Art & the Protection of Democracy

Ward show w Fran
Schumaker with the writer

Ward Schumaker and Vivienne Flesher, two San Francisco-based, nationally recognized artists whom this writer is proud to call friends, have been fighting depression – to put it mildly – since last November. It is of course political – everything’s political these days – but for Schumaker and Flesher (who are in fact married to each other,) it’s about much more than politics. It’s about  human rights, the future of the planet their 9-year-old grandson will inherit, and protection of our democracy.

I met Schumaker shortly before the closing of his latest show at San Francisco’s Jack Fischer Gallery, for a brief talk about art and activism. (Sorry if you missed the show. You can still see his work at Fischer’s Potrero Street Gallery.) Does creating art help them deal with depression, I wondered?

Ward show 1“No. It’s just hard. But it’s what we do: get up in the morning, every day, and go to work at 8 AM.” Some extraordinary examples of Schumaker’s work were assembled for the latest show – creating them took about a year and a half, not all of which time was clouded in depression. My personal favorite is a piece titled “The cloud of unknowing.” Schumaker conceived the piece as a meditation, referencing the ancient (late 14th century) work of mysticism which suggests that contemplative prayer might lead to an understanding of the nature of God.

To mitigate their depression, however, Schumaker and Flesher are doing a little more than painting. They have created an assortment of postcards, some with messages on the front and some just featuring their original artwork. After printing out a stack of cards, they also printed out the names and addresses of every member of Congress, both Senate and House. (You can do the same, by following the links.) They keep these, along with a supply of 34-cent stamps, on their breakfast table, where every morning they enjoy coffee and The New York Times. When they find someone in Congress has done something positive, they send a thank-you postcard. Others get a card expressing disapproval.

Ward show 2Postcards take a little more time than a phone call or email, but are a powerful way to make one’s voice heard. Especially if one is worried about human rights, the future of the planet one’s grandchildren will inherit, and the protection of our democracy.

Plus: this is how democracy is protected.















  1. It has been a depressing time, and thoughts of long-term doom and gloom wash over me periodically. But this crazy social and political period has not been as depressing as some periods of personal, emotional turmoil in years past. Part of my coping mechanism for those depressions was writing, both journal writing and fiction writing. A collection of about half the stories I’ve written is now available in both paperback and ebook. ( I’m still looking forward to reading a book of your short stories. I enjoyed the couple that you had linked on a blog (or had you sent links to me in a comment?) It’s no shame to self-publish at our age. I don’t feel I have the time to shop manuscripts around indefinitely any more.
    I just read an article (long-form journalism) in Aeon magazine, about economic disparities and how these disparities have been (somewhat) mitigated by major disasters (plagues, wars). That essay didn’t allay the gloom, but it did put our prospective impending global tragedies into some perspective.
    Hope all is well with you. As you may have noticed, I’m not blogging much these days.

    1. I so feel, and share, your pain. But I look at the optimism of our grandchildren and just have to believe the planet will survive. Am hoping to self-publish (what’s the diff? Major houses do practically nothing for you unless you’re a big name author) my short story collection if I get the unpublished ones whipped into shape. Meanwhile, I’ll look forward to reading yours. I’m blogging less simply for want of time, and have quit HuffPost all together. In the grand scheme of things, what we get done is probably just fine!! Peace & cheer from one coast to another.

  2. Dear Frannie– I was told (when I was in Washington last week lobbying with Citizens Climate Lobby) that personal email communication is the most effective means of having your voice heard. Any snail mail has to go through a process of checking for “anthrax,” etc. before it gets to the congresspersons desk to be counted. (Or that is what the rumor mill promoted.) Although I would suggest contacting them by any means is a good thing! The individuals to whom we gave “constituent letters” were very happy to get them. See you tonight. Terry

    From: Fran Moreland Johns Date: Sunday, June 18, 2017 8:24 PM To: Subject: [New post] Art & the Protection of Democracy Fran Johns posted: ” Ward Schumaker and Vivienne Flesher, two San Francisco-based, nationally recognized artists whom this writer is proud to call friends, have been fighting depression – to put it mildly – since last November. It is of course political – everything’s polit”

    1. That may very well be right, about email being the best route. Essential point, though: keep those contacts up!!! Thanks for the thoughts, and especially for your Citizens Climate Lobby work. Really important.

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