Monday, January 16, 2017

Writers, welcome to The Resistance

Denver's East Colfax Avenue has no "Cowboy Crossing" signs.

But I stopped anyway to let two cowboys cross in the middle of the street. It was growing dark, snow spat from the Colorado sky. As the two cowboys in black hats sprinted across the street, one limped along and one waved his thanks.

I returned the wave and motored to my destination. It's Stock Show time in Denver. Cowboys from Hugo in Colorado and Greybull in Wyoming swarmed the town. By day, they rodeoed and exhibited prize bulls and spectated. At night, they hunted down good eats on Colfax.

Cowboy: Where can I find a good restaurant?
Denver person: Try Colfax. But beware of the hipsters.
Cowboy: What's a hipster?
Denver person: You'll see.

I saw a few hipsters at the Writers Resist reading at the Lighthouse Writers Workshop just off of Colfax on Race Street. No cowboys, though, at least none wearing cowboy hats. As one of the readers pointed out, it was good to see all of us introverts out and about on a winter Sunday night.

Some in the 100-plus crowd in the basement grotto were writers. Some were not. We attended because we objected to what was happening in our country during the third week on January 2017. A demagogue was getting sworn in an president. We never dreamed we would see this day. Maybe that was part of the problem. We never dreamed, as Martin Luther King, Jr., did. We complained. We wrote. We blogged. Many of us, but not all, voted. Somehow we didn't work hard enough to keep a guy like Trump from being president.

Writers Resist was formed after the election by writer Erin Belieu who teaches in the M.F.A. program at Florida State University. I am a product of an M.F.A. writing program (Colorado State University) and have a weakness for MFAers, especially when they are social activists. Writers tend to be liberals. So do Liberal Arts academics. Maybe that's why the wingnuts hate us so much and want to send us all to re-education camps. We are products of a liberal education system, in my case, a series of community colleges and land-grant universities most of which feature football teams subsidized by citrus barons (my Florida Gators) or by robber barons such as the Koch Brothers. If you look at a list of alumni of any land-grant university, and you see names of military leaders and corporate CEOs and Republican politicians, you might be tempted to wonder why universities aren't hotbeds of rabid wingnuts instead of breeding grounds for social activists. As it turns out, most campuses include righties and lefties and people who don't give a shit. College students voted for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump and anyone else who managed to get on the ballot. You can just as easily blame Trump on the Sigma Nu at CU as you can the laid-off factory worker in Wisconsin.

I digress. Writers Resist in Denver was one of more than 100 similar events happening all over the world. I was in Denver because I was taking my daughter Annie to some medical appointments. I'm retired so I have the time and inclination to do these things. I drag my kids to these events, just as the young Hispanic couple who sat in front of us did last night. Two young parents, two well-behaved children. An all-American family.

The writers were a diverse bunch. Teow Lim Goh read from her first book of poems, Islanders, from Conundrum Press. I listened to her poems and they spoke to me. Not because I am Chinese but because I also come from immigrants. They also had to go through an island -- Ellis Island -- to be admitted to this country. In the case of the Chinese, it was Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. Chinese immigrants faced additional barriers that my Irish forebears did not -- color and language (some Irish spoke Gaelic). The writer addresses this issue in the poem "Daydreams." In it, a white bureaucrat walks to work every day "past a sea of yellow faces,/their worries creased into their brows." At work, he looks at immigrant files, "the tales inside just words to him." Yet, as he looks at the photograph of a potential Chinese immigrant, this happens:
In her eyes he sees his mother
fleeing a homeland plagued by famine,
huddled on Ellis Island.
That hurts. Irish-Americans worked hard to assimilate. The first generation born in the U.S., such as my own mother, spoke English like a native and, with her all-American good looks, rarely ever was called a dirty Mick or a redneck Catholic, all terms Denver Nativists flung at Irish-Catholics. Even though my family name was changed from O'Shea to Shay either at Ellis Island or in my great-great-grandfather's attempt to fit in, we Shays eventually blended in and could become suburban Republicans who look on people of color as "the other," people to be feared and possibly banished.

Why I love poetry, good writing of all kinds. It makes me think and feel. I can become the other. If that is true, can I imagine myself as the other, that guy driving the big black pick-up with the Trump bumper sticker I followed today down the snowy interstate? I hope I can. Our future as a nation may depend on that.

Meanwhile, the writers stood up and read at Writers Resist. David J. Daniels wrote about growing up gay. His book, Clean, is published by Four Way Books. Emily Perez read a long poem, "My Father Quotes Jaime Escalante," from her book Backyard Migration Route. Khadijah Queen read June Jordan's "Poem About My Rights." and a poem about sexual harassment from her new book, I'm So Fine: A List of Famous Men &and What I Had On. Army combat veteran Seth Brady Tucker read a selection from Claudia Rankine's Citizen and a short piece about his struggle, as a soldier, to take a college course that meant he could become the "educated other" in his unit. Alejandra Garza wrapped up the night with a presentation about her organization, the Colorado ACLU, and why it is important for these times.

Annie and I each bought a book and had it signed by the authors. We drove home on the lookout for cowboys, but saw none crossing the road in the dark city night.

To contribute or volunteer for the Colorado ACLU, go to
To contribute or volunteer for the Wyoming ACLU, go to

No comments: