Saturday, December 15, 2007

Emergency Brigade - People's History Poster Series

The Celebrate People's History Project was started by the Just Seeds Collective to create posters which bring light to radical individuals and events that are otherwise ignored by the oft-taught version of history. While there is no arguing the potency and potential of the project, I felt that bringing the concept to a local level allows it to have a more significant impact. It is an important distinction because it stresses not only that anyone is capable of making significant change but that this has done repeatedly in one's own community.

This, then, represents the first in a series of posters devoted to informing viewers of the social justice history of Flint. To reiterate and expand all at once, here what was written to go along with the posters:

The Celebrate People's History project was begun by the Just Seeds Collective to create posters celebrating radical events and individuals throughout history. The posters bring light to those whose contributions to the social justice movement were ignored by a history which credits only single leaders. They represent the people who fought for the rights of all without reward or recognition for their efforts. They are intended for classrooms, homes, and public spaces: anywhere they can inform and strike conversation.

Celebrate the People's History of Flint brings this concept closer to home by creating posters concerning local struggles. These posters will explore Flint's deep history of union, civil rights and social justice activities. The posters are all silk-screened on recycled hand-made paper by local artists.

Each Poster costs only $5 and all profits are reinvested into supplies to facilitate the project continuing indefinitely.

When I was researching Flint's civil rights history for this project, I came across an article (shown below) written during the famed Sit-Down Strike about a riot 30 women precipitated. The women had formed a group called the Emergency Brigade to support and defend the strikers. This is the text I wrote to describe the group that appears in the poster:

Wearing red berets and armbands, over 60 women of the Emergency Brigade actively supported the strikers of the Flint Sit-Down Strike. Wives sisters and auto workers themselves, they brought food to the strikers and placed themselves between the attacking police lines and the strikers.

The brigade was organized following the Battle of Bull's Run. Early on in the strike when riot broke out in front of the plant the police took the upper hand by firing on unarmed men. In response, Genora Johnson spoke on the loudspeaker, calling to all women present in the onlooking crowd to break through the police line. Hundreds of women broke through and the police refused to shoot leading to a victory for the strikers. From this success, the women organized the brigade to respond to incidents where police attacked.

Weeks into the tiring strike, with the large engine plant no. 4 yet to participate, the women organized a plan. They leaked out that the attached plant no 9 was going to strike, leading the police to converge on it. The women marched to the plant, broke out windows, fought off tear gas and arrest. With the police occupied, plant no. 4 struck. The remaining Emergency Brigade blockaded the plant to prevent the police from storming it until more supporters arrived. With the engine plant striking, GM's hand was forced and they gave into worker demands.

After reading the initial article, I did a little further research and found out that a documentary film was made about the group in 1978.
It was nominated for an Academy Award!
You can watch the whole film at!

It is an excellent film with insightful interviews and footage of the women brazenly attacking plant no. 9. I was continuously struck by the complete disregard the women had for anyone who attempted to keep them from accomplishing their goal of doing what to them was so obviously right. They fought off sexism from the police, the community, the strikers, and the union to play a deciding role in the strike, only to get ignored by history. There were many variables to their struggle into which the film could not delve, some of which are better discussed in this article.

On a personal note, this was my first full attempt at silk-screening. Luckily it worked out fairly well. I may have chosen a different color scheme in retrospect, but I cannot by any means complain. The paper is hand-made out of about two months worth of junk mail.

Thanks to Brooke for guiding me through the silk-screening-process, lending me equipment, and dealing with my incessant questions.

Hopefully other local printmakers will help continue the project. I will be forcing them to and post their results here.

"Hurling imprecations at the police" is a rather hilarious quote.

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