Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The color of activism

By Carol Gee

Radical eco-activists of The Earth Liberation Front were sentenced to prison in Eugene Oregon recently. Theirs was the color of fire.

Activism or Terrorism? What is the color of their stripe, is the old-fashioned question. One man's "Radical" is another's "Dedicated Activist." Where it gets very fuzzy is in the "domestic terrorism" arena. Civil libertarians want to make sure that the so-called war on terror does not sweep up activists, protestors, and people who practice civil disobedience in its pervasive nets. William McCall, for the AP at MSNBC (7/23/07) penned a very interesting analysis of the Liberation Front, from which I quote:

More than a decade after they began setting fires across the West, remnants of the radical Earth Liberation Front stood before a federal judge, one by one, to hear her decide: Had they committed acts of domestic terrorism?

The portrait that emerges is a band of young people, compassionate toward animals, seeking direction in life, looking to impress each other and reinforce their own sense of self-worth as much as they were looking for a cause. Mostly, they were desperate for attention for that cause.

. . . U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales saw "The Family" in a much different light, calling the case "the largest prosecution of environmental extremists in U.S. history" who were responsible for "a broad campaign of domestic terrorism."

U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken agreed — to a point. She ruled some of their crimes fit the federal definition of terrorism but others didn't; she imposed sentences ranging from 37 months for Thurston to 13 years for Meyerhoff.

The colors of activism vary across the spectrum. From In-green to Hot-pink, from Power-coral to Radical-red, from Mellow-yellow to Yellow-coward, from Green-earth to Burndown-fire, it all depends on how you look at it. Where you are on the political spectrum dictates how you see the rainbow.

Code Pink, The Green Movement - It is the most "IN" thing these days to be "living green." But Code Pink women, appearing often at congressional hearings, make many folks very uncomfortable; they want them to "just shut up!" Yesterday's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing featuring Attorney General Gonzales* saw (and heard) Code Pink activists loudly urging the AG to resign. Fortunately, they barely phased Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) Color words, with which most of us political junkies are very familiar, carry very different loads of emotional baggage with the general public. Those of us who feel we can be more discerning like to think we can evaluate activism in more subtle ways.

Activist Cindy Sheehan, coming out of a brief retirement, wore khaki and carried a white cross yesterday as she was arrested in Rep. John Conyers' office. A fellow protester wore a red devil suit and a Bush mask with horns. Such folks regularly evoke barely disguised scorn in mainstream media reporters' stories, such as those linked here. For me Sheehan provides a very useful activist "bookend" for the rest of us who choose more traditional means of speaking out. I am a little old and a little frail to go to jail. I honor her willingness, if not her subtlety.

Anti-war Liberal -- Activist-turned-legislator, U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) passed out blue fliers last week as she rallied fellow House members in a march against the Senate Republican so-called "fillibuster" of Iraq war legislation. To quote from a (7/22/07) Washington Post story:

So when Senate Republicans decided to block a Democratic measure to withdraw troops from Iraq during an all-night debate last week, Schakowsky reached back to her community-activist past. Off the printer came blue fliers: a "Candlelight Call to Action" to "Stop the Republican Iraq Filibuster." At the appointed hour of 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, 57 House Democrats gathered to march to a Senate park.

Women started the Power Red movement - Now even male politicians sometimes consciously wear "Power Red" ties. Senator Clinton's Coral Pink jacket drew a comment from rival former senator John Edwards at the recent YouTube debate, as well as a post by Helena Andrews at To quote:

That color! Coral, according to the experts, is a passionate hue that invokes a physical reaction in people. Clinton's got that same exact coat in electric sky blue. I’m glad she didn’t wear that one, because she looks like a space alien in it.

She also didn’t choose patriotic red or military blue to emulate the cookie-cutter Capitol Hill looks to her right and left. She didn’t choose pink because she’s not 12 years old. She chose something appropriate, sophisticated, pithy and distinct... She even blushed on some bronzer.

Colors evoke feelings -- Colors have significant psychological effects. You realize that no political movement has chosen yellow (shorthand for cowardice) as its signature color. My high school colors were green and gold -- "rich and proud!" We weren't actually, but we wanted to be. I'll bet you remember your school colors, too, and maybe even what you were told they stood for. The colors you favor have psychological underpinnings that go back a long way and that are influenced by your gender, where you are in the society in which you were raised, and where you are on the activist continuum.


(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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