On Wednesday, October 24 Obama for America sent emails to supporters from Dr. Maya Angelou, soliciting voters using one of the most profound modern-day poets, authors, and thinkers.
"I once debated with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. about whether an African American would ever be elected president. He believed it would happen within the next 40 years at the time -- I believed it would never happen within my lifetime," Angelou writes.
"I have never been happier to have been proven wrong...Yet as Rev. King wrote, 'All progress is precarious.' So don't sit on the sidelines. Don't hesitate. Don't have any regrets. Vote."
The role of art, poetry, and ethos-driven campaign strategies has proven to be both significant an effective for Barack Obama. In addition to Maya Angelou's letter to constituents, will.i.am's 2008 YouTube video--"Yes We Can"--of celebrities singing the words to a speech Obama gave after losing the New Hampshire primary sparked emotional reactions from viewers nationwide.
Social change and activism are deeply rooted in rich histories of art, and students shouldn't underestimate the potential value and impact that poetry can have in affecting change on campuses.
Ousman Diallo, a senior at Syracuse University, expresses his own narratives in the form of performance poetry on campus. He uses this craft as an outlet to open up dialogues about issues he thinks are worth addressing.
"I'm conscious of the world around me when I write, and I'm trying to get people who are watching and reading to think with me and consider what's really important," Diallo explained.
"Whether I'm writing a poem about politics, gender, corporate scandals, or misrepresentations of African Americans and other ethnic cultures, it's important that as a community of people our society critically thinks about these issues on larger levels."
Poetry is a perfect example of how the personal is political--there's nothing more relatable than someone's story and emotions. Before individuals can take part in any kind of action, they first have to become aware of the issues around them.
The emotional connections that arise out of reading and listening to poetry simultaneously spark enlightenment about social and political issues and serves as an effective form of consciousness raising.
Personal narratives are also key site for individuals to connect the personal and political--personal experiences are rarely isolated incidents, but are interconnected to larger social and political issues. These personal experiences play out in minor ways on a daily basis but are also intrinsically linked to structural systems in place.
The real power in poetry isn't just connecting with audience members or having work featured in fancy publications; it can sometimes lie in the self-awareness and inner-peace that derives from writing for smaller audiences, or even just for your own benefit.
Words are our most powerful tools; when combined together, they shape future trajectories of our nation's landscape, are used to create the world's most important documents and communicate with each other on both small and large scales.
We use words to tell other people's stories, express our own narratives, and convince others to agree with our own line of thinking. They come together to form ideas, stories, and sometimes just a simplistic kind of beauty that cannot be captured in any other way. Words are also one of the most effective means of achieving social change, and poetry is specifically a highly beneficial tool that more students should embrace when considering activism.
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