The Art of Involvement #5

Using his poetry to advocate for Palestine is Yahya Ashour’s persistent mission as he tours from college to college across the United States. He grew up in the Gaza strip and has family there now. His pain and struggle is ever present, and he admits the darkness that completely overtook him following Israeli attacks following October 7th was crippling and is something he has to process everyday. This deep sadness that was at first paralyzing is now the force that drives him to continue traveling endlessly, sharing his art, and advocating for his people.

Ashour visited the University of Michigan-Dearborn in February. I remember sitting down in the auditorium as he set up, scanning the audience and passively noting how this was one of the first campus events that I saw such a diverse age range attending. Ashour gently spread a keffiyeh atop the podium. And then he read.

He had several poems to share, all with a clear, steady voice. He discussed dreams haunted by survivor’s guilt, life among rubble, and the abandonment of Palestinians in Gaza as neighboring nations looked on. Each poem was phenomenal in its craft, but the audience hesitated to applaud. How do you clap for someone’s suffering, laid out in front of you, eloquent as it may be?

Art is in many ways a way of breaking yourself open and giving your vulnerability to the world to digest. Sometimes, our appreciation of other’s skills in relaying their pain makes me feel rotten inside. I feel like I am intruding on the complex suffering of another human being. But from art, from expression, comes a greater understanding of the world and motivation to change it. 

It also gives space to conversation. Through audience interaction, I met the man that housed Ashour and helped him through the lows of the months following the beginning of Israel’s brutal retaliation. I met Palestinian elders that expressed their pride for Ashour’s dedication and heart in speaking for their people. 

One of the most key components of this conversation, however, was the critique Ashour laid out. Having spent extensive time in Michigan and some time in Dearborn specifically, Ashour delivered direct, relevant complaints to the audience about how he expected more origanization and action from Dearborn, known for being a heavily Arab American populated city. Ashour also spoke to the United States at large, to the masses of people going through the motions of life without a care for those being slaughtered with American money and arms.

Certainly, not everyone avoids despair over this genocide. Since November, I feel like I scroll through a terrifying display of war, bombing, death, mutilation, and starvation each day and shut down, unable to process the monstrous inhumanity. But I let myself be paralyzed by it too often, and end up doing nothing but engaging with them online or ranting about the genocide to friends.

When I thoughtlessly asked how one rose out of despair to take action, he responded, “I am not the person to ask. I am in despair… Perhaps you need to despair,” he commented, likely thinking of the many, many Americans that go through life with a shield of apathy and a cutting sword of unjustified helplessness.

There is a desperate need for active morals instead of default “neutrality”, which I feel more often than not describes ignorance that persists through a helplessness we grant ourselves, or else an avoidance of the pain that needs to be addressed. We think that reposting on social media infographics and Palestinian art is enough to assuage our moral failings, but this is supplementary at best. We think that we are only responsible for ourselves, that our morality is self contained, while our elected leadership continues to make decisions that cause death after death.

It is all too easy to despair, but Ashour tries to call us into action and not just well meaning empty promises. We have more agency and power than we know, particularly when we organize. We need strategy, which is what those who implement oppression excel at.

Now I see college encampments across the globe and I am proud. I see how they engage art through poetry readings and posters in a way that has much more meaning in person, in community. They are acting on the art as opposed to just consuming it, which reflects Ashour’s belief of art being a motivating core of the Free Palestine Movement. I know these actions have brought Palestinians and Ashour some hope. There is still much to do. I pray that more come forward and continue in allyship to liberate others, maintaining the lessons learned in organizing and effecting real change.

So as we engage with art in all of its thematic and political allure, we must remember that it is more than just entertainment. Poetry has been a lifeline for me, and in it I find humanity inseparable to a call to action. In suffering, I find the urge to soothe suffering. In joy, I find the desire to create and protect that joy for others. Art is survival. May we continue to create and recite and share and act until we are all free.

Buy an ebook of Yahya Ashour’s poetry here. Proceeds go to helping his family get out of Gaza.
Follow Yahya Ashour to learn more about his work and how you can help Palestinians


TOLAROIDS: Chasing the “American Dream”

This week’s Tolaroids take a political turn. I went to the rally on Saturday, 5th November, freshly press-accredited and not knowing what to expect: I’ve been to a few protests, but not yet a political rally in the US.

I can’t even vote here but I still remember the chills I got when various speakers took the stage of the Rackham building to address problems that make the everyday lives of millions of Americans much harder than they should be.  Senator Bernie Sanders along with many other interesting speakers addressed the need for nationalized healthcare, free public education, reproductive rights and body autonomy, problems of climate change, widespread sexism and institutional racism, as well as criticized some behaviors and opinions of the running Republicans while bringing back some infamous moments of Donald Trump’s presidency. Sanders was firm and straightforward, it really felt like he was talking to normal people who are leading normal lives, and the diverse crowd that showed up pushing the capacity of the auditorium proves that. That night addressed many problems that simple elections won’t immediately fix – but it’s a start, a step forward to building a safer, more inclusive, and better future for everyone in the United States.

“We have to build an economy that works for all and not just a few” B. Sanders.


Bernie really seems to have an idea of how to fix what’s broken in the American political system, and as an outsider who has a comparison to my country’s broken system, I consider his arguments extremely valuable. It’s hard to say it about a politician, but even someone who doesn’t agree with his views can have a feeling that he is one of the most “real” politicians, not blind-sided by a two-party race, but rather focused on how to actually progress. During the rally, he says:

“I’m not here to tell you, not for a second, that I think the Democratic Party is doing anywhere near what it should be doing. But it is absolutely imperative that, up and down the line, we defeat right-wing Republicans and we elect Democrats.”

It’s not about the two colors, it’s about who can provide everyone with a better future.

I hope you guys went out there and voted, for yourself, for your family, for your state, and for all the rest of us who also can’t vote but who are affected by all this political mess.


Any questions/comments/concerns, you know where to find me



PS. Special credits for Linus Hoeller and his Lightroom

Study Hal: Week 6 – Staying Active

Now that summer classes have wrapped up and his mental health is a little more sorted, Hal took time this weekend to be active… in his community! With the growing movements around racial injustice, LGBTQ+ rights, voter suppression, and healthcare, Hal sat himself down to fill out his absentee voter ballot application and write some postcards to his elected officials. Checking your voter status and corresponding with your reps are good ways to make sure your voice is heard while staying at home!

Requesting an absentee voter ballot is easy in Michigan, and you can learn more about it for your particular situation from your state’s government website. If you’re a student like Hal and you’re not sure where you’ll be living for the future elections, put your home address so your ballot won’t get lost at temporary housing. Your family can forward it to you wherever you end up!

Hal’s sending postcards to his elected officials because he feels like it draws more attention than an email. If you don’t have any postcards on hand and you have some spare change, you could buy some from a minority artist or an artist donating funds to a worthy cause!

Hal is a U-Mich student who’s moved back home for the summer of 2020. He’s here every week with updates on all of the wild things that have been coming with this pandemic. If you want to see more, search the Study Hal tag!