purposefully searching through these dark times — literally and figuratively — to find meaning in life.

Doug Anderson’s poems brought lyrical, musical language that transformed the dehumanizing horrors of war into the surprising discovery of love in the aftermath of Vietnam.

Ilina Singh’s poems centered on her native India, a place not so different from present-day America, where fear coexists with beauty, danger with family, nightmares with dreams.

Lanette Sweeney shared a stirring elegy to help rid us of the hate and dread of the 2016 election as we move toward a far more hopeful turnaround in 2020.

Maria Luisa Arroyo read multilingual, celebratory homages to great women poets while honoring the power and accomplishments of everyday women.

Mary Warren Foulk spoke of marrying her wife in Oregon in 2004, where marriage equality was briefly legal, only to have their marriage voided by a discriminatory ballot initiative. Her poems focused on the love within her marriage despite the senseless hate of strangers. Thankfully, the couple remarried here in Massachusetts where the credo, “love is love,” has been law longer than anywhere else in the nation.

Marya Zilberberg reflected with soul-searching humor about living near her Trump-supporting neighbors, whose ignorance was emboldened by the 2016 election into an enigmatically misspelled lawn sign reading, “All Life’s Matter.”

Nicole M. Young read about how the hopes and expectations of youth are often met with the reality of inequality for those not born into privilege. Yet her voice persists, refusing to be silenced by oppression.

Patrick Donnelly read a poem of remembrance for friends who died of AIDS, and he reminded us that this terrible disease is still very much with us, mostly due to fear and discrimination.

Theresa Vincent finished the evening’s readings by reflecting on the personal tragedy of violence against women while still affirming the unity and beauty of life.

For my part, I was planning to read from my satirical novel, “Donald Trump’s Top Secret Concession Speech.” The premise is that Trump developed the tiniest fragment of a conscience as the 2016 election approached and realized he’d be a terrible president. (Yep, it’s fantasy.) Michael Moore says that humor is a key to resisting Trump, and that’s a big part of why I wrote the book. If we’re not laughing these days, we might start to cry.

But I’ve also heard that another way to resist is simply to add beauty to the world. With that in mind, I read a piece depicting one of the most beautiful events any human can experience: giving your dog a treat after she poops on a winter day. That’s a beauty undimmed by the ugliness Trump and his enablers have amplified in our world. (If you’d like some chuckles and “ahhs,” you can hear me read the piece online here: https://www.bigtablepublishing.com/voices-of-poetry-series.)

The “Voices for Resistance” event was a welcome respite from Trump’s constant assault on the aspirational American values of basic human dignity and equality. But those at the event also felt a call to action to keep resisting the authoritarianism, greed, and dehumanization that are very much central qualities of this presidency.

Best of all, the event was a reminder that, no, we are not the only ones who feel this way, whether here in western Massachusetts or across the world. Sometimes we may feel alone, but we’re definitely embraced by community. In these difficult times, we can all speak with the strength of our individual and common voices because we’re all in this together.

Straw Dog Writers Guild is a nonprofit, volunteer organization dedicated to supporting the writing community of western Massachusetts by strengthening, engaging, and connecting writers at all levels of development. The group’s website is strawdogwriters.org.

John Sheirer is an author and teacher who lives in Flore nce. His most recent book is, “Donald Trump’s Top Secret Concession Speech.” Find him at JohnSheirer.com.


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