by Jessie Lynn McMains
100 Thousand Poets for Change began in March 2011. It started with just a few people, who had the idea to get poets (and other writers, and artists, and musicians, and activists of all stripes) together to raise their voices in solidarity. To act as megaphones shouting for peace and sustainability, for anti-racist action, gender equality, economic equality, healthcare, housing, human rights.
Over the years, more and more people joined in, and started hosting 100TPC events in their cities and towns, until it became what it is now—a global movement with events around the world, from Argentina to Bosnia-Herzegovina, from Wales to Zimbabwe.
I first participated in 100TPC in 2015, which was the first year an event was held here in Racine. I hadn’t performed spoken word—or anything else—in Racine since moving back in 2012. For three years, I lived here, but only gave readings in other cities. Milwaukee and Chicago, mostly, but once all the way out in Long Beach, CA. But in September 2015, I decided it was time to change that. See, the Kenosha/Racine Poets Laureate Committee had recently notified me I was to be the next Racine Poet Laureate. I wasn’t allowed to announce it publicly yet, but 100TPC acted as a sort of debut. It was a way to show up for my community, and to show everyone what I was about.
I shared a poem about an experience I’d had on a bus in Los Angeles (on that trip to Long Beach), and I fear I may have tricked everyone into thinking my poetry would all be in that vein—rather than my usual, dark, weird fare. Still, it wasn’t entirely a misrepresentation: sometimes there is joy and hope amidst the darkness, and it can be a kind of defiance to share that, rather than solely focusing on the negative. (As Diane Di Prima wrote in her Revolutionary Letters: ALL POWER TO JOY, which will remake the world.) I don’t remember what exactly all the other performers shared, but I do remember it was amazing to hear so many different people sharing their own stories, their own thoughts, all those different voices uniting for justice and peace. We ended the night with a big folk sing-along, and that was a beautiful moment of community, too.
I have participated in 100TPC most years since then, and this year is no exception. Tonight, I will be performing at BONK!’s Zoom 100TPC event (sharing a brand new poem that’s in the defiantly hopeful category), alongside almost twenty other performers both local and national.
If you’d like to attend a 100TPC event today, you can visit the official 100TPC blog to see if there’s one going on in your area. This year, like last, there aren’t as many events as there were in previous years—because of that whole global pandemic thing—but many of the events that are happening have moved online, so you can attend them from wherever you happen to be. Whether you live in SE Wisconsin or not, we’d love to see you at BONK! at 6 p.m. Central Time. The Zoom link can be found here.
For me, the best part of 100 Thousand Poets for Change is that there are so many people, from all walks of life and from so many different places, who participate. Everyone adds their own perspective, whether that be their personal experiences with injustice, or their revolutionary joy, and it becomes something so much bigger than each individual. It becomes a worldwide chorus, fighting to save the planet, save the people, save our very human hearts.
We lift every voice, and sing.