‘The List’ author Siskind worries about autocracy, democracy

Photo by Madeline Hughes
Amy Siskind, in the blue dress by the windows, speaks at Shelburne Vineyard for the Shelburne Democrats’ “Hope in 2018” series.

Rains last Wednesday evening couldn’t dampen the mood of dozens of people gathered at Shelburne Vineyards for a Hope in 2018 event organized by Shelburne Democrats. After all, the speaker was the nationally acclaimed writer and activist Amy Siskind.

“It’s appropriate given the past 48 hours,” said Siskind, referring to President Trump’s upcoming visit with Putin, Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign, the Adminstration’s zero tolerance policy which resulted in kids being separated from their parents.

Siskind has risen to even greater fame recently for her book “The List,” a collection of her weekly lists of various out of the ordinary and often abnormal news events that she feels threaten American democracy. “The List” is a rough draft of history that remind people what has happened since Donald Trump was elected.

Rep. Jessica Brumsted, D-Shelburne, introduced Siskind.

“The lesson I learned from the book was to get involved,” Brumstead said.

And that’s what Siskind centered on as she answered questions. She hopes that the list appeals to everyone — it doesn’t matter who people voted for in November 2016 — and that they put their petty differences behind them. “It’s about our democracy.”

The list started the week Trump won the election. Siskind noticed that many of the things the president said and that were happening fell outside of the norm of American politics. Simply, there were no precedents for many of these situations. She was also reading about autocrats, and how things that were once unaccepted were slowly become OK.

Her weekly lists start with the phrase: “Experts in authoritarianism advise to keep a list of things subtly changing around you, so you’ll remember.”

Examples from her first list:

• “Reporters critiqued their own paper’s coverage of Trump, then deleted their tweets.”

• “A president-elect was openly (on Twitter!) trying to take away our freedom of expression and First Amendment rights: targets this week included Saturday Night Live (SNL), the New York Times (NYT) and Hamilton.”

The list quickly grew, she said. Now, Siskind estimates she spends about 30 to 35 hours working on the list each week.

“In the early days I had no vision,” Siskind said. There were no annotations, nor sources on the list. In week four after the election someone asked her to add sources. She did.

In week nine after Trump was elected Siskind’s list went viral.

This past week’s list had 165 items on it. It included:

• “Migrant children held in a converted Walmart in Brownsville, Texas each morning are required to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance, in English. U.S. authorities are compiling mug shots, many of children in tears.”

• “Trump and Putin will hold their first summit in Helsinki on July 16. NBC News reported Russia once again announced the news before the White House. John Bolton met with Putin Thursday ahead of the planned summit.”

• “A report by the Anti-Defamation League found the amount of white supremacist propaganda on college campuses rose sharply: 292 occurrences in the District and 47 states, a 77 percent increase from last year.”

• “On Tuesday, the Toronto Star reported that Trump made a record 103 false claims last week, on average 15 per day.”

• “On Thursday, a gunman opened fire on the newsroom of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Md., killing five and injuring others before being taken into custody.”

Siskind sees the threat to democracy “happening a lot quicker than I thought could happen,” so she still adds to the list weekly.

The conversation turned to what Vermonters could do.

“As a committee we decided we were a conduit for information, we have lists of organizations people can sign up to do work with and go to places such as New York and New Hampshire,” said Maryanne Hamilton, chair of the Shelburne Democrats. Organizers, which included several local town Democratic chapters, hope conversations such as this talk would energize people to help get Democrats elected around the country.

Siskind also said to use social media to talk to political leaders, to stay informed by getting news through trusted sources, and to continue to remember current actions are not normal.

“Our country is in danger and someone has to be writing it down,” Siskind said.

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