Literary Activism

Building a Resistance Kit, A Book At A Time

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Jenn Northington

Director, Editorial Operations

Jenn Northington has worked in the publishing industry wearing various hats since 2004, including bookseller and events director, and is currently Director of Editorial Operations at Riot New Media Group. You can hear her on the SFF Yeah! podcast nerding out about sci-fi and fantasy. When she’s not working, she’s most likely gardening, running, or (obviously) reading. Find her on Tumblr at jennIRL and Instagram at iamjennIRL.

We’re almost a year out from the election and I am still trying to figure out how to cope; how to resist. Some days it’s easy to make the calls and write the letters; show up to the protest. Other days everything seems impossible and I hide under some blankets watching the Great British Bake-Off with my cats. And that’s fine, one day at a time. But I’m constantly looking for inspiration and guidance. This weekend, the universe tossed me some help.

A couple times a month, I volunteer at a small local bookstore with a very progressive bent; it’s no surprise to find communist and anarchist-leaning books next to the latest novel from Penelope Lively or Jason Reynolds. And on my latest shift, as I walked in and opened the store, it seemed like everything I touched as I straightened was telling me: “Here—this is what you’ve been looking for.”

photo of four books, an organizer, and a mug

It started with the Slingshot 2018 pocket organizer. I am a bullet journaler myself, but I might take home this zine-inspired yearly organizer anyway. With a reading list for resistance, notes on important moments in resistance history for each day, and tips for everything from enthusiastic consent to what to bring to a protest, it’s the daily encouragement I might need to feel connected and energized.

photos of inner pages of the Slingshot 2018 organizer

cover of Against Doom by Jeremy BrecherSitting right next to it was Against Doom by Jeremy Brecher, which is the next best thing to “Don’t Panic” I’ve seen on a cover in a while. Flipping through this climate insurgency manual revealed chapters like “Turning Climate Worriers into Climate Warriors.” Hello, yes, it me. Climate change is one of the things I’ve found hardest to focus on in the running list of things that are going to hell in a hand basket, possibly because it feels like such an enormous issue. It’s the entire planet! How can we possibly fix it, given how far off the rails we’ve already gone, and how dedicated the current administration is to derailing us further? But this book has some ideas.

cover of Teeny Tiny Gardening by Emma HardyAs I was straightening the Gardening section, Teeny Tiny Gardening literally leapt into my hands (or fell off the shelf, whatever). As an apartment dweller with good windows but no backyard access, I’ve spent the last few years getting closer to a green thumb. And while the hurdles are real—currently, I’m running out of places to put plants that don’t require a stepladder and a real drill, in order to keep them out of my nibbling cats’ reach—it has been both rewarding and essential to my mental health that I get my fingers in some dirt on the regular. The day I made a mint/basil tisane just by clipping leaves from my window pots, and I felt like some kind of glorious kitchen witch. I am here and ready for a miniature berry garden and an herb trolley.

cover of Emergent Strategy by Adrienne Maree BrownThen I turned around and there was Emergent Strategy by adrienne maree brown, staring me in the face. The back blurb starts: “Inspired by Octavia Butler’s explorations of our human relationship to change, Emergent Strategy is radical self-help, society-help, and planet-help designed to shape the futures we want to live.” Brown is a co-editor of Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction from Social Justice Movements, a collection I’ve long admired. My brain is ready! As I looked through the pages I saw interviews, musings, and journaling prompts all organized around thinking through the complex webs of connection that we can make for ourselves, echoing the complexity of the natural world. I am looking forward to diving in.

cover of Rebellious Mourning And then there was Rebellious Mourning, edited by Cindy Milstein. I have been—many of us have been—moving through a lot of grief. While my inclination is to try to STAY POSITIVE, ALL THE TIME, WE CAN DO IT, I am discovering that taking time to mourn whatever brings me grief—losses in legal battles, yet another person killed unjustly, the pain and fear in my friends’ and family’s lives as they face everyday prejudice and violence—is just as important as working for and celebrating our victories. But it’s not always easy for mourning to be healing, rather than a wallow or spiral into depression and inertia. As Milstein notes in the Introduction: “We are, at present, swimming in a sea of grief. […H]ow to better navigate through them, and without drowning? How to shift course, veering closer to a more humane self and society?” I hope to find some thoughts in these pages, especially with contributors like Claudia Rankine (whose book Citizen: An American Lyric was the first in my survival and resistance kit, although I didn’t know it when I first picked it up).

And, of course, who can resist a mug that declares Reading is Sexy and is also made out of 100% biodegradable corn plastic?! Not me. Gotta stay caffeinated to effectively resist!

Tell me, friends, because I’m always adding: What’s in your survival and resistance kit?