Self-proclaimed young activists write letters to their parents, to powerful politicians, even to their future selves.
Their causes are diverse: yes to education, justice, gay marriage and peace in the Middle East; no to prisons, consumerism, environmental degradation, racism, sexism, domestic violence and American imperialism. From age 10 to early 30s, activists write letters expressing their political commitments. The epistolary gimmick, unfortunately, is distracting. The reader has to do too much work in discerning who the activist is, what her cause is, whom she’s addressing and so on. A collection of essays in which the authors were more straightforwardly expository would have been infinitely more useful. Even so, a handful of the letters are forceful, cogent and compelling. Rebecca Trotzky-Sirr’s letter is easily the best of the bunch. A single mother and first-year medical student, Trotzky-Sirr writes a letter to herself, to be read the day she gets her M.D. Her ostensible purpose is to remind herself why she should remain committed to providing poor women with good reproductive health care. But the letter also offers a powerful critique of political movements that implicitly suggest you have to be childless to be an activist and that “fail to include family & the daily complexity of caring for another person” in their politics. Jessica Vasquez’s letter to Arnold Schwarzenegger, demanding greater equity in California’s education appropriations, is also quite moving. Ten-year-old Chloe Joy’s demands that parents stop “treating us kids like babies” and her suggestion that children unionize is just plain embarrassing. Some of the writers’ self-descriptions also border on parody: Marian Yalini Thambynayga, for example, “lives in borderlands where poetry is theater is love is movement is song is prayer is rebellion.”
If this volume represents the next generation of activism, it will come as no surprise should the left continue to languish.