30 July 2009

Good vs Power

From Orion Magazine:

“Would any sane person think dumpster diving would have stopped Hitler, or that composting would have ended slavery or brought about the eight-hour workday, or that chopping wood and carrying water would have gotten people out of Tsarist prisons, or that dancing naked around a fire would have helped put in place the Voting Rights Act of 1957 or the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Then why now, with all the world at stake, do so many people retreat into these entirely personal ‘solutions’?”

Via Design Action and Design Activism I found this essay by Derrick Jensen on the polite activism of personal consumption and “living ethically.” Though Jensen doesn’t direct it at designers specifically, he identifies a strong trend in contemporary activism that’s pervasive amongst designers, particularly in the whole sustainable design movement. I’ve noted this before, as have others: after a hard strategic review last year, the World Wildlife Fund published a major report attacking green consumerism and “behaviour-change” strategies, calling instead for radically different approach to environmentalism.

Sandino Vive!Sometimes constructing alternatives can be an effective way to go, the Free Software movement being one shining example. But at the risk of spoiling his punch line, Jensen points to successful political struggles of the past: “We can follow the example of those who remembered that the role of an activist is not to navigate systems of oppressive power with as much integrity as possible, but rather to confront and take down those systems.”

Which is a good segue to this excellent roundup of real-world graphic agitation by Josh MacPhee, Street Art and Social Movements in Paris in May 1968, Nicaragua in the late 1970s, South Africa in the early 1980s, and finally Argentina from 2001-04.

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