By Jensen Toussaint
On Sunday, Jan. 15, Philadelphia-based writers, authors, poets, and publishers gathered at the National Museum of American Jewish History, located on 5th and Market streets, to defend the right of free speech, a right many feel is under threat by the Trump administration. The event was part of a larger national movement dubbed #WritersResist, where writers and authors gathered in more than 50 cities across the United States and internationally to stand up for “the ideals of a free, just and compassionate democratic society.”
At the Philadelphia gathering, thirty-five members of Philly’s diverse literary community stood at the podium before a crowd of about 300 people to read from selected writings meant to energize and inspire audience members for the long road ahead of protest and civic engagement.
Nathaniel Popkin, 47, writer, editor, and co-organizer of the event, said the event was created to bring people together to listen, read, and share thoughts in a way that could unify writers’ voices. “The real idea was to call on the idea of text to change the world,” Popkin said. “Writers have always led the way in terms of figuring out the human response to our existential situation,” he added.
So far the way forward involves regular gatherings of the literary community to brainstorm and stand together in solidarity. On Sunday, February 5, the newly dubbed WritersResistPHL group met at the Institute of Contemporary Art. At that meeting, organized by Popkin and fellow WritersResistPHL organizers, Stephanie Feldman and Alicia Askenase, people presented ideas, initiatives and actions that could be made in order to help facilitate Philadelphia’s resistance movement. Some of the proposed ideas include a Writers Resist reading event for undergraduate students at Widener University on April 1, distributing freedom texts at local bookstores, and a Words Have No Borders program, where writers will write stories about the immigrant and refugee experience. “I hope this is the beginning of a really continued resistance with savvy events that bring us together and push back,” said local poet, writer and publisher Marissa Johnson-Valenzuela.
Indeed, the WrtiersResistPHL organizers plan to continue meeting on a regular basis and are committed to making real changes. The next gathering is scheduled for Sunday, March 12 at the Community Room of the Philadelphia Ethical Society, 1906 Rittenhouse Square. The meeting is scheduled to run from 3:00pm – 5:30pm.