Authors and booksellers rally for midterm voters

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Writers for Democratic Action (WDA), an organization of some 2,600 writers (and counting), is mobilizing its members in a national campaign called Book the Vote. WDA will facilitate nonpartisan voter registration for the 2022 midterm elections, working with authors, bookstores and libraries to educate voters on their home state’s voting procedures.

WDA’s Book the Vote is run entirely by volunteers and has no connection to a previous BTV effort run by Penguin Random House. Houston-based poet/translator Robin Davidson, who leads the Texas steering committee, invites interested booksellers to get involved. “Booksellers can go to our site to fill out a form, and we’ll add them to the list,” Davidson says. Between July 1 and mid-September, participating bookstores will hold voter registration tables at least twice a month. WDA will partner well-known writers with BTV bookstores and coordinate special events for authors on National Voter Registration Day, September 20.

In Texas, Davidson has rallied bookstores such as Deep Vellum, Interabang, and The Wild Detectives, along with a “dynamic and diverse team of writers. We try to staff these bookstores as many days a week as possible. »

“It brings the writing community together,” says fiction writer Jill McCorkle, who leads the North Carolina BTV contingent. “Lately I’ve heard so many people say, ‘I wish I knew what I can do.’ Who doesn’t want to sit down for a while in their favorite bookstore? [to support voting rights]?”

More than 150 North Carolina writers have signed up to participate, McCorkle says, along with independent bookstores including Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café in Asheville and Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill. “As writers, we use our voices — they’re our most powerful tool,” says McCorkle, who encourages writers to speak out for civic engagement. “When you have the podium, mention the importance of voting.”

University of Chicago writer Rachel DeWoskin agrees that “we have a surprising ability to organize something we care about. People feel the desire to do whatever they can to protect democracy. She contacts booksellers across Michigan, including Literati Bookstore, 27th Letter Books, Serendipity Books, and Between the Covers. Along with WDA poets Carolyn Forché and Tara Skurtu, DeWoskin collected signatures at the Philadelphia meeting of the AWP. “We had these old-fashioned clipboards,” DeWoskin explains, “and we went from table to table filling them with the names” of those who were ready to act this year.

Other WDA members are strategizing in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, and Books and Books President Mitchell Kaplan is leading the charge in Florida. Novelist James Carroll, organizing the New Hampshire campaign from his home base of Boston, recognizes the challenges facing BTV signatories: truly frightening challenges to democracy that we see all around us,” he says. . “But it is simply by shifting such small weights from one side of the scale to the other that democratic change (and survival) occurs.”

To educate young voters, the WDA authors partnered with national student organization Democracy Matters, which trains student interns to become local organizers. Joan Mandle, a retired Colgate University professor who founded Democracy Matters with her son, former NBA star Adonal Foyle, heard about Book the Vote from fellow poet Peter Balakian. Democracy Matters chapters will provide BTV tables and plan events at bookstores and college libraries.

BTV also stays in touch with organizations such as the League of Women Voters and state-specific groups like March to the Polls (Texas) and You Can Vote (North Carolina). McCorkle wants to reach community college students, and DeWoskin adds, “Because it’s an inclusive, nonpartisan business, we believe we can put tables in every corner of America.”

WDA was founded in August 2020 by the late activist Todd Gitlin, in collaboration with internationally renowned authors. Originally known as Writers Against Trump, the organization changed its name after the November 2020 election. “Todd [Gitlin] That’s why I can feel confident as an activist,” said Davidson of the Texas committee. “He was such a loving guy and he taught me where to look for resources, how to move forward in a state that really needs it, and how not to get discouraged.”

Carroll shares this determination. “We aim not just to register voters, but to make voting the key symbol and mechanism of our shared community,” he says. “And of course, we want to remind people who primarily tune in to elections during presidential years that this midterm election is of urgent importance. Who better than writers, booksellers and book lovers to defend this cause? »

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