The national conventions are about optics in more ways than one. Inside, "visibility whips" pass out thousands of carefully crafted signs with instructions about when and how to wave them during speeches. Outside, thousands of protesters bring their own signage that ranges from hilarious to horrifying. It’s the outsider art of politics—and at this year’s Republican National Convention, going on this week in Cleveland, we’re seeing it out in full force.
This form of grassroots graphic design has enjoyed a recent resurgence of public interest. For example, in the spring, an exhibit looked at the Berkeley Political Poster Workshop, a group of activists and artists who created as many as 50,000 signs protesting the Vietnam War in the 1960s and ‘70s. Hundreds of posters made during the Paris student uprising of 1968 have also gotten the exhibit and book treatment. Today, it’s easy to forget that protest posters were a critical way to get a message seen and heard before the advent of the Internet.
Does that mean that Facebook killed protest poster culture? Far from it. In fact, meme culture is invigorating it, according to British design journalist Rick Poynor. "Digital networks are infusing posters produced to contest an outrage or support a cause with a new lease of life," Poynor writes in Design Observer. "This kind of message has two places to attract attention now—out in the world and online—and the poster-making urge is benefiting from the same viral meme effect seen across our entire hyper-connected culture."
So what messages are people bringing to the streets in Cleveland this week? As you might expect, it depends on which side you’re talking about.
Trump supporters borrow from Reagan-era branding, leaning on the visual language of the ‘70s and ‘80s with hearty doses of eagles and flags. Trump protesters are more diverse: Hand-scrawled posters mingle with carefully planned performances, and a broader range of messages like global warming and support for refugees. Then there’s the Trump Hut.
Below, a few Instagram scenes from the streets of Cleveland this week.