On Nov. 9, 2016, Seattle woke to headlines that felt like a “Dewey Defeats Truman” moment with a twist: It was no mistake.
Donald Trump, a reality show racist, was president-elect of the United States. The thin-skinned, septuagenarian who came to political prominence by questioning the nationality of the first Black president now held that man’s seat. As the months dragged on, the face of the government changed. The new head of the Environmental Protection Agency fundamentally opposed its own mission. The new head of the Department of Energy had campaigned on abolishing it. People learned to check Twitter for signs of impending thermonuclear war.
There was an open wound in the psyche of the city that people tried to close with marches and organizing.
So, a couple of Seattle editors and a publisher did the most Seattle thing they could do — they printed a book about it.
“Fly to the Assemblies” is a collection of work from 23 Seattle-based writers and activists produced during the first 10 months of the Trump administration that attempts to put down on paper the complex, evolving emotional reality faced by residents of the Emerald City.
The essays, produced by a diverse array of writers, are not interlocking puzzle pieces chosen by the curators to form a clear, calculated image of Seattle as the standard-bearer of the resistance to the new administration.
Instead, editor Marcus Harrison Green of the South Seattle Emerald, with an assist from Mark Baumgarten of Seattle Weekly, selected works in which writers boldly set forth their authentic reactions to the election of Donald Trump and the flood of hate and violence that moment unleashed.
Sometimes despairing, sometimes hopeful, sometimes analytical, the essays provide shifting windows into the experiences of men, women and young adults as they grapple with the threat from the other Washington.
Sometimes despairing, sometimes hopeful, sometimes analytical, the essays provide shifting windows into the experiences of men, women and young adults as they grapple with the threat from the other Washington, and what it means to them. White authors reflect on their responsibilities to people of color and marginalized groups as racism and bigotry was flaunted with such audacity that even the privileged could not ignore it.
“Fly to the Assemblies” puts a pin in this political moment, capturing it like an insect in amber for future study. And the story of how the book came to be is itself uniquely Seattle, where positive relationships provide a path forward for a movement that finds its strength in diversity rather than homogeneity.
At 6 p.m. on Nov. 8, the Nov. 9 issue of Seattle Weekly went to bed. The editorial board, unaware of how the election would swing, penned a critique of the United States’ two-party system, arguing for the necessity of more representative parties that could play at the national level.
“Everything shifted,” Baumgarten said. “The world shifted.”
Green and other members of the South Seattle Emerald team were in the Union Bar in Hillman City that night watching the outcomes come in. The results blindsided them. For some of the younger writers, 2016 was the first presidential election in which they’d cast a vote.
“And then we went to Slow Boat [Tavern],” Green said. “We had to do a mini pub crawl at that point. Let’s drink away our sorrows, and tomorrow we’ll go fight, I guess.”
Vladimir Verano, executive manager of Third Place Press, had an idea. He’d been with friends on election night, and watched the realization dawn on the faces of women.
“Interestingly enough, there were a lot of guys in the same room we were in, not quite getting it,” Verano said.
But it was an indication in those first moments of the shift in the reality that women, people of color and other marginalized communities were about to face. And then came the Muslim ban. The assault on LGBTQAI+ rights. And the frenetic energy expended on the part of advocates and journalists trying to make sense of it all.
“I had this idea about finding a way to connect what was happening locally to the national stage. So I approached Marcus about the potential of another anthology,” Verano said.
Verano’s and Green’s relationship grew out of controversy.
Another branch of Third Place Books, an independent bookstore, opened in South Seattle in 2016. The celebrations and events planned for the opening weekend, however, did not reflect the artists and voices of the community, which drew criticism that Green, in his capacity as a journalist, sought to investigate.
The interaction ultimately resulted in the publication of “Emerald Reflections,” an anthology of poetry and prose produced by south-end authors and published by Verano and Third Place Press, and now “Fly to the Assemblies.”
Green accepted Verano’s proposal and brought Baumgarten in and began contacting local writers.
“He either reached out to me and asked me if I wanted to be a part of it, or he may have told me I was going to be a part of it,” Baumgarten said.
“It was very much relationship-based,” Green said.
And many of the essays in “Flight to the Assemblies” explore relationships, sometimes difficult — a White woman introducing her unwoke parents to anti-racist writers — and sometimes self-reflective — an activist mother finding balance between the Resistance and her family.
They are stories that connect rather than divide. They show courageous vulnerability in dark days. They raise painful questions and don’t always seek to answer them. They are a salve for the wounds from November 2016.
“I think this book is for people who are feeling powerless right now,” Baumgarten said. “The emotion that is in some of the essays that you talk about as well as the solutions are important to people who feel that way. They’re not alone, and want to move forward.”
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Twitter @AshleyA_RC
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