Democracy is under attack, but we crime writers seem oddly silent.

A mob of supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump storm the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, U.S., January 6, 2021. REUTERS/Leah Millis
Assault on the peaceful transfer of power, January 6, 2020. REUTERS/Leah Millis

Sure, we’re tweeting, but at retail scale, does that ever move the needle?

Remember when McCarthy & Cohn were trying to undermine democracy? How writers like Arthur Miller refused to name names? How Dashiell Hammett was blacklisted and went to jail rather than name names?

The session ended with McCarthy returning to the ostensible reason for his appearance, the stocking of ‘communist literature’ in state libraries. He asked the author, “If you were in charge of that programme to fight communism, would you purchase the works of some 75 communist authors?” Hammett, replied with a putdown which Sam Spade would have been proud of, “If I were fighting communism, I don’t think I would do it by giving people any books at all.”

Phil Brett, “The Cheaper the Crook, the Gaudier the Patter,” Culture Matters

In the 1960s, when a lot of people honestly believed civilization teetered on the brink of destruction, writers and poets showed up. We protested. We wrote things. We went to jail.

Today, democracy is under a full frontal assault. Where are we?

  • We aren’t protesting every day outside the Arizona fraudit.
  • We aren’t dogging the steps every day of every Congressperson who voted to end the peaceful transfer of power on January 6.
  • We aren’t organizing aid to groups like Democracy Docket or the ACLU or the SPLC or Fair Fight. Or if we are, we’re staying mighty damn quiet about it.

Honestly, it seems to me we aren’t doing anything but donating money and bitching on Twitter and this moment in time demands more of us. We need to stop doing nothing.

Step One: Stop Enforcing Silence

Dismantle the mechanisms of our own self-imposed silence.

At Sisters in Crime and MWA chapter meetings, in our newsletters, at our conferences, among ourselves in special-interest mailing lists, we long ago “agreed to disagree” and eschew political matters.

This isn’t about politics. It’s not a policy debate about minimum wage. It’s a fight to save the right to vote in free and fair elections. You can be a Democrat, a Republican, a communist, a socialist, a flat-earth society fan, and still insist we protect and preserve the right to vote in this nation. So step one is to stop being silent within our own communities. Because if we don’t do something, we will be silenced from without, and it won’t stop with “politics.”

Talking about the brink of democracy’s destruction will be contentious at best. But we just tackled another contentious issue in America, race, and in the crime writing community, it’s going…fairly well? We just spent the last two years or so working hard to make sure our fellow writers of color are included. Some literary contests are still mighty white, but many are more inclusive. My white writer friends retweet and otherwise support the many talented writers of color in our community and sweet Jesus are those talents brilliant. A woman of color edits our annual “best of” series. We’re all becoming better writers for the inclusion of many overlooked writers. My panel at Bouchercon has some diversity: this is the first time I’ve been on a short story panel that isn’t all white, mostly male, and 100% straight. Finally, on a different conference program committee, we focused on diversity (to varying degrees of effectiveness).

At first, it felt awkward, making that extra effort to remember to include those often left out, with a soup├žon of “am I doing this right?” Now it is second nature. Standing up to the forces of minority rule can become just as second nature if we stop silencing ourselves.

Step Two: Actually Speak Up

I tried speaking up last week. I sent a call to action in a SinC newsletter article. A call which the newsletter editor promptly deleted, because “politics.” I blame myself for not making the case strongly enough. So now I’m trying to convince you from the depths of this seldom-visited blog.

To repeat: this is not politics. This is Democracy, her bodice torn, her feet bloody, teetering on unstable rocks at the edge of a cliff. The absolute least we could do is show up and lay hands on the brute menacing her.

So, maybe when there is a totally fraudulent attempt to “audit” election results in your state (they’re coming to my state, too), we can show up, protest, even use our command of language to lay bare the danger these vote stealers represent, the way Hammett did in that long-ago session with McCarthy. Fight and fight and fight. And write. But also, fight.

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