It only seems appropriate that an exhibition of protest posters hanging on the third floor of Butler University's Jordan Hall won't be there for much longer (about three more hours when this story was published). After all, the posters featured in Boycott! The Art of Economic Activism served their purpose in the heat of battle as tools for advocates of workers' rights, womens' rights and other fights in the history of economic activism waged over the past 50 years.
They weren't intended for gallery walls, in other words. But now that they're historic artifacts, they're valuable in terms of promoting dialogue, according to Siobhán McEvoy-Levy, the Director of the Peace and Conflict Studies department at Butler.
"You can talk about economic activism, you can also talk about political art and you can talk about each one of the campaigns," says McEvoy-Levy. "So there are multiple learning levels for students."
Hadeel Said, a Political Science and Journalism student at Butler, was thinking along those same lines as he looked over the posters during the Feb. 18 opening reception: "I think that the beauty of this is that you are combining the artwork with the historical movements. People have given feedback saying, 'This brings back memories when my parents went to the grocery store and didn't buy grapes,' or 'I remember when I was at the heart of this event.'"
Not that all the posters are concerned with historical issues. Erin Polley of the American Friends and Service Committee (AFSC), the Quaker organization putting on the exhibit, says some students are objecting to a poster calling for a boycott of Israeli goods, arguing it portrays the conflict between Palestine and Israel in an imbalanced way. AFSC has recently focused its efforts on answering an international call to boycott goods produced in Israeli settlements.
"It has sparked a lot of interesting conversation here on campus from what I can hear," says Polley. "I think college students are really interested in how they can make a change in their personal lives. I have heard a lot of students who are interesting in hearing about the history of economic activism and how it is a tactic in social change movements."
Polley also notes that while college students may learn about social movements, they don't always have a chance to see the big picture in terms of American history. For her, the exhibit can help bring the past 50 years into focus for those just learning about social justice and activism.
"The conversations I hear more are about boycott," says Polley. "It is a way that people can make some small change in their personal life. The fact that they are posters and making it assessable to people is something that every social change movement is looking for a way to do."
The AFSC has partnered with Butler on two other exhibits, most recently Eyes Wide Open, a memorial to Hoosier soldiers. The Boycott exhibit is touring college campuses around the country. Next up is Earlham College in Richmond.