George Orwell wrote 1984 in 1948, two years before he died. Many who have read his book believe the ideas of this fictional story seem all too real today. With closer examination, Orwell’s book, set in the future, at the time of its birth, can be thought of as somewhat prophetic when considering today’s political arena. Even outside that arena, society seems to reflect the mantras of Orwell’s Oceania, the fictional country where “war is peace,” “freedom is slavery,” and “ignorance is strength.” This confusing concept of doublethink puts me into deep thought, and makes me wonder about how easy it is to manipulate the masses. What do we think preemptive wars really are? War can’t be started to prevent war without being WAR. I find it hard to relate to that paradox. Freedom … we are all basically slaves to currency. With or without work, taxes are a part of life. Paying them is something everyone must do, or so we’re told. In other words, with this example, there are penalties for exercising freedom. Strength coming from ignorance … blind acceptance. Don’t even think about questioning authority! There are many frightening aspects in 1984, such as the constant monitoring of every move, action, and thought by Big Brother, the perpetual wars, and two-minute hates. I certainly can see a similarity between the fictional two-way telescreens and today’s electronic devices: computers, iPads, smartphones, etc. Today’s technology has capabilities to track our whereabouts and social media provides the avenue for exploitation of individual privacy. We are even guilty of policing each other. In retrospect, while reading this book, I remember the rush to interpret our newly appointed first lady’s facial expressions at her husband’s inauguration. Facecrime? Suppose that smile turning quickly into a frown was a glimpse at trouble behind closed doors. I am cautious not to jump to conclusions, yet that look naturally concerned me. There are other things about our current political leader that bother and concern me, from disregard for minority groups to blatant disrespect for women, immigrants, and people with disabilities.
Since our leadership changed hands, I have been troubled by “alternative facts,” exaggerations and even lies coming from Capitol Hill. I am seeing what Orwell meant when he stated, “political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidarity to pure wind.” Winston Smith, protagonist in 1984 reflects in his diary at the end of this novel, hope lies with the people. “The only way change will occur is if Proles (regular members of the population), openly choose to revolt.”
It was in opposition to the direction our country is headed under its new administration, that my good friend Karen Gross and I chose to join millions of people across our nation, even around the world, in a March for Women. Karen traveled with me to Atlanta for American Library Association’s Mid-Winter Conference on January 21. On the way there we spent time talking about the recent election and our shared worries over its outcome. Our travels to the conference prevented us being able to join our hometown’s March for Women, but we had heard that many “sister marches” were being planned to coincide with the march on our nation’s capital. So as Karen drove, I crocheted pink “pussy-hats” just in case we ran into a “sister” march. Across the country women were planning to wear these hats in solidarity for their rights and to take back control of a word so lewdly and notoriously used by Donald Trump when bragging about taking advantage of women. Upon arriving in Atlanta and checking into our hotel, we set off on foot and headed for ALA’s conference a few blocks away. Sporting our warm, pink “pussycat” hats (I had stitched eyes, nose, and whiskers on them) we soon fell into step with throngs of activists (estimated 60,000 participants) of all ages, nationalities, and gender. Among young and old, black and white, male and female, there were signs of protest and messages promoting civil rights for all, restoration of dignity and integrity, and environmental awareness. “Real News? Fake News? Ask a Librarian!” … “Read, Resist, Librarians are Pissed!” were two of our favorites. We both felt a sense of love and unity for everyone there. US Representative John Lewis spoke at the march reminding us all that “when we see something not right or not fair, we have a moral obligation to do something … we cannot afford to remain silent!” It was an amazing day, and lifted our spirits to be part of this historic event.
After our experience in Atlanta, Karen and I reread Orwell’s grim classic which made news of top sales following the inauguration. I also spent the next month reading Orwell biographies, essays, diaries, and letters. Another Orwell quote, from his essay “Politics and the English Language” inspired us to participate in A Read-in for 21st Century Literacies, held at Watauga Public Library and organized by a local group, Small and Mighty Acts (SAMA). “One ought to recognize,” he wrote, “that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end.” Discussions throughout the week addressed various kinds of literacies and thoughts about books. I firmly believe that the power of collective knowledge and shared stories will unite us … but they need to be heard. Though we all may not agree on everything, we should never stop learning. Staying informed helps to cultivate tolerance and leads us to “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”