If I Was President ("Were" May Be Substituted by Those who Prefer It)

© 2010 by Alice Walker

If I was President
The first thing I would do
is call Mumia Abu-Jamal.
if I was president
the first thing I would do
is call Leonard Peltier.
if I was president
the first person I would call
is that rascal
John Trudell.
the first person I’d call
is that other rascal
Dennis Banks.

I would also call
Alice Walker.

I would make a conference call.

And I would say this:

Yo, you troublemakers,
it is time to let all of us
out of prison.
Pack up your things.

Dennis and John,
collect Alice Walker
if you can find her:
in Mendocino, Molokai, Mexico or
& head out to the prisons
where Mumia and Leonard
are waiting for you.
They will be traveling
Mumia used to own a lot
of papers
but they took most of those
away from him.
will probably want to drag along
some of his
who may well be
in New Delhi
will no doubt want to
dress up for the occasion
in a sparkly shalwar kemeez.

My next call is going to be
to the Cubans
all five of them;
so stop worrying.
For now, you’re my fish.

I just had this long letter
from Alice and she has begged me
to put an end
to her suffering.

What? she said.
You think these men are the only ones who suffer
when Old Style America locks them up
& throws away
the key?
I can’t tell you, she goes on,
the changes
this viciousness
has put me through,
and I have had a child to raise
& classes to teach
& food to buy
and just because
I’m a poet
it doesn’t mean
I don’t have to
pay the mortgage
or the rent.

Yet all these years,
nearly thirty or something
of them
I have been running around
the country
and the world
trying to arouse justice
for these men.
hasn’t stopped me.
hasn’t stopped me.
Lyme disease
hasn’t stopped me.
And why?
knowing the country
that I’m in,
as you are destined to learn
it too,
I know wrong
when I see it.
If that chair you’re sitting in
could speak
you would have it moved
to another room.
You would burn it.

So, amigos,
pack your things.
Alice and John and Dennis
are on their way.
They are bringing prayers from Nilak Butler and Bill Wahpepah;
they are bringing sweet grass and white sage
from Pine Ridge.

I am the president
at least until the Corporations
purchase the next election,
and this is what I choose
to do
on my first day.

Three deep bows to Noelle Hanrahan, Angela Davis and Gloria LaRiva. Champions of Liberty; Long distance, Unwavering.

For a fuller comprehension of this poem please view these videos: Incident at Oglala, In Prison My Whole Life, Trudell, and Why We Fight.


  • Vérité Parlant is Nordette Adams

    What an honor it is to drop by your blog and see a fresh poem.

    The layers of these split lines struck me.
    They will be traveling

    Much to think about here in this poem. Keep up the fight, and perhaps because I have been reading about your campaign to have the work of Zora Neale Hurston be given the credit it is due, I also thought about how she too roamed the world as I read this and her fight for Ruby McCollum. Thank you for your efforts there and for placing a marker for her grave.

  • Anonymous

    I met Howard Zinn the first day you were at Sarah Lawrence because he was so much in your heart and mind and had already shaped your thinking. You explained to me why you left Spellman and what was going on. Years later you read selections from your first book of poems with Howard Zinn at Helen Lynds house. Since then Howard Zinn’s work and activism, which was then obscure, has become world renown– and his Peoples History everyone’s history. I did not know Howard Zinn personally but he was one of those people who one felt would always be here because he had to be here. How could he leave now when he is needed most? You are right, Howard Zinn has come back to Boston. For here, in Boston, grief at his passing is everywhere, and even the mainstream media, which so often challenged his ideas, has expressed deep sadness at his unexpected passing. Eileen

  • brandi Walker Maddox

    Hi Alice Walker,

    I am a big follower and fan of all the work that you do. I love all of your writings! I just want to say thankful for opening yourself up and blessing us with such realness and creativity!

    Brandi Walker-Maddox