Author Jo Rippon has worked in with Amnesty International to develop a book, ostensibly for a teen market, that introduces its readers to the idea of protest and social movements for justice. However, I would like to say that this is very definitely not a book that’s limited in its appeal to a target age group – there are plenty of older readers who will find this informative, fascinating and aesthetically pleasing as a book about protest art.This book comes at an ideal time for me as a university lecturer planning how to introduce my students to the subject of how to move from analysing social injustice to actually doing something about it. This book makes concrete and real the way in which change can happen when people come together to oppose oppression and is unapologetic in pointing out that in the process, protest and confrontation has its part to play. Hash tags and What’s App groups are all well and good but there are causes for which it’s necessary to leave the virtual world and get down and dirty at street level.
Rippon has chosen to focus on some of the big campaigns run by groups of people who have traditionally been discriminated against and marginalised in society. You won’t be surprised to find information about the fight for women’s rights, anti-racism, the struggle for equality on the grounds of sexual identity and the fight for climate justice. All of these are necessary and informatively presented.
What sometimes fails to find its way into these lists is the struggle for peace and it’s great to see the protests of the Stop The War Coalition and CND being given space alongside its more prominent fellow causes. There’s also a really excellent section given over to the rights of young people and their demands to be given a voice that is listened to. Of course young people are present in all the other ‘issues’ but its great to see their perspective being given proper weight and attention in its own right.
Rippon uses the power of art and image to make the issues of protest come to life. Protest art – the poster, the banner, the placard – can be the most powerful way of getting messages across. Chris Riddell, who provides the introduction to this book and does so from the perspective of a political cartoonist, acknowledges the powerful impact of the simple message:
“The most beautiful protest I ever saw, was a little girl with a handmade placard that read in wobbly letters, ‘War Is Naughty’.”
But the real beauty of the protest placard or poster is that it’s not just the words that do the heavy lifting when it comes to getting the message across because their images and design can be meaningful, not just to the immediate cause but over time. It is often the iconic nature of an image that lives longest in the mind and inspires a sort of fellow-feeling in those who have been touched by it – something that is touched on in my earlier short review of Beauty Is In The Street : A Visual Record of the May ’68 Paris Uprising as far back as 2015.
For young people politicised by causes such as Extinction Rebellion or Black Lives Matter, this book will help them dig a bit deeper into their heritage. For those who think that politics is not for them and its all a bit of a yawn, this might open the door just wide enough to let them in.
Let’s hope so.
(This review first appeared on The Letterpress Project website)