Tag Archive for: First Amendment

Words of Resistance

by J.M. Phillippe

On January 15th, 2017, I made my way out to the front of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building of the New York Public Library to attend a rally.

At about 10 minutes after the officially posted start time, a young girl that no one could really see started singing the national anthem in a clear strong voice. There was no MC, no announcement that the rally was officially starting, and there was a long silence while the first speaker made her way to the podium, which, the crowd noted shortly after, was too low on the steps. The volume of the microphones was also too low, and shouts of “louder!” came from the people furthest back.

It took a few readers — each coming up to the podium, saying their names and telling the crowd what they were reading– but finally someone pulled a microphone from a stand, asked the crowd if they were loud enough, and stood high enough up on the steps to get a huge roar of approval.

The empty podium, abandoned in the cold, became a symbol for the rally itself: when the people speak, its time for a change.

The PEN America sponsored Writers Resist rally was a solid two-and-half hours of authors, poets, and even politicians reading excerpts from Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, Maya Angelou, and of course, Martin Luther King Jr. — as well as many many others — in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day and in protest against an incoming presidential administration that regularly attacks the media and individual writers. Former United States poet laureates read inaugural poems from past administrations, and many other writers shared their own work, some written specifically for the occasion. There were readers and writers of every race, from myriad countries of birth, and from a multitude of backgrounds.

The themes of the readings were about fighting for freedom, standing up for democracy, and finding a place as a American when so many others might tell you that you don’t belong. Some people read song lyrics (a reading of Frank Zappa’s “It Can’t Happen Here” stands out), and others read parts of the constitution, including the First Amendment. The battle, the thing everyone was there to resist, was the silencing of words. Audre Lorde’s quote, made into a poster, was held above the crowd: “your silence will not protect you.”

As a writer in the crowd slowly inching her way closer and closer to that empty podium and the readers standing several steps above it, I felt like I was getting a master class in the power of words. Even as the cold numbed my toes and fingers, and my feet ached from standing still for too long, my ears still caught carefully constructed lines, doing what precise prose and perfect poetry always does: inform, impress, and inspire.

While I found much of it moving, it was the inaugural poems that got me thinking. The first president to have an inaugural poem was John F. Kennedy.

“When power leads man to arrogance,” Kennedy is reported to have said, “poetry reminds him of his limitations. “

When power narrows the area of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses.” 

According to Wikipedia, only four other presidential inaugurations had poets prepare something for the occasion: Bill Clinton’s two inaugurations, and Barack Obama’s two inaugurations. That hasn’t stopped me, and indeed others, from imagining what poetry might inspire President-Elect Donald Trump. As I listened to speaker after speaker reading words about what it means to fight for freedom, I tried to imagine what sort of words Trump reads, what philosophers, what authors, what poets.

As the saying goes, “watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions.” We are all shaped by what we read, the stories we take in, the ideas we absorb. More than the President-Elect’s tax returns, I want to see his reading list. I want to know what words will guide this new president; I fear the only words he cares about are his own, that he is a president without poetry.

I fear that he is a president that would rather censor the press than face criticism, that his attacks on the media are part of a greater attack on free speech. I fear that because he “knows all the words,” and “has the best words” he thinks he doesn’t need to listen, to read, and to learn.

So I gathered with hundreds of others in New York City (and hundreds more across the country) to listen to words, and to march to Trump Tower with a pledge to defend the First Amendment (signed by over 160,000 people) and to shout more words, as is my constitutional right. Peaceful protest (and not so peaceful) has been a part of every great change America has ever made. Our country was founded in protest of another country the people who made their way to our shores thought was unjust. The Founding Fathers wanted to create a space where democracy would thrive and understood that this could not happen if the very tools of the revolution they fought — including protest — weren’t protected. Every social revolution brings us ever closer to those ideals fought so hard for: a more perfect union with equality for all.

But not everyone has made the same study of those words, and many do not share the same vision for what equality looks like. As another saying goes: when you are accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression. For every person who wants to make America great again, there is another who is still trying to find a way to make it great for the first time, to find their place under the great umbrella of “for all.” For this second group of Americans, words of resistance — resistance to settling, to taking less, to living in despair — are what keep them going, keep them hoping, keep them dreaming.

And keep them reading, and keep them writing. Our very constitution is a poem to the ideals of freedom. This country was founded on the promise of words. I marched to help hold our country to that promise. And whenever I can, I will brave cold or heat and crowds and shouts to hear that promise spoken again and again.

Words have power. It’s why people in power fight so hard to silence them. And its also why writers will always be at the heart of every resistance.

* * *

J.M. Phillippe is the author of Perfect Likeness and the short story The Sight. She has lived in the deserts of California, the suburbs of Seattle, and the mad rush of New York City. She works as a family therapist in Brooklyn, New York and spends her free-time decorating her tiny apartment to her cat Oscar Wilde’s liking, drinking cider at her favorite British-style pub, and training to be the next Karate Kid, one wax-on at a time.

Let Freedom Ring!

By Kimberly Jayne

It’s the 4th of July, and a proper day to feel grateful for all the freedoms our forefathers and mothers granted us. As an American, I’m most grateful for the First Amendment, giving me freedom of speech. As an American writer, I can speak whatever my heart desires in my chosen artistic form, be it fanciful fiction, a memoir of my life experience, erotica, or protests against my government. 

Certainly, the United States isn’t perfect, and it’s all too easy to take our freedoms for granted because we’ve never lived without them. But we all recognize that there are people around the world who wouldn’t dare put their thoughts into words or on paper for fear of reprisal or imprisonment by their hostile governments. 

So today, I’m feeling especially grateful for my freedoms. I hope, like me, you will enjoy your holiday with friends and family and celebrate being an American. 


Take My Husband, Please!
By Kimberly Jayne

If you could teach your ex-husband a lesson, would you?

After Sophie files for divorce from Will, his unexpected financial apocalypse brings him back under her roof. Awkward! And if that’s not bad enough, Sophie’s new guy—a sexy and successful entrepreneur—is not keen on dating her without proof that Will is truly out of the picture. Sophie and her best friend concoct a brilliant bet to keep Will “occupied,” but things take a surprise turn for the crazy when Sophie gets roped into sending her ex on five blind dates!

You’ll laugh, you’ll cry. You might even want to Take My Husband, Please! Available on Amazon in ebook and paperback.

For more about Kimberly Jayne, please visit www.readkimberly.com.

The Power of the Word

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

I thought it was one of the Founding Fathers who made that declaration, but it was actually Voltaire. Maybe you knew that.

I’ve been thinking about Free Speech a lot lately. As a writer, of course I have always supported the First Amendment, with the caveat that as Oliver Wendell Holmes ruled: The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic.

I grew up chanting sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me. And yet, in the last few weeks, we’ve seen deadly action spring from vicious, hateful language. In my zeal to protect free speech, I am left with the horrific results when the debate ends and the gunfire erupts. James W. von Brunn, who murdered a security guard at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, had a web site that spewed hatred. He was, in some ways, an equal-opportunity bigot – willing to kill anyone who didn’t fit his vision of a “pure” American, e.g., white.

Eugene Robinson, columnist for The Washington Post, certainly a free speech supporter, raised a valid question. When does “blast-furnace rhetoric,” which though ugly is legal, cross the line because it incites others to violence? You can make the argument that neither the far right nor the far left is responsible for the nutjob who moves from advocating to shooting bullets. But Robinson suggests that many talking heads on all-news cable shows are riling up some dangerous people when they call President Obama a “socialist,” label Sonia Sotomayor a “racist Latina,” and claim that Democrats want to “take away your guns.”

As with all of our guaranteed freedoms, they depend on people never abusing them. Each of us has the right to her own opinion. We can and should make cogent arguments to defend our positions, and work within the political system to effect change. BUT we also need to avoid demonizing the opposition – and we must vote with the remote and turn off the television when a talking head tries to spike his ratings with rants designed to appeal to the fears and prejudices of the audience.

These are serious times that demand serious discussion. There’s no room at the table – or on television or radio – for those who aren’t willing to talk about issues without resorting to scare tactics or hyperbole.

I’m a realist. I know there are crazy people out there. But the media must stop providing these nutjobs with the “ammunition” that they then use to justify their violent actions.

Evelyn David

The First Amendment

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Writers understand that the first amendment is the backbone of our profession, and the foundation of a free society. We must be fervent supporters of the right to speak and write about those ideas we cherish – and conversely, we must accept that same right for those who promote concepts that we detest. But as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes explained, there is a limit to protected speech. We don’t have the right to falsely yell fire in a crowded theater.

Almost by definition, election rhetoric skews to hyperbole. But that’s not what this last week has been about. These are difficult times and there are serious differences between the two candidates on how to navigate these perilous waters. Instead, sadly, at recent rallies the focus has been on fears, not solutions.

The candidates may not be responsible for what their supporters shout out in the heat of the moment, but they can’t use rhetoric designed to whip the crowds up into a frenzy, tacitly encouraging their darkest fears — and then be surprised when emotions dangerously spill over.

Here’s what I expect. I expect a candidate to stop his or her prepared speech when someone in the crowd yells: “Kill him.” I expect the candidate to declare unequivocally, that we don’t have to be afraid of our differences, but we do have to fear violence.

Aaron Sorkin wrote in one of my favorite movies, The American President, “America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.”

We need to focus on the future of our country. We need to find solutions to the crises of the economy, the environment, terrorism, and a host of other problems. What we don’t need is all heat and no light. What we don’t need are scurrilous rumors and baseless attacks. That’s not what the first amendment is all about. America is better than that – we have to be.

Evelyn David