We Need a New Universal Salute or Sign

Tommie Smith and John Carlos during the National Anthem. An iconic, wondrous moment of protest during the 1968 Olympics in Mexico when the superstars won the gold and bronze medal in the 200-metre race.

Tommie Smith and John Carlos during the National Anthem. An iconic, wondrous moment of protest during the 1968 Olympics in Mexico when the superstars won the gold and bronze medal in the 200-metre race.

New Orleans     This may be a little be low on your list of important needs for the progressive forces, but regardless of your reservations, work with me on this, please! Our salutes and signals to friendly forces are getting tired and so widely appropriated that many have lost meaning and “critical content,” as the political philosopher Herbert Marcuse used to say.

Take the well-established and time tested power salute, originally a signifier for black power, but over the years used widely by movements of all stripes and colors to great effect. Reading that Bill Cosby raised his fist in that salute to a recent audience in Florida to express his silent response to his numerous accusers currently coming forward with charges of being raped by the comedian speaks to the commodification of movement symbols. It didn’t make me happy.

Protestors of the military regime in Thailand were recently arrested for making the lip kiss and three fingered salute popularized by the Hunger Games books and movies as a sign of resistance against authoritarian governments. The arm may be pointed straight ahead rather than crooked at the elbow, but at least in the United States, it would be hard not to confuse this as a call to the troops, meaning the Boy Scout troops who have used the 3-fingers for over a century.

The signals from the Occupy movement were interesting, but are not going to be confused with a symbol for power, since too many of them come off as nervous conditions. The Star Trek thing is too hard for many of us who are less flexible, little fingers up along with the thumb will always mean “surfs up,” pointing finger and small finger is “hook ‘em, horns,” and few are unclear about the meaning or unpracticed in flipping the bird. Thumbs-up has been so completely squatted by Facebook, that I almost feel foolish when I find my thumb going that way, just as the symbol for OK, will always mean OK regardless of the language, and one finger held high means “we’re number one,” whether we are or not.

What can we do?

How about we start thinking past the glad one-hand, and start putting both of our hands together? We might have a future there just as we have found with various handshakes. Clasping two hands together over our chests or with our arms extended above our heads might work. There’s power there. Putting both hands together lends itself to some real symbolism for the strength of our forces and pulling the pieces closer collectively.

I’m open to any and all ideas, but I’m crystal clear, we need to step up our game. The flesh-eating machine of media and appropriation is in full-flower. We need something new and now.

Let’s put our heads together or put our hands together

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