I was on my way to grab a copy of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness when a magazine
cover arrested my attention — Teju Cole, on the Poets & Writers September/October 2016 issue. I walked out of Green Apple Books in San Francisco that evening with both the book and the magazine, tickled by my 1) discovery and 2) the fact that the guy who made me want to read Conrad in the first place was staring back at me from a magazine.
In addition to the wonderful feature on Teju written by Kevin Nance, I was enthralled to find a feature called Dear President: A Message for the Next Commander in Chief From Fifty American Poets and Writers wherein poets and writers offered their perspectives and longings on what the country needs. The prompt:
Imagine you are face-to-face with the next president—whoever that may be—and, in a few sentences, write about what you hope to see addressed in the next four years. It turns out something pretty great happens when you ask writers to convey, without a lot of political grandstanding, what is most important to them.
Here are a few of my favorites:
“There is no present or future without immigrants; white supremacy (and all of its sequelae) is one of the gravest threats to our democracy.”
“The occupation of Palestine by Israel—mass incarceration, presumption of guilt, withholding of resources, wanton destruction of human life, all underscored by the creation of physical barriers and the emotional propaganda of persecution, exclusion, mythmaking, and fear—are mirrored, one by one, in the policies of institutionalized racism in the United States. Unless we face this singular fact, and acknowledge our collective culpability as architects and sponsors of state terrorism here in our American cities, and in our foreign policy regarding Palestine (which is the bedrock of all other foreign policy), we will continue to be unable to fulfill the potential of our democracy for our people, and remain excoriated abroad for our impotence and hypocrisy.”
“Your country is complex; it is hard to imagine a foreigner being able to fix it for you. Keep this in mind when you consider invading another nation.”
“There should be a new cabinet post—Secretary of the Arts. For the inaugural six poets: European, Hispanic, Asian American, African American, Native American, Muslim.”
“No language is neutral. To speak is to claim a life—and often our own. If more Americans speak to one another, in writing, in media, at the supermarket, we might listen better. It is difficult, I think, to hate one another when we start to understand not only why and how we hurt, but also why and how we love.”
I admit, the presidential election makes me weary, tires me out. It is devoid of the hope and fire that once fueled me back in 2008, as a Green Card-holder who couldn’t even vote. I can’t blame my disinterest on either Trump or Clinton though, because how I view U.S. politics now is drastically different from how I understood things before. It amazes me that Trump has made it far in this election, spewing the kind of rhetoric his campaign of bigotry and hate has been built on. What Hillary stands for and what she’s done in the past makes me uneasy.
Both candidates, while representing extremes of the political spectrum, are still functioning in a system which can never assuage the intersection of my identities: working class, brown woman, immigrant, queer.
But these words, from “some of our most thoughtful and articulate citizens” (as P&W lovingly refers to them) give me hope. I’ve always looked up to writers and poets to create and envision the kind of world we need. As poet Ken Chen writes,
“America has often seen itself as a beacon of democracy, but the American project has always been about a settler project of inclusion and exclusion: democracy for those imagined as real Americans, and inequality for slaves, immigrants, black and brown bodies, and those who live in places the United States has colonized or destabilized, most recently Iraq and Libya. I hope that you can see yourself not just as a standard-bearer for a global economic elite, but as a force for equality and justice for all.”
But shoot, vote for what it’s worth.