Democracy means giving a voice to everyone
Early evening on Saturday, and US journalist, essayist and activist Rebecca Solnit treated the crowd gathered in Mantova’s Piazza Castello to readings from her latest book, Recollections of My Non-Existence.
One form of privilege, the writer said, is to have your story believed. She cited the Me Too Movement, which has recently brought sexual abuse to the forefront of conversation. These stories aren’t being told for the first time, she said, but they are being heard for the first time. Previously these voices did not have anywhere to go.
It doesn’t happen only to women. Immigrants, people of colour living in majority-white countries, transexual people, the disabled, the young and the very old, these are all groups whose stories and realities are routinely ignored or questioned.
As a young woman in the 1980s, Solnit began to write as a response to violence against women she was witnessing and experiencing through conversations with friends. It took around ten years for her to realise that what she was really writing about was what it means not to have a voice.
“Voice is the ability to participate in conversations that shape society.” Credibility – a fundamental tool of survival – is rooted in how your society perceives someone like you. If the patriarchy claims a monopoly on rationality and reason, other voices will not be believed. It’s difficult to speak up in these circumstances. “It is worse to say something that doesn’t matter than to be silent.”
Solnit’s next work is about Orwell, and she makes a link between authoritarianism and the ability to speak up and be heard. Trump may have gone, but Trumpism has not. “The authoritarian in the bedroom or at the dinner table operates in the same way as the one in the White House or the Kremlin.” On resistance: “Principles are contagious,” Solnit said, approaching the end of her monologue, “be careful with facts, learn to evaluate information. Be clear who you are.”