by Erin Vance
I’ve always been a fighter. A fighter, a writer and anxious nail biter. The second holy trinity of my youth. Thankfully, I’ve managed to quit the nail biting, and curb some of the anxiety. Maybe focusing on the first two has helped ease the third. It’s definitely been helped by therapy and meds, but that’s really a story for another day. Reflecting now, I see a little more clearly how entwined those traits have been in my life. More importantly, I see how vital they have been in forming the person I am now.
I was raised in a conservative Christian family. I went to church each week, and my early adolescence was filled with atypical extracurricular activities for most teens: church youth group, Bible Quizzing and church camp. My best friends were from my church and, though I argued with my parents and yearned for freedom from rules, I didn’t rebel in the same ways that my peers did. Instead, I fought using words. Words mostly on paper. Words to reflect my fledgling critical thinking. I wrote lists, journal entries and essays, asking questions of those conservative Christians around me, such as “why do you believe being gay is a sin?” or “how is it ever wrong to love, when that is the absolute primary message from Jesus?” I debated. I fought with my family and church leaders over these questions. I could not reconcile such things as homophobia with the beliefs that I had about Jesus’s message of love for all. So I challenged their thinking, and my own. I challenged my family’s tendency toward an almost tribal, insular, ‘us vs them’ mentality. Asking those questions and a thousand more like them, helped clarify the issues for me. I was well on the path toward a wider, liberal view of my world.
Then, I went to college and continued to use writing to express my thoughts and beliefs. I used it to challenge authority and to question the establishment.
Now, as an adult in my 40s, I have taken my life experiences and begun to use them in this age of fascism (read: Trump’s administration) to fight the powers that be. Or those that want to be. I’m determined to use my words to help win one of the biggest and most important fights of my life – that for my country, democracy and human decency.
This has taken clearer shape over the past 8 months. Letters to the editor, written emails and faxes to Senators and Congressmen, but also, on a local level, I have become engaged with others in my community who are demanding accountability from our elected officials. We’re actively resisting the illegal use of our publicly-funded jail to house civil detainees for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). I’m a member of the media team, crafting stories and articles; press releases and emails about our group’s activities. I’m using my words to devise messages of support to those immigrant detainees, being unfairly and inhumanely housed in our jail, and other jails around the country. I’m writing words of encouragement and protest – words on signs that our group has been holding, through daily peaceful protests, for over 90 consecutive days now.
I never intended for my literary life to become a reflection of the stark reality of being a daily protestor, a committed resistor and an unpaid but passionate fighter. I had imagined a literary life of poetry and beauty. Ultimately, I think the point is this: this new focus of my literary life is still beautiful. Maybe even more so than using words to describe the idyllic scenery around me. Its beauty lies in its truth and ferocity. Isn’t that what we all yearn for our literary life to be? To have real impact? To be meaningful and effective? Using my words to counter the hate and conservative rhetoric we’re bombarded with now – it ignites a spark that I think we all desire. It lends a sense of urgency, a broader awareness of my privilege and how I can use it to the benefit of others. It connects me with my community and those most vulnerable in our society. It creates a bond and fulfills a need that has bubbled under the surface since I was young. Words matter. They matter most when we use them to fight for what is inherently right. That thing that makes us human: our connection to one another. Is the pen mightier than the sword? In my world, it always has been. I hope to wield it well.
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Erin Vance is an activist, writer and speech-language pathologist living in Oregon. She is privileged to share a beautiful and serene vineyard and home in the country with her partner, Tim, and their pets. She loves helping others find their voice, in whatever form that takes.