Writers for Democratic Action (WDA), an organization of some 2,600 authors (and counting), is mobilizing its membership in a national campaign called Book the Vote. WDA will facilitate nonpartisan voter registration for the 2022 midterm election, working with authors, bookstores, and libraries to educate voters about their home states’ voting procedures.
WDA’s Book the Vote is entirely volunteer-led and has no connection to a previous BTV effort led by Penguin Random House. Houston-based poet/translator Robin Davidson, who heads the Texas steering committee, invites interested booksellers to get involved. “Bookstores can go on our site to complete a form, and we’ll add them to the list,” Davidson says. Between July 1 and mid-September, participating bookstores will host voter-registration tables at least twice a month. WDA will pair prominent writers with BTV bookstores and coordinate special author events on National Voter Registration Day, September 20.
In Texas, Davidson has rallied bookstores including Deep Vellum, Interabang, and The Wild Detectives, plus “a dynamic and diverse team of writers. We’re trying to staff those bookstores as many days a week as possible.”
“It is pulling the writing community together,” says fiction writer Jill McCorkle, who leads the North Carolina BTV contingent. “Lately I have heard so many people saying, ‘I wish I knew what I could do.’ Who doesn’t want to go sit in their favorite bookstore for a while [to support voting rights]?”
More than 150 North Carolina writers have signed on to participate, McCorkle says, along with independent bookstores including Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café in Asheville and Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill. “As writers, we use our voices—they’re our most powerful tool,” says McCorkle, who encourages authors to speak out for civic engagement. “When you have the podium, mention the importance of voting.”
University of Chicago writer Rachel DeWoskin agrees that “we have a surprising capacity to organize something we care about. People feel a desire to do as much as they possibly can to protect democracy.” She is contacting booksellers across Michigan, among them Literati Bookstore, 27th Letter Books, Serendipity Books, and Between the Covers. Along with WDA poets Carolyn Forché and Tara Skurtu, DeWoskin gathered signatures at the Philadelphia meeting of AWP. “We had these old-school clipboards,” DeWoskin says, “and we went from table to table filling them with names” of those ready to take action this year.
Additional WDA members are strategizing in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania and Books and Books president Mitchell Kaplan leads the charge in Florida. Novelist James Carroll, organizing the New Hampshire campaign from his Boston home base, acknowledges the challenges that face BTV signatories: “Our effort to support voters, especially in battleground states and where voting rights are being undercut, can seem like little enough, given the truly frightening challenges to democracy we see all around us,” he says. “But it is just by moving such small weights from one side of the scale to the other that democratic change (and survival) happens.”
To get information to younger voters, WDA authors have partnered with national student organization Democracy Matters, which trains student interns to be grassroots organizers. Retired Colgate University professor Joan Mandle, who founded Democracy Matters with her son, former NBA star Adonal Foyle, learned about Book the Vote from a colleague, poet Peter Balakian. Democracy Matters chapters will staff BTV tables and schedule events in university bookstores and libraries.
BTV also keeps in touch with organizations such as the League of Women Voters and state-specific groups like March to the Polls (Texas) and You Can Vote (North Carolina). McCorkle wants to reach students at community colleges, and DeWoskin adds, “Because this is an inclusive, nonpartisan endeavor, we feel we can set up tables in every corner of America.”
WDA was founded in August 2020 by the late activist Todd Gitlin, in collaboration with internationally recognized authors. Originally known as Writers Against Trump, the organization changed its name after the November 2020 election. “Todd [Gitlin] is the reason I’m able to feel confident as an activist,” said Davidson, of the Texas committee. “He was such a loving guy and taught me where to search for resources, how to move forward in a state that is really needy, and not to get discouraged.”
Carroll shares this determination. “We aim not just to register voters, but to lift up voting as the key symbol and mechanism of our shared commonwealth,” he says. “And of course, we want to remind folks who mostly tune in to elections in presidential years that this midterm election has urgent importance. Who better than writers and booksellers and book lovers to take on this cause?”