J.J. Marsh pens a response to January’s Writers Resist event in Zürich
By early evening, Zürich is dark and minus 8 degrees. Wind whips snow into your eyes and ice turns pavements treacherous. On the Niederdorf, a tourist slips and falls. Her head hits the cobbles. A cyclist and I come to her aid and take her back to her hotel. After we leave her in safe hands, we shake our heads at her impractical footwear. He cycles off and I head for Cabaret Voltaire.
Tonight, writers across Switzerland have come together to resist. The movement Writers Resist #writeourdemocracy began when poet Erin Belieu, posted on Facebook: “We will not give in to despair. We will come together and actively help make the world we want to live in. We are bowed, but we are not broken.”
Belieu’s call for writers to organize events on January 15 (Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday) and January 16, resulted in more than 90 events throughout the US and around the world. Zürich is one of them.
The mission statement from Writers Resist: “Our democracy is at risk. Growing public cynicism and an alarming disdain for truthfulness is eroding our most dearly held democratic ideals. As writers we have tremendous power to bypass empty political discourse and focus public attention on the ideals of a free, just, and compassionate society.
Inside a packed Cabaret Voltaire, readers speak on themes such as justice, equality, democracy, sexism, displacement, truth, environmental awareness and the politics of fear:
Poet and filmmaker Darcy Alexandra, organizer of the evening;
Author Anne Korkeakivi
Poet Padraig Rooney;
Author Jason Donald;
Poet and musician Andrew Shields;
Author Liam Klenk ;
Journalist and curator of Swiss Literature House Bettina Spoerri
Each reads extracts from their own works, alongside carefully chosen pieces by other writers, to reinforce the themes of inclusion, acceptance and love, not hate. Maya Márquez ends the presentation by describing the support Action from Switzerland provides in particular for vulnerable refugees.
After the readings to a full and attentive house, a wide-ranging discussion ensues between the panel and audience. The result is a sobering realisation of how quickly a society can shift from progressive to reactionary, and how much must be done by those who defend the democratic ideal. Most of all, we acknowledge the power of words.
Some of the speakers explain why this event matters to them:
“Now is not a time for writers to fall silent. The Writers Resist evening in Zürich is a way of making our voices heard—on the ideals of democracy, inclusivity, equality, empathy, and respect for our planet that we hold dear—and to do so in concert with others, while raising funds for a worthy cause. We all need to speak out for the greater good of our world. This event is only a beginning.” – Anne Korkeakivi
“Presently, concerning human rights, diversity and equality, all my internal alarms are going off at once. Being a quiet observer is simply not an option. Events like Writers Resist are more important than ever. We need to speak up, remind each other of our values and mutual respect; of the progress made at such high cost to many brave individuals over the years. We can’t go back. We have a responsibility—to those who fought for our rights and to everyone who comes after us. Kindness, compassion, and freedom of mind are key to our existence.” – Liam Klenk
“I believe a person’s character is defined by the small day-to-day decisions they make. You choose to be brave. You choose to think for yourself. You choose to connect to people. You choose to speak out. These choices are made despite the odds, despite the political climate. That’s why I came to be part of the Writers Resist event. It’s part of choosing who I want to be and where I want to stand in this world.” – Jason Donald
Uplifted and warmed by such intelligent analysis, and fired up to make a difference, I walk back to the Hauptbahnhof, deep in thought. I pass the hotel where we took the tearful Spanish lady and wonder how she is.
A line I read somewhere floats into my mind. “Empathy can lead to a perverse situation where the suffering of an individual disturbs us more than the suffering of a thousand.”
For all the hundreds of thousands, now is the time to use our words.
Images below courtesy J.J. Marsh and Morgane Ghilardis