The Impossibility of Writing (and Living) Apolitically

In a July 5, 2010 interview with Democracy NOW!, filmmaker Michael Moore discusses   the redundancy of the term “activist,” stating, “I’m a citizen in a democracy, so that automatically implies I’m an activist, you’re an activist, you’re all activists. Anybody who decides to reside in the democracy is an activist. If you’re not an activist, if we’re not, then the democracy ceases to exist. So, there is no choice but for all of us to be active.”

Similarly, in the opening chapter of Power Politics, Arundhati Roy writes, “One is not involved by virtue of being a writer or activist. One is involved because one is a human being” (24).

To Moore, participation is vital to a democracy; Roy takes this idea a step further in stating that participation, or involvement, is an integral part of human existence.

So, is it possible not to be an activist? To write, to create, to exist — all apolitically?

I mean, maybe you don’t vote. Maybe you haven’t made a habit of exercising your right to peaceably assemble; to speak out against your government. Maybe you’ve never participated in a sit-in or a stand-in or a walk-out or any other such verb-preposition combination. Maybe you don’t even live in a democratic nation.

But I think Roy would definitely argue that your existence still has political implications. Is complicity not just as political an act as protest? Is defending, accepting, or willfully succumbing to the status quo, just or unjust as it may be, not a political statement in and of itself?

Kushner, in his essay, arrives at a similar conclusion, though he gets there a little differently: “[E]ach culture is different; the artistic expressions of each culture embody those differences in form and content, and indeed one might say that the art a culture produces is the clearest statement that culture can make of difference” (43).

Whether the artist wants it to or not, his art is going to reflect his culture, his background, perhaps even the political circumstances under which a given piece was produced — much like the individual, whether he recognizes it or not, is “involved,” is an activist, simply by virtue of his existing.

Michael Moore’s Democracy NOW! interview

Kushner, Tony. Thinking About the Longstanding Problems of Virtue and Happiness. New York: Theater Communications Group, 1995. 41-47. Print.

“Michael Moore on His Life, His Films, and His Activism.” Democracy NOW! 5 July 2010. Accessed 30 Jan. 2012.

Roy, Arundhati. Power Politics. Boston: South End Press, 2002. 4-33. Print.


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