Paola Mendoza: I was at the worst pos­si­ble place one could be, the night of the elec­tion. I was at the Javits Center. The Javits Center was sup­posed to be the place where Hillary Clinton won, and accept­ed her his­toric nom­i­na­tion to be the first female pres­i­dent of the United States. 

It was hor­ri­ble place to be. But I could­n’t gath­er myself to leave. And I did­n’t leave until well past one in the morn­ing. I did­n’t leave because leav­ing meant that I was going to have to accept our new real­i­ty. I was going to have to accept what we had done. That we were going to have Donald Trump as our next pres­i­dent of the United States of America. 

When my fear and my pain was over­whelmed and it over­rode my denial, I decid­ed that I had to go home. But as a film­mak­er, I knew that I need­ed to focus on the details. As a writer I knew that this moment in time was going to dic­tate some future artis­tic endeav­or and I would have to exca­vate all of this pain. So I start­ed focus­ing on the details. I remem­ber walk­ing across the hall and hear­ing my heels click in a most­ly emp­ty space. I remem­ber see­ing peo­ple in cor­ners, whis­per­ing to one anoth­er, and cry­ing to one anoth­er. I remem­ber see­ing a bal­loon float­ing in the sky. It was a red bal­loon. And the worst part was see­ing all the peo­ple walk­ing around with looks of noth­ing­ness in their face. Lost. Almost like zombies.

And then I walked past these two young women. They were sit­ting on the floor, hold­ing onto one anoth­er. And I could­n’t just walk past them. So I turned around to sear their mem­o­ry into my mind for­ev­er. And they looked so lost and so heart­bro­ken. And they were so young. Clearly this was their first election.

And before I knew it I was walk­ing towards them. I had no idea what I was going to say to them, but I knew that I had to say some­thing. So I knelt down in front of them. And I said the only thing that could come to my mind. I said, I don’t know how. And I don’t know when. But it is going to be okay. You are going to be okay.” And tears were run­ning down their face, and tears were run­ning down my face. And we did­n’t say any­thing to one anoth­er, we just nod­ded. And I found some small form of com­fort in that moment. 

November 8th, 2016 the heart of this coun­try skipped a beat. Some thought that it would nev­er recov­er. Some thought it flat­lined. But I’m an artist, and my job is to dig into the human heart, and I knew that we would recov­er. Since the elec­tion I’ve been ask­ing myself this ques­tion, what is the heart of our nation? What is the heart of our neigh­bor? What is the heart of our soul? And as artists do, I con­tin­ued to ask more and more ques­tions. And I think I’ve come to one of the most impor­tant ques­tions of all. And that is what makes a heart open? And what makes a heart close?

Today, in this coun­try, we are suf­fer­ing from a mass con­trac­tion of the heart. And I firm­ly believe that it is artists that can reopen the heart of America. It is our duty and our respon­si­bil­i­ty to do this. The day after the elec­tion I was ter­ri­fied. I did­n’t want to get out of my bed. I sat in my bed­room cry­ing. But I remem­bered the young women that I had told just the night before that it was going to be okay. So I did the only thing that I could do. I got up and I got to work.

And going to work meant reach­ing out to my com­mu­ni­ty. Going to work meant call­ing the artists. Going to work meant going through my entire phone from A to Z and talk­ing to every artist I knew. It did­n’t mat­ter if you were my best friend, if you were a pro­duc­er that I want­ed to work with, a writer I want­ed to hire, or a direc­tor that I admired. I called you. And we talked for hours, for two days.

And we asked each oth­er ques­tions. What was the pur­pose of art now that Donald Trump was our pres­i­dent? Did art actu­al­ly mat­ter? What could art do when peo­ple were going to be deport­ed to their deaths?

Now, at the end of those two days I came away with more faith and more belief and more pas­sion in art and the artis­tic com­mu­ni­ty than ever before. Because this is when art tru­ly mat­ters. Art mat­ters when we are in our dark­est and most painful moments. Artists, we can be the bea­con of hope. And what we have to find out, and what we have to fig­ure out is how are we in ser­vice to this moment.

I had the great hon­or and the great plea­sure to be in ser­vice of the Women’s March. I was the Artistic Director. I start­ed off orga­niz­ing part­ner­ships, but my love and my pas­sion and my faith for the artist led me to the artists. 

In the third week of December, I had been work­ing fifteen-hour days. I had­n’t seen my son very much. And I had been work­ing sev­en days a week. So, that night in the third week of December I had two vis­i­tors come to my office. Our offices for the Women’s March hap­pened to be the head­quar­ters of Mr. Harry Belafonte. And the first vis­i­tor was my son. Yes, he deserves applause.

The first vis­i­tor was my son, Mateo Ali. I read him some books. We played on Mr. B—as we like to affec­tion­ate­ly call him—on Mr. B’s couch. We ran around. And to our sur­prise, Mr. Belafonte walked into his office and he sat down with us. And I could­n’t believe that I was sit­ting with Mr. Belafonte and and Mateo Ali on my lap. And Mr. B talked to us about what he did for the March on Washington. He told us his lessons learned. He told us about his mis­takes. And he said some­thing to me that I will nev­er for­get. He said, When the move­ment is strong, the music is strong.”

When the move­ment is strong, the music is strong, and our move­ment at the Women’s March was strong. We had a vision. We had peo­ple com­ing. We had sup­port. We were in the trench­es of the move­ment. But, we need­ed to focus on mak­ing our music strong. And so that’s what we did. We cre­at­ed an artists’ table where we had over 150 artists sign on board. Well-known artists from the visu­al arts world to actors to writ­ers to direc­tors, and they served as our sur­ro­gates and they endorsed us. And they were amazing.

But it was the every­day artist. The hun­dreds, the thou­sands, the tens of thou­sands of artists that were cre­at­ing art­work and videos and memes and graph­ics, and going out to the streets. And what they did is they cre­at­ed art with the val­ues and the vision of the Women’s March. And it was the only artist that brought the vision and the cul­ture of the Women’s March to main­stream America. We were rad­i­cal. And we were pro­gres­sive. And yet the Women’s much was able to be at the heart and the cen­ter of the cul­ture of the United States. 

That’s what artists do. You see, Paul Robeson, the incred­i­ble, phe­nom­e­nal Paul Robeson, said, Artists are the gate­keep­ers of truth. We are civ­i­liza­tion’s rad­i­cal voice.” Artists, this is what we do. We cre­ate cul­ture. We, with our voice, we uplift and we trans­form com­mu­ni­ties. And there­fore it is imper­a­tive that we take a lead­er­ship role in this move­ment of resis­tance. We artists have the abil­i­ty to tap into the human heart and show the American peo­ple what is tru­ly there. We artists serve as a com­pas­sion­ate, cre­ative con­trast to what is cur­rent­ly play­ing out every day in this coun­try. We artists cre­ate worlds from our imag­i­na­tions and we make peo­ple see things that they thought were unimag­in­able. We artists chal­lenge peo­ple to love when the easy thing to do is to hate.

And make no mis­take, this moment that we are liv­ing in will dic­tate the future of this coun­try for gen­er­a­tions. And the resis­tance is fight­ing every sin­gle day tooth and nail to try and cre­ate and save a world that will keep my child safe, your chil­dren hap­py, and your great-grandchildren safe as well.

And the resis­tance is made up of mod­er­ates and rad­i­cals. It’s made up of Hillary bros and— I’m sor­ry, Bernie bros and Hillary sup­port­ers. It is made up of first-time pro­test­ers and life­time marchers. And we in the resis­tance are using the things that worked in the past and we are also using the for­ward cre­ative think­ing of our present. The resis­tance is made up of the dis­abil­i­ty com­mu­ni­ty, as they go and they demand their right for health­care and they get arrest­ed for our right to health­care as well. The resis­tance is made up of the 40,000 peo­ple that marched on Boston to stand against white suprema­cy. The resis­tance is made up of the young peo­ple that are risk­ing depor­ta­tion from the only coun­try they have ever known because they are demand­ing that they be looked at as human beings with the right to stay in this coun­try regard­less if they are doc­u­ment­ed or undoc­u­ment­ed. And it is with all of those groups, and with all of us that the resis­tance has been able to be more suc­cess­ful than we ever imag­ined pos­si­ble. We have had more wins than what we thought we could ever have had on November 8th. And we have had hor­ri­ble loss­es as well. 

But hear me out. The resis­tance has done all of this with­out its strongest tool. And that is the artists. The artists have been with us 100%. You have stood with us and you have cre­at­ed with us. But what I’m ask­ing us to do is cre­ate the way that we did for the Women’s March. The tens of thou­sands, the hun­dreds of thou­sands of artists cre­at­ed every day with the val­ues and the vision and the desires of the resis­tance. And mak­ing the val­ue of the resis­tance, the vision of the resis­tance become part of main­stream American cul­ture. Imagine what we could do with that power. 

Artists, you have the pow­er to cre­ate. And when you cre­ate, do not cre­ate art that sim­ply reflects the times we are liv­ing in. I am ask­ing you to cre­ate art that engages deeply in this world. I am ask­ing for your art to be the ham­mer with which to shape the soci­ety that you want. And that ham­mer can be sub­tle and beau­ti­ful and rev­o­lu­tion­ary like moon­light. It can edu­cate and illu­mi­nate like the doc­u­men­tary Dolores. It can shake the cul­tur­al foun­da­tions of this coun­try like Kara Walker’s work. It can do all of that. But you have to pick up your cam­era and point it to the com­mu­ni­ties that are the most vul­ner­a­ble and tell their sto­ries with love and dig­ni­ty and respect. Pick up your pen and teach us something. 

Artists, you, we, are the light in these dark, dark times. I’m ask­ing you to seek truth. To cre­ate. To make art that opens the heart of America. And if you do this, you will be sav­ing this coun­try from itself. Thank you.

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