DIY and Political Expression

In our maker conversations over the past few weeks, one thing that has stood out in the protest-fueled air was the DIY nature of the Women’s Marches. Unlike many more top-down rallies, which furnish protesters with ready-made, mass-produced signage, the Women’s Marches often featured original, individual, and hand-crafted signs, as well as handmade pink hats known as “pussyhats” (ugh – not a term I’m fond of, but I get why they used the name).

Here’s a clip from Rob Walker’s recent story from The New Yorker, “The D.I.Y. Revolutionaries of the Pussyhat Project,” highlighting the DIY nature of the hats, building on centuries of DIY as protest:

The Women’s Marches … elicited a response from Michael Cohen, the famously combative lawyer for the Trump Organization, and now for Trump personally … “Question: Were the pink hats made in the USA?” …

Cohen clearly didn’t know much about the Pussyhat Project, which made those “pink hats” into a material-cultural phenomenon that could end up earning a lasting place in the annals of political symbolism.

The knitted, sewn, or crocheted hats, often with cat-like ears, were inescapable at demonstrations … They can be read, most obviously, as the opposite number of the red maga caps, which are the defining symbol of any Trump …

But the object also grew out of a politically tinged D.I.Y. tradition that’s been around for years. Krista Suh and Jayna Zweiman, friends who reportedly began taking knitting classes at the Little Knittery in Los Angeles, last year, started the Pussyhat Project with the shop’s owner, Kat Coyle, after the election. The goal was to outfit as many protesters as possible. Posting hat patterns online, they invited demonstrators to make their own, and suggested that crafters who couldn’t travel to the National Mall make one for somebody else to wear. By January 19th, the organizers estimated that a hundred thousand hats had been made and distributed to march participants.

In short, the project “marshalled a volunteer army of crafty women and men,” Shirley Wajda, a curator at Michigan State University Museum, who is currently in the process of collecting materials from the Women’s Marches, said. “I see the Pussyhat Project as a form of political craftivism, and there are historical precedents for this sort of voluntary production for patriotic purposes, dating back to the Revolution.” She mentions the Phrygian cap, adopted as a symbol by the colonists, who also made homespun cloth to replace fine British textiles, as a gesture of their rejection of British rule … In this instance, Wajda continued, the project … “provided a focussed activity related to the then inchoate Women’s March that individuals could actually do” …

The effort of the volunteer crafters certainly clears up Cohen’s question: most of them were, indeed, making the hats in the United States. And the fact that they did so by hand, using traditional skills and often tweaking or embellishing the original patterns, contributes to the hat’s status as an individual, personalized act of labor dedicated to communal protest …

Read Walker’s complete article here.

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