Signs are wonderful. They are one of the earliest forms of media created. They come in all shapes and sizes, from tiny little placards you stick on your shirt to ten by two monstrosities that take a few people to wave above their heads. Most importantly, from Hammurabi’s code to this guy:
They’ve been historically proven to be one of the simplest yet most efficient ways to get your message across.
For a couple hours on Sunday, I strolled through Copley Square like a headless fly. Protests are becoming a commonality in the days following President Trump’s inauguration, and finding a fresh or unique angle can come at quite a challenge when you’re competing against reporters in helicopters employed by media conglomerates.
However, as I combed through my photographs at the end of the day, I realized that even though I tried to capture all angles, people, and events during the protest, I had predominantly taken pictures of people holding their signs.
The tweet above had been my favorite encounter during the 25,000 strong protest. I spotted the pair as I watched a group of protesters in front of the Boston Public Library chant “No hate, no fear, refugees are welcome here.” The girl in the hijab was recounting her experiences as a Muslim here, while stating her extreme upset at the President’s latest executive order.
The sign was especially striking. After seventy years, the words “Auschwitz” and “Holocaust” continue to strike fear and agitation to a generation of world citizens who never lived through the atrocity. Even in our day and age, it was powerful to watch a Jew and a Muslim walk hand in hand for a cause they both believed in. Their message resonated throughout the group, as I had to climb over three or four different people to snag this picture.
That said, in order for a sign to be effective, it doesn’t have to be deep or conventionally powerful. It simply needs to be interesting enough to attract attention. Through humor or vulgarity, protesters in multiple cities had managed to push their message across and even stir up attention on the media.
Jim Crocamo is a perfect example of this. A 39-year-old librarian and New Yorker, Crocamo achieved internet stardom when a picture of him carrying his famous piece of cardboard went viral on reddit and twitter. Nowhere as powerful as the Holocaust survivor’s granddaughter’s message, but nonetheless, he succeeded in getting his message of disdain for the current administration across.
Beyond the powerful messages, the fearful warnings, the funny jokes and the angry pleas, signs are ultimately storytellers. They invite us as observers to look through the lens of their creators, to live life through their shoes for the brief moment we notice their message. Through tales of others we can create empathy and compassion, and through these signs, maybe we can understand little more of their creator’s grievances, happiness, their world.
My favorite encounter from that day was not my favorite protester. The color scheme of Salma’s clothes stood out in a sea of grey and black. She was rather shy when I approached her, and even asked the people around me if she should speak to me. She ultimately did and gave me a single sentence:
I asked her if she wore red, white, and blue on purpose. Salma said absolutely.
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