The Economics of Activism and the Writer

“…when a monster grows, it grows out of control. It eats up even those who created the monster. And it’s time that our people understood this.” Walter Rodney, 1977, Georgetown.

In January, a woman suggested that I put down my pen – because it was useless – and that I march in the streets of Georgetown. I was taken aback. Did she really believe that tramping aimlessly in the sun was superior to writing? And if so, did she believe it while being aware of the cost attached to silencing only one pen in Guyana?

Her view of writing did not surprise me. She is only a product of her society and its culture. She has been conditioned to see her world as a place where the writer is meant for spinning El Dorado fantasies and where writing is not truth but merely the silly imaginings of a fool. How many more Guyanese share her view? Even one more is too many.

I believe now, more than at any other time in the history of our nation, the writer – the man or woman whose pen deals in the currency of truth – has become chief activist. Writing is a powerful and dangerous form of activism. Words are not merely read or heard, they are felt, absorbed, embedded in the memory and they shape the way we see, think, act.

For weeks I have written about the fear and silence which imprison our people. The Guyanese writer, the Guyanese artist, is the voice of the silent, of the silenced. They carry the true spirit of the fight against oppression. They create hope for and belief in change. They awaken and give strength. Without them, there is no hope for freedom from oppression, no hope of stopping the monsters that have grown out of control, no hope of having hope.

Like any form of activism, like anything else in the world for that matter, writing comes with a price. For many weeks I have not written. I do not consider them weeks of silence. They have merely been weeks of observation, of learning. I have been watching and listening, absorbing.

I have also been working out the economics of activism, the economics of writing. Am I willing to pay what it costs to write? Do I believe that the possible results will be worth the price I pay? Yes, of course, I am willing to pay what it costs to write because writing is necessary for my survival, for me to be who I am.

I also believe that any price I pay to shift the culture of fear and silence, to awaken more people, to give my peers voices, will be worth it. I believe that our people and country are worth all my correspondence ending up at the Central Intelligence Unit eventually, my phone being tapped, my privacy utterly and completely invaded. I believe that it is well worth the anger, the depression, the heartbreak, the broken friendships, the lost relationships, the aloneness, the labels of anti-coolie coolie woman and racist.

So what is the problem? The problem is this: I am not the only one who shoulders the cost. I overlooked the fact that other people would have to pay a greater price for my writing. I did not consider the price that would be paid by the man I love or by my mother, my brothers, my nani, my friends. What right do I have to condemn these people to live in fear for me? Worse yet, what right do I have to put them at risk?

Would it be easier for all of us if I sat in my house and lived my life in silence? The fact is that not writing would cost every one of us far more than writing. If I did not write then I would abandon my basic responsibilities as a human being and eventually become but a shadow of a woman. If I did not write then I would rob our people of their chance of having one more voice, of change, of hope, of the promise of a better Guyana.

If I did not write then there would be one less to fight the monsters among us. If I did not write then the cost would be extended to not just family and friends but to an entire nation. Writing is clearly the more economical choice.

During my weeks of observation, many people asked me whether I had been threatened, if I had given up, if I had bowed to the monster. Who will threaten me? And where is the need to threaten me? The most dangerous thing I face is not threats from the oppressor or even my own fear; it is the fears of the people I love and my need to sooth them, keep them safe.

In the end, the writer, the artist, the activist must choose between love for a few and love for many. The writer must choose between self and others. The writer must be prepared to walk alone while using words to fill voids and unite people. The writer must be forever conscious of the cost attached to every word and pay the price for writing, for stopping the monster, for teaching the nation that we all face the same enemy.

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