In November 2016, the country voted into power a rich and famous misogynist who likes to make offhand jokes about dating his own daughter on national TV. This behavior, along with the infamous “grab them by the pussy” comment that somehow did not prevent him from being elected has infuriated women nationwide. Here in Portland, sister poets Chrys and Allison Tobey took a stand by organizing the first reading of Women Writers Against Trump on the evening of his inauguration. Over 150 people showed up in support that night. The response was so overwhelming that they’ve continued it as a biannual series, with the next reading on Nov. 3 at Ford Food & Drink.
“We believe that women have been pitted against one another,” Chrys Tobey tells ELEVEN. “We’ve been conditioned to be critical of one another instead of supportive. Therefore, if we want to create change, it is crucial that women — and our allies of all gender — come together to support one another.”
Chrys is the author of the book of poetry A Woman is A Woman is A Woman and teaches creative writing at several local colleges. Her sister Allison is the editor of Gertrude Press and a professor at Chemeketa Community College. They were both equally appalled by the recent confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.
Allison says an alternate (but less catchy) name for their reading series should be “Women Writers Against Trump and Everything His Elections Condones,” adding that “Trump’s election to the highest office in the land gave credence to this nation’s worst ideas and beliefs. This goes for ideas and beliefs about women, LGBTQ, minorities, immigrants, the mentally ill—the list goes on.”
Allison, herself a survivor of sexual assault, was caught off guard by the live testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford while preparing for a class. When Blasey Ford specifically described her trauma — “indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter” — it triggered a memory of her own assault.
“Watching Blasey Ford, I knew she knew that she was a sacrifice—for all of us,” Alison says. “She was revealing her most intimate and painful secrets, laying herself bare, to a country and people that have turned a blind eye on survivors and their claims again and again and again.”
Both Allison and Chrys believe the confirmation of Kavanaugh (and Trump’s presidency) is a backlash to progress. They also agree that change cannot come from simply sharing their stories, but by speaking out. Women, survivors, the LGBTQ community, and minorities, they say, must come together and not be afraid to speak out.
“Each time a new person speaks out,” Allison says, “we are build-ing the tipping point where progress is inevitable, for everyone. This is the real spirit of WWAT.”
The next on Nov. 3 (Ford Food And Drink, 2505 SE 11th Ave, Portland, OR 97202, 7-9 p.m.) will feature published writers Judith Arcana, Tammy Lynn Stoner, Genevieve Hudson, and Kristin Berger: all local poets and writers who will share their own stories. The event is free, but a donation jar will be present with all proceeds going to RAINN, a nonprofit which assists victims of sexual assault and also operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline.
Later, in March, the AWP Conference (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) is being held in Portland. The Tobeys say the timing for this national publishing event could not be more perfect. Chrys and Allison Tobey will be hosting several writers for their Women Writers Against Trump series, including Armine Iknadossian, Nikia Chaney, Carol Potter, Xochitl Bermejo and Leni Zumas. In difficult times like these, it’s reassuring to know so many strong and brilliant women are uniting in unsilencing the oppressed.