In the middle of August, a group of eight writers, prompted perhaps by chants of “12 more years!” at the Republican National Convention, began an online discussion about finding ways to help ensure a resounding defeat of Donald Trump in November. The result, unfolding in less than a week, with key support from writers with ties to the Outer Cape, was the establishment of Writers Against Trump (WAT), an organization of now 1,500 writers from all over the U.S. and abroad — including Margaret Atwood in Canada and Diane Johnson in Paris.
The group’s first focus has been to lift up what writers can do to help swing the swing states to Biden-Harris, beginning with North Carolina. On Sept. 5, North Carolina novelist Jill McCorkle, an early WAT member, and Durham Mayor Pro Tempore Jillian Johnson led a Zoom discussion with dozens of writers about turning out the critical North Carolina vote. On Sept. 19, a similar event will focus on Texas, with subsequent sessions devoted to what writers can do to help swing Wisconsin and Florida. In one of its founding statements, WAT committed “not only to vote and to rally others to the polls, but to advance and protect vulnerable structures of voting and vote-counting.”
In line with that purpose, WAT is also strongly urging the news media (starting with an open letter to more than 1,000 news executives, anchors, and top editors) to avoid the mayhem that could result from unexamined habits of news reporting. In doing this, WAT is issuing an obvious, but nevertheless essential, warning of dangers to a free and fair election posed by a malign mix of numerous factors: deliberately circulated misinformation; unreliable polling data; the prospect of delays in vote counting; and the readiness of officials to exploit resulting confusion.
The news media, and writers generally, must prepare the public for premature claims of victory by those with vested interests, claims based on false or incomplete information. The civic truth has never mattered more than it does in this election, and writers have a special obligation to do what they can to protect that truth.
Anticipating that a period of confusion and conflict may follow in the days after Nov. 3, WAT is laying the groundwork for a coordinated set of local and national post-vote responses, with writers gathered in online public forums to ask: what just happened and what happens now? At that point, WAT’s distilled purpose will be to support Americans in either celebrating democracy or defending it.
The following are members of WAT, a number of whom have already contributed statements and short videos to Writers Against Trump: Cynthia Bargar, Anne Bernays, Maura Coughlin, Nicholas Delbanco, Wendy Doniger, Maria Flook, Indira Ganesan, Kelle Groom, Penelope Jencks, Robert Jay Lifton, Alexandra Marshall, Mary Maxwell, Gail Mazur, Suzanne McConnell, Pamela Painter, Nancy Rosenblum, Heidi Jon Schmidt, Larry Shainberg, and John Skoyles. Read and watch them at writersagainsttrump.org.
James Carroll is a founding member of Writers Against Trump.