At Waging Nonviolence’s 10-year anniversary party, we unveiled our first ever T-shirt and tote bag. They are the fruit of a collaboration with designer Josh Yoder, who has produced some stunning visuals for a number of social justice movements.
When we began brainstorming ideas for the design, we really weren’t sure what to do. We’ve always been reticent to sell “merch” because our goal is to put the movements we cover front and center. After talking this through with Josh, it became clear that we needed a design that did the very same thing. Ultimately, we settled on one that features 25 movement logos and icons, both historic and present. We wanted to pay tribute to the movements that have inspired and informed our work over the years.
We deliberately chose some symbols that are more widely known and others that are more obscure. They include official organizational logos, as well as remixed iconic movement imagery. Our hope is that it will serve as a conversation starter, with people swapping stories about the different symbols they can identify. And in the process, we can take stock of the power and impact of so many different movements that have shaped our world for the better.
To help facilitate these conversations, we thought it’d be helpful to give you an answer key with a little information about each of the symbols in the design. We’ll take one row at a time starting with the top, so let’s dive in.
A raised, clenched fist could be associated with countless movements around the world dating back to at least the Industrial Workers of the World in their 1917 “Solidarity” cartoon. Since then, versions of the fist have been used by the feminist, Black Power and indigenous rights movements, as well as Otpor! in Serbia and the April 6 movement in Egypt.
The crane became an international peace symbol thanks to Sadako Sasaki — a 12-year-old girl, who was a victim of the atomic bombs dropped by the United States on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. After being diagnosed with leukemia from the radiation, Sadako began folding cranes when her father shared a Japanese legend that if you fold a thousand origami cranes you will be granted a wish.
The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, better known as ACT UP, chose to use a pink triangle accompanied by the slogan “Silence = Death” as their logo in 1987. The group went on to organize some of the most bold and disruptive protests of the era, and played an influential role in developing life-saving treatments for those with HIV/AIDS. Despite the progress that has been made, the crisis persists and ACT UP is still at the forefront of the struggle to end it.
The image of the black cat, known as “Sabo Tabby,” is a long-time symbol of the Industrial Workers of the World and labor strikes more generally. As the union explains, “its original purpose was as a code or symbol for direct action at the point of production, specifically sabotage… [though] it must be emphasized that the latter did not mean destruction of machinery or equipment.” Since then, the image has been modified and adopted by many other movements that they have inspired.
The woman wearing a sash represents the suffragettes, who secured U.S. women the right to vote in 1920 through what WNV columnist Nadine Bloch called a “phenomenal, inspirational, often nail-biting and groundbreaking campaign.” Their creative tactics have been a source of inspiration to countless movements around the world.
The image of a man in front of a tank is referencing Tank Man, the unidentified Chinese man who blocked a column of tanks following the massacre at Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 1989. The photo has since become one of the most iconic images of protest and resistance.
British artist Gerald Holtom created the next design for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in 1958. The symbol combines the semaphore signals for the letters “N” and “D” — denoting “nuclear disarmament” — enclosed in a circle. That history is lost on many, who simply know this as perhaps the most recognizable “peace sign” in the world.
The Aztec eagle is taken from the red and white flag for the National Farm Workers Association, which later became the United Farm Workers. It was designed in 1962, just after the founding of the union by César Chavez and Dolores Huerta. “A symbol is an important thing. That is why we chose an Aztec eagle. It gives pride,” Chavez said, referring to the flag. “When people see it they know it means dignity.”
Designed in 1975 by Danish activist Anne Lund, the image of the “Smiling Sun” is the most common international symbol of the movement against nuclear power. Accompanied by the words “Nuclear Power? No Thanks,” the logo has been translated into 55 languages and seen a resurgence in its use since the 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan.
Growing out of the student sit-ins in 1960, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC, played a critical role in many of the major campaigns and actions during the civil rights movement. They used this image of a black hand shaking a white hand as their logo.
The modified yin and yang symbol was created by the Anti-Apartheid Movement, or AAM. Founded in London, in response to a call for international support from Albert Luthuli, AAM first used this image during protests following the Sharpeville massacre of black protesters by police in 1960.
Transfeminism, according to scholar and activist Emi Koyama, is “a movement by and for trans women who view their liberation to be intrinsically linked to the liberation of all women and beyond.” The logo combines male, female and mixed gender symbols, with a fist in the middle.
Sunflowers have been a symbol used by the climate justice movement since at least the first Earth Day in 1970. In addition to their beauty and bright color, they also have “the ability to remove harmful toxins from our soil,” as the Farmers Almanac has noted.
Handala is a character created by the Palestinian cartoonist Naji Al-Ali, one of the most well-known cartoonists in the Arab world. The image of this 10-year-old refugee child has become a powerful symbol of the Palestinian struggle for justice. In describing the child, Al-Ali wrote that “His hands are clasped behind his back as a sign of rejection at a time when solutions are presented to us the American way.”
The migrant justice movement has embraced the monarch butterfly as one of its symbols for good reason. “To me, the monarch butterfly represents the dignity and resilience of migrants and the right that all living beings have to move freely,” said artist and activist Favianna Rodriguez, who launched the “Migration is Beautiful” campaign in 2012.
In July 2011, the Canadian anti-consumerist magazine Adbusters published a poster of a ballerina on top of the Charging Bull statue. Behind her are protesters in gas masks obscured by a cloud of tear gas with the hashtag #OCCUPYWALLSTREET and a date. The image would spark the imagination of organizers in New York City who would turn the idea into a reality and a worldwide movement for economic justice.
The image of a person in a wheelchair breaking their chains is the logo for ADAPT, the national grassroots disability rights organization. By organizing bold acts of civil disobedience — like chaining themselves to buses and crawling up the steps of the U.S. Capitol — ADAPT activists played a critical role in passing the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. They drew national attention again in 2017 for leading protests that successfully thwarted the Republican health care reform bill, which would have drastically cut Medicaid and led to 22 million losing their health coverage.
According to the United Nations, over 10 percent of the world’s population are technically squatters, in that they live on land or in buildings they do not own or rent. Squatting is a nonviolent act — in opposition to the commodification of housing — taken by people to meet their basic needs, and the circle with the arrow cutting through it is the international squatters’ symbol.
Inspired by Edward Abbey’s novel “The Monkey Wrench Gang,” the radical environmental group Earth First! developed provocative new direct action tactics — known as monkeywrenching — to prevent logging and stop the construction of dams or other forms of development that harm the wilderness and wildlife. Their logo is the stone tomahawk crossed with a monkey wrench.
Accompanied by the words “Water is Life,” the image of “Thunderbird Woman,” became popular during the Standing Rock encampment to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock in 2016. Created by Anishinaabe artist Isaac Murdoch, it has since been used by frontline water protectors around the world.
The day after Donald Trump’s inauguration in 2017, more than 4 million people participated in the Women’s March, which is likely the largest single-day protest in U.S. history. A common sight at the demonstrations was the pink, knitted or crocheted “pussy hat,” with cat ears. In addition to making a powerful visual statement at the marches, the idea was conceived of by Krista Suh and Jayna Zweiman as a way for those who could not physically attend to be a part of the action by making hats.
In 2014, a mass pro-democracy movement exploded in Hong Kong. While its full name was Occupy Central with Love and Peace, it was commonly called the Umbrella Revolution because umbrellas were widely used by protesters to shield themselves from not just from the sun, but the tear gas that was regularly fired at them by police.
Finally, there’s the V-sign that appears in place of the letter “v” in our logo. This is, of course, the well-known symbol for peace in the United States. It is used in other countries to mean different things, but its origins as an activist symbol date back to the 1960s antiwar movement. Peace activists — including celebrities like John Lennon and Yoko Ono, who helped popularize it — adopted the V-sign from World War II, when it meant “V for victory” or “end of war.” It also was used to mock President Richard Nixon, who had made it his trademark sign.
With this knowledge you will now be able to impress your friends when they ask any questions about the design. And if you know of any iconic movement symbols or logos that we didn’t include, let us know in the comments and we may feature them in the next iteration of the design!
Building on the recommendations of other movement strategists, new research from the Social Change Lab offers key insights into the factors that lead to protest wins.
Antiwar activists in Russia are finding support and solidarity in a growing resistance network comprised of Russian diaspora, Indigenous and ethnic minorities and Belarusians.
New York may have cost Democrats the House, but grassroots groups across the state have the antidote to a politics of racial division and control.