“Our democracy is at risk. Growing public cynicism and an alarming disdain for truthfulness is eroding our most dearly held democratic ideals. As writers we have tremendous power to bypass empty political discourse and focus public attention on the ideals of a free, just and compassionate society.”
This is the first thing you see on the website of “Write Our Democracy,” initially “Writers Resist.” Formed last month, after American poet Erin Belieu’s Facebook post calling for resistance and resilience in the face of a Trump presidency, this national network of writers has already inspired more than 75 events throughout the U.S. as well as around the world. Within these events, writers were invited to read work either by their own hand or by others they admired supporting the theme of resistance.
University of Utah student Nic Contreras participated in one such event in Salt Lake City, Utah, organized by Paisley Rekdal. Rekdal reached out to Contreras through a writing and rhetoric studies professor, and he was grateful for the opportunity it provided. After days of thinking, planning and analyzing his thoughts, his contribution was a poem, written the same day of the event, on his experience of being an undocumented immigrant. “[This event was] kind of like the marches, just to remind people that we’re here, that we take our freedom seriously, that we take our freedom of speech seriously,” Contreras said of the event and its participants. “[We were] trying to remind people about American values.”
Contreras’ dedication to writing is clear now, but he has not always been a writer. While always an artist, his first love was music, having been a musician since the age of 10. It was when he began considering his future that he realized he had to make a decision. “I didn’t want to go to music school,” he said. “But I wanted to do something.”
That “something” turned into a major in English; he saw a connection between that and the music he loved in lyric-writing. “I consider it [lyric-production] writing,” he said.
From lyrics, his introduction to the writing world and something he loved doing, his writing styles expanded to include poetry, essays, letters and journal writing. Within all of those genres, letters in particular have fascinated him. He says that’s because they mark a type of writing that, while still influential in one’s language and writing skill development, is not often considered as such. “All the writing you do creates your authorship, your identity as a writer,” he said, including the things others may not add to their resume portfolios. Letter-writing is a private act, one that requires honesty in a way other writing styles may not. And that’s powerful for Contreras. “I think it’s kind of good practice to keep that honest relationship to the paper, to the page,” he said.
“[Writing isn’t] always my mode of expression, but it’s my first choice,” he said. Participating in Utah’s “Writers Resist” event gave him the opportunity to share himself, to share his work, to share the medium he now considers his first option of self-expression. And with his help, the event was able to raise approximately $3,000 for the Utah’s American Civil Liberties Union in their own resistance efforts.