A powerful thing happens when activism takes the form of literature.
by Portia Ladrido
Books are consumed differently by many people. Some use a book as a form of escape; others use a book solely for information. But if there’s one common theme that ties all books together, it’s that they allow, in however form, the reader to be inspired. And more often than not, most things flourish when there is a wellspring of inspiration.
This inspiration can even be more powerful when put into civic action. Authors have always had a way with words that can urge people to imagine, to dream, or to take action. As we still are globally experiencing political and cultural shifts that may be hard to make sense of, it may be ripe for you to get to know activists who have used the power of the pen to act on the change that they want to see in the world.
The author of the books The Shock Doctrine, The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, and This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate, Naomi Klein has never veered away from criticising the economic and political system that have left so many people across the globe oppressed and marginalised. Klein’s literature and activism have been heavily influenced by her childhood, especially since she was raised by parents who were part of the Vietnam War resistance. She has since dedicated her work to questioning not only capitalism but also highlighting the ways in which this system has damaged our climate.
The Indonesian author is best known for his book, A is for Activist, a children’s book that has been recognised for its “progressive message that has made its way into material aimed at little ones.” It is no easy feat to explain concepts, let alone activism, to children but Nagara’s pursuit is one worth noting. One of his succeeding children’s books, My Night in the Platenarium, has been said to be a “stirring tribute to the power of the arts to challenge injustice.” Indeed, Nagara continues to remind us that nobody is too young to change the world.
Malala Yousafzai started writing about her experiences while living under the Taliban occupation through a pseudonym on the BBC blog, which put her in danger the moment it became known to the Taliban. She was shot on her school bus, fortunately survived, and she hasn’t stopped fighting for human rights since. The Pakistani has written her memoir, I am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban, and has been receiving global recognition for her relentless drive to fight for what she knows is right.
Besides being a journalist and an activist, Dorothy Day has built a nonviolent civil disobedience group called the Catholic Worker Movement, which provides aid to the poor and the homeless. She has written books particularly on social activism, such as Loaves and Fishes: The Inspiring Story of the Catholic Worker Movement, House of Hospitality, From Union Square to Rome, and her memoir, The Long Loneliness: The Autobiography of the Legendary Catholic Social Activist. Throughout her life, she has been massively critical of policies that exacerbated racism, sexism, and other permutations of inequalities.
Any feminist scholar or those who are following the feminist movement will one way or another come across Gloria Steinem, one of the most popular proponents of feminism. She was known to lead the second-wave feminist movement of the ’60s to the mid-80s on top of creating the feminist magazine Ms. Her autobiography, My Life on the Road, chronicles her life as a feminist, writer, and activist, and for any bourgeoning feminist out there, this may just inspire you to take on the activism as fiercely and as lovingly as Steinem did.
Portia Ladrido is a multimedia journalist specialising in social justice, culture, and the arts. She is a human rights journalism fellow at the Philippine Human Rights Information Center and the Metro Manila hub coordinator of the Solutions Journalism Network. She currently writes speeches for the Philippines’ first female socialist senator. Previously, she worked as an editor and writer at CNN Philippines.