In March 2008, a small group of Irish American writers were featured speakers at a literary festival in Charlottesville, VA.
The title of the presentation was IN SEARCH OF IRISH AMERICA and the panelists were authors Peter Quinn and T.J. English, historian and author Daniel Cassidy, New York Times columnist and author Dan Barry, and Maureen Dezell, whose book Coming Into Clover chronicles the history and development of the Irish in America.
After the presentation was over, the writers gathered at a local pub. At the time, the presidential campaign was underway. In fact, the hotly contested Pennsylvania primary was just days away, and in the news there was much speculation about whether or not “white working-class ethnics” would ever be able to vote for an African American. The writers took a quick poll and discovered that every one of them was supporting Barack Obama for President.
None of us were from Pennsylvania, but all of us came from Irish American working-class roots and were familiar with the kinds of “white ethnics” who, we felt, were being simplistically portrayed in the media as staunch conservatives, if not outright bigots. Our own experiences were counter to this stereotype.
We were Irish and came mostly from Catholic backgrounds, but every one of us considered ourselves to be inheritors of a “progressive” political and artistic tradition.
A Collective Awareness
Together, we took out an ad in the Irish Echo, the largest Irish newspaper in the U.S., in which we proclaimed our support for Obama. Among other things, the ad stated: Senator Obama represents to us the best hope for achieving an America that includes all and leaves no one out – an America that slaves and immigrants alike dreamed would one day include their children. We believe he can inspire and lead the struggle for social justice, civil rights and equality of opportunity. We see in him a continuation and reaffirmation of the movement John F. Kennedy helped to foster and for which Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy gave their lives.
A total of 44 esteemed Irish American writers and artists signed the ad, including writers Jimmy Breslin and Thomas Cahill, filmmakers Ed Burns and Terry George, musicians Mick Moloney and Dicky Barrett of The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, and many others.
Out of this initiative grew a spirit of collectivism that we named the Irish American Writers & Artists Association. Though our non-profit status precludes us from further endorsing political candidates or parties, we hope to continue to bring together Irish Americans in this spirit of activism, tolerance and enlightenment. Please read our mission statement and you will see that – philosophically, and through word and deed – we hope to promote and highlight the artistic achievements of Irish Americans past and present, and in so doing assert the most daring and progressive side of our collective heritage. We hope you will join us.