A lot has been said about the current presidential election, but nothing as poignant or as relevant as Zoe Leonard‘s 1992 poem, I Want A President. Written for an LGBTQ magazine that folded before the work was even published, Leonard’s poem was circulated by hand and now, will be blown up and displayed across The High Line.
“I want a dyke for president,” Leonard begins. “I want a person with AIDS for president and I want a fag for vice president and I want someone with no health insurance and I want someone who grew up in a place where the earth is so saturated with toxic waste that they didn’t have a choice about getting leukemia. I want a president that had an abortion at sixteen and I want a candidate who isn’t the lesser of two evils.”
Leonard’s desire to see an outsider in office embodies the current election cycle and our country’s apathy towards it. As the two-party system continues dominating the political realm, politicians and presidents inevitably come from the 1 percent—Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are proof that outsiders don’t stand a chance, unless that “outsider” is wealthy and most often white.
When Leonard wrote I Want A President in 1992, a different Clinton was running for office, alongside George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot, as well as poet Eileen Myles, who ran as an independent. As the first “openly female” candidate, Myles released a poem announcing her intention to run for office. The following year, feminist artist and queer activist, Zoe Leonard, reworked that statement into I Want A President.
Now 24 years later, from its rendering on The High Line, the poem will encourage a whole new generation of voters to challenge their candidates and question what kind of leaders they really want. I Want A President argues for a leader the public can actually believe in, not just the less destructive choice.
“I am interested in the space this text opens up for us to imagine and voice what we want in our leaders, and even beyond that, what we can envision for the future of our society,” Leonard says. “I still think that speaking up is itself a vital and powerful political act.”
See I Want A President on view at The High Line now, through November 17.