February 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

PEN America To Hold NYC Rally in Defense of Free Expression


PEN America, the advocacy organization dedicated to defending free expression, supporting persecuted writers, and promoting literary culture, is producing the flagship gathering of Writers Resist: Louder Together for Free Expression on the steps of the New York Public Library, 476 Fifth Avenue, New York City, at 2 p.m. on January 15, 2017, the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. Gatherings will also be held in 60 cities across the country.

Participants will include Jacqueline Woodson, Jason Reynolds, Esmeralda Santiago, and many other prominent writers. “Children’s writers are coming together in great numbers now, I think, because we don’t want bullying and hate speech to become part of the discourse, especially for kids,” says Fatima Shaik, co-chair, PEN Children’s and Young Adult Book Committee and assistant professor in the Department of Communication and Media Culture at Saint Peter’s University in New Jersey.

The family-friendly, free event will feature readings of diverse writings and seminal texts that embody the ideals of democracy and free expression, including excerpts from the Constitution, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s sermons, George Orwell’s 1984, and the Federalist Papers. Broadway Kids Against Bullying will perform the new single “I Have a Voice.”

Shaik says that ideas for a visual display of solidarity—among them, hats, scarves, and balloons—were entertained, but ultimately decided against. “We don’t want to distract from the overriding message of the protest, that we reject hate speech, misinformation, and limits on free speech. Children need the truth in order to make good choices, as do grown-ups.”

At the end of the rally, a group of PEN America leaders (and anyone else who wishes to join) will take the short walk to Trump Tower to present their pledge to defend the First Amendment—signed by more than 150,000 individuals, including all the past U.S. Poets Laureate—to the transition team of President-elect Donald J. Trump.

Individuals can sign the pledge at the same time as they register to attend the rally.

“Together, we will show the nation that we not only affirm, but also will continue to do everything possible to protect the rights of children to read whatever they choose, to write whatever they want, and to speak out without our fear or intimidation, no matter what,” Robie H. Harris, children’s book author, told SLJ.

SLJ is providing Focus On: Rebels with a Cause, a list of book titles to serve as inspiration to the young people in our classrooms and libraries who will someday lead the world, to PEN for distribution.

“History makes it clear that the first thing an authoritarian regime does is control information [from] the press, the media, the writers, the essayists, the poets. From this many other abuses follow. That’s why I and many others are protesting in front of the NY Public Library,” adds children’s author and photographer Susan Kuklin.

The Twitter hashtag for the event is #loudertogether.






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