After Conversations with Occupy Wall Street Organizers, Shepard Fairey Releases Revised “Occupy Hope” Design
I am not directly associated with either the Obama re-election campaign or the organizers of Occupy Wall St. After I put my Occupy HOPE image and brief statement online Friday, I received responses from people and some very important issues were raised. It is hard to put across complex ideas with an image, and even harder to have a reasonable discussion in this polarizing, sound-bite oriented, media landscape, so I was grateful for some thoughtful feedback. My most eye-opening discussion was with an organizer of Occupy Wall St. who remains anonymous to preserve the lack of hierarchy within the movement. Below is a bit of our dialogue, which shows the many nuances to be navigated…
This image represents my support for the Occupy movement, a grassroots movement spawned to stand up against corruption, imbalance of power, and failure of our democracy to represent and help average Americans. On the other hand, as flawed as the system is, I see Obama as a potential ally of the Occupy movement if the energy of the movement is perceived as constructive, not destructive. I still see Obama as the closest thing to “a man on the inside” that we have presently. Obviously, just voting is not enough. We need to use all of our tools to help us achieve our goals and ideals. However, I think idealism and realism need to exist hand in hand. Change is not about one election, one rally, one leader, it is about a constant dedication to progress and a constant push in the right direction. Let’s be the people doing the right thing as outsiders and simultaneously push the insiders to do the right thing for the people. I’m still trying to work out copyright issues I may face with this image, but feel free to share it and stay tuned…
Response from an Occupy Wall Street organizer:
The design is brilliant and powerful on many levels. I’m sure many people will love it. I don’t know if you know the history and evolution of the OWS 99% movement, but a core subgroup within Anonymous played a significant role, so to see that you used the V mask is very fitting. That being said, if it is not too late, we would like to make suggestions that we believe will make the design much more broadly accepted within the movement. You’re the artistic genius, so take what we say for whatever it’s worth to you.
Unfortunately, as it stands now, I myself and several other organizers cannot in any way be connected to this design. The 99% movement is wholly non-partisan and we have been repeatedly attacked as being a front for Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign. Our movement is about uniting people, from all different walks of life and all different political viewpoints, against the global financial elite who have bought control of our government through campaign finance, lobbying and the revolving door.
As Obama has raised more money from Wall Street than any other candidate in history, it would make us naive hypocrites to support him under present circumstances. I have written many investigative reports on our economic crisis, I know the situation very well from a policy perspective. All hope was lost with Obama as soon as he picked Tim Geithner as his Treasury Secretary. He also made Larry Summers his lead economic advisor and Bill Daley his Chief of Staff. He even supported the reconfirmation of the Bush-chosen Fed chairman Ben Bernanke. You cannot have a worse group of people when it comes to the economic destruction of the US. Geithner, Summers and Bernanke have made a career out of exploiting the 99%.
Some of us are of the opinion that Romney would be worse than Obama on some issues and many OWS supporters may end up voting for Obama over Romney. However, this movement is about empowering people to take actions themselves to fight for the structural change we urgently need. To reduce us to an Obama re-election campaign will not help anyone. Our political system is corrupt and broken. As naive as it may sound, we have to stop looking to leaders and we must be the change.
When you say that you “see Obama as a potential ally of the Occupy movement if the energy of the movement is perceived as constructive, not destructive.” That is a highly offensive and disrespectful comment. Everything we do is designed to be constructive. In the face of repeated police brutality, we have remained non-violent. We use the money that has been donated to us to feed people at our camps that don’t get food otherwise. We have medical professionals and psychologists who help people who can’t afford care. We had drug addicts directed to our camps by the police in attempts to make us look bad, and we have professional councilors treating them if they need or want help. We have put our bodies on the line in a peaceful non-violent manner so we can give voice to the voiceless. Our camps have become a place where people can air their grievances and engage in dialogue to find constructive ways out of the dire situation they are in. Of course the Fox News type outlets are going to work to create a false impression, but why would you feed into their propaganda framing?
As for the design, the fact that you put the 99% inside the Obama O is crossing a sacred line. While it definitely looks cool, whether intended or not, this sends a clear message that Obama is co-opting OWS. Just the fact that you are the person creating the design and using your iconic red, white and blue gives the Obama connection more than enough room to make your pro-Obama statement. Without the 99% being in his O, it would be a fair balance of interests, in my opinion. With the 99% being in his O, this sends a clear message that Obama is attempting to co-opt OWS and creates serious problems for the movement.
Also, given the fact that Obama’s HOPE is written out just as it was last time, it is again excessive and in my opinion weak to pleadingly address the president as hoping he is on our side. If you want to win over the movement in a genuine way, I would suggest saying something like “We Are Hope” and then underneath the word “Hope” you can really get some street cred by writing, “Expect Us.”
Obviously, this is your design and powerful statement, and you are brilliant in conveying your message. I’m sure you will find a large audience that will love it. Given my admiration and respect for you as an artist, I am conflicted in the fact that I cannot support or endorse this as it currently is. Depending on the intensity of the backlash that the movement endures in response to it, I sincerely hope that we can find ways to work together moving forward. I will do my best not to publicly comment on it and will work to advise other organizers to not speak out against it. Sorry for having to write these things, my every move has been under intense scrutiny. At the end of the day, I have great respect for you and your art.
I get everything you are saying. I don’t agree with all of it, but I appreciate it. I get that the Occupy movement is non-partisan. I see a conflict for you and the movement there. However, my poster is not in any way a re-elect Obama poster. I have zero contact with the Obama campaign. I am disappointed with many aspects of Obama’s presidency and I am far from an unconditional Obama supporter. The round logo I made is not Obama’s O logo. His O uses curved stripes and a white sun. The stripes in my 99% logo are straight. I saw my 99% logo as subverting his logo more than amplifying it. I wanted a patriotic frame for the 99% logo to assert that the Occupy movement IS patriotic. The use of the word HOPE is more saying that Occupy is the greatest Hope we now have, but it would be great if Occupy pushed Obama in the right direction. You may find any appeal to Obama to support Occupy as unrealistic, but I have always believed in working EVERY angle. I’ve called it the “inside/outside strategy” for many years. Outsider activism is where I come from, but outsider elitism is incredibly unhealthy because it excludes moderates.
I have no interest in pandering to Obama. I see my image as a reminder to him that he has alienated his populist progressive supporters. If the threat of not being re-elected pushes Obama to do more to reform Wall St. etc… then I’m all for that! I’m also terrified of a Republican taking office. I voted for Nader in 2000 and if people like me won Bush that election I’ll regret that forever. I did not make the Occupy HOPE image to become THE image for Occupy. I believe very strongly in the Occupy movement, but I’m looking more at the politics of the entire nation than the politics within Occupy. I’m sure I may not be extreme enough for some people. When I said “if the movement is perceived as constructive, not destructive” I mean exactly that… PERCEIVED. I am trying to be realistic, not offensive. I have written that the movement is intelligent, civilized, peaceful, and tolerant in stark contrast to the Tea Party, but I have also been to Occupy LA and NY and seen and heard some views that I think undermine the movement’s potential to resonate. Some of the loudest people are putting across anti-capitalist, anti-government messages. I have plenty of issues with capitalist greed and our government’s policies, but constructive phrasing about reform is essential. I’m not feeding into Fox’s framing, I’ve witnessed this myself. I’m all for freedom of speech, but I desperately want the movement to succeed!
Most of the rhetoric is not too radical for me, but I’m well aware that much of the country is scared and cautious. I know that you and the organizers are very intelligent, dedicated, and engaged. I meant no disrespect to 98% of the 99%. I’m incredibly frustrated too, but evolution, much less “revolution”, scares most people. I want progress to be made! I made a series of images calling out villains and issues (I actually made these several months before Occupy started): http://obeygiant.com/support-the-occupy-movement-free-downloads I donate money and art to rootstrikers.org. I want campaign finance reform ASAP. We may disagree on some things. I want to support Occupy as much as I can without undermining its potential to move things in the right direction. I have tons of issues with the two-party system, but I don’t see it being dismantled any time soon. I want reform to happen and I’m trying to look at realistic routes to ideal outcomes. I’m very open to hearing suggestions from you, and I’d also be into sharing this dialogue publicly if you are open to that. I think it could be valuable to people to hear a thoughtful discussion of these issues. Let me know.