Author(s): Rebecca Solnit
Who gets to shape the narrative of our times? The current moment is a battle royale over that foundational power, one in which women, people of color, non-straight people are telling other versions, and white people and men and particularly white men are trying to hang onto the old versions and their own centrality. In Whose Story Is This? Rebecca Solnit appraises what's emerging and why it matters and what the obstacles are.
In her latest collection of essays, Rebecca Solnit continues her discussions and observations on the political and social structures that shape power relationships. Looking at the major issues — race, gender, climate — and the major movements — #MeToo, Black Lives Matter, Standing Rock, Climate Strike — Solnit digs into the language of power and the depths of these activisms. Who gets to be heard? Who is telling the story? And where did these stories come from? The collection is sub-titled Old Conflicts, New Chapters. In her introduction, 'Cathedrals and Alarm Clocks', her tone is upbeat — she sees the recent rise in collective action as a questioning of the structures which have kept the elite, predominately men, in power and their needs protected and justified. “You can see change itself happening, if you watch and keep track of what was versus what is...the arising of new ways of naming how women have been oppressed and erased, heard the insistence that the oppression and erasure will no longer be acceptable or invisible.” And this change comes through the power of language — words that define, record and speak out: “This project of building new cathedrals for new constituencies….the real work is not to convert those who hate us but to change the world so that haters don’t hold disproportionate power”. In the essays that follow some of the facts and figures on sexual assault, racial crimes and the legislative changes that attempt to control the autonomous body and the choices people — women — can make about their own bodies are dispiriting. Yet it is the resistance to these actions through direct protest, legal avenues and political channels that have culminated into a perfect storm — a storm that Solnit is clear to point out resides in the now and in the actions of the past. Resistance to hatred, abuse and control is not new and has not been ineffectual, even when it has been silent. While the essays focus on American politics and culture, Solnit’s observations are relevant wherever you happen to reside: the same power structures exist and persist in all places. As our societies become more diverse, so too comes the opportunity to have a more just and equal ones. In several of her essays, Solnit touches on the growing diversity of the voting population and what this means for American politics. With younger politicians, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez for example (who was inspired to stand for Congress by Standing Rock), a new generation, Greta Thunberg and the School Climate Strike movement and indigenous voices holding sway in political arenas, it does feel like a time of change even in the face of the counter megaphonic voices of Trump and Boris. Solnit’s essays are always interesting, thought-provoking and rich. Her ability to bring yesterday’s dissent into today’s realm and tie these historic important actions to what happens now and next, her clarity of thought and exploration of language and how words play an important role in acting out injustices and taking action to overcome silenced lives makes Solnit a voice to be read by everyone, especially those in positions of privilege.