Tell Your Story. Fight Your Dragon. Vote.

March 3, 2020

We don’t usually delve into politics on here, and we’re certainly not here to tell you how to think or who to vote for. (In fact, we ask that you refrain from discussing today’s candidates here – that’s what our personal Facebook feeds are for!) But the fraught political landscape has us thinking a lot about stories. To be fair, everything makes us think about stories, but still: whose stories get to be told? What kinds of stories do we immediately understand and nod along to? What stories have shaped our minds and our culture so profoundly that we don’t even notice or question them when they appear? And what stories can cast a spell and change the world?

This is Alice Paul, a leader of the twentieth century women’s suffrage movement. She advocated for and helped secure passage of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution. By helping women gain the right to vote, she was fighting an incredibly entrenched story – the story that women weren’t smart enough, capable enough, or generally fit to make decisions about how their country should be run. Basically, she was fighting the idea that women should be good and stay in their tower (Lady of Shalott, anyone?) instead of coming out, getting arrested for protesting, kissing Lancelot’s face, and maybe fighting a dragon. It’s an old story, a story so powerful that it still influences our politics today. Also, she looks like an actual queen in this picture. Guenevere giving a toast, perhaps? Cheers, Alice!

The Lady of Shalott, “half-sick of shadows,” with a serious case of cabin fever and story sabotage.
[Image by John William Waterhouse]

So why are we talking about politics and Alice Paul? Today is “Super Tuesday” in the United States, the day in each election season when the greatest number of states hold their primary elections and caucuses. Whatever happens today will have a great say in determining who will be on the election ballot for president in November. But what happens today will, in large part, happen because of stories. It will happen because of the stories the media tells us, yes, but more importantly it will happen because of the stories we tell each other. It will happen because Uncle Jake had a bad experience at a rally for X candidate and told everybody about it at church, or because your neighbor put out a sign endorsing Y and when you asked her about it, she had a great story that convinced you candidate Y really was the right choice. Stories told at Town Hall Meetings, stories told around the dinner table, stories you hear in your WhatsApp group thread. Who people vote for is determined by the stories that rise up around candidates – which means our governments, our countries, are shaped by them too. This is how powerful stories are.

Thinking about all this reminded us of a piece our dear friend Shveta Thakrar wrote back in 2017 for Uncanny Magazine called #beautifulresistance. In this essay, she too talks about how powerful stories are, how they impact everything around us, and how, sometimes, stories teach the fear that leads to exclusion, binary thinking, racism, sexism, bigotry, and so on. But she makes the point that if stories are that powerful, and can be used for that much bad, then they can be equally powerful forces for good. They can be used to “fight the idea of division and separation with compassion, [to] scatter seeds of hope and awareness across a hostile, possibly infertile landscape and leave them to sprout where they may.” These stories can be a kind of #beautifulresistance to the fear and pain that other stories spread.

In the end, voting is a way of telling your own story too. It’s a way of making sure your story gets heard. Whatever candidate speaks to you does so because of the story they weave about the future of America… but more importantly because their version of the story includes you. So get out there and vote. Help your story be heard, help fight the dragons, be a part of the #beautifulresistance. Change the world.

We’ll end with a poem we wrote in 2017, partially as a response to Shveta’s piece. It’s all about sending up the bat signal, a call to action: “An Announcement,” if you will. You can read it at Uncanny Magazine or click this link to download a pretty PDF version we made just for this post :).

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