Posters

The Art of Restorative Questions

We live in a punitive culture. We are so used to punishment as the go-to solution for any behavior we want to change, that it can be difficult to imagine other options. A group of artists, organized by Project NIA, are here to help us.

When it comes to discipline and punishment, we seem to be reaching a tipping point. The number of people incarcerated in the US has become so outrageously large, that bi-partisan support (a rare thing these days) is building up behind criminal justice reform. People are (re)considering alternatives to incarceration, particularly for non-violent crimes. In schools, too, it has become clear that a largely punitive approach to dealing with behavior “problems” has only led to more problems. Schools hand out unconscionable numbers of suspensions and expulsions. This disproportionately harms low income Students of Color, exacerbates the large opportunity gaps that already exist, and fosters what has come to be known as the school-to-prison pipeline.

In response, we have seen rapid growth of the restorative justice movement, which offers a radically different approach. Restorative justice asks that we make a paradigm shift in the way we think about “crime” and “misbehavior.” As Dr. Carolyn Boyes-Watson at the Center for Restorative Justice at Suffolk University explains,

“Rather than privileging the law, professionals and the state, restorative resolutions engage those who are harmed, wrongdoers and their affected communities in search of solutions that promote repair, reconciliation and the rebuilding of relationships. Restorative justice seeks to build partnerships to reestablish mutual responsibility for constructive responses to wrongdoing within our communities. Restorative approaches seek a balanced approach to the needs of the victim, wrongdoer and community through processes that preserve the safety and dignity of all.”

Within this realm, practitioners have developed a wide range of “restorative practices” — such as victim-offender dialogues and peacemaking circles — often drawing on conflict resolution practices from indigenous societies around the world. But restorative justice cannot be reduced to a set of practices. It is a way of thinking about and approaching conflict. It requires a shift in how we relate to one another. It is about developing a restorative culture in our schools and communities.

If this seems daunting, a new arts-based campaign offers a simple, but powerful, starting point. The effort was catalyzed by Project NIA, an influential Chicago-based organization dedicated to “participatory community justice” (which encompasses restorative justice as well as more systemic approaches like transformative justice). Project NIA brought together a group of (mostly) Chicago artists to create restorative justice posters. These stunning posters feature “restorative questions,” drawn from the work of Margaret Thorsborne.

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The posters, and the questions they pose, are deceptively simple. However, if we were to truly use these questions as our starting point to address crime, violence, and conflict, we would find ourselves veering far from the punitive path. To ask someone who has been harmed, “What is needed to make things right?” is to privilege healing over retribution.  To ask someone who has done harm, “Who do you think has been affected by what you did?,” is to assume that learning and growth are possible.

All posters are available for public download. Print out your favorites and hang them in your neighborhood. I’m definitely going to be putting some up in the schools I work with here in Salt Lake City, where restorative practices are just beginning to gain traction. If you take a photo of the posters you hang, you can share it with the project by emailing it to transformchi2013@gmail.com.

Shifting from punitive to restorative approaches to justice and discipline will take more than learning new practices. It will require what Jeff Chang calls a “collective leap of imagination.” Fortunately, catalyzing our imaginations is something many artists excel at. As it says on the restorative posters website, “Artists help us to imagine new worlds. Let’s keep imagining together.”

 

 

Interview with Cultural Organizer Favianna Rodriguez

Last week I had the privilege of talking to a powerful cultural organizer from Oakland. Favianna Rodriguez is a visual artist best known for her political prints and posters addressing issues from the Iraq war to women’s rights. She is the director of CultureStrike, a grassroots collective of artists, and the founder of Presente.org, an online network “dedicated to the political empowerment of Latino communities.” She has recently been featured in an online documentary titled Migration is Beautiful.

We began by talking a bit about how Favianna came to her artistic and political work, but quickly fell into discussing the role of artists in the immigrant rights movement, the challenges political artists face, and the difference between art as a tactic and art as a strategy for social change. We also spoke about her effort to promote the monarch butterfly as a powerful symbol of the humanity and beauty of migrants.

How did you first get involved with art, when did that start?

FaviannaSince I was a child I was really into art, but it wasn’t something that was encouraged in my family. My family wanted me to be a doctor or a lawyer; given I was a first generation college student it was always really important for me to pursue, in their eyes, a more meaningful career. But art has always been a way for me to claim my identity and make sense of who I was, because I grew up in an environment where I would be one of the only students of color in many honors classes in high school. I would find myself not reflected in the curriculum, not reflected in student government or extracurricular activities, so for me art was a way to claim that space.

When did politics and activism start to move into the picture?

When I was 16 the governor of California introduced Proposition 187, the first anti-immigrant state based proposition. Around that time you also saw propositions killing affirmative action; you saw the prison industrial complex creep up in California via Proposition 21, which was a way to criminalize young people of color. All of that happened in my teenage years and I found youth organizing. I got involved when I was about 14 years old, walking out of my high school, doing actions at the juvenile detention centers. For me organizing was a real wakeup call because I could really understand how political power was formed.

Back then were you finding ways to work your art into your organizing?

Yeah, I was more working in my art as a designer. I was filling the need that was emerging, which was that you needed flyers, you needed educational materials for the community. I understood art as a tactical thing, and not necessarily as a strategy.

What does it mean for art to be a tactic instead of a strategy?

For a long time I was using my art skills to serve the immediate and short term needs of movement work, whether that would be making flyers or giving away art for auctions by political organizations or doing pop-up art exhibits at rallies. On the other hand, I would spend time developing my own body of work, or working with other artists. And we were not necessarily thinking about policy outcomes or the next rally — we were thinking, “What is this space of big ideas we want to go into? What are the values we want to promote?” I began to understand that while artists were valued for the short-term work that they can do, we were not valued for the creative capacity to touch people’s hearts. Dance choreography, or a short play, or a novel — anything that did not fit into the short-term needs of a movement, people just could not see it as useful.

Now I see the value of cultural strategy, which means to me that we are thinking about culture as a tool that can move our ideas forward. Culture is a space that we actively need to be working in, and we need to respect the labor of artists. Its important to work in a rapid response mechanism, but its equally as important to work on long term ideas that are going to shift the way people fundamentally think about an issue. Cultural strategy is not communication strategy, and art is not just as a tactic. When you see artists as a tactic it means you have predesigned a pathway to a campaign which the artist is going to participate in. To me cultural organizing is to see that art it can be a complimentary path that is not driven by the short-term needs of a campaign. Another part of cultural strategy is artists also need to be organized.

What does that look like when artists are organized?

When artists are organized, it means we have an awareness of the political strategy, and the general direction the movement is trying to go in, so that we can position ourselves. This is why I think it’s important to use the word strategy. I do think we need to be strategic with our timing. We have to think about how our art is going to advance or not advance different beliefs.

What do you see as the ideal relationship between artists and more traditional organizers?

I think that there has to be ongoing communication. Artists are not sitting at the table when strategy is being designed, and I think that’s a mistake. Artists need to be a part of overall movement work in a way that really values what we do. The tendency has been to contact artists at the end, about campaign engagement, or “Now that we have our rally planned, let’s invite the artist.” That to me is only one very small piece of cultural strategy.

Also, artists need to have strong relationships with movement folks so we can understand what they’re pushing for, because some things we do could actually not help. I’ll give you an example. Steve Jobs’ widow just released a video-based site called The Dream Is Now, and its all about undocumented youth. I can tell you, as somebody who works directly with undocumented youth and has good relationships with organizers, that the dream narrative is no longer as helpful to our movement as it was 2 years ago. Undocumented youth are now saying “It’s not just about us as youth, we want our parents legalized. Our parents brought us here because they are responsible and they want opportunity for us, and we’re not going to shove our parents under the bus.” At CultureStrike I work with artists, and if artists say we want to do something around young DREAMers I’m able to say “Well, the political strategy is no longer moving in that direction. In fact, dreamers have gotten some relief via DACA. What is now urgent is that we address the deportation of parents, and move away from a youth-only lens” And by understanding where the movement is at it makes the art all that more powerful and effective.

What are the different roles arts are playing, or could play, in the immigrant rights movement?

I’ll give you a great example. A group of eight senators introduced what they call a blueprint for comprehensive immigration reform. That blueprint included drones at the border and at least two decades of waiting for citizenship. Unless you understand the nuances of what this means, the public hears the words “comprehensive immigration reform,” and may not necessarily approach with a critical lens. Here’s where artists can come in really great: artists can expose the truth about these policies and highlight the information or misinformation in a way that simplifies the message. We can begin to emphasize what drones are, connect it to the immense amount of debt, saying “This is what border enforcement looks like, this is what border enforcement costs.”

At the same time, there are 11 million undocumented migrants. How do we as artists help people see what those 11 million look like? It’s children, it’s mothers, it’s parents, it’s students it’s workers. How do we humanize that so that it’s not just a figure, so it tells a story?

We are all hoping that this is the year for immigration reform, and you can expect there to be a lot of rallies and visits to congress and marches. This is what we’ve been doing for the last six years already. What would new kinds of cultural engagement look like so we are not just repeating the same way of telling the story? Theatrical pieces, mobile art labs, filmmakers, concerts all over the country. What about Comic books, graphic novels, street art highlighting the immense pain that so many children feel from losing a parent because they are being deported.

Maybe you could talk about the symbol of the Butterfly, and what you’re trying to do with that.

Butterfly CrossingThe immigrant rights movement began to slowly adopt the butterfly as a symbol. As an artist, and as someone who studies symbols like the pink triangle, the black power fist, the black panther — I think symbols definitely have the ability to create a culture of resistance. So for me it was important to popularize the image of a butterfly. I wanted to piggyback on the symbol of the butterfly as a visionary symbol. Butterflies can cross borders, so the butterfly is the symbol to talk about the beauty of migrants as they are moving from place to place. Just like butterflies migrate in order to survive, people migrate in order to survive. It is not just about economics, it is also about people wanting to be unified with their families, or people wanting to be safe from environments where they can’t be gay, or women escaping situations that are dangerous to them, or young people trying to find opportunities. These are all beautiful stories of who we are as humans, and I think that the butterfly is very symbolic of that.

The butterfly as a symbol of policy can be a little bit tricky, because the butterfly clearly crosses borders . Yet I don’t believe in our lifetime we are going to see open borders. However, I think it’s an important idea to push out, because art sometimes is about imagining what could be, it’s about allowing people to think really big. Even though it may not translate to a policy outcome just yet, its important for the idea to be there because people in their subconscious associate migrants with really ugly concepts. People associate migrants with leeches, or they think about migrants like “Those migrants don’t belong here, they’re taking my job.” And that is because the media has repetitively shown those symbols, so we need to counter those with more positive symbols.

Who else do you see in the immigrant rights movement, or other movements, that you particularly think is doing great work around cultural organizing?

I think that 350.org does an excellent fob of activating folks around climate change. A few years back they did something called EARTH where they organized, in cities around the world, huge art productions that you could only see via satellite all produced on a particular day. I thought that was really powerful because first, it really maximized on artists being problem solvers. At the same time it requires community participation, because you needed people out there to make it work. And also it centered on a really simple idea, the number 350.

What keeps you going in this work?

Im A SlutI wake up and I am just so excited that my job is to think about how to organize artists. For a long time as an artist I felt really frustrated about the way artists’ labor wasn’t recognized, and frustrated because the art word marginalizes artists of color and socially engaged artists. The art world is already such an ultra-capitalist environment and sometimes that’s all we’re offered, that is shown to us as the ideal. So to be able to say to my fellow artists, “Lets get organized, lets think about the work that we do, and also think differently about art overall. There’s a saying that says “art workers don’t kiss ass,” and that is so true. The awesome thing about being an artist is that we have space to do the most controversial, in-your-face content that you can imagine and we can totally get away with it because we’re artists. That drives me. You’ve seen my “I’m a Slut” poster — I would never get the support to do that through the nonprofit world, and yet its so needed.

The Feather and the Fist: Media, Ceremony, and #IdleNoMore

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The newest of media meet the oldest of traditions as indigenous protests sweep Canada and the web.

The Idle No More movement, which began just weeks ago in response to the Canadian omnibus budget bill C-45, widened quickly to encompass long-running concerns around indigenous sovereignty, land, and environmental degradation. The uprising was originally sparked by four First Nations women who began running teach-ins about C-45, a bill that would weaken environmental laws and make the leasing of indigenous lands easier. It went country-wide with the National Day of Solidarity & Resurgence on December 10th. Today much more is at stake than the fate of one bill, as the protests become a focal point for First Nations demands for sovereignty, environmental protection, and the upholding of treaties.

The movement is taking full advantage of social media and web-based outreach. They have called upon supporters to spread the word via twitter, facebook, youtube, posters, videos, and poems. The organization’s hashtag, #IdleNoMore, is showing up in tweets from across the world. They have put out some striking visuals, and their efforts have  inspired poster artists to share their work in solidarity (below from Dwayne Bird, Gillian Goerz, and Aaron Paquette)

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At the same time, the protests are rooted deeply in First Nation symbols, ceremonies, arts, and traditions. From the image of the feather in a fist, to the use of sacred peace pipes, organizers are tapping the power of indigenous culture and framing their work through indigenous concepts like “e na tah maw was sew yak” which means “defending the children/generations.” Flash mobs in streets and shopping malls have been centered on the traditional round dance. Even the hunger strike by Attawapiskat First Nation Chief Theresa Spence, which began on December 11th, echoes aboriginal fasting traditions.

 

The use of traditional symbols, ceremonies, and arts does not only offer support to political efforts — it is a political act in and of itself. As Greg Macdougall puts it:
In this context, a fast/hunger strike as part of Idle No More (along with the many prayer ceremonies, drumming, round dance flash mobs, etc that have been happening) shows how the very Native culture that the people are standing up for is very much alive and experiencing a (re)surgence that can be a point of hope and solidarity in this country racked with so much present and historical pain and amnesia.

In combining the newest online media and communications techniques with traditional symbols and ceremonies, Idle No More is treading ground first successfully walked by the Zapatistas in their 1994 uprising. People can try to write off the growing attention to #IdleNoMore as another twitterverse fad. But as the cultural work of the movement makes clear, this rebellion did not appear overnight with the latest Bieber gossip. This is only the most recent face of a centuries-long resistance movement that has never been idle for long.

 

To learn more, and to find out how to get involved, check out the Idle No More website, and the recent Native Appropriations interviews with movement participants.

 

Meet the UndocuArtists: Using art & culture for immigrant justice, & much more!

by Favianna Rodriguez

This post has been reposted from the blog of Favianna Rodriguez at Favianna.com. It was originally posted on May 2, 2012. If you like my CulturalOrganizing.org (or even if you don’t), you should definitely be reading hers.

I’m really honored to be able to collaborate with some off-the-hook undocumented artists and writers who are not only making waves in the immigrant rights space, but also in the arts and culture space overall. If you are in San Francisco, you will the opportunity to meet some of these artists at the upcoming Undocunation event on May 3.

Last year, I had heard about Julio Salgado, an undocumented artist who was posting images all over Facebook in support of the DREAM Act and about undocumented youth coming out of the shadows. I had seen the images around but hadn’t actually met Julio, until last may when he visited the Bay and I invited him over for lunch. (Art below by Julio Salgado)

Quip-claudia

Empowered by both his queer and undocumented identities, Julio was following the tradition of using art as a tool to fight anti-migrant laws. I was so tremendously inspired by him that I committed to supporting his creative work and I invited him be a part of a delegation of artists that went to Tucson, Arizona, last September.

Julio eventually introduced me to his collaborative media project, DreamersAdrift.com. Along with Jesus Iñiguez, Fernando Romero and Deisy Hernandez, the four undocumented college graduates had started DreamersAdrift.com as a way to combat the negative language used by the media when they talked about undocumented folks in this country. Using video, art and music, DreamersAdrift.com has been a creative outlet for other undocumented students and allies to speak out about their immigration status. You can see some of their hilarious work here.

It was refreshing to see these artist take on serious subjects with humor and sarcasm. I also was really impressed that everyone involved in the production, down the video editor, was undocumented. This demonstrated to me the importance of art, culture and media coming directly from the folks most impacted by a given issues, in this case, our country’s failed immigration system. I believe that as radical artists, we have to recognize our priviledge and be able to strongly support other artists who do not have the same access we have. The fact that I was born in this country grants me access to a host of grants, public money, and artistic opportunities that undocumented artists dont’ have.

The “Undocumented and Awkward” series by DreamersAdrift.com have gone viral within pro-migrant activists who have used the videos to share the realities of being an undocumented immigrant.

They’ve also collaborated with other undocumented artists as well, such as Yosimar Reyes, who was featured in one of the “Undocumented and Awkward” videos that touched on the subject of being undocumented and queer, or “Undocuqueer.” Yosimar, a self-described “two-spirit gangsta” and author of “For Colored Boys Who Speak Softly,” has used his poetic talent to criticize the current state of immigrant politics. Issues of race, borders and “joteria,” are abundant in his work.

Julio also connected me with Felipe Baeza, a fierce, undocumented artist from New York who not only has he been actively creating art about being UndocuQueer, but has also been at the forefront of a migrant movement led by a lot of women and queer youth. Last year, Felipe participated in a sit-in in Gerogia and risked deportation. Check him out here:

These artists are a huge inspiration for me, and I’m excited to be working with them on national projects, like this print portfolio project here, and like “UndocuNation: An Evening with Artists for Immigrant Justice,” which opens tomorrow, May 3 at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

Drop the I-Word: From Paint to Pixels

67 Sueños mural, by Pancho Pescador in collaboration with the Community Rejuvenation Project, San Francisco

In honor of the recent International Workers Day (May Day) celebrations, I write today about immigrant justice. While May Day’s long history is centered around workers rights more broadly, our workforce has always been made up of a large number of recent immigrants — particularly in the most exploitative jobs. And it was the immigrant rights movement that revitalized the holiday in the US in 2006 with its strike, “A Day Without Immigrants.”

The struggle for immigrant justice is of course a political one. But it is also cultural. It is about changing the way we think about immigrants, and the stories we tell. Despite being a nation founded on immigration from Europe and the genocide of native peoples, the dominant narrative today is of dangerous, unlawful, and above all “illegal” immigrants coming to take what is rightfully “ours.” We have moved from talking about “illegal immigration” to talking about “illegal immigrants” — a small but important shift in subject. In the process, the word “illegal” has become more than a judicial term; it has become a racial epithet, and shorthand for this dominant — and false — story.

Mark Vallen’s Original 1988 Poster

But a counter-story has emerged, finding its most condensed form in the powerful slogan “No Human Being Is Illegal.” While I’m not sure where the phrase originally emerged, it seems to have been popularized by a particular piece of art. The poster, seen to the right, was used in 1988 as part of a campaign by the Central American Resource Center in LA, fighting for the rights of Central American war refugees. It features a stirring image by artist Mark Vallen. In 2010 the poster was republished, to support the current fight for immigrant rights.

The phrase has spread like wildfire, serving as a call for humanization across the world. It has spawned murals, t-shirts, posters, graffitti, and more.

Oakland Poster

Bronx Mural by DASIC

 

The most recent iteration of this struggle is the Drop the I-Word campaign. An effort that started with paint and posters is now taking advantage of social media and digital video. Launched by the Applied Research Center and its (excellent) website Colorlines, the Drop the I-Word campaign calls on media outlets, as well as other organizations and individuals, to pledge to stop using the term “illegal” to refer to people. As they state on their site:

Use of the i-word ignores the fact that our laws are unjustly applied. Immigrants without documents are regularly hired as cheap, exploited labor. No one else who benefits from the set up, including the employers who recruit and hire these migrants, is labeled this way. No one should ever be labeled this way. No human being is illegal.

So in honor of May Day, or just because it is a Thursday and it feels right, pledge to drop the i-word. Absolutely no human being is illegal.

May Day Art, 2012

In celebration of yesterday’s May Day, I scoured the web for some of the art that sprouted out of this annual celebration. Enjoy!

1. Of course, beautiful posters began to make the rounds in preparation for the big day (from colorlines)

2. Some big names showed up for the celebrations, including political MC Immortal Technique:

3. There was playful street theatre, like this performance from the “Corporate Tax Dodgers”

4. And through the web, many other artists joined in the celebration, like this “sand artist”

Occupy Design

Poster by Favianna Rodriguez

The occupy mobilizations have become famous, or perhaps infamous, for their creative, homemade cardboard signage. But across the country, graphic designers are stepping in as well to bring their particular expertise to the effort to craft a visual language for occupiers. These artists, either independently or as subcommittees of occupy mobilizations, are using graphic design to inspire, to diversify the movement, and to educate others about economic inequality.

Occupy Design is a group of designers, artists, and organizers, seeking to “provide a universal visual toolset for the Occupy movement which crosses language barriers and brings a strong visual identity to the movement.” They are calling for people to submit work, and have launched their site with a set of “infographics” that communicate the core concepts of economic inequality in ways that transcend language. It is their way of contributing to a unifying message for the movement.

Occupy Design Infographic

The Occupied Wall Street Journal is apparently going to be printing posters in an upcoming issue, and Favianna Rodriguez, an artist with Justseeds Artist Cooperative, has shared her piece for it, the poster shown at the beginning of this post. (more…)

Labor Day Art

I’d like to take a moment this labor day to remember the Northland Poster Collective. This small, Minneapolis-based collective of artists, founded in 1979, put out 30 years of creative, useful art for progressive and radical movements, including the labor movement. They came up with one of my favorite slogans for labor: The Labor Movement: The Folks Who Brought You the Weekend.

The organization unfortunately closed in 2009, amidst the financial meltdown. But their posters and slogans continue to show up on walls, cars, and lapels across the country. One of the artists, Ricardo Levins Morales, continues this work through his studio, RLM Arts.

On Northland’s “legacy website,” the organization, signing off after 30 years, offers these thoughtful words (more…)