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Thoughts on Writing and Movement
It could be argued that only in the written world has a successful revolution ever taken place. Today, injustice grows and mutates light years beyond our solutions, beyond even what we are able to comprehend. Our successes of late have been short-term, media battles instead of lasting community shifts.
Throughout history there have been rare individuals who had the ability to put into words the emotion and logic that could move people to action. Far more plentiful are those that have the ability to use the written word to keep the dream alive and ever evolving. Wiretap is a collection of writers who hope to represent the latter category, always sifting and searching for those in the former.
My own history as a writer for the public began in the 6th grade, when I won an essay writing contest. The topic was democracy. Maybe freedom as well. I don't remember now the exact points I was making, but I do know that there was a deep satisfaction at having documented my thoughts, and had others read them, and understand me. School papers and magazines and bad poems and songs followed.
At some point in college it was pointed out to me that I didn't follow the rules of writing, and it was thus a complete mystery to everyone that I passed classes. This fatal flaw caught up with me in French class -- I wasn't able to create my own rules in a new language. I was limited -- my constant, only theory was passion. When a topic was thrown before me, I would sift through the content until I could find a part to be passionate about. The poetry, the heartbreaking narrative -- I could get on a high horse about the love story buried in the politics of Greek philosophy, physics ... even Freud. Writing passionately has served me well in my post-collegiate work. In essays, dispatches, songs, books and blogs, I have been able to tell the story of my life, my lessons and my work as I was living and learning and working.
I am so in love with words. The one line I never forget learning in Bible School: In the beginning there was the Word, and the Word was God. My soulmates are all writers. Every speech I've ever loved, as I was listening, would appear as a river of words moving through my mind. When my heart gets broken and I feel silenced, I write. When the dark side of life is too much to take in with just my eyes and heart, I start to pour my experience into words. Just writing something down, even if only for yourself, is the first act of translating, culling history or reason from the struggle, oppression, unfairness, inequality, pain -- those things that inspire us to organize, to want to see change.
Sometimes when I write, I think of the journal entries, the letters to loved ones, letters from jails, dispatches from war zones abroad and at home. Who knew, when they were written, that someday we who long to change the world would hold these personal, inspirational writings in such high regard. To read today the musings of Che Guevara as a young adventurer on a motorcycle, or the speeches of an angry, righteous Martin Luther King, Jr., in response to the Vietnam War, is crucial to understanding the context of releasing the victims of history. All the work, when you get down to it, is freeing minds. And in that work, the word is as important, and potentially longer lasting, than the sword, or the bullet.
Primarily, when I think of writing that has had a long-term revolutionary impact, I think of the reflections of a young, isolated and doomed Malcolm X travelling beyond the borders of the America experiment. It is only because he had shared so much of his story with us -- his childhood, his failures, his vulnerabilities -- that we could understand his success, that we could understand the great depth of his impact. And the subsequent tragedy of his death. I have not yet in life come across an organizer I respected who couldn't credit The Autobiography of Malcolm X, as told to Alex Haley, as part of their path towards justice. Published in 1965, it is a call to action and justice today.
It may be a lofty attempt, but WireTap is a space for today's generation to call out to each other. After all, at our best, writers are echoing that call throughout history by exposing the newest chapters in the oldest stories.
Adrienne Maree Brown is the executive director of the Ruckus Society, co-author of "How to Get Stupid White Men Out of Office," and a member of WireTap's Advisory Board.
Also in Youth Activism
- Best WireTap Stories of 2008 by The Editors
- Free Wheels: The Scraper Bike Movement Rolls On by Jamilah King
- You Voted. Now What? by Kristina Rizga
- Young Organizers Speak: We Are a New Coalition for the Common Interest by Matt Singer, Jefferson Smith
- Young Organizers Speak: It’s A New Era by Biko Baker