“So many of us have stood up for the marginalized,” explains writer Barbara Kingsolver in the wake of Trumplandia, “but never expected to be here ourselves,” adding:
It happened to us overnight, not for anything we did wrong but for what we know is right. Our first task is to stop shaming ourselves and claim our agenda. It may feel rude, unprofessional and risky to break the habit of respecting our government; we never wanted to be enemies of the state. But when that animosity mounts against us, everything we do becomes political: speaking up or not speaking up. Either one will have difficult consequences. That’s the choice we get.
She then calls for those of us with a social justice conscience to wear our hearts on our sleeves, including teachers:
If we’re teachers we explicitly help children of all kinds feel safe in our classrooms under a bullying season that’s already opened in my town and probably yours. Language used by a president may enter this conversation. We say wrong is wrong.
I have been using the writing of Kingsolver in both my high school English classes and a variety of college courses since the 1990s, and my first book-length examination of teaching a writer focused on Kingsolver.
The most enduring writing from Kingsolver for me as a teacher has been her essay writing. And while Kingsolver’s politics drives her fiction—such as Flight Behavior—and her poetry, there is a artistry to her essays that allows her politics to meander instead of immediately provoking.
For example, her collection Small Wonder grew out of 9/11, and the essays speak powerfully with a progressive voice that is unlike the American character and that challenges the flag-waving patriotism/nationalism the terrorism spurred across the U.S.
And while Kingsolver actually lives her convictions, her newest confrontation of what Trump means for the U.S. reads as an intensified Kingsolver-as-activist.
“We refuse to disappear,” she announces.
The American character has long misread and misrepresented the label “political,” and the rise of Trump may have, as Kingsolver argues, brought about inadvertently the change promised by Obama: “everything we do becomes political: speaking up or not speaking up. Either one will have difficult consequences.”
But only one—speaking up in the name of the good and the equitable—has the potential for the sort of consequences a free people should be seeking.