The Classic '90s Books That Helped Fuel My Activism As An Adult
In the months since Donald Trump has become president, more and more people have become inspired to join the Resistance — whether that means volunteering, campaigning, donating, making calls, educating themselves and others on the issues, or otherwise. Bustle's 31 Days of Reading Resistance takes a look at the role of literature and writing in the Resistance, both as a source of inspiration and as a tool for action.
In 2017, resistance is not just a form of political protest or a trending topic on Twitter, but a tool for survival in light of the empowerment of Donald Trump and the alt-right. Around the country, people are finding inspiration in courageous counteracts of justice, as well as one another. For me, that inspiration started over two decades ago when I first read these books from the '90s that sparked my young resistance.
For as long as I can remember, I have been passionate about activism. I started my first protest in elementary school when Pokemon cards were banned at recess (revolutionary, I know.) I led a sit-in during gym class in the sixth grade when the dress code was changed to prevent girls and only girls from wearing tank tops. When the United States invaded Iraq the day after my thirteenth birthday, I begged my mom to let me attend the anti-war rally in Boston that was planned for the following week. When she couldn't take me, I started my own peaceful protest group at school instead, and even wrote what I thought were very passionate, very convincing letters to our school paper.
Clearly, I caught the resistance bug at a young age, and I know exactly where I got it from: my bookshelf.
Always an avid reader, I credit the books of my childhood for shaping the person I am today. From fun fantasy novels to my first taste of realistic fiction, my favorite novels from the '90s introduced me to empowering fictional role models, enlightening stories of people like and unlike me, and inspiring examples of what it means to stand up for what is right, fair, and just.
A true child of the '90s, these nostalgic novels helped inspire my young activism, served as starting road map to my future resistance, and still empower me to this day.
One of the first experiences I had with dystopian fiction was Louis Lowry's The Giver, a remarkable book that opened my young eyes to the power of choice and the importance of individual freedom. It taught me to question authority, ask questions, and not accept stories as facts just because someone in an authoritative position was telling them. It helped me understand the responsibility of knowing the truth and making my own choices, and instilled in me the idea that everyone had a right to the same burden.
Like every other kid who grew up reading the Harry Potter series, my childhood was defined by this seminal work. While there are so many moments from The Sorcerer's Stone that influenced the kind of person I would become, it's hard to overlook how influential Neville's stand against Harry, Ron, and Hermione was to me as a young reader.
The Golden Trio taught me how to stand up to bullies and face down evil, but that moment in the common room when Neville was willing to fight his friends for what he though became a source of inspiration I would tap into throughout my life. It's easy to tell someone you don't like that they're wrong, that you don't agree with them, that their ideology is harmful, but it's a whole other thing to say that to someone you love. Thanks to Neville, though, I learned from an early age that it doesn't matter who is in the wrong, friend or foe, you have a duty to stand up for what is right.
When I was assigned The Watsons Go to Birmingham — 1963 for my book report, I knew very little about the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. What I did know was information I got from my sterile history text books, resources that left out so much about the experiences of African Americans during that time. Christopher Paul Curtis's incredible novel filled in those blanks.
This moving children's book not only opened my eyes to the experiences of African Americans in the 1960s and beyond, it showed me the destructive and deadly powers of hate and racism through the eyes of a child the same age as me. As Kenny slowly began to understand the events of the novel and attempt to live his life despite the realization that the world was still a horribly imperfect place, I too began to wrap my head around the idea that, although it seemed like a great place for people like me, the world was in need of fixing. Even if I didn't know the world for it, I was acknowledging my own privilege for the first time. The Watsons' heartfelt story was all the inspiration I needed to decide to pitch in and start the repairs myself.
Although I did not find this powerful '90s novel until a few years after its 1999 publication, I credit Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak with helping me find my own voice, and empowering me to use that voice to speak out against violence. A poignant novel about trauma, victimization, and sexual violence, Speak was my first fictional taste of what I would face in real life in the decades to come: a lifelong struggle as a woman living in a world overwhelmed with rape culture. It was an empowering introduction to issues that would later fuel my activism, one that showed me how powerful one voice can be. After finishing Speak, I had a whole new appreciation for my ability to do just that.
Like so many of the books from Scholastic's Dear America series, A Picture of Freedom helped my young self step out of the privileged shoes of a middle class white girl in the northeast and into the life of someone else, someone whose experiences were completely unlike my own. This diary about a 12-year-old slave girl who teaches herself to read and, later, becomes a conductor on the Underground Railroad before finally escaping slavery herself, gave me insight into the struggles of enslaved black Americans, an insight that helped me start to understand what racism was and what it meant in my world. Not only did it open my eyes up to the cruelty of America's past and the injustice of its present, but A Picture of Freedom inspired me to stand up for other people, not just myself. Like the book's protagonist Clotee, I started to understand that no one is really free and equal unless we're all free and equal.
Follow along all month long for more Reading Resistance book recommendations.