Andy Piascik is a long-time activist and award-winning author whose novel In Motion was recently published by Sunshine Publishing. You can find it here: www.sunshinepublishing.org. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
What came first—being an activist or being a writer? What have been your main concerns as a writer?
My desire to be a writer came in high school and then within a very short time after that, I became an activist. I think the two things, though very different in some ways, are also closely related. Both grew out of developing a greater awareness of the world as I began to see that the official narrative about class, race, gender, the role the United States plays in the world and any number of other things didn’t jibe with what I was actually seeing around me and experiencing.
The idea behind the journalistic pieces, historical accounts, the novel In Motion and the other fiction I’ve written is to present information that people either haven’t thought much about or to maybe nudge them to examine in a little bit of a different way than previously, with an eye toward challenging hierarchy and illegitimate power.
Is it possible to unravel and make right—as a writer/historian or as an activist—the longtime falsification of U.S. history?
Yes, I think both activism and all the kinds of writing we’re discussing can and have changed this society and basically every other society for the better. Virtually every change for the good came about because lots of everyday people got together and demanded a better way and worked to make it happen. Go back to the resistance by native peoples to what was in essence an invasion by European settlers, resistance that continues to this day, and trace forward 500-plus years and you see this again and again – the slave revolts, all the waves of women’s activism, the sit-down strikes and on and on. Virtually everything we define as freedom, progress and democracy all flow out of these efforts by everyday people working in tandem, right up to this moment.
Journalists, historians, novelists, writers, artists and cultural workers of all kinds have contributed to these gains. It is perhaps a little more difficult to quantify in the arts, but there’s no question it’s there. And any number of people who fall into those categories have worked to unravel and make right the falsification of U.S. history. It’s a long-term process and there’s always pushback so we cannot let our guard down or relax, as is all too evident today. The encouraging thing is that there are always new people coming forward to carry forward the traditions of both activist resistance and illumination through art.
Can you tell us a little about your novel In Motion and what inspired it?
In Motion is an attempt to do much as we’ve talked about through the story of a small number of people and their experiences in the Summer of 1976. Specifically, it’s the story of two young people on the verge of starting college who become lovers while they are also moving from having some understanding of injustice to acting together with others to do something about problems they see around them. It’s drawn from a combination of personal experiences and historical changes of that time. For example, the story is set in an industrial city when owners were closing factories and the lives of huge numbers of people were being thrown into turmoil as a result – what’s commonly and incorrectly called de-industrialization. Capital flight is actually a better term, although even that doesn’t begin to capture the devastation it caused. It raged through working class cities in the 1970s and continues to this day.
The story also looks at the tensions between blacks and the police. Much like today, that conflict plays itself out as an occupation army on one hand and the resistance of people striving for better control of their collective lives on the other.
The women’s movement is also a big influence in the book, both as it played out in the larger society and how it impacted individual women and men in relationships. The official narrative about the 1970s, especially the deeper into the decade you go, is that it was a period of self-absorption and pulling back from the radicalism of the 1960s. In reality, aspects of that radicalism got stronger in the 1970s and the women’s movement is maybe the most prominent example. And with the book set in the Summer of 1976, the action takes place against the backdrop of the over-the-top celebrations of the Bicentennial that people of a certain age will undoubtedly recall. The official view was that we should use the Bicentennial to heal from Vietnam and Watergate and forget about the democratic upsurges of the preceding 15 years that were already being framed for history in a negative light. The upsurges may have diminished overall by 1976 but they did continue in different forms and that’s part of what I try to bring out in the book while also getting into a little of how the personal is the political.
How does it relate to what you’ve done before as a writer?
In Motion closely parallels both my other fiction as well as the journalistic and historical writing I do. I’m drawn to fiction and novels because it can be a rich way to explore the many things we’ve been discussing in a variety of different ways and from different perspectives. Fiction, for example, allows the author to delve people’s inner worlds and psychology in a way that wouldn’t really be appropriate or even all that interesting in, say, a journalistic article. In In Motion, the young woman and young man who are the main characters grapple together with the changes they’re going through along with social changes around them, sometimes in ways that cause friction and sometimes in ways that bring them closer. He’s a man in a patriarchal society, for example, and she finds herself having to call him out for some of his actions and attitudes while trying to balance that with the fact that she also has very strong feelings for him.
I think it’s safe to say that most all of us have been and are inspired by a wide spectrum of writers, historians, journalists and artists. The more they speak a common language of the desire for human liberation and the better they do it, the more uplifting their work is. People can be inspired equally by Noam Chomsky and John Coltrane and in much the same way because both articulate the quest for freedom as well as anyone ever has.