Art for the Resistance

I haven’t been able to write lately. Not for State of Formation, not poetry, not really anything except for “WTF” over and over again on Facebook as new horrors emerge in the headlines from the current administration. It’s deadening, the news that keeps on getting worse and worse. I see it in the tired eyes of my fellow activists, of my Muslim friends, of my professors and fellow students at our interfaith seminary.

I’ve been in the streets. I’ve protested at the airport. I’ve called my representatives. But I haven’t been creating (and, as anyone who knows me know, I have extensive craft supplies, sketchbooks, journals, graphic design software, and more, which I typically put to good use).

Creativity is hard in the face of fascism. That’s kind of the point, actually. Fascism thrives on conformity and obedience to the state, quashing all forms of uniqueness and rebellion. Totalitarian governments (the kind, for instance, that ban an entire religion or want to completely defund the National Endowment for the Arts) consider artists and creatives and intellectuals to be threats to their power. They want to beat down the creative spirit.

The irony, of course, being that those are the times when that spirit is most needed. Art is, after all, a unique form of resistance.

I found myself reminded of that when the Amplifier Foundation’s Kickstarter, which worked with Shepard Fairey and other artists, raised over a million dollars to provide “We the People” protest art for the Women’s March and beyond. Those iconic images of a Muslim woman, a Latina woman, and a Black woman appeared at the marches around the world, declaring that We the People “are greater than fear,” “defend dignity,” and “protect each other.”

I donated to that Kickstarter. I shared that art. But, still, even knowing the importance of such art, I still felt defeated by the constant deluge of oppressive news.

Then, the other day, I read a post by one of my favorite childhood authors, Tamora Pierce. She wrote:

To those who are losing a lot of their will to create in the wake of President Tyrant:

Don’t let him and his orcs win. People NEED your books, stories, poems, paintings jewelry, dolls, knitting, tapestries, vases, weaving, dishes, every creation that comes from your hands. Every creation is a punch back at the haters and the heartless. Every word puts hope or thought or dreams or solace or fire into those who read it.

You become a different voice from the bullyraggers and the foolish; your ideals, wishes and convictions reach your audience, whether they are reading Dr. Seuss or James Joyce. You convey food for hope and imagination whether you realize it or not, and the most innocuous-seeming work gives those who partake of it something to go on with.

Keep soldiering on. Comedian or philosopher, baker or glassblower, writer of tomes or fan fiction, you’re needed now more than ever.

A spark.

Then, not too long after that, I saw a post my professor, the incredible Muslim scholar-activist Najeeba Syeed, had written:

We need interreligious scholarship that is beyond coexistence and dialogue. That gets to our need for co-resistance.

Hmm. “That tempts me to recreate the infamous ‘Coexist’ sticker to read ‘CoResist,” I commented. “Do it!” she replied.

I remembered Pierce’s words. And so I sat down, set aside my homework, and opened up Adobe Illustrator. Soon, I’d created the “CoResist” graphic you see at the top of this post. It felt good, to make something. To find a way to visually express a message that our religious and spiritual traditions must not only coexist, but that we must resist together. That the Resistance is spiritual and theological, as well as political. That in our plurality, we can build a movement.

I posted it. It started to get shared. And shared some more. “It’s going viral!” Professor Syeed exclaimed, when she saw me in class the next day (for our class “African American Islams,” which feels more relevant and crucial by the day).

People started to ask for t-shirts, stickers, and more. My friend (and fellow seminarian) got in touch with a friend of hers who owns a small screenprinting business, and that friend offered to print CoResist swag—and donate 100% of the proceeds to the American Civil Liberties Union.

That happened. I shared a new link. And the orders started rolling in. $300. $500. Now, it’s up to over $1,200, going to defend civil liberties (like the important suits on the Muslim ban which the ACLU brought to court). Over a thousand dollars, raised because of a piece of art (and the collaboration of some awesome women).

That’s precisely why we need art. Art is power. Art is resistance. Art says that we won’t be quiet—we won’t go silently. Art sends a message.

So we need the artists. The designers. The poets. The dancers. The knitters. The crafters. Even when many of us are finding it hard to simply even get out of bed. We need us.

Religion, especially, has always been an important source of art. In the wake of the success of this CoResist design, I’m inspired to see what art our religious—and interreligious—communities can create. What are the resources in our traditions for creative resistance?

Share them. Create them. Support them.

In the meantime, I’m going to go take my notebook and try to write some poetry.

The Resistance continues.

Note: If you would like to download the CoResist image to share or use, or if you would like to order some CoResist swag (100% of proceeds go to the ACLU), here’s the link!

You can follow Najeeba Syeed for more interfaith wisdom and action on Twitter, at @NajeebaSyeed.

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