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Throughout the 1960s and 70s, as innovations like silk screen printing became more accessible to the masses, a crop of young people would use the T-shirt as an act of social rebellion or address a topic of great import. Few examples are as relevant to today's fashion and cultural climate as Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McClaren’s T-shirts that were seen on members of the punk movement in England. Graphics that features two gay men with their genitalia on full display would land a patron of Westwood’s in prison on “public indecency” charges. Another pioneer was designer Katherine Hamnett, who during a visit with Margaret Thatcher, wore a T-shirt with the slogan “58% Don’t Want Pershing” as she was posing for a photo op with her. The shirt reflected the English public's discontent with enacting Pershing nuclear missiles. It is because of dissident artists and voices of this time that the T-shirt can essentially be printed with anything on it; a timeless garment that isn’t hampered by gender or social constructs.
Since then, political T-shirts have been used in presidential campaigns, photo-ops and other contemporary political movements like Occupy Wall Street, the Women’s March, BLM, and to address the issues facing the LGBTQIA+ community. Today, they are used more so as symbols of solidarity with others who are fighting against power in one form or another.
Foucault argues that power can not exist without a mode of resistance that is inherently trying to subvert that power. Therefore, the mere act of wearing a political garment can be seen as an attempt to make a statement against or in allegiance to that form of power. Some might argue that wearing a garment with an overtly political message is inherently vain since one is putting their moral faculties on full display, the term “virtue signaling” comes to mind. However, this is not a question of virtue, to begin with. What is vain? To wear garments that express a certain socio-economic standing? Or to wear one's own moral proclivities proudly? The ultimate irony is that these questions only arise in the social sphere of fashion. It is puzzling then, that an industry whose only concern is with self-aggrandizement, endless profit, and glamour for the sake of glamour, can create such meaningful dialogue. Though one has to ponder that to wear something so unabashedly political you are forced to step outside of the self and to embrace a cause that is much greater than one's ego. The individual is naturally lumped into a movement or organization that is tangible, along with all the baggage that accompanies that entity or group of people. The act of selfishness ends as soon as you put on the garment.
This selection of items feature graphics that reflect an array of cultures, movements, sociopolitical messages and activism ranging from geopolitics in Latin America to the imperialist's wars in the Middle East. Many of the shirts showcased are of movements and issues that have long since ended. However a lot of the graphics and messages are still pertinent to today's political climate. These issues have a way of touching concerned hearts and minds across time. Outside of changing our physical bodies, fashion has always been an essential vehicle for self-expression. The items we present to you today are to go a step beyond that, to eclipse vanity and reach for a space that is greater than something within yourself.
Throughout history, many Jewish people have settled in the land of Palestine. The first wave of Jewish immigration to Ottoman-ruled Palestine began in 1881 as they fled pogroms in Eastern Europe. In the late 1930s the Jewish population in Palestine had grown to nearly 500,000. The Arab revolt in Palestine. 1936-1939, was a nationalist reaction to mass immigration and British colonialism. By 1938, Arab forces eventually grew to about 15,000 fighting nearly 50,000 British soldiers, 35,000 soldiers from various paramilitary groups, and nearly 5,000 other militants and colonial police forces. The violence left about 300 Jews and 200 British dead while British authorities and Zionist militias killed 5,000 and left 15,000 wounded. On May 14, 1948, the day before the British Mandate would expire, David Ben-Gurion declared the establishment of the Jewish State of Israel. The following day, armies from the surrounding Arab nations entered what had been Palestine. This catalyzed the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. After a year of fighting, a ceasefire was declared and temporary borders were established. Nearly 9,000 Isreali soldiers died. The UN estimates that 700,000 Palestinians were displaced by the violence, referred to as the Nakba in Arabic, or “catastrophe”.
Today, the right-wing Israeli government uses their powerful military and foreign aid to enforce the occupation of Gaza, the West Bank, as well as various settlements. The Israeli Defence Force (IDF) formed out of the paramilitary group, Haggadah. The government enforces separate roads for Palestinians and Israelis in occupied territories. Palestinians do not have equal citizenship or voting rights despite living under the rule of the Israeli government. Fatah, a moderate political party, controls the West Bank while HAMAS, a right-wing organization connected to the Muslim Brotherhood, controls Gaza. Disagreements over various issues between the two groups has led to further disorganization and conflict within Palestine. In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right Likud party holds the majority of parliamentary seats, and Benny Gantz’s zionist neoliberal Blue and White party weilds notable influence, while left wing parties such as Meretz struggle to advocate for Palestinian human rights.
This tee features a print of a Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) fighter. The PFLP was founded after the Six Day War in 1967 and declared itself a Marxist organization that saw the Palestinian people’s struggle as part of a united rejection of Western imperialism by Arab states.
Fight War Not Wars
Punk/Hardcore music is often people’s first introduction to leftist politics. English punk band, Crass, was founded by Penny Rimbaud and Steve Ignorant while the two were living in an
anarchist commune. The band’s logo is an amalgamation of several icons of authority, including a two-headed Ouroboros. The ancient symbol of a serpent consuming its own tail represented the idea that power would come to destroy itself. A key component of the band was their embrace of Dadaist concepts, rejecting the reason of modern capitalist society, instead expressing irrationality, and anti-bourgeois sentiments in their work. Examples include advocating for peace while making aggressive music and anti-imperialism while wearing militaria. The band also distributed pamphlets of anarchist theory at their shows.
Crass used their influence to coordinate a 24-hour squat in the empty west London Zig Zag club, as well as participated in the 1983 and 1984 Stop the City demonstrations against the military industrial complex. The band was also behind the “Thatchergate tapes”, a recording of a telephone conversation constructed from edited recordings of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. The recording shows Thatcher and Reagan discussing the Falklands War as well as agreeing that Europe would be a target for nuclear weapons in a conflict between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. The State Department as well as the British government believed the tapes to be KGB propaganda, but British newspaper The Observer linked the band to the tapes.
As members of Parliament debated the band’s fate, members disagreed over remaining committed to non-violence or resorting to violence if necessary. In July 1984, the band played a benefit in Aberdare, Wales, for striking miners, and on the return trip confirmed that they would break up.
I Am Fred Hampton
Fred Hampton, revolutionary socialist and chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, was identified as a “radical threat” by the FBI due to his growing influence through galvanizing leadership and organizing. Throughout the late 1960s, Hampton successfully brokered a non-aggression pact among Chicago street gangs to build a multiracial, class-conscious coalition with organizations including the Black Panther Party, Young Patriots, and the People’s Clinic. The FBI’s COINTELPRO operation focused their sights on Hampton, recruiting FBI convicted criminal William O’Neal to join the Black Panthers and gain Hampton's trust, eventually becoming Hampton’s bodyguard and acting as Director of Chapter Security for the party. On the night of December 3, 1969, O’Neal slipped a sedative into Hampton’s drink and dispatched authorities to raid the apartment he was in. Officers opened fire on the unconscious Hampton, his pregnant fiance, and his security guard. His security guard was fatally shot, but Hampton and his fiance were merely wounded. After discovering that Hampton was not killed by the gunfire, an officer shot Hampton twice in the head. The seven other panthers that were in the apartment were all arrested and indicted by a grand jury on charges of attempted murder, armed violence, and several weapons charges. Charges were eventually dropped after a Department of Justice investigation revealed that Chicago Police fired ninety-nine shots while the Panthers only shot twice. Hampton was eulogized by fellow leaders such as Jesse Jackson and Ralph Abernathy. Father George Clements described the reaction of Chicago’s black schoolchildren, “I was trying to explain to our children- we had the school children there, all thirteen hundred- and I was trying to explain the importance of Fred, and I wasn’t getting through. And in the midst of my explanation, I just burst into tears, and the next thing I knew here was one of our eighth-grade boys- he jumped up and he said: “I am Fred Hampton.” And then a girl in the sixth grade, she jumps up: “I’m Fred Hampton.”... And before you knew it the whole church, kids were all shouting, “I’m Fred Hampton!”... this death was not in vain at all, because these kids are saying that they are willing to get up here and speak out for liberation, for first class citizenship.”
Hampton was an outspoken anticapitalist who would be appalled to see his namesake become a selling point of a material good. This particular shirt is interesting in that a previous owner had written the text directly onto the fabric with a sharpie. He was a firm believer and committed to black liberation. When thinking about this t-shirt, the quote, “When children of every race can proclaim, ‘I am Tiger Woods,’ race becomes insignificant.”, is fitting. Race was at the center of Hampton’s ideology, to ignore that when wearing this shirt would be a great insult and disservice to the young revolutionary and the beliefs he heralded throughout his life.
Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz, August 13, 1926 - November 25, 2016, was a Cuban communist revolutionary and politician. Castro served as the Prime Minister of Cuba from 1959 to 1976 and then as President of the Council of State and Council of Ministers from 1976 to 2008.
Despite being the son of a wealthy farmer, Castro adopted leftist ideas while studying law at the University of Havana. After participating in rebellions against right-wing governments in the Dominican Republic and Colombia, Castro was determined to oust Cuban president Fulgencio Batista. Castro launched a failed attack against Batista in 1953, leading to one year imprisonment. Once his time had been served, he traveled to Mexico where he would form the 26th of July Movement along with his brother Raul and Ernesto “Che” Guevara. Upon returning to Cuba, Castro led guerilla warfare against Batista’s forces during the Cuban revolution. Batista was overthrown in 1959 and Fidel Castro assumed the role of Prime Minister. The U.S. was determined to remove Castro from office by any means necessary in order to restore the economic interests of American industry and combat any functioning leftist government. Throughout Castro’s tenure in office, the U.S. made several hundred assasination attempts, implemented an economic blockade, and funded counter-revolution.
Under Castro’s rule, industry and business were nationalized and robust social welfare programs were signed into law. The First Agrarian Reform, set a limit for landholdings to 993 acres per owner and prohibited foreigners from obtaining Cuban land ownership. Approximately 200,000 peasants received title deeds as large land holdings were broken up. This policy was extremely popular among the working class, but infuriated the land owning class. Within a year, Castro and his government had effectively redistributed 15 percent of the nation's wealth. The Castro government placed a focus on education, building more classrooms in the first 30 months than had been built in the previous 30 years. Healthcare was nationalized and hospitals opened up across Cuba providing free medical care to all, universal vaccination was implemented, and the infant-mortality rate dropped to among the lowest in the world. Within the first 6 months 600 miles of roads had been constructed, $300 million was spent on sanitation and water infrastructure, 800 homes were constructed every month in order to effectively eradicate homelessness, and nurseries and centers for the elderly and disabled were opened and funded. Despite this, he took a socially conservative stance on many issues such as drug use, gambling, sex work, and LGBTQIA+ rights. Castro saw homosexuality as a product of bourgois decadance, incompatible with revolution. Gay men were put into forced labor camps, and many were subject to conversion therapy. Later in his life, Castro described what he had done to LGBTQIA+ people as a “great injustice”, urging for the acceptance of homosexuality in his autobiography as well as making several speeches to the public denouncing discrimination based on sexual orientation.
This tee features a frontprint of George W. Bush alongside Fidel Castro and a backprint of a quote from Castro at the World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) held in 2001. WCAR is organized by UNESCO in order to promote scientific studies concerning ethnic groups and their diffusion in public opinion to dispel pseudo-scientific rationalizations of racism.
"Racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia are not natural, instinctive human reactions but are social, cultural and political phenomena born directly of war, military conquest, slavery and exploitation." Fidel Castro
Fast food chains are an instantly recognizable symbol of American capitalism around the world. Like any capitalist corporation, they make their billions in profit at the expense of workers, animals, and public’s health.
In the wake of the 1968 Chicago riots, the Nixon administration began federally subsidizing fast food franchises. The belief was that funding black-owned fast food franchises would uplift low income communities and cure unrest. Nixon established the Office of Minority Business Enterprise in 1969, stating “What we need is to get private enterprise into the ghetto, and get the people of the ghetto into private enterprise—not only as workers, but as managers and owners.” Nixon’s vow to promote black capitalism, made a few rich but in turn led them to exploiting the very people they wish to help. The success of this model was lucrative for not only the fast food companies but the government too. The black capitalist class would serve as liaisons for the white bourgeoise, promoting their class interests as well as working to quell uprising within their own community. The operators of such franchises complained of racial redlining, stating they were never allowed to expand into more prosperous areas. The powers of capital were successfully able to strategically uplift a few black people in order to maintain order while simultaneously poisoning low income communities with food full of fat, salt, and chemicals.
Workers in the fast food industry earn notoriously low wages, and receive little to no benefits while CEOs rake in billions in profit. These workers have been at the forefront of the “Fight for $15”, fighting for a $15 federal minimum wage for nearly a decade. They are outraged by that fact that many politicians have been intent on the “bad choice” that poor people make by consuming fast food rather than raising the wages of the working poor.
Nicaraguans are Not our Enemy
From the late 1970s through the early 90s, the United States financed, trained, armed and organized several right-wing rebel groups known collectively as Contras in their fight against the socialist Sandinista government in Nicaragua. The US government was determined to oust the Sandinistas in order to protect the economic interests of American corporations as well as “national security” interests. Ronald Reagan insisted that the Nicaraguan elections were undemocratic despite elections being declared fair by other foreign overlookers. On January 4, 1982 Reagan signed the National Security Decision Directive 17 (NSDD-17), allocating $19 million in military aid to the CIA in order to recruit and support the Contras. The Contras proved to be the perfect group to carry out the CIA’s guerrilla warfare strategy; one that instructed the organization to incite mob violence, slaughter civilian leaders and government officials, attack "soft targets" — such as schools, health clinics and cooperatives, and bomb refineries, pipelines, and mining ports. The CIA manual for the Contras, Tayacan, explains Contras should gather the local population for a public tribunal to "shame, ridicule and humiliate" Sandinista officials to "reduce their influence", as well as gather the local population to witness and take part in public executions. Despite Congress forbidding any government agency from acting in Nicaragua in October 1984, the Reagan administration raised $36.7 million for the Contras through third countries and private sources between 1984 and 1986. Funding came to a halt after the Iran-Contra affair.
The Reagan administration facilitated selling arms to Ayatollah Khomemi’s government while Iran was under an arms embargo, planning to use the proceeds to fund the Contras. The arms sales came to light in November 1986, prompting an investigation that was abruptly stopped after large volumes of documents relating to the affair were destroyed or withheld from investigators by Reagan administration officials. After investigations by both the U.S. Congress and the Reagan appointed Tower Commission, 14 officials were indicted which led to 11 convictions. These were later pardoned by the Bush administration.
By 1989 the U.S. backed Contra war had exacerbated both the physical and economic suffering of the Nicaraguan people. The U.S. exploited this reality in order to bring Violetta Chamorro to power. A neoliberal actor that would prioritize U.S. business interests abroad while cutting social programs.