Artists Respond

Visualizing Change
Micol Hebron

The women’s marches around the world on Janu-ary 17, 2017 were among the most galvanizing, exciting events of this generation. There were nearly 700 individual marches internationally and in the States crowds took to the streets to com-prise the largest single-day protest in US history, with marches of ¾ million people in Los Angeles and Chicago, and ½ million in Washington DC being among the biggest. An estimated 5 million participants marched in the most significant civil rights action since Viet Nam War era protests. It is notable that in addition to being among the larg-est in history, these marches were also the most peaceful. The police were present, but quietly standing, on the sidelines, and there was no riot-ing, no arrests, no fighting.

Women’s rights are human rights
Not everyone thought the marches would be a success. When women assert their voices and ideas, doubters and haters offer prominent and loud rebukes to discredit their validity. And so it happened in the weeks leading up to the march. They tried diminish the impact even before it hap-pened: “The organizers don’t know what they’re doing”… “nobody will really come out”…. “they’re just a bunch of whiners”…. “it’s too vague, there isn’t a focus”… “pussy hats look dumb.”

And nevertheless, she persisted.
She came with her daughter, she escorted her mother, she brought her girlfriends, her siblings,
her nieces, and nephews. She walked, biked, rowed, drove, railed, bussed, and MARCHED. She yelled and chanted and became hoarse, but did not lose her voice, she gained it. And she wasn’t alone. Husbands, lovers, partners, fathers, uncles, grandfathers, siblings, transmen and transwomen, nonbinary folks, and gender queer folks joined her. These marches were intersec-tional.

Black Lives Matter
In the digital age where so much of our actions and interactions occur online and in virtual space, physical protests and marches hold new sigi-ficance. It is easy to sign an online petition, or change a Facebook profile picture to a token flag or color. But being in the streets with hundreds of thousands of other concerned citizens is an inspir-ing and powerful mobilization in ways that digital initiatives will never be. In January, we marched among crowds of friends, family, neighbors, and strangers so dense that no matter which direction one looked, the horizon line was composed of people, and peppered with the pink dots of Pussy-hats.  While it is true that not everyone can physi-cally participate in a march, many of those who could attend carried signs stating “I am march-ing for _____________” to represent the spirit of those not able to join in body.

It is a unique feeling to stand among masses of people. One is reminded that they are part of a much, much larger whole. And while every solitary vote does indeed count, it is also reassuring to feel the solidarity of so many others. The energy becomes palpable, and the consciousness of new possibilities arise. Angela Davis once described art as being that which could “visualize the future we wish to see.”  The women’s marches – and the signs, banners and posters that everyone held – did this too. They served to express anger and concern, to educate, to propose solutions, to spread love and support, to resist injustice. Young people held signs that stated “I vote next,” while older marchers held signs lamenting “I can’t believe I still have to protest this shit.” Icons of resistance were everywhere: rainbow flags, pink triangles, all-gender symbols, raised fists, and red “no” circles.  Calls to action and resistance were broadcast in puns, poems, and proclamations.

Respect my existence or expect my resistance
The posters, banners, flags, and signs in this collection are an emblematic sampling of the countless ingenious designs seen throughout the women’s marches. Posters and banners of course have an interesting and important role in the his-tory of political marches: for abolitionists, labor unions, suffragettes, civil rights activists, anti-war protesters, water protectors, Black Lives Matter leaders, reproductive rights advocates, and many more. The poster is a democratic medium. A poster can be made quickly and easily using cheap and accessible materials, and can be simple or fanciful. Posters offer and  efficient way to fuse aesthetics and politics, and capture the socio-political concerns of the moment, or of the era.

Not My President
There were poster-making workshops around the country for months prior to the march. These workshops were fortifying and inspiring, bringing concerned community members together to make new friends and allies. People gathered in living rooms, backyards, civic centers, galleries, and museums.  The grass-roots movement is alive and well again! The workshops functioned as co-alition-building meetings too, allowing participants to talk about their individual concerns, and to col-lectively brainstorm strategies for moving forward. Like the marches, they modeled ways to work col-laboratively, in non-hierarchical ways that offered exemplary alternatives to the hierarchical, com-petitive structures of patriarchy and capitalism. And while the issues at hand are very serious, the workshops also brought joy and pleasure, as neighbors gathered to brainstorm innovative and empowering designs and slogans. In thinking about how to represent and visualize this move-ment, some of the iconic signs of past movements were re-circulated in our consciousness: Silence = Death (Act Up’s slogan from the AIDS crisis); I am a man (from the Civil Rights Movement); The Personal is Political (Carol Hanisch’s slogan from the Women’s Liberation Movement); “Aint I a Woman?” (Sojourner Truth’s feminist, abolitionist speech from the 19th century), to name a few.

Nasty Women Unite
The election of Donald Trump in November of 2016 was blatant and terrifying evidence that the voices of women, people of color, and all who are marginalized are still not being heard. We were faced with the dire need to broadcast our de-mands and our rights to civil justice for all bodies. Women’s voices have been silenced throughout history in so many ways. The marches and the signs we carried are indication that we refuse to be silenced. The preservation and exhibition of these posters is recognition of the importance of these voices, and of the need to amplify them into the future as we want, hope, and need it to be.  

The marches and the signs we carried are indica-tion that we refuse to be silenced. The preserva-tion and exhibition of these posters is recognition of the importance of these voices, and of the need to amplify them into the future as we want, hope, and need it to be.  

My Body My Choice, My Country My Voice