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Resisting the New Order

Andrew Solomon speaks at PEN America WRITERS RESIST, held on the steps of the New York Public Library, January 15, 2017.

I’m Andrew Solomon, I’m the president of PEN America, and I am a writer.

And I will resist.

There are many reasons to be appalled by the new Presidency.

We can be appalled by the lack of dignity,
the lack of generosity,
the lack of competence,
by the appalling Cabinet appointments,
by the lack of concern over conflicts of interest,
by the inhumane attitude toward the poor,
and by climate denial.

By the general demeanor of bullying authoritarianism.

But we are here today to fight in particular for First Amendment rights,
for the freedom to speak, and for protected speech itself.

Donald Trump has used many versions of silencing.
He silences through ridicule of people who have less power than he does.
He silences over and over again through autocratic threats.

In going after people who have burned the flag,
which the Supreme Court has twice declared to be protected speech,
he violates our protections to express our dissent.

Flag-burning is no basis, as he has suggested,
for people losing their citizenship,
or even for their being sent to jail.

Nor is art intended only to make people happy,
as Donald Trump declared after the cast of Hamilton courageously spoke out
when Mike Pence was in their audience.
When he threatens people like that,
he closes down free speech as we have known it since the founding of this great country.

He tries to silence us by threatening financial consequences.
He said, “We’re going to open up those libel laws, so when The New York Times writes a hit piece which is a total disgrace or when The Washington Post writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected.”

When, at his so-called press conference, he attacks a CNN reporter
and declares that his organization is behind “fake news,”
when he describes BuzzFeed as “garbage,”
when he disparages the people who would speak out,
he is violating the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.

Yesterday, a Trump official said, “The press is the opposition party. I want ’em out of the building. We are taking back the press room.”
That is not an American free press.

Trump himself consistently engages in hate speech that offends many of us.
But the answer to hate speech, or to speech with which you disagree,
is not to make it illegal.
It is to respond and protest and speak freely back to those declarations.

Just as Chairman Mao and Joseph Stalin started by going after the intellectuals,
against those whose words might form an opposition to him,
so Trump has gone after us.
We are ground zero in his fight for total power.

And that is why, as we have asserted repeatedly at PEN,
and as Erin Belieu has gathered artists to comment on,
free speech is first among equals,
as we look at freedoms being violated by this new regime.

PEN speaks for the freedom to write,
the freedom to express and share your understanding of the truth.

We have more power collectively than individually.
Having so many of you here today,
I can’t tell you the inspiration I feel coming out of this crowd.
That cheer is for you.

We have more power collectively than individually.

Our focus at PEN used to be on the violations of free speech that take place abroad, where they happen so often.
We never dreamed we would be turning our attention to those issues right here at home, at the level at which we now have to do so.
The freedoms we hoped to bestow on others are now under explicit siege at home.

We are gathered here to assert our right to free speech
and defend the rights of others.
That is our single and united agenda.
And we will defend free speech — the first among equals.
And we will defend those who have no voice.

A South African friend recently said to me, “What is most shocking”
— and he had lived through apartheid —
he said, “What is most shocking is not how shocked you are right now,
what is most shocking is how un-shocked you will be in six months’ time.”

And when I heard him,
I took it as an occasion to declare that I will remain shocked.
That we will remain shocked.

I will be shocked at every curtailment of our freedom
and in particular of our First Amendment freedoms.

And I ask everyone gathered here today to take this pledge
that you will remain shocked by the horror we are encountering.
and that you will fight for freedom and for free expression,
for the First Amendment,
and for dignity in America and in government.

Thank you.