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Sunday, January 15, 2017


The civil counterargument

by Tom Sullivan

Shepard Fairey's famous Obama HOPE poster became instantly iconic. He was less inspired by the presidential election results of November 8, 2016:

I watched the election results with disbelief and dismay. I feel disheartened to acknowledge that whether by ignorance or hate, or both, a majority of the American voters have embraced xenophobia, sexism, racism, and a candidate with unprecedented narcissism, zero experience as a public servant, and zero ability to relate to the struggles of average Americans. In effect, the voters have rewarded possibly the most uncivil and disgusting behavior from any candidate I can recall. I refuse to believe that the majority of Americans actually share the values of Donald Trump. I think as a people we are better than what Trump represents. However, the success of Trump’s tactics will only invite more movement in an uncivil direction. Creating and implementing policy in a democracy requires a degree of civility. I’m very concerned that we are eroding the civility that is necessary for our government to function for the common good. We have taken a very dark turn as a nation.
Fairey has taken to posters again to push back against that dark turn with the help of the Amplifier Foundation and artists Jessica Sabogal, and Ernesto Yerena. Facing a toxic Trump administration, Fairey told PBS:
It’s hard to encapsulate the complexity of what we’re facing, going into this Trump presidency, in three images. But we chose three groups that are vulnerable. In the history of the U.S., there are a lot of people who fled persecution from Europe on the basis of religious identities. The idea of championing the ideals of our forefathers and then limiting the movement of Muslims — it’s so confounding that this is not riling more people up. And so it’s really time do some [work] that I think is a counterargument to that, and that’s not based on division but based on inclusion. We’ve seen where division has got us.
"The antidote is not attacking Trump more."

According to their Kickstarter page, the plan is:

Much of Washington will be locked down on Inauguration Day, and in some areas there will be severe restrictions on signs and banners. But we've figured out a hack. It's called the newspaper! On January 20th, if this campaign succeeds, we're going to take out full-page ads in the Washington Post with these images, so that people across the capitol and across the country will be able to carry them into the streets, hang them in windows, or paste them on walls.

Every dollar you put into this campaign will buy six ads printed and distributed for us.

Amplifier will also distribute these images as large placards throughout DC at Metro stops, out the back of moving vans, at drop spots to be announced in the coming week via our social media feeds, and, on January 19, as free downloads for you to print and share as you like.

“We the People” posters by Shepard Fairey, Ernesto Yerena and Jessica Sabogal / Amplifier Foundation

Fairey told PBS:

SHEPARD FAIREY: The Obama poster was very sincere. I come from this rebellious subculture, where sincerity and earnestness are not always really welcome. I come from punk rock. But sometimes, [sincerity and earnestness] means you are going against the grain. When the status quo is fearful and scapegoating, then the most punk rock you can be is finding common ground with your fellow human beings.

“As much as I appreciate social media and the way it democratizes things….When people get out there and they hold something, it’s different.”

I’m also at this point in my life where I’m a really big believer in civility. There’s nothing wrong with disruption that’s ethically sound and well thought-out. Going to a town hall meeting and being uncivil is not something to be proud of.

The Clash are big role models of mine, and Rage Against the Machine. Even though these guys are angry, all their arguments are grounded in humanitarianism.… But sometimes I’m cautious to make sure that my style of my delivery doesn’t eclipse the content of my delivery.

I’m sort of doing this inside-outside strategy. Sometimes I’m very happy to do things pushing the envelope as an outsider. Other times it’s more constructive to infiltrate and make change within their own machinery and language, with subversive intent. Like in “We the People.”

The Amplifier Foundation is also printing and distributing artwork for the Women's March on Washington. Downloadable, in case you'd like to print some for your local event. The march is looking to be "one of America's biggest protests," the Guardian reports:

The Women’s March now has almost 200 progressive groups, large and small, signing on as supporting partners. The issues they represent are as varied as the environment, legal abortion, prisoners’ rights, voting rights, a free press, affordable healthcare, gun safety, racial and gender equality and a higher minimum wage. Men are invited.

More than 300 simultaneous local protests will also occur, across all 50 states, and support marches are planned in 30 other countries, organizer Linda Sarsour said.

“We have no choice. We need to stand up against an administration that threatens everything we believe in, in what we hope will become one of the largest grassroots, progressive movements ever seen,” said Sarsour.
The question is whether that many progressives can pull together and not in 200 different directions, and not devolve into a mishmash of interest groups. TBD, but it's doable.

In the meantime, it might be best to keep a sense of humor about the incoming Trump administration while we still can. It's funny, but it's not funny: