Liberty’s with Her was my first foray down the path of social justice T-shirts. I sat on my computer, reading through Facebook over and over, trying to comprehend how 45 could have been elected. How he could be taking the office so lightly. How he could be actively creating such an attitude of hatred, fear, and anger. How he could choose to be someone building division. How he could encourage everyone to hate and… bully. Every so often I’d find an article that would raise my hopes for the country- Muslims raising money and volunteering to rebuild a Jewish cemetery after it was desecrated by vandals. Christians, Jews and Muslims all sharing a building to worship in, building bridges between their communities. People of privilege standing up, trying to communicate their anger, their sadness, their resistance to what was happening. Millions of women marching worldwide- with millions more men standing up, marching with them in support.
Occasionally I found a beautiful piece of art. There are a few that inspired me, but even though I went back to look for them to share here, they’ve been lost in the mysterious vault of the ever “helpful” facebook feed.
It was amazing when I came across something that illustrated what I was feeling. Feeling like someone got it, feeling like there were people out there who could communicate what was happening to me. Feeling like I was not alone in feeling hurt, ashamed, sad, afraid, and helpless. I’m a 35-year-old white, cis, straight, middle-class professional man. I know that if I hunker down, stay focused on my family and my local community, and abdicate any responsibility or caring for people not intimately involved with my family or friends, I’ll be “ok”. I’ll be able to hide, to disappear, to weather the storm the next however many years will bring. The America that comes out the other end is extremely unlikely to pick on me or my family, and when it’s all over, when we elect the next president- when 46 takes office, the nightmare will be over, and everything will be… ok.
Except it’s not, and never will be, ok. Not unless exactly the people like me stand up and say something, do something. I just didn’t know what to do.
Then something shifted. I saw a flash of an image- the statue of liberty, one hand holding the hand of a woman in a hijab, the other holding a sign saying “I’m with Her.” Trying to make it clear that Liberty stood with the Muslims banned from the country by 45’s ill-thought-out and poorly executed Executive Order. That Liberty would continue to stand for the minorities who were discriminated against. That Liberty would stand with the people whose earned and accepted legal rights were being infringed.
I believe Lady Liberty is the physical manifestation of, and the symbol of, our nations commitment to celebrate and protect the rights and freedoms of our citizens and guests. She represents the American values that I believe in- the best of our values of generosity, acceptance, and compassion. She represents our national honor and dignity, our respect for each and every individual.
I am not an artist- the picture in my head I could not translate to a page. But, using Facebook to reach out, I found an artist who was as excited as I was to manifest an image. Becky was fantastic, and both built the image that I was looking for, and had strong inspiration of her own. What we generated together is much stronger for our collaboration.
It was fascinating watching the places where I have conscious and unconscious bias. Becky’s first version of the design had Liberty herself wearing a hijab, holding the sign, no additional figure. It was powerful- and felt more controversial than I was comfortable with. A later version had the woman’s face covered by the headscarf, and when we tried it without, I felt more connected to the image. Then, a big one: our first ‘final’ version of the image gave Liberty white skin- and none of our team really processed that difference. It wasn’t until the middle of the Kickstarter campaign that we actually addressed that accidental bias- we didn’t even see it.
It demonstrates a tiny part of the difficulty that I have being a social justice activist. I want to help, to do good work supporting my neighbors and others in the greater community, and I don’t know what I don’t know. I do the best I know how, and want to hear when I’ve accidentally made an offensive mistake. I want to know that I’m drifting off course by accident. I also want to know how I can best help.
I occasionally run into people who don’t feel what Wear My Values is doing is valid or worth supporting because I’m not a person of color. Or a woman. Or a member of any number of other less privileged groups. I don’t understand, even though I definitely, desperately want to understand, why my efforts to stand up, make things better, aren’t OK to these people; aren’t worth getting behind. It’s prejudice; racism; rejection of myself, my ideas, and my desires based on what I look like or who I worship or the accident of my birth. It’s applied in the ‘opposite’ of the ‘normal’ direction, and part of me appreciates the opportunity to feel it. It helps me get a tiny bit better understanding of the experiences of other people, people who face it every day, without relief or rest. I am blessed and privileged enough to not face this discrimination regularly. I wish for, and am learning how to work for a world where everyone has the same blessing as I do. Where the accident of my birth, or theirs, is no longer relevant to the opportunities and obstacles that each person will face in their life.
As part of Wear My Values’ mission, a portion of the profits from Liberty’s with Her will be donated to the ACLU to continue their fight to protect the various people affected by the continuing iterations of 45’s Executive Order barring entry to the US from several middle eastern nations.
I am so proud of what we have accomplished with Liberty’s with Her, and that we can make a difference. I’m looking forward to building on our success. .