More than 2,000 artists, writers, and readers gathered at the steps of the New York Public Library on January 15 in the name of defending free expression and the free press.
The Writers Resist protest was launched by poet and Vida co-founder Erin Belieu and was co-sponsored in New York by PEN America. The protest, held the day before the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., brought writers including U.S. poets laureate Rita Dove and Robert Pinsky, comics artist Art Spiegelman, and author Jacqueline Woodson from the steps of the New York Public Library to the shadow of Trump Tower 15 blocks north.
The protest, one of more than 90 simultaneous Writers Resist events held across the country and abroad, reflects the worry among many in the media and book industries that the incoming Trump administration intends to crack down on free speech.
"In a matter of months, freedoms that have long been taken for granted have been called into question by a man who will soon become the most powerful leader in the world," PEN America executive director Suzanne Nossel told the crowd. "PEN America is mobilizing writers and artists to raise their voices among the thousands of Americans who are resisting—resisting lies, resisting hate speech, resisting threats to our democracy both internal and external."
She continued: "Today is just the first of many PEN America efforts to come. We will resist."
After the rally, Nossel and PEN America president Andrew Solomon led protesters in a march to Trump Tower—where, due to heavy police presence, protesters were forced to disperse. There, Nossel and Solomon delivered a pledge to defend free expression, signed by more than 150,000 people, to President-elect Trump's team.
"Just as chairman Mao and Joseph Stalin started by going after the intellectuals, against those whose words who might form an opposition to them, so Trump has gone across us," Solomon said. "Free speech is first among equals when we look at what is being violated by this new regime."