Molly Crabapple’s breathless delivery seems appropriate for a woman who is very much her own revolution.
As an artist and journalist, the 34-year-old has been challenging those in power since her sketches of the burgeoning Occupy Wall Street movement gave way to an unparalleled run of humanised, on-the-ground reporting, from Athens to Guantanamo.
Her latest work is Brothers of the Gun, a stirring collaboration with Syrian journalist Marwan Hisham that uses text and illustration to recount his experiences growing up amid violence and destruction in Raqqa.
On a break from an occupation outside New York’s branch of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, otherwise known as ICE, Molly took some time to reflect on what we can all do to bring about change.
Dismantle the system by carving out your own destiny
“If you’re an artist, no one is going to offer you a neat, sure path to follow. Every route that gets anywhere will be bloody, circuitous and dotted with minefields. I truly believe that learning to teach myself as a young weirdo was what gave me the confidence to carve my own way as an artist, without a degree, a trust fund or a gallery.
“We live in a world lit by the wreckage of collapsing systems… where no one knows what the hell is going on. Therefore it’s not worth trying to fit yourself into some narrow, uncomfortable mode of being. Be yourself, with as much rigour, pragmatism and passion as you can.”
Prioritise principals over earnings
“I tend not to work for people I truly loathe. I have turned down many tens of thousands of dollars because the companies or the assignments were ones I could not live with myself if I did.
As for maintaining independence as a creative? I have no one main employer, instead a ton of clients – all of whom give me assignments but none of whom have power over me, and all of whom I could leave.”
Labels can be a distraction
“I don’t consider myself an activist. To me, an activist is someone who devotes the majority of their life to activism — someone like the legendary prison abolitionist Mariame Kaba or Emma Goldman. But to call oneself an activist because one goes to protests is like calling oneself a chef because one cooks dinner for friends.
“It is something both too grand and too small in its implications, because it also implies only ‘activists’ take action to better the lives of their communities, while everyone else can safely sit those battles out.”
Don’t beat yourself up
“The world is filled with injustice, and no one can be aware of everything all the time. Instead pick an area that personally affects or appals you, or that you are passionate about, and focus on that. In my case, it’s the fact that the US locks so many people in cages — either in the prison system or in the system of immigrant detention.
“To keep up with this, I follow activists and various news sources while also talking to my friends who are affected by the prison industrial complex and the immigration system. Then, when there are actions planned, or ways to volunteer, or groups to support, I do. I truly believe that focusing is one of the better ways to avoid burnout.”
Resistance is key
“Today many people are organising like mad – and are braver, tougher and more loving to each other than ever. But obviously it’s not enough. We have concentration camps for immigrants now in America.
“We need so many more people in the streets or, if they can’t be in the streets, resisting in whatever ways they are able, be it against the forces of apathy, cowardice and faux- civility.
“Authoritarians everywhere are on the ascent. This is not some sort of dress rehearsal; we are fighting for our lives, whether or not we admit it.”
Brothers of the Gun is published by Penguin Random House.