(Andrew Solomon is on from 1:15:23 to 1:22:35)
As Donald Trump and his team continue to insult journalists and disparage critical voices, more than 2,000 artists, writers, and readers gathered with PEN America on the steps of the New York Public Library in a collective stand to defend free expression, reject hatred, and uphold the truth. U.S. Poets Laureate Rita Dove and Robert Pinsky, playwright Eve Ensler, comic artist Art Spiegelman, and authors Andrew Solomon and Jacqueline Woodson were among the throng who braved the cold at Bryant Park to send a message to an incoming presidential administration that has laid bare its hostility toward the press and other free expression norms.
Coinciding with the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., the event featured readings and performances inspired by the words of civil rights leaders and literary luminaries on democracy. Rosanne Cash and Morley brought protesters to tears with a determined rendition of Bernice Johnson Reagon’s “Ella’s Song,” best known for its refrain of Ella Baker’s iconic 1964 pledge that “we who believe in freedom cannot rest.” Broadway Kids Against Bullying, a consortium of 30 young singers and dancers, performed “I Have a Voice,” a new song written to address rising hate speech and bullying in schools. Molly Crabapple created original portraits of writer-activists James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, Junot Diaz, and Suheir Hammad for the event
“Just as chairman Mao and Joseph Stalin started by going after the intellectuals, against those whose words who might form an opposition to them, so Trump has gone across us. We are ground zero in his fight for total power,” PEN America President Andrew Solomon told the crowd. “And that is why, as we at PEN have asserted repeatedly, and as Erin Belieu has helped gather artists to comment on, free speech is first among equals when we look at what is being violated by this new regime.”
Sunday’s literary protest in New York City was the flagship event of a national rallying effort under the banner of WRITERS RESIST, organized by VIDA: Women in Literary Arts co-founder Erin Belieu. More than 90 WRITERS RESIST events took place simultaneously in 40 states across the U.S. and abroad.
After the rally, Solomon and PEN America Executive Director Suzanne Nossel led protesters in a march fifteen blocks north to Trump Tower to deliver a pledge to defend free expression — signed by 150,000 individuals — to the President-elect’s team. Despite a heavy police presence that forced protesters to disperse, Nossel and Solomon were able to enter Trump Tower and deliver the petition to a staff member.
“In a matter of months, freedoms that have long been taken for granted have been called into question by a man who will soon become the most powerful leader in the world’,” said Nossel. “PEN America is mobilizing writers and artists to raise their voices among the thousands of Americans who are resisting — resisting lies, resisting hate speech, resisting threats to our democracy both internal and external. Today is just the first of many PEN America efforts to come. We will resist.”
Resources on the threat posed to free expression by the Trump presidency