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By John Heylin
In August, I saw imagery from two different protest movements occurring simultaneously in different parts of the country. While, at the time, both had a strong following, one of the movements was already eclipsing the other in terms of media coverage and potential to engage the populace. They were the Tar Sands Action movement and the Occupy Wall Street movement.
It wasn’t until I saw the two movements compared to each other in terms of imagery that I noticed stark contrasts in messaging the movements employed. The difference between the two in both physical action and visual imagery is huge. While Tar Sands Action’s logo looks like a Made-in-China knock-off jeans company logo, Occupy Wall Street’s original poster evokes the vulnerability of the human body while also signaling a militant mindset. It evokes a struggle, opposition, and the idea of a battle for survival.
As we’ve seen over the last few months, the physical actions undertaken by both organizations are almost polar opposites of each other. Comparing a demonstration from each of the two groups shows their differences. A video from the Tar Sands Action protest in front of the White House (that lasted over a week) was calm, quiet, involved no resistance, and had people dressing up business casual attire. There is no anger, no yelling, no chaining themselves to the fence, and no obvious passion. The people involved may have been passionate, but the display they put on lacked high emotion. I’d expect to see a protest like this in a movie like Pleasantville.
Occupy Wall Street, on the other hand, is very passionate. People are living in the streets, being tear gassed, shot with rubber bullets, and beaten with night sticks. The imagery is both powerful and shocking, and strikes a chord in just about everyone. It’s not the chaos and destruction of a WTO riot, it’s people expressing themselves peacefully and then being attacked by police. The video footage of protesters shot in the face with tear gas canisters, sprayed in the face with mace, and beaten over the head is iconic and memorable. One could compare the shock value to that of the movements in the 1960s that saw fire hoses, police dogs, and live ammunition.
The logo, poster or icon a group retains sets the whole mood of what the organization is about and how determined they are to meet that end goal. Looking at the logos of other successful movements and organizations you begin to see a common theme of militarization. The Sea Shepherd has a pirate flag which instantly catches the attention of people and sets the mood for their missions at sea. Gay rights organizations have a flag they can mount above buildings, carry with them during marches, or even sew on their clothing. Earth First! and the Black Power movement all have raised fists in their logo, while various other revolutionary movements evoke the image of Che Guevara in their messaging.
In the end, if you want to get people fired up about something, evoking the idea of struggle and opposition will most likely help your organization retain its focus and keep the attention of those in media and the general public. Making a logo militant goes a long way in getting people behind your cause and evoking the passion you need to make a difference. I’m not saying the movements need to be violent, but they do need something they can all get behind, point to, and feel unified. External threats and reminding people of these threats is the only way of doing this. One protest has been in the news daily, camping in major cities and protesting despite police brutality, the other has been sidelined and has tried to adapt to the new scenario by attaching itself to the Occupy movement. A good first step would be to work on their logo.