Once a year, I make a departure from my usual blog offerings and take part in a global awareness campaign – Blog Action Day.
Though food and community leave lots of room for writing about social justice issues, it’s also important to step back and take a look at what is happening in the world beyond my kitchen and my neighbourhood.
A long time ago, I found myself behind the bar in a room full of writers. This isn’t the beginning of a writer’s journey of self-discovery, or self-destruction, but one of solidarity and struggle. The evening was a fundraiser hosted by PEN Canada. The writers and guests, including PEN’s then-president Nino Ricci, were there in support of Little Sister’s bookstore. My friend and I, both of whom wrote for a feminist newspaper at the time, had been asked to volunteer and we gladly offered our amateur drink-pouring skills to the cause.
I’d been following Little Sister’s case closely, because it was my community bookstore and because the censorship they’d been facing was an outrage. I was also surrounded by people following the case, in my job, my volunteer work, and my personal life. It was a lesson in how communities can be silenced and it helped me to learn to look beyond my own areas of privilege to see what other voices were missing from cultural conversations.
When this year’s Blog Action Day theme was announced, the Little Sister’s struggle was the example that came immediately to mind.
Writers may be overtly censored by governments, but they may also find themselves discouraged or discounted because they don’t belong to the right gender, race, sexual orientation, class, or religion. Even published authors can find themselves censored after the fact, if their works aren’t stocked in stores.
In Vancouver, queer and trans voices were infamously silenced by Canada Customs, beginning in 1985, when Customs systematically stopped shipments to gay and lesbian bookstore, Little Sister’s. Little Sister’s took their fight all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada and must still challenge Customs’ decisions to this day.
The struggle on Little Sister’s behalf was taken up by queer and trans communities, but those activists succeeded in making it a cause supported by writers and artists across the spectrum. PEN Canada took up the cause, mainstream publications reported on the case, and Canadians of all backgrounds stood up for Little Sister’s.
It’s this kind of solidarity that must be shown to writers around the world and at home, when their voices are being drowned out or silenced. The next time you’re in a bookstore, whether it’s brick and mortar or virtual, ask yourself who isn’t there. When you’re exploring the blogosphere or online media, be aware of who is being represented in the bylines. Then, look for ways to uncover those other voices.
Whatever avenues of exploration are open to you, take time to search for voices that diverge from your own experience. And when you (inevitably) find silences, raise your own voice in support and don’t stop until everyone is heard.
You can find a broad spectrum of posts under the #RaiseYourVoice umbrella by visiting the Blog Action Day website, their Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, or Google+ pages, or by searching any of the hashtags I’ve included on this post.