Apr 28, 2015

I'll wear blue for you

I've posted before about the successful campaign against fracking in the finger lakes of New York state in the US, where the 'We are Seneca Lake' activists took direct action wearing blue to symbolize their struggle to keep their water clean. 

Last week people around the world were asked to wear blue shirts in solidarity with Burma's political prisoners. As the US Campaign for Burma put it in their email to me:

"In Burma today, hundreds of political prisoners remain behind bars and over 300 activists await trial. The number of political prisoners has risen by almost 600 percent since the start of 2014.

U Win Tin, a journalist and, with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, a founding member of the National League for Democracy, was one of Burma’s longest serving political prisoners from 1989 until 2008. He described his time in prison as that of a living hell. Once released he refused to hand over his blue prisonshirt, and pledged to wear a blue shirt every day until all political prisoners were released. He carried on wearing ablue shirt until his death on April 21, 2014.

Stand in solidarity with political prisoners alongside fellow activists around the world next week and share your photo on social media. On Twitter and Facebook, please use the hashtag #BlueShirt4Burma, and on Instagram tag the photo to @BlueShirt4Burma. "


It's too late to wear a blue shirt (though it will be repeated next year) but tomorrow, April 29th, is being promoted as 'denim day' by the organization Peace over Violence. They would like you to wear blue jeans to express your support for sexual assault survivors and educate about sexual violence.  

Why jeans? Well, as the website puts it "There is no excuse #1: she was wearing tight jeans."  So, um, am I supposed to wear tight jeans tomorrow? That is not specified on the site - nor are there any instructions for how to make it clear that I am wearing jeans for this purpose and not just because I tend to.  

It seems like so many people wear jeans regularly that it would be hard to notice if more people are wearing them tomorrow, but then, maybe asking you to wear your normal clothes in solidarity is a way of highlight how normalized and common sexual assault is? The website does not frame it that way however. 

Now, obviously, I am against sexual assault and in solidarity with survivors, but this campaign seems truly odd to me.  As readers of this blog will know, I am wary of solidarity actions and empathy experiments where you, in some way, try to be (or play at being) the one you're with. I have posted about many of these, like the day in Colombia for rolling up your pant leg in solidarity with land mine victims, or living on what you would get on welfare, etc.

I know that these campaigns are well meaning, and there is absolutely something powerful about embodying our solidarity this way, with actual corporeal markers - but it seems to me that these markers aren't necessarily easy for others to read.  What worries me more is that these actions run the risk of being appropriative, and of over-simplifying the lives and struggles of others. This seems more true of the blue jeans action than the blue shirt one, particularly since it seems to play with the idea that we could all be victims.

I don't think sameness, or even similarity, is required for solidarity. I can be quite different from you and still see your wellbeing as tied to my own. Our differences are a strength - we can work from our different positions for a better world for all of us.  

I am much more comfortable with the anti-fracking activists wearing blue and "being" water - maybe because it's not human? But then again, some huge percent of our body is made up of water, so in a sense it's a way of highlighting who we already are.  

#denimday #solidarity #fracking #blue 


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