Signs of the Times

NOLA

New Orleans    I’m not sure if this is a footnote to these times of turmoil or the banner headline, but I have to admit to loving the way people are not just putting their feet to the street these days but their voices – and often humor – to the signs of the times.

One of the marvelous things to watch during the recent Women’s March and in many other marches pictured around the country is the wild ingenuity that people are bringing to the posters they are carrying and the slogans they are inventing. The unique personalities coming to the signs brings some authenticity, and also speaks to the more decentralized organizing mechanisms involved in putting together these rallies and marches. Where I can marvel and admire the discipline and demeanor of the I AM A MAN block letter posters from Memphis and other civil rights marches, I have to admit that I love the do-it-yourself art, expression, satire, and even outrage of the diverse homemade signs we’re seeing so much of recently.

Here’s a random sample of signs and slogans from Spin.com:

· A beautiful picture of a huge orange peach with Trump-hair.
· Oh course there’s Love Trumps Hate in many forms.
· You’re Not My Cheeto
· Science is Greater that Shit on Twitter
· Shout outs to Beyonce saying “OK, Ladies, Let’s Get In Formation”
· “Even the Lanisters Pay Their Debts” in a dig at Trump and s shout out to Game of Thrones
· Insane in the Membrane, Insane in the Brain
· Oh, No, 4 Full Years of Bad Hair Days
· Keep Your Tiny Hands Off of My Rights

From Slate.com

· Super Callous Fascist Racist Braggadocious
· A young mother holding a sign saying, “We’re Raising Our Children to Tear Down Your Wall”
· “I’m With Her” alongside a picture of the Statue of Liberty
· Melania Are You OK?
· “Sex Offenders Can’t Live in Public Housing” with a hand drawn picture of the White House
· It’s Day One and I’ve Had Enough

That’s the tip of the iceberg obviously. The number of signs and slogans with drawings of female genitalia and slogans that matched would have made many high school sex education courses obsolete. The homemade cats’ ears everywhere and the knitted pink hats were a brilliant touch as well.

Aliens are Already Here

Of course the risk that brings organizations and organizers bad dreams are the signs that get really coarse, vulgar, and direct. Many an organizer has had screaming nightmares in the middle of the night about some of the signs that might emerge form a poster party on a long bus ride to an action and whether that will be where a camera focuses, but this time around it all kind of worked, because if nothing else, it was keeping it all real. And, there wasn’t really a recognizable organization that would take a hit, so let’ the good signs roll!

How about these from USA Today:

· Tweet Women With Respect
· The classic Rosie Riveter, “We Can Do It” with her arm squeezing a pig with a Trump head attached.

Or the Daily Dot

· Enough Snowflakes Make an Avalanche
· Tits Before Toupees
· My Arms Are Tired From Holding This Sign Since the 60’s

From a friend (Mike Gallagher) in Boston:

· Would You Be More Upset if they Wanted to Ban NETFLIX Instead of Muslims?

From New Orleans:

· Billionaire is the New Lord
· My Other Sign is Also a No
· Arise My Sisters, Today We Fight
· This is What a Feminist Looks Like

On that sign the arrows point in all directions. I like that. There’s hope and spirit in these signs, and we need that in these times.

Please enjoy Alone from The Pretenders.

Thanks to KABF.

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Digital “Tools” for Organizing Protests and Building the Movements that Follow

New Orleans    Zeynep Tufekci, a professor at the University of North Carolina, wrote an interesting op-ed in the Times, headlined, “Does a Protest’s Size Matter?” The answer is easy: of course it does!

But, that’s not the point she wants to underline. The professor wants to underscore the fact that a protest about something is different than the outcomes it produces. And, once again, of course that’s right as well.

Although this is not the answer the professor wants on this quiz, she is comparing apples and oranges. A protest is not a movement. In fact it is just what it says it is, an expression of dissent, a tactic hopefully in a larger strategy. Make no mistake, when communicating dissent, the numbers matter hugely. Say what anyone will from the President and his people on down, when an estimated 3.5 million women in the United States stepped to the street that sent a powerful message of protest, and that’s what it was meant to do. Mission accomplished.

The professor makes the case in a digital age that organizing such protests are hard work, but easier. Gee, I wish I believed that, I really, really do. Communication is quicker and cheaper for sure in a digital world, but nothing is really easier, partly because too many will think it’s easier and put more pressure on organizers to produce eye-popping, mind-boggling numbers. If one could spare one nanosecond of empathy for the anti-abortion protestors heading to Washington now, their numbers will be compared to the American-record historic numbers of the Women’s March, and they don’t have a prayer, no matter how much they hosanna in DC.

A protest is not a movement and neither are organizations, though both require huge levels of organizing. Where the professor is correct is that now even more work is needed to take the energy and anger and forge actual social change.

A related point was made by Columbia professor Todd Gitlin after the march that other historic marches were the product of organizations and their efforts to highlight long struggles with significant protest. Professor Tufekci almost paints the picture that the women’s marchers would be starting from scratch to building what Gitlin called a “full service movement.”

Talking on Wade’s World to Mark Fleischman, the president of Corporate Action Network, whose actionnetwork.org supplied the digital platform for the Women’s March, there is an easy answer to one of the professor’s questions. She says, “But if those protests are not exchanging contact information and setting up local strategy meetings, their large numbers are unlikely to translate…” In this case names of all of the people who registered for the march in DC or the sister marchers were turned over to local organizers in each city to use as the building blocks for the future. An item on their website also provides tools for organizing follow-up.

Fleischman, an old comrade from the labor movement, talked extensively about the “tools” the network is building for many purposes not just these kinds of mobilizations, but more importantly building real movements, real organizations, and real social change. Of course tools only work if there are people ready and able to wield them, so everyone can agree that remains the open question and real challenge.

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