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Voices from the vigil for free expression

Writers of conscience confront hopelessness in the early weeks of the Trump presidency.

On the night of Feb. 11, attendees of the 2017 Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Conference held a candlelight vigil in front of the White House. The videos below contain most of the speeches that were given at the event.

“Don’t stop using your words. It isn’t trivial. It is more important than ever.”

— Melissa Febos [part 1, 5:55]

Writer Carolyn Forche read Walt Whitman’s “This is What You Shall Do” [part 1, 8:00]:

Gabrielle Bellot [part 2, 3:30]

Poet Ross Gay read Cornelius Eady’s “Grattitude” [part 3, 4:20]:

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In truth, I had no idea there was going to be a vigil for free expression that night. I didn’t know what (AWP) was until I googled it after the event.

I was walking back to the McPherson Square metro station to head home after covering an immigrants’ rights march that had concluded on the other side of the White House when I heard cheers.

In the middle of a crosswalk, I turned around and started heading back. The park was too dark to tell what was going on, but I knew I had to check it out. My mantra these last few months of observing and documenting these, often spontaneous, protests since the election has been “head towards the White House and follow the yelling.”

When I noticed the candles, my first thought was that it was an event organized by anti-choice activists (a large group of them were in town for some event that weekend). I walked around the growing mass of people until I ended up, basically by accident, right next to where the microphone was.

The speeches that followed were intimate, cathartic, and genuine. The speakers dealt with the existential questions we’ve all been asking ourselves since the election: Does anything we do now matter? Where, if anywhere, is there strength to be found in such dark times? How can we start rebuilding when we can’t stop the damage being done?

Melissa Febos left the crowd with a reminder to seek happiness, and to keep creating, even now [part 1, 5:40]:

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