The events leading up to the cessation of the Dakota Access Pipeline being built through Standing Rock is only the most recent example of people banding together to beat the odds in the name of social justice, and while it’s a heartening reminder of the power of the people, there is always another battle to be fought. If you missed our profile of the Youth Poet Laureate of the West and One Pen One Page founder Amanda Gorman last week, be sure to get caught up on this incredible young woman’s story. Below, she shares her insights on how creative types can contribute their energy and ideas towards social progress
During this time in history, many young creatives are wondering how we can continue advocating for social justice, environmental protection, and peace using our various crafts, whether it’s art, dance, writing, fashion, you name it. It’s always a work in progress, but as an artist with a social justice bent, here is my advice to other creatives looking to make local and global change:
Even when you feel your work isn’t your best, keep at it. It’s important to constantly keep your creative juices flowing and to force yourself to keep returning to your craft. For example, I try (emphasis on try!) to write at least 15 minutes before I go to bed. I might just copy the alphabet if nothing comes to mind, or write the sounds I hear around me. The point isn’t to create the most marvelous scribbled poem every day, but to carve out a space for me to return to my art form without fears, anxiety, doubt, or reservations. Give yourself time to fail, to brainstorm, to ponder, without outside pressure or expectations. Too often I begin a piece, cross out what I just started, begin again, cross that out—you get the picture. It’s essential that you allow yourself the freedom to just create. I call it word vomit. And it’s liberating.
Find and build communities around your craft. I was beyond blessed that as the Youth Poet Laureate of Los Angeles, I instantly had access to a local community of poets using their pens for social change. Tapping into those types of groups, where people value your creativity and also your values of social justice, is key in becoming a Creative Social Justice Warrior. Don’t be afraid to look in unexpected places and to try new things—I found two groups that helped me become the poet I am today, WriteGirl (writegirl.org) and Beyond Baroque in Venice, CA, by hearing about those programs and just showing up.
If a community like that doesn’t exist around you, build one yourself.
You can create a monthly music group that meets and composes music based off of domestic violence, or meet weekly with other dancers to freestyle to social-justice-themed songs. The possibilities are endless, it just takes commitment and courage to make it happen. You can find tips on creating an art and social justice group here.
Share your work with others.
An easy way is through social media, but with the present digital landscape, there are more opportunities than ever to publish your work. You can also go old-school grassroots and hang it around community spaces and local cafes, etc.
Find ways to cross bridges with your craft.
I try to write poems that connect people—my “Neighborhood Anthem” poem, which I recited at the Commencement of the Los Angeles Youth Poet Laureate title, was an attempt to reconcile the varied experiences of different youth in Los Angeles. Art is all the more powerful when it transcends lines that divide, finding the places where voices intersect.