Occupy Wall Street
How activists are using poster art to rally Americans around the movement's May 1 comeback event
This poster, featuring a young woman striking a match, was created by Molly Crabapple and John Leavitt. Fast becoming one of the most prolific General Strike images, it's been plastered onto walls with wheat paste across Manhattan, Brooklyn, Oakland and San Francisco. Crabapple, a New York artist, told me about the inspiration behind it: "I was inspired by the London Matchgirls Strike of 1888, and the dual meaning of the verb 'to strike.' Also by the women of color who do so much of the crap work in the U.S., but who are seldom represented in idealized images of 'the worker.'"
This poster, titled "Whose Time?," features a mass gathering at New York's Union Square, with an image of the sun eclipsing a clock superimposed above it. Occuprint's Jesse Goldstein numbers it among his favorites. "Here a classic symbol of work and oppression -- the clock -- is being eclipsed by the sun. To me, this really sums up the spirit of a general strike; it's a call to realize that we, collectively, can and should be in control of our time," he said.
Ideas for this image -- among others -- emerged out of collaborative design sessions held by Occuprint in New York, but Jesse Goldstein created the final poster. "In this image the 99 percent swarm of pixelated insects stands against a single (1 percent) militarized spaceship. There is no denying just how important digital activism has been to this movement. From Anonymous to all of the amazing live streamers and tweeters its clear that cyberspace is a major battleground ... maybe Anonymous will figure out how to capture the Wall Street Bull," Goldstein said.
This poster, created by artist Nina Montenegro, speaks to the desire underpinning general strike planning to confront the current socio-politico-economic status quo in its entirety, as opposed to focusing on any one specific issue or arm of struggle. Goldstein particularly likes the image of flowers jamming cogs as a symbol for general strike; as he put it, "We can jam the system through our own growth and development. The gears can't keep turning if our roots grow thick together, and knot them all up."
This image -- one of the more esoteric general strike posters around -- is brought to you by the Institute for Experimental Freedom (the small publishing collective who put out the brash but fun-filled insurrectionary text "Politics Is not a Banana.") The poster jokingly asks us to replace the main image with some sort of "riot graphic" while using the appropriate, hip font (Haas Grotesk). "In the space marked 'Local Meeting Point,' one can add [one's] own information using a marker," the creators note on AnarchistNews.org, playfully advising that any text added digitally should also be in left-justified Haas Grotesk or at least Helvetica font. "And ain't no one gonna get their feelings hurt if you decide a more coherent poster serves you local needs better," they note.
This image -- by Ethan Heitner -- also emerged out of Occuprint's collaborative design process. Occuprint's Goldstein notes, "When we stop working and shopping and banking what are we supposed to do? It's interesting to reflect on what the general strike might mean as a public holiday. Our collective refusal -- no work, no shopping, no banking -- is not a call to sit and do nothing, or to 'work' at protesting. It is a call to open up our lives and our time to be with one another in more meaningful, enjoyable and nurturing ways. Let's all get lost and go fly a kite!"
Jesus Barraza from Oakland created this image in the style of old letter-press show posters. It references the historic and international contexts in which May Day is marked -- both as International Workers Day around the world and a day of strike and action by immigrant and migrant workers and allies seeking economic justice in the United States in recent years. "Poster designers often get caught up in trying to pair the right words with the right images, but Jesus' image reminds me that sometimes well-designed type is the only image that you need," said Goldstein of this poster.
Central to May Day plans is a push for a mass student walkout from high schools and colleges. This online poster is part of the energetic propaganda efforts to get students out of the classrooms and into the streets on May 1. And, oddly enough, for me the image of a gun-wielding velociraptor riding a shark perfectly captures something about the idea of general strike in this country in 2012: it's confusing, it's threatening, it's attempting the impossible. We're not sure what's going on, but we know it's awesome.