Early Friday afternoon, more than 300 AWP attendees met in the lobby of the Marriott Marquis Hotel and marched together almost two miles to the U.S. Capitol grounds, while others took cabs or public transit. Disclosing that the Washington, D.C. metro police had been unresponsive to the group’s request for a march permit, the organizer of the march, the poet D.A. Powell, told the marchers that they were simply going to take a walk through the streets of downtown Washington, D.C. The Capitol Police had issued a permit for the group to assemble as a group at their destination, on the Capitol grounds
“We as writers must get behind these [Constitutional] principles and let our legislators know we will not accept this infringement of these principles,” Powell said as the marchers gathered inside the hotel, “We are Americans after all.”
The marchers walked through Penn Quarter and down Constitution Avenue carrying signs and chanting. When the crowd arrived at a park that separates the Capitol Building from the buildings housing the legislators’ offices, Powell told the crowd, “This is a time when we need to be visible and make our voices heard with our legislators.” Powell said that he and the other planners of the event has organized it “to make good use of this time in Washington, D.C., to get people to use their words. We’re writers, goddamn it!” Powell also read a letter of support signed by a dozen British poets and said he’d received another letter of support signed by 40 British and Irish poets.
After the rally, during which the organizers took turns speaking, many in the crowd visited the offices of their elected representatives, following up on the plans we reported on Thursday, while others returned to the Convention Center.
In addition to protests from attendees, the AWP organization itself has made a statement in opposition to Trump’s travel ban and expressed approval over the various protests and actions taking place at the conference. David Haynes, Chair of the AWP board of Trustees, told PW that, “The AWP Board of Trustees and Staff are on record with our opposition to the executive order of January 27, 2017 banning entry into the United States from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. We encourage writers and teachers whose lives have been impacted by these policies to share their stories with us so we can do our part to put a face on this atrocity. We have already begun sharing these stories on our social media platforms.”
“We are aware of at least a half dozen organized events during the AWP conference where attendees will be gathering to stand up in support of truth and of the values that have made this country great,” continued Haynes. “This passion and energy are a large part of what has always made the conference an exciting place to be.”
AWP’s second day ended on a high note, with the day’s final onsite event drawing a record crowd of close to 3,000 people filling two large convention center ballrooms to hear Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie (Americanah) and Ta-Nehisi Coates (Between the World and Me) take turns reading from their latest work. The reading was followed by a discussion moderated by writer and literary activist E. Ethelbert Miller that touched upon the African versus the African-American experience, the legacy of slavery in the U.S., and how Michelle Obama’s relationship Barack Obama caused Adichie to support him from the beginning of his Presidential campaign, “because if she married him, he must be okay.”
AWP continues through tomorrow, with a candlelight vigil sponsored by Split This Rock taking place in front of the White House following the conference’s end.