“Let New York be the capitol of the resistance,” said playwright Eve Ensler to the large crowd gathered on the steps of the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue earlier this week.
She was speaking at the event “Writers Resist: Louder Together for Free Expression” sponsored by PEN American Center, which advances literature.
Authors, poets, journalists read on the library steps drawing from the canon of political poets: Audre Lorde, Claude McKay, Allen Ginsberg, Muriel Rukeyser, Gwendolyn Brooks. American Poets Laureates Robert Pinsky and Rita Dove offered inspiration with inaugural poems.
Fearing a backlash against free expression under a Donald Trump administration, I joined PEN America as a professional member. It is important to belong to a writers group that is political. PEN is an international group that fights for imprisoned writers around the world.
As an opinion and freelance writer, I used to worry about rejection and overdue checks. Now, I worry about reprisal and censorship. So, I stood in the cold for more than two hours to get recharged with this message: We will not be quiet, or stand down.
During his speech, author Andrew Solomon, president of PEN American Center, noted that the group usually defends writers in other countries and that he never thought the organization would have to turn its attention to the United States given Trump’s problems with free speech, the media and libel laws.
“The press is Ground Zero in his fight for power,” Solomon said.
During his campaign, Trump openly threatened to sue media outlets that might publish negative stories about him. His animus toward the free press was on full display at his first post-election news conference last week.
After the rally ended, Solomon and the organization’s leaders marched to Trump Tower to present PEN American Center’s free expression pledge on the First Amendment (signed by more than 110,00 individuals) to a member of the president-elect’s team.
As Meryl Streep noted in her speech at Golden Globe Awards ceremony, we must be vigilant and protect freedom of speech. Donations poured into the Committee to Protect Journalists after she urged viewers to support the nonprofit.
While I stood outside the library on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, grateful for my love of books and reading instilled by my parents, I recalled how Trump says he doesn’t read books. Sad.
I came back downtown feeling uplifted by the solidarity, the inspiring readings, even the handmade signs. My favorite: “Pens Not Pence.”
The resistance officially starts this month. We are louder together.