Jen Jackson Quintano

I’ve been thinking a lot about language lately; specifically, the power of words. The need for words. Words as a weapon, and words as redemption.

I once had a dream in which I was deep in conversation with a fellow writer. In it, I told her, “Stories are like pearls. They start out with this single grain, but then this whole aura is built around them by and for the reader.” I had never considered this until I dreamed it.

The same is true for words. Words—especially powerful ones, loaded ones, uplifting or denigrating ones—enter our consciousness and roll around in there until we work them to smoothness with repetitive coating of our observations, beliefs, and values. We take in words, and out comes an understanding about ourselves or the world at large.

What does it mean, then, when our new leader’s language is “redundant, formulaic, aggressive, ‘post-literate,’” as The Guardian stated in its thought-provoking piece, “Donald Trump is changing our language. We need a vocabulary of resistance.”? What do his words mean for our senses of identity—both personal and collective? How do we develop a “vocabulary of resistance?” What does that sound like?

I think a fantastic first step is the Writers Resist movement whose slogan is #WriteOurDemocracy. Over 100 successful Writers Resist events were held last weekend all over the nation, from Tacoma to Taos, Memphis to Moab, all featuring inspiring writers speaking to the power of words and the importance of justice.

Writers Resist states: 

To best protect and defend against further erosion of social justice and democratic process, we believe there are three essential arenas in which writers can best exert influence and inspiration. We must:

·      elevate the narrative surrounding democracy;

·      better educate young future citizens;

·      and mobilize writers who want to put their pens into political practice.

However, I would challenge not just writers to take up this cause, but readers and speakers, too. Citizens of all stripes. Anyone familiar with words. Which is all of us. The most powerful vocabulary of resistance will not be born of linguists. It will come from our hearts.

What will your vocabulary of resistance will be? How you will elevate the narrative? Which word-grains will you toss into the world, and what pearls will become of them? 

A language of resistance—an empowering vocabulary—will be an intentional one. It will not be off-the-cuff and unfiltered. This is the mentality that breeds phrases like “nasty woman” and “grab her by the pussy.” It’s the mentality that breeds disrespect for civil rights leaders, Muslims, entire nations, and fifty percent of the human population: women.

Let us instead hold the intention to be intentional. As the first of The Four Agreements states, “Be impeccable with your word.” Now, more than ever, this should be our citizen mantra. Now, more than ever, we need words that will return to us bright and beautiful pearls. Then, let us string them together in strands of stunning resistance. A glow that arises from our throats.