7 Ways To Make A Political Statement With Books

by Charlotte Ahlin

You know that moment, when you lean too far back in a chair, and you have the crystal clear thought, "Oh no, I am going to fall," but it's too late to do anything about it so you fall out of the chair and smack your head anyway? Yeah. That's pretty much how I've felt since election night. I think that's probably how a lot of us have felt since election night. But we can't afford to lose hope, or become complacent. We need to rise up against hate and injustice. Here are a few ways that we can all make a political statement with books, starting today.

It's heartbreaking to see our country reward racism, misogyny, and demagoguery with the highest office in the land. I wish I could say that books will be enough to turn the ideological tide in America. It will take more than that, and there are many organizations out there ready to fight to preserve American's rights. Donate if you can. Volunteer if you can. Remember to breathe if you can. And in the meantime, read. Books may not be our sole defense, but we won't get far without them. Books have started revolutions. To everyone who's calling for national unity, and claiming that we owe the current president-elect our respect... you might want to crack open a history book (or at least listen to the Hamilton soundtrack). The United States of America was founded on civil disobedience and subversive writing. Let those be part of the core American values that guide us through these next four years.

So here are a few simple ways you can start to stand up and fight back through books. We can't let hate become the norm.

1. Read books written by activists

Feminism Is for Everybody: Passionate Politics by Bell Hooks, $21.59, Amazon

If you're at a loss for where to begin, read books by activists. Read bell hooks. Read Malala Yousafzai. Hell, read Thomas Paine if you want to, just educate yourself on the problems we're facing and the ways we can organize to solve those problems. Educate yourself on the historical factors that brought us to this moment in time. If you don't understand the opinion of someone on the other side, read books written by people you don't agree with. At the very least, you'll have more facts to lean on the next time you get into a Facebook fight with your second cousin who owns all those guns.

2. Support literacy programs

I'm not saying that every kid who has access to books grows up to be a kind, politically-aware genius... but let's try to make sure that the next generation doesn't get all their political information from memes. Organizations like Reach Out & Read and Literacy Inc. work to promote literacy in children and teens, and to provide kids with real live books. You can donate or sign up to volunteer for these or any number of other organizations dedicated to fighting illiteracy. It might not sound like a bold political stance to take, but we need well-read youth if we're going to counter the current flood of ignorance and misinformation.

3. Donate your books

I know, book lovers—your books are your darling children and it hurts to get rid of them. But the stakes are high right now (and I know you're not going to re-read that Stephen King paperback). There are many organizations that accept book donations for kids worldwide. And if you don't have any kids' books to donate, you can send your books to Books Through Bars or the Prison Book Program to stock prison libraries.

4. Buy and read books by marginalized authors

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine, $11.48, Amazon

Yes, you should actually buy the books, because books that sell are books that continue to be published. Buy and read books by native writers, by transgender writers, by writers with mental illness. Whether the books are fiction, memoir, or poetry, we need diverse books now more than ever. Speaking of, you can get involved with the organization We Need Diverse Books and turn your reading habits into action.

5. Recommend what you read

Tell your friends how reading Audre Lorde has changed your life. Tell your teachers or your students about how they, too, can read more diverse books. Give your racist aunt Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison for Christmas. Photocopy pages from Rachel Carson's Silent Spring and post them all over the bulletain boards at your college. Perform your slam poem about income inequality at your coffee shop's monthly open mic. Spread radical literature every possible way you can.

6. Support independent book-sellers and publishers

It doesn't sound all that political, but supporting indie bookstores and publishers can do more than you think. You're supporting the local economy (and the local economy is about to need all the help it can possibly get). You're supporting fledgling authors, who are still building their readership. Often, you're supporting diverse authors who exist outside the mainstream media. Plus, many small-scale bookstores also operate as community centers or gathering places, and we need strong community ties if we're going to get anything done.

7. Write or support writers

Yes, we seem to be drowning in a sea of thinkpieces and op-eds right now. Yes, it's overwhelming. Yes, it's OK to take a break from reading rage-filled blog posts on Medium. And yes, not all of us feel comfortable putting words down on a page. But we live in a world in which the president-elect is threatening to sue the New York Times for criticizing him. As Orwellian as this sounds, we need to support the free press if we want it to stay free. Buy subscriptions to the newspapers that actually fact-check, because they're being drowned out by garbage-spewing websites. And, if you like your own right to free speech, use it. If you're a writer, write like hell. Write your blog posts, or your poetry, or your Great American Novel. Never doubt that your writing has the potential to add some measure of good to the world.

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