Olympia Propaganda Squad: A brief reflection

After seeing the movie Selma last night, I was reminded that way back in 2004, before the November election, I formed a group called the Olympia Propaganda Squad with some friends of mine: Jenn Kliese, Lena Davidson, Ramona Tougas, and Carrie Stellpflug, with help from others. Using the various design and production tools available at The Sherwood Press, we cranked out thousands of buttons, pocket pinnies, and flyers, tabling at various events so that we could hand them out and accept donations. We held “Hungry for Democracy” bake sales selling apple hand pies or cookies. We raised over $2000 in order to fulfill our ultimate mission: to have thousands of posters printed by Hatch Show Print in Nashville. Then, we called organizations all over Florida to offer them free shipments of these posters which featured a brief history of the African American right to vote. We called the poster initiative “Apples to Oranges.” I still have a map showing all the cities in Florida that hung our posters. We held an election night party in the K-Records studio at the Knitting Mills. Calvin DJ’d and we of course lost the election. Well, I’m not sure we would have “won” by electing John Kerry, to be honest. But it was an exhilarating time and we cared so much. Our group did not survive long after that, though there never stopped being good things to crank our presses for.

It’s heartbreaking to admit that our country’s journey toward equality for all is so damned slow and contains persistent setbacks. I hope that we are all eventually moving toward an embrace of our common humanity, but it’s so clear we have far to go on many fronts. I don’t know what it’s like to be a black person in Olympia, Seattle, Selma, New York City, Rock Springs, Wyoming or anywhere. As a young teen I had a black step father, but I did not see his point of view and was only vaguely aware of how un-approving many people were of our family. The notion that anyone would believe and defend the notion that black people should not be permitted to vote would have struck me as illogical.

Racism and xenophobia and religious intolerance and violence are still keeping humanity in a headlock. What could we become as a species and how could we address the many problems that we have brought upon ourselves if we could eliminate the illusions that fuel human conflict? I keep coming back to the same belief… that all these myriad conflicts are a mask for the real conflicts that are inherent in global capitalism and wealth inequality.

What does this have to do with this little letterpress print shop? I guess it is just this: we do not always see where we fit in to the world’s problems and don’t always see how we can make them better. We worked really hard here in Olympia in 2004 but Washington didn’t even vote for George Bush. Still… we got calls from other parts of the country asking us for our buttons and pinnies, and those posters were all over Florida. You do not always know where your thoughts and actions go when you’re finished offering them. Whatever we do, we create ripples and sometimes other people amplify your little ripple into something substantial.


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Owner, designer, printer at an historic letterpress printshop

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