As any student glides through academia, the push for proficient writing skills are built up as necessary as any classroom core. Nobody doubts the importance of critical writing, but all too often it is framed as a skill which only enhances professionalism in a later career. This is true, but this glosses over the most genuine importance of the written word; as a platform for open and unabashed expression.
In recent times, the world has divided across incendiary lines and free speech has come under doubt from across the spectrum. As such, it is more important now than ever for everyone to hone the empowerment within writing to enunciate their beliefs, emotions and ideas.
My own relationship with the art form of writing is one that developed over many years. Despite what it may seem from the thoughts I put to paper, I have always been an intensely private person. Initially, I approached my high school English courses as the ones that simply provided an easy A, filling my essays with tropes that I knew teachers loved.
As I completed each grade, my courses began to take a slant towards encouraging the creative and adventurous, and I sought to appease my teachers while simultaneously discovering a sense of intrigue and excitement in pushing my boundaries of comfort. I soon graduated in 2016, believing my affinity for writing would remain a curious remnant of my days in high school. I was, of course, unaware of the rapidly shifting paradigm in society that was yet to occur.
To many, the inauguration of President Donald Trump in 2017 was seen as the opening salvo to a rapidfire shift in the societal norms of America. But I view it as a symptom of a larger disease, it undoubtedly marked a watershed moment where the importance of independent speech became clear to me. The year began to mark a turning point in the culture of the U.S., where artificially stoked division became common practice and discourse took an ugly turn.
Beginning that year, the press has come under attack, with anyone daring not to toe the line being deemed “fake news” and sicced on by a mob of rage. This extends beyond the press to anyone who challenges unjust conformities of America, like Colin Kaepernick and the NFL players who knelt during the national anthem. All the while, the most vulnerable members of society began being increasingly ostracized and attacked. Key to opening my eyes to injustice was the Charlottesville car attack, in which a white supremacist attending the Unite The Right neo-Nazi rally drove his car through a crowd of peaceful protesters, killing one. As Americans watched in revulsion, the leader of the nation embolstered extremists by offering a veiled defense of the rally’s attendees.
Circumstances have not improved since 2017. In 2020, protests against police brutality were met with thousands of arrests and threats of military force and death from leading politicians. As COVID-19 swept through the nation, so did a wave of race-based hate crimes. This year, the most integral target of attack is the LGBTQ+ community and particularly transgender people. Fueled by political partisanship, trans people have faced a deluge of discriminatory laws, been victims of a mass shooting and have faced vicious and mainstream accusations of being “groomers.”
This is what forces my hand to continue to write. Despite the maladies facing American society, time has shown that people facing oppression need voices willing to challenge the powers that be, and said powers fear nothing more than an outspoken populace.
The power of the written word extends far above confronting prejudice, or the simple logical benefits taught in schooling. It is a unique tool of release that grants power to anyone willing to venture for it. Writing can be anything, from a lighthearted hobby to a spirited passion. One can review their favorite films, analyze sports, shape their untapped feelings into poetry and anything else. The connecting thread between these all, of course, is the emotional release that writing candidly about what is important to one’s self provides. It’s more than just an exercise in a lesson plan; it’s a tradition that benefits mental health, sharpens critical awareness and promotes an audacious openness among all.
Above all else, writing candidly is frightening. But transcending that fear and breaking down personal barriers is a practice in catharsis, in democracy and in power. If you wish to hone this skill, you can begin with a private journal entry, or a public blog post. The Anchor encourages submissions as well, be they responses to published articles or any notable topic. The secret, however, is to begin. The first word you write is the first step towards a better world.