His presidency is a week away, but when Donald Trump walks into the White House, an avalanche of social justice advocates and activists will already be organized to oppose him.
Now, a somewhat quieter group is throwing their efforts into the coalitions against Trump: the writers of Philadelphia.
“Writers are the ultimate witnesses,” said Nathaniel Popkin, a local writer and novelist, who is helping to organize “Philadelphia Writers Resist,” a gathering scheduled for Sunday. “We had better start speaking up.”
Writers Resist is an international movement founded by PEN America, and writers will be joining together in cities across the country on Sunday to speak up for “the First Amendment, for dignity and truth” under a presidency that some fear could erode the right to free speech, Popkin said.
“Writers write the text that transforms thoughts and idea and vision into reality,” he said. “Traditionally, in every society, writers have stepped forward as beacons of progressive ideas. That’s what is happening now. There's an awakening. Writers feel a responsibility, because their life exists in public, to take a stand.”
More than 35 writers will read texts for the public at the Philly event on Sunday, including famed Philadelphia “freedom texts.” Participants will include former Philly Poet Laureate Frank Sherlock, Philebrity.com founder Joey Sweeney, and Nic Esposito, an urban farmer and founder of Head and the Hand publishing press who is also director of Philly’s new Zero Waste and Litter Cabinet.
“As writers, we use words and language to help us arrive as close to the truth as possible,” said poet Alicia Askenase, who is organizing the event along with Popkin and fellow writer Stephanie Feldman. “Now, as we listen and read as these words are abused and manipulated to the point of the loss of the ability to discern what a fact or the truth is, [it feels] profoundly disorienting and dangerous.”
Askenase said Trump appears to be someone who “doesn’t seem to know or care about the difference between a lie and the truth.”
“That many others seem to not care either, and enjoy his behavior, is also disturbing,” she added.
Making the intervention of writers even more important, Askenase and Popkin said, is how Trump as president will influence the nation’s shared narrative.
“My biggest area of concern is the disruption and distortion to true and valid reporting through fake news, and even worse, the mouth of our president-elect,” Askenase said.
Will Trump really curtail the right to free speech and fair journalism? Popkin acknowledged it's too early to tell, but pointed to Trump's repeated threats and insults toward opponents as evidence of how he will lead.
“The guy threatens people,” Popkin said. “I don’t see why we should imagine that First Amendment rights would not be threatened. It could start subtly. But the man threatens writers and editors all the time. How can that not have an effect?”
Philadelphia Writers Resist
National Museum of American Jewish History
5th and Market Streets
Free and open to the public.