Favianna Rodriguez writes at the Just Seeds blog, “The fact that its even acceptable for us to critique capitalism in mainstream conversations and in mainstream media, opens many doors for activists, artists, and for the entire social justice sector overall. I find it inspiring that this movement has at its core, a thriving arts and culture component.”
Rodriquez feels that the artist’s main role in the movement is to visually represent solidarity to create unity among the 99% of the nation and the world. A poster by her published in the Occupied Wall Street Journal is one of many that circulating on the Internet at blogs such as Just Seeds, and available for high-quality downloading and re-printing.
Published today in the actual Wall Street Journal, is a piece about the cultural expression of the Occupy movement through art titled, “Protesters Hone the Art of a Movement.” The author Pia Catton highlights a curated poetry anthology inspired by the spontaneous spoken-word and jam sessions held in the evenings at Zuccotti Park.
The movement has exploded with catchy and poignant slogans. On-site screen printing of t-shirts and placards is one manifestation of the way slogans and graphic design are reproduced and disseminated immediately, just like on the Internet. Catton observes, “The graphic design produced at this table, which is manned by at least three people at any given time, combines the look of street art, revolutionary imagery and a sense of irony…”
These slogans and symbols that effectively communicate this moment of a global movement are also rapidly being turned into primary source material for historical institutions like the Smithsonian Museum of American History and the New York Historical Society, who have sent staff to the Occupy encampments in New York and DC to scoop up fliers, placards, posters, and leaflets. “This is part of the museum’s long tradition of documenting how Americans participate in the life of the nation,” the Smithsonian said in a statement.
The movement itself is an ever-changing cultural expression. The various memes of the protests began with “We are the 99%” and “Occupy [insert place/idea here].” Groups of immigrants and Indigenous people challenge the idea of occupation of colonized land and have taken up the counter-meme “Unoccupy,” which can most pervasively be seen in New Mexico. On the exclusion of Indigenous and people of color, radio show host Tiokasin Ghosthorse said, “Given the historical occupation of the United States on Indigenous land, it hurt inside to hear that word.” Palesitne solidarity activists rallied around the slogan “Occupy Wall Street, Not Palestine.” Spin-offs such as “Occupennial” are meant to aggregate all of the various terms and relate the movement to a place and time, the United States’ own Arab Spring of 2011.
But the importance of the art of the 99% is that it indicates a visceral cultural expression of the need for alternative systems. Favianna Rodriguez reminds artists of the three main challenges to take up in solidarity with the protesters world-wide:
- Develop inter-sectional cultural projects from the perspective of communities of color, those most affected by global crisis,
- Use these cultural projects to build momentum for a sustained movement, and
- Precipitate action from cultural projects.
The activists leading the global awakening of the 99% know the value of cultural transformation for a lasting movement. Summarizing this feeling is a statement by activist Mande Henk about the People’s Library in Zuccotti Park, “Stories are incredibly important for helping people to understand the world, and so this is a place to come to understand the world.” That place is also in every Wall Street, Main Street, and town square where people have joined together to create an alternative to capitalism and the global crises.