Writing and Activism: Let’s Thrive

by Désirée Zamorano

So many of us since Election Day have hovered over our keyboards and felt frozen.

Indeed, why shouldn’t we feel petrified, the legacy of Obama under threat, the vision of who we are, as US citizens utterly upended, the walking nightmares announced each and every day? We find ourselves playing an emotional and draining game of lethal dodge ball, and scramble to regain our footing, our equilibrium, our creative muse.

Then we find ourselves with that perpetually dissatisfied editor shrieking at the back of our skull, telling us in articulate and inchoate ways how we’re never going to write again, the world will never right itself, nothing we’re writing now will make any difference; it’s time, the voice continues, to discard this fallacy of being a writer and instead do something that will make a difference!

Ha. Of course as writers we fall prey to making it all about our creativity. So what can we do?

First, all of our responses are justifiable. From rage to fear to woe. From shrill social media postings to climbing into bed in the dire hope to awake in a different universe. We are feeling the reverberations of a profound cultural shift. At AWP I heard Lydia Yuknavitch say, “We are in a time of mourning a cultural death.” How that resonated with me.

Be still, and listen. John Kabat Zinn says, “Ask your heart from time to time what is most important right now, in this moment, and listen very carefully for the response.”

When I paused and listened this is what I heard:
I can’t let the political world sweep over and by me and remain silent.
I won’t allow the political world to silence me.

If you are wondering how, here are some thoughts that work for me.

Under constant assault from different directions, choose a perspective, an advocacy role, a goal, and head towards it. What is your overarching issue? Focus on it, don’t be dissuaded, don’t allow your energy to be dissipated by his random, scattershot, spaghetti on the wall approach. We have the intelligence and discipline to be strategic.

I joined a group of women whose slogan is “When they go low, we go local.” We advocate and facilitate joining local organizations which have a history of advocacy. I listened to Melissa Chadburn when she reminded us there was no need to reinvent the wheel. Rather than divert and dissipate resources, we hope to channel them and make these organizations even more impactful.

I follow Daily Action for daily phone calls. It’s a wonderful system where the creator sends out a daily call to action, then connects your phone call to that of your representative. It gives me a sense that I have participated in advocacy that day. Instead of beating myself up because it isn’t enough (and it is not enough, not until this administration is toppled), it is a hand hold for my sanity. I have at least done something. Since she funds this mass telecommunications project on her own, I also give her money.

I follow Rebecca Solnit, author of “Hope in the Darkness” because not only can she see the bleak picture that lies at the heart of our country, but she also knows that history is not yet written, that we never know where our actions lead, and can only be revealed sometimes decades from now. She gives my embattled heart hope.

I follow Maud Newton, for her incisive writing and strategic weekly actions.

The free press is not free. Since the election I’ve subscribed to multiple, fact-checked news sources. If you get your news from a favorite online site and can afford it, be a paying subscriber.

Yes, there are many, many more advocacy organizations but if I follow more than two or three my energy becomes scattered and diffuse and I begin to doubt, the inner editor louder and louder, that anything I do will make a difference. I know, instinctively, that I need to narrow my focus and soldier on. I have taken one of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People to heart: where my area of influence overlaps with my area of concern, there is my greatest impact. Where does your area of concern overlap with your area of influence? How can you embolden your impact?

Return to your writing routine. What worked for you before the election? Did you set a few hours a week or a day aside? Continue! Did you make excel spreadsheets of submissions, bullet points of goals, meetings with like-minded tribe members? Continue! Honor all that gives your creative life oxygen and vitality. It is the only way for us to not merely survive but thrive.

Waking to shattering news shatters my day. So I (in theory) read the news, browse social media only after I have done my writing for the day.

Falling asleep to embittering news leaves me tired and anxious, so I save news bites and social media for the afternoon or early evening.

Keep your heart open to all the people who buoy your spirits: intellectual, emotional, creative.

Full disclosure: Sometimes these strategies work for me, sometimes they don’t. How are you navigating creativity and activism? I would love to know. As Jessa Crispin says, we “are planting for this season, and the seasons after that.”


unnamed-1Désirée Zamorano is an award-winning short story writer and the author of the critically acclaimed novel The Amado Women. Her work has appeared online and in print, including PW, the LA Times and The Toast. She is the director of Occidental College’s Community Literacy Center.

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9 thoughts on “Writing and Activism: Let’s Thrive

  1. Kat Ward says:

    Right on, Désirée. Thank you so much.

    I’ve narrowed my focus to volunteering for Planned Parenthood (sent in my online “application”) and want to work for something regarding immigration because this trump hammer is appalling and the stories hurt and make me weep; just haven’t found one in particular yet. And I have found myself paralyzed, unable to work, but I have a good friend across the street and we take turns buoying each other’s spirits. It does help to keep my morning free of news. I’ll watch the evening shows, but thankfully being on the West Coast, they end around 8pm so I can watch something lighter or read or walk. (If I get back onto my laptop, though, I’m in big trouble! Twitter!)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. LEC says:

    Beautiful and inspiring. I am navigating by holding myself more accountable to writing and decided the best way to do that was to start a writing group in my home! It is working. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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