Barbara Kingsolver: “everything we do becomes political: speaking up or not speaking up”

“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.

One comment

  1. Lloyd Lofthouse

    She’s right. In addition, for those of us who do speak out, some will criticize us for what we don’t do after we speak out in forums like this or in posts on our own blogs. Some will condemn us because all we do is speak out, and aren’t willing to take to the streets and protest in huge mobs or start a shooting war. I’ve already been criticized for that last week by an alleged troll.

    To some, it isn’t enough that you vote after doing homework on the candidates by fact checking who they are using sites like Vote Smart.

    To some, it isn’t enough that you write letters or send e-mails to your elected representatives.

    To some, it isn’t enough that you write blog posts critical of Trump, his deplorably minions, and/or the GOP

    To some, it isn’t enough that you share your thoughts and opinions in comment threads like this one.

    To some, it isn’t enough that you donate a few dollars from your meager retirement earnings to candidates you put your trust in and support; even candidates in other states that you can’t vote for, because you don’t live there.

    To some, it isn’t enough that we were a member of the less than 0.5 percent of the population willing to risk death or serious injury to serve our country in one of its military branches and fight in one of its many foreign wars, and then years later discover that we risked it all to fight in a war we thought was just, a fight to defend freedom, but was based on presidential lies. For instance, Iraq and Vietnam.

    To some, it isn’t enough that we taught in urban schools for decades with childhood poverty rates approaching 100 percent; schools in areas so dangerous from street gang violence that we witnessed drive by shootings from our classroom doorways and were told by our principals to never leave the campus on foot even in daylight, or we might vanish and never been seen again.

    To some critics and/or trolls, enough is never enough, unless we do exactly what they want us to do even if it gets us tossed in prison or worse, dead while they stay home bullying others to do what they don’t do.

    How are those critics different from the presidents that lied and started the wars in Vietnam and Iraq? How are these critics different from the con man, serial liar, bully and troll who is the current president elect of the United States?

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