It’s been almost two weeks since the 2016 election. Over the course of that time, I have seen people unfriend people, block them, and engage in some of the most contentious conversations on social media. Some are rejoicing that America will be made great (again) and others lament that this is the end of the world as we know it.
I have even seen some people comment that they are dreading the upcoming Thanksgiving season because of the cumbersome task of having to sit at the same table with family members who have diametrically opposed political views. Yes, unfortunately, this is not hyperbole.
As I watch people volley back and forth, I can’t help but to think about those of us who are freelancers or creative entrepreneurs. In a world that is becoming increasingly more polarized, what is our role? Is there a place for creativity, for humanity in the political volcano that is erupting?
The resounding answer is yes! Not only is there a place for us, our roles have become even more important and relevant.
Think about your favorite song, piece of artwork, book, play, or musical. What draws you into that space? For me, the arts are a sanctuary. I can get lost in the words on a page, a melody playing in my ear or the pure simplicity of seeing a piece of artwork.
Behind each of those creations is someone who had a vision for his/her artistic expression. The manifestation of that is then enjoyed and consumed by others. Paradoxically, some of the best art is born out of, or explores, times of peril, injustice, pain and yes, political unrest and strife.
As creative entrepreneurs, our task is not to put our blinders on and pretend as if we live in a bubble where politics don’t affect us, our viability as artists, or our creative expression. As many women avowed in the 1970s, “The personal is political.”
We can’t get away from this nor should we.
My bias runs deep, not because I am a writer, but because the arts, literature in particular, helped to shape my worldview. I place the arts right up there with religion, education, and family when it comes to the things that I value the most.
You see, I am not Irish, but Angela's Ashes taught me about extreme poverty in Ireland in the 1930s and 1940s. I have never experienced life-threatening financial deprivation, but Grapes of Wrath helped me to understand pure desperation. I do not have any learning disabilities, but Of Mice and Men taught me to have empathy for those who do. I was never an enslaved African woman, but Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl provided me with a lens to understand her physical, emotional and psychological pain.
Like many others, I experience cultures other than my own through art for art has allowed me to understand life beyond my lived experiences. Most importantly, literature made me more empathetic and taught me how to engage in civil discourse. I may not agree with people’s political views, but I am not going to annihilate them in order to prove my point.
What I see in post-election America right now is frightening and this has nothing to do with a particular political party or the President-elect, but everything to do with the reality that having authentic and healthy conversations across religious, socioeconomic, and racial lines may be too idealistic right now. Too many of us are operating in fear and that fear is usurping our ability to feel.
So what can we do? We do what great artists, writers, musicians, and other creative spirits have done generations before us—we operate in our gifts.
In a 2015 Nation article, Toni Morrison, reminded us, “This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.”
Not only does someone need your book, your song, your art, your play, or your musical that person may need it now more than ever.
My pen is my protest—what’s yours?