by Siobhan Thompson
Political statements were riots and protests and demonstrations. I saw riots and chants as incendiary devices for young people to make the government listen.
The Vietnam War protests were political statements. They were an awakening of people, an uprising of youth, a brave and sometimes foolhardy counterculture that refused to accept things the way they were.
The Pride parades were a political statement. They marched through the streets of major cities in America and even through the dirt roads in Uganda, those lines of brave people draped in rainbows and perseverance and community.
It was a long time before I realized that these things felt like art to me—the gathering of people, the mosaic of flushed faces, the music of incessant chants. Art was not limited to museums, and politics were not limited to colossal buildings in Washington.
I was born to a hippie liberal mother who never really left the Sixties, and I learned to be a pseudo anarchist through the music I liked early on. It all sort of bled together. I’ve always been far left. I’m way far left. Radical, even. I gave an impassioned speech advocating the pro-choice movement in eighth grade, and I scoffed at trucks with Bush/Cheney ’04 stickers on their bumpers.
But still, I didn’t think of myself as political until Barack Obama ran for office. On Election Day in 2008, I was in my freshman year of high school. I wore a Barack Obama shirt and at least twenty Barack Obama pins. I couldn’t vote yet and it broke my heart. When he won, I cried, floating on patriotism and the promise of change. I didn’t understand anything about foreign policy, but that didn’t matter to me then. All I knew was that I wanted things to be better.
I tried to be political beyond my unyielding support for Barack. It was hard when I lived in northern Wisconsin, but it didn’t get easier when I moved to Chicago like I thought it would. I thought I would be able to speak my mind more. This was not the case.
In art school, the question of whether or not our art was going to be political came up often. I’m a fiction writer. I don’t think I could write any manifestos. I don’t think I could write anything academic, or intelligent, or persuasive. I like to write about emotions and feelings and even ghosts and monsters, and none of that felt political.
But, there’s more to me than that. My identity as a fiction writer, as a person who understands emotions far better than foreign policy, intersects with the other parts of me that I have come to realize are inherently political.
I am a Native American. I am a woman. I have mental illnesses. I am a survivor of sexual assault. I am not a thin person. I am many things. What I have lived through—what I have survived—are not things you are supposed to survive. Because of this, my life is a political statement. I did not choose this.
My life is art—I am in love and loved. I surround myself with what I find to be beautiful, and I have a tendency to think most things are beautiful. I see most everything as art. I choose to live this way.
As a result, all the art I create is inherently political. My existence is inherently political.
Some of this I chose and some of this I did not—but I’m embracing it all anyway. Some political statements are quieter than marching on Washington, but I think there’s room for all of us.