Words, Words, Words

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This year’s election has been one of the most divisive, tumultuous races in recent history. Many of us are still battling shock, fear, or a sinister combination of the two–but we are determined to keep fighting.

While petitions and protests have dominated my Facebook feed, I have also heard the rally cry of my fellow writers: we need books more than ever. 

We need to read diverse books, and we need to support marginalized authors. Reading has been proven to encourage compassion and improve social skills; by reading stories about and by people who are different than us, we are more easily able to empathize with others (check out this list of resources to find diverse authors).

Books clearly have the power to entertain, educate, and inspire, but words are also an inexhaustible form of comfort. As most of you know, I turn to writing when I need to process my feelings…and if that proves unsuccessful, I read.

“So Matilda’s strong young mind continued to grow, nurtured by the voices of all those authors who had sent their books out into the world like ships on the sea. These books gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message: You are not alone.”

-Roald Dahl

Books often feel more like friends than bits of paper and ink. Books are also meant to be shared, and so I decided write about stories that I hold close to my heart. I also asked several friends via Facebook and Twitter what books have been comforting in times of grief or hardship, and I am happy to say this became a rather varied list. (Suggestions from others are quoted and credited with permission). 

If you are in need of some literary hugs (election-related or not), consider the following titles–and feel free to suggest your own in the comments!

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The Harry Potter series by J.K Rowling

The Boy Who Lived has done so much for this generation of readers. At the core of this series is an overwhelming message of love, something we all desperately need. Dumbledore’s Army and The Order of the Phoenix feels especially relevant this year in terms of activism.

A re-reading of this series is long overdue, but I have been listening to the Harry Potter and the Sacred Text podcast (thanks, Samantha!). Casper and Vanessa do a remarkable job, and I am always inspired to apply the episode’s theme to my own life.

“Beauty, grace, and charm my foot. It’s a school for sadists with good tea-serving skills.”
― Libba Bray

The Gemma Doyle Trilogy by Libba Bray 

This series is set in Victorian England, but don’t be fooled: it is perfect for Nasty Women who need an extra dose of magic. Following her mother’s death, Gemma discovers she is a sorceress who can travel between the spirit realm and our own. Her story is an honest account of female friendship, grief, and finding her place in the world. I purchased the third installment (The Sweet Far Thing) on audiobook, and my morning commutes have been infinitely more enjoyable.

The Book of Lamentations 

Sometimes, I need God to tell me that everything will be okay. And sometimes, I need God to tell me that it’s okay to think everything totally sucks.

Enter Lamentations. The day after the election, I read Lamentations and highlighted every verse that described how I felt. It was incredibly therapeutic, and I was reminded that hope can exist amidst suffering.

The Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer 

“These books found me at a very dark time in my life – a space before I was diagnosed with depression & anxiety, yet was experiencing the full extent of the symptoms & didn’t know how to reach out to friends & family to tell them I was suffering. It was so healing for me to escape into a world so very different from my own, someplace where I didn’t need to be part of this body & this mind that I so desperately despised. The books were lifelines for me. Even if my life was crumbling around me, they were always there to disappear into, to forget everything just for a few hours. While I didn’t realise it at the time, in the second book, New Moon, the main character exhibits symptoms of severe depression that I recognised so deeply in myself – & it was partially her family & friends’ horrified reaction to these symptoms that made me realise that what I was feeling wasn’t normal, & I needed to get help.”   –Topaz

“Laura felt a warmth inside her. It was very small, but it was strong. It was steady, like a tiny light in the dark, and it burned very low but no winds could make it flicker because it would not give up.”
― Laura Ingalls Wilder

 

The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder

“The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder!! I read it every single winter around February when winter starts to feel unbearable. It puts my life into perspective. Also, I just love Laura.” -Samantha

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley 

“With regard to the story, it is the importance of taking responsibility for one’s actions. (With regard to voice, it is pure perfection). This novel inspires within me the noble concept of having the courage of one’s convictions — which does not stop with mere words. It is our actions in life, what we do and how we own the consequences of what we do, what we have, in fact, created. In a nutshell, one cannot “play god” and then walk away from what we have created.” -Marie

 

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho 

“The deceptive simplicity never fails to draw me in and the warm imagery and relationships and the journey are all very comforting to me, especially when I’m feeling lost and alone and so, so, so apathetic towards the world and those around me. This book helps me to rediscover the connection I so wish for, both with myself and those around me.” -Jessica
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Land of the Free

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My first real introduction to politics was the year 2000.

I was eight years old. Our teacher had just given a lesson about the two presidential candidates: George W. Bush and Al Gore. He then handed us a worksheet with a short, kid-friendly version of each candidate’s platform.

I didn’t know anything about those two men, but I was thrilled to learn. As I weighed my options, I decided that George W. Bush didn’t say anything bad…but I liked Al Gore much better. The reason was simple: he said he wanted to take care of animals and the environment. George W. Bush hadn’t said anything of the sort.

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Clearly, not much has changed, because I was super pumped to wear this ‘Vote Cats’ tee.

A few minutes later, I cast my “vote” for Al Gore and felt patriotic as hell (for an eight-year-old, anyway.).

I made my choice the way most children make decisions: quickly, passionately, and so confidently.

Needless to say, I was shocked to discover my parents weren’t all that fond of Mr. Gore.

“But he cares about animals!” I protested. My tiny treehugger heart was breaking. How could they not care?

My parents tried to explain that George W. Bush probably cared about animals, too. That they had personal, well-thought out reasons for voting the way they did, and you can’t always vote based on one issue alone.

It did not help. I was desperate to make someone understand. I kept telling my parents that animals were important. When relatives came to visit, I pestered them mercilessly about their vote. I was distraught: someone had to be wrong, and I didn’t want it to be me.

That was sixteen years ago–and yet, that passionate, confident version of myself is alive and well. I am a vegetarian. A feminist. A Christian. I voted for Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders, and Hillary Clinton, while my parents almost always voted Republican.

I have been disagreeing with people about politics for a long, long time. And in that way, this election feels incredibly familiar.

The fear and anger does not.

I am not angry because my candidate lost, or because people voted differently (however vehemently I disagree).

I am not afraid because I believe that Donald Trump holds infinite power.

I am angry because of the bigotry, ignorance, and hatred that is so clearly rampant in the country I call home.

I am afraid because people I love are afraid.

I know what it is like to be a woman in this world; I do not know what it is like to be LGBTQ, an immigrant, a refugee, a person of color, or a Muslim. The government may be against many aspects of my life, but I am living with a great deal of privilege.

My intent is not to shame anyone for voting for Trump. I do, however, want to bring attention to the systems of oppression that exist in the twenty-first century.

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

-Desmond Tutu

Long before I cast my pretend vote for Al Gore, I admired people–especially women– who spoke their mind. I was shy, but I wanted to be like Disney’s Esmeralda. And then I wanted to be like Hermione, and Elphaba, and countless other women (fictional or otherwise).

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I want to be like those women, and I want to be like Jesus. He was sinless, yes, but he ruffled some feathers in his day, too.

I will not be silent. Not now. Not when so many fear their rights will be stripped away.

I am not perfect. I may be doing this justice thing totally wrong. I may have an especially bad day and say something I don’t mean. I am sure I already have, and for that, I am sorry.

If you feel marginalized, angry, or afraid, I am with you. I am here to listen to your stories and offer support. We cannot simply claim to be the land of the free; we have to live it. I am here to fight back, because there are no outcasts in God’s Kingdom. 

This week has been horrific in many ways–but in spite of it all, I have seen so much kindness. Pain is an odd thing: where there is hurt, there is also healing. And there is hope, and love, and all the things I was sure would vanish when I woke up Wednesday morning.

The truth is not that we are more divided than ever; it is that we are all in this together.

United.

Modern-Day Abolitionists

This post is written by Xan, who I am honored and blessed to call one of my very best friends. She is also one of the kindest souls you will ever meet. When I asked if she would be interested in writing a blog post, she decided to write about human trafficking, a global crisis that affects millions. Keep reading to learn about her experience with A21, and follow the links to get involved.

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October 15 dawned dreary, clouds and drizzles overwhelming the day’s forecast. Normally on such days, I try to wear bright colors and lighten the mood with an orange shirt or pink pants, but today was different. I donned all black – with a sweatshirt turned inside out so the print didn’t show – and drove to Lincoln Park in Chicago to spend the morning in the misty gloom.

Two hours later, I sprinted over to slap some black duct tape over my mouth and fell into line behind more than 200 people, all with mouths covered, all in black. We were quite the somber processional as we silently snaked single-file on our two-mile journey through the park. Many held signs reading, “Every 30 seconds someone becomes a slave,” or “The average age of a victim is 11-14 years old,” or “Over 27 million people are currently in bondage worldwide.” People watched with bated breath as we passed, quieted by our silent force and the weight of the dark truth we were proclaiming. Tears were trickling down my cheeks by the end.

Two weeks ago, I was a participant in the A21 Campaign’s annual Walk for Freedom and in the inaugural Chicago walk (watch a video of the walk here). A21 stands for “abolishing injustice in the 21st century,” and it is an organization geared toward prevention of human trafficking, protection of victims, and prosecution of violators. It also works to raise awareness of this often overlooked global issue of modern day slavery. Every year they do this in part by hosting a worldwide walk for freedom, which I so fortunately go to be involved in this year.

Human trafficking is an issue near and dear to my heart, not because I am survivor nor do I personally know anyone affected by it, but because it is an issue that flies completely under the radar for most people. It is shrouded in so much secrecy that it easily becomes out-of-sight, out-of-mind. Unlike other serious issues we encounter every day such as global warming (should I recycle this plastic?) or water conservation (turn off the faucet!), you will most likely never encounter or realize you are encountering human trafficking. And in the United States, most people have dissociated from the issue completely. When asked about human trafficking, most people will concede they know it exists, but assume it is a problem only in other countries, places underdeveloped and foreign to them.

Unfortunately, human trafficking is rampant in the United States. This year alone, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center has had 5748 cases of trafficking reported in the US. Of those cases, 4177 were reports of sex trafficking, 824 were labor trafficking, and the rest were unspecified; females were disproportionately involved, accounting for 4803 of the 5748 cases; California was the most involved state (1012 cases). And this data is just from January through September 2016.

It’s easy to think it couldn’t happen where you are, but it happens EVERYWHERE. I’m originally from Missouri, the very center of the country. These are the nicest, most Midwest-y people you’ll ever meet. There are no coastlines, no huge cities, not much international touring–it’s about as safe as it gets. And yet Missouri has already had 106 cases of human trafficking this year. Even in Kansas– where there is nothing but corn and nothing ever happens–40 cases of human trafficking this year have been reported.

Perhaps you are now thinking, “That sucks, but why should I care?” Or maybe you are sympathetic but thinking, “Well, what in the world can I do?

Both of these thoughts are fair. I know it can be difficult to care about a problem that doesn’t personally affect you. It also seems really overwhelming as I throw numbers at you, and rather hopeless given the hidden nature of the problem. But please remember those numbers represent people. People like you and me. People with hopes and goals and dreams. People who did nothing to deserve this suffering. And many of them are children with entire lives yet to live.

The most important thing we can do is educate. Learn more about this issue and the reality of our current global situation. It will be painful, it will be unpleasant, but only then can this problem that affects millions of people worldwide begin to affect you personally. Cultivate this compassion within your own heart then share it with everyone. Open the eyes of your friends and family to this injustice and help cultivate love in their hearts. Then let that love lead you to do what you can to end modern slavery. Whether it is donating money, publicly walking through a park, or maybe even helping unmask hidden trafficking rings, you can make a difference in this fight.

“All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”                    – Edmund Burke

Visit A21’s website to learn more, donate to their cause, or start a fundraiser in your city.