February 2012‎ > ‎

3 - Protest Symbols

The Adbusters "Occupy Wall Street" poster credited with beginning the Occupy movement features the Arturo Di Modica sculpture "Charging Bull" with a female dancer posing on its back in arabesque and what appears to be an angry mob following the pair. A caption above the dancer asks "what is our one demand", which could be taken to mean either that the demands are so numerous that they can't be listed or that there is only one demand and it should be obvious. The bull is a well-known symbol of market optimism, and indeed the Di Modica statue rests in public space near Wall Street in New York City. The dancer is evocative of the early Minoan bull leapers, both male and female, who would grasp the horns of a charging bull and use its own energy to help them somersault over and land behind it.  In modern popular culture, the computer hacker has risen to hero status.  Today the shadowy hacker group known as Anonymous is seen as using "the system's" own attributes to assist the protest movement or, as with Wikileaks, facillitate resistance activities such as exposing secrets.

Symbols have always been important to protest movements.  The peace symbol, which combines the semaphore letters "N" and "D" as shorthand for "nuclear disarmament", is one of the most recogniseable symbols of our time.  One of the most prolific symbols today is the "hashtag", owing to its use on Twitter, a medium through which mass movements quickly communicate plans and form concensus about what matters -- what is "trending" in the vernacular of the mostly-younger population that employs Twitter and other "social media". The picture to the right illustrates the incorporation of several hashtag terms into a simple protest sign found in St. James Park at the Occupy Toronto camp.