Magpie words

Dear President Biden,

I don’t think I’ve confessed to you before that I’m a magpie – I collect things, ideas, words, stuff that catches my eye, or my heart. Some of the physical bits are sitting on the kitchen windowsill or the mantel, but mostly the stuff gets incorporated into these letters or my art. Lately what I’ve been collecting are short phrases, mostly by women and mostly from news articles.

Here’s the first one:

Staying quiet isn’t working.”

Oof. Just let that sink in for a minute.  “Staying quiet isn’t working.” Indeed.

Tran Nguyen Wills said this during an interview with a WP reporter shortly after the Atlanta mass shooting where six Asian women were murdered. She was reflecting on how it’s not working for Asian Americans to stay quiet about the racist abuse and harassment they face all the damn time.

It was kind of a stretch for me since I’ve rarely tried to make art that involves words, let alone entire phrases, but I’m pretty happy with the resulting print (and once I have a decent picture of it, I’m going to try and find Nguyen Wills to send her a copy; I’ll credit her no matter what).

Here’s the second phrase:

But they were not silent.”

This one actually quotes the WP reporters who were responding to Dollie Burwell’s statement “We were poor, we were Black and we were politically impotent” in which she was referencing how she and several other women led protests in 1982 when the state of North Carolina’s planned to dump 400 cubic tons of PCB-contaminated soil in predominantly Black, Warren County. Ultimately NC did dump that soil and the community has been suffering from extraordinarily high rates of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and asthma ever since, but the women led crucial protests that brought the reality of such horrific environmental injustices to light. “But they were not silent.”

So far I’ve only got the lines drawn for this piece, but I think I’m finally going to start printing it tomorrow. It feels important to do it justice. Burwell and the women she joined with were sounding this alarm nearly 40 years ago and still, most White environmentalists don’t see that building heavy polluting factories or placing toxic waste dumps near Black or brown communities are significant environmental issues.

I’m not sure whether I’ll end up making prints reflecting the other phrases I’ve gathered so far, but here they are:

The lives of our children do matter.”
Georgia Ferrell reflecting on the Chauvin verdict

Our children cannot wait.”
Nicole Cardoza; Anti-racism Daily (April 22, 2021)

This place is lonely.”
Mary from Uganda commenting on Silicon Valley
she apologized and wrote: “i’m not super smart or talented.””
excerpt from a Silicon Valley teenage girl’s suicide note

“…we cannot keep begging our oppressors to be our saviors.”
Princess Blanding referencing the misguided focus on police reform

It’s a bigger monster than we think it is.”
Danielle McCalla referencing systemic racism and how it shows up in policing

As you can tell, I’m drawn to truth-tellers, mostly of the reality-is-hard sort, but I have found some more positive phrases that might make it into prints. We’ll see. Here they are:

I want to know your story.”
What Eric Sheppard says to the memory or spirit of his ancestor, Moses Grandy, when exploring the Great Dismal Swamp where a number of enslaved people found refuge.

Do all the good you can in all the ways you can.”
Ann Tashi Slater recalling her Buddhist grandparents’ advice

We must shock this nation with the power of love.”
The Reverend Dr. William Barber at the 2016 DNC Convention

May we all be safe.
May we all be happy and content.
May we all be healthy and strong (in part) because we all breathe clean air and drink clean water.
May we accept that we need to shock this nation with the power of love – before it’s too late.

Tracy Simpson

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