The Power of Storytelling, Then and Now

BY ALEX ALSTON

When we think of the great social movements of the twentieth century we often think of the great icons that appeared at the helms of these struggles. A charismatic preacher from Montgomery who had a dream, a Catholic commander-in-chief who asked us to ask ourselves what we could for our country, or a revolutionary journalist who told us women needed men as much as fish needed bicycles. From Angela Davis to Allen Ginsberg, we have no shortage of heroes and heroines to look back on. By the same token, when we think of these great movements and these icons, we can’t help but think of the historic protests they orchestrated: Greensboro’s first sit-in, the Stonewall Riots, draft card burnings at UC-Berkeley, the list goes on and on. From Mississippi to Vietnam and back our national memory is full of battlegrounds, theaters for resistance, and the stories they still tell unto this day. But as we look toward the future, we would do well to remember the cornerstones of these movements, the foundations for past protest. It has always, and will continue to be a reality that a movement will only ever be as grand, as powerful, as inevitable, as its stories.

As moving as a speech might be, or as crippling as boycott may become, only a story can harness the power, the passion, and the pain of a movement. As the NYPD quelled the uprising outside of Stonewall on that fateful summer night in 1969 with brute and hateful force, they were not aware that for every blow they dealt, a story was being beaten out of the long-oppressed LGBTQ community. When Bull Connor’s vicious police dogs and firehoses bore down on the child marchers in Birmingham, he had no clue that in killing this march, he was helping the blacks of the Deep South give birth to a story. These were stories that would be broadcast to the corners of the world. Ultimately the oppressor’s hand can only be forced in accordance with the proliferation of injustices. You see silence, is a movement’s greatest enemy.

And so I implore you, all of you, to never stop telling your stories. It is with our stories that we will speak back to and against oppression. It is with out stories that we will change the world. We cannot afford to keep quiet any longer.

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  1. J says:

    Thank you for writing this. Very true. We must never forget that our stories are the best and most honest form of communication. And with communication we can spark thinking in individuals which leads to so much more.

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