“If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, will answer you: I am here to live out loud.” –Emile Zola
I moved through several stages of grief in the past twelve hours. Denial hung on a while, anger held court the longest, at about three am I woke up bargaining that it all be a dream, at five I woke up depressed, and at six I got up but instead of moving to acceptance, I back-peddled to anger again.
First, a quick note to my friends and family who happened to support our president-elect: This isn’t about policy—it can’t be since I have no idea what his policies are. It is about lack of character, lack of experience, an absence of respect and compassion. I am scared for my LGBTQ friends. I am worried for the economy. I am horrified for my grand-nephew Sitota whom his beautiful parents brought here from Ethiopia for a better life. I am thankful I do not have a daughter.
In fact, this is an appeal to my colleagues in the art community. There has rarely been a more important time for us to be writers and musicians. Our discouragement at watching this country move backwards into what many in the past few days have called that horrific term “Melting Pot” instead of forward into a multi-cultural society must be met by our abilities to give voice to our frustration.
It has always been the task of the artist to expose inequity, injustice, and fascist tendencies. It was Thomas Paine whose small seditious book Common Sense instilled in the citizens of the colonies the ability to move forward; it was David Walker who called upon his Black brethren to resist; it was Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience; it was Ida Tarbell and Carl Sandburg. It was the writings of John Stuart Mill, and Richard Wright. It was the writings of Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan.
It was, it is, the poets.
President John F Kennedy said, “When power leads man toward arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the area of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses.”
Some have suggested that one voice doesn’t weigh much anymore in a world of a million sound bites. However, there has never been such a thing as a spontaneous chorus. The artist, despite his isolation, has it in his or her power to put voice to what others wish to say but cannot, but once they hear it said, sing along with the harmony of their generation. Ginsberg wrote, “Poetry is the outlet for people to say in public what is known in private.” And our own Robert Frost said, “A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong.”
This is an appeal, then, to the poets and to the musicians and actors and painters to combine our talents with our grief, to blend our anxiety with our refrain, to risk exposing truth.
And what do we say, exactly?
In whatever way we can, with whatever genre we can, that we can do better than this. Simply, that we are better than this.
“We must always take sides. neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” –Elie Wiesel