The fabulous surge of power and solidarity you feel when you attend a peace demonstration begins way before you get to the rally: It starts the minute you board the subway and see so many other people demo-bound too. There is nothing like the thrill of collective action, but if you’re not wearing a symbol or a slogan somewhere on your body, how will everyone know you’re headed to the same place they are?
After all, the function of clothes isn’t merely to keep you covered and warm—it’s also to tell the world, before you even speak, what crowd you run with. In a season when more and more citizens are taking to the streets, many for the first time, we searched the Internet for peace-themed merchandise, assuming that since the Web has been instrumental in building the movement so quickly, it would probably also offer a wide assortment of anti-war accessories.
The good news is, there is no lack of left-leaning merchandise online. The bad news? Most of the slogans and symbols have taken up residence on the T-shirt, an item whose ubiquity has rendered it, at least in fashion terms, more than a little boring. Still, if you think you look great in this thing—or are prepared to customize it with a pair of pinking shears—the range of available graphics is vast and impressive, from the vaguely sticky (little kids next to messages like “Arms are for hugging”) to the no-nonsense (soldiers in gas masks and a terse “Stop the war!” legend).
Though we were unable to find a shirt that said simply, “Give peace a chance,” the highly inflammatory words that got 60-year-old attorney Stephen Downs kicked out of the Crossgates Mall in Albany two weeks ago, Peaceproject.com has equally incendiary garments, including one showing a dove surrounded by the word peace in seven languages and another that reproduces a Picasso line drawing of a young woman holding a dove in her hands ($15 each). These are lovely, but the site’s real pièce de résistance, so to speak, is a Jerry Garcia-worthy feat of tie-dyeing with a huge peace sign at its blazing center ($18).
At Progressivecatalog.com, the shirts are more verbose. One features not just a trio of tanks but a long quote from Martin Luther King which begins, “The greatest purveyor of violence in the world today is my own government,” and ends, “I cannot remain silent.” Another shirt has a bloody handprint along with these words from left historian Howard Zinn: “There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.”
But what if, regardless of sentiment, you just cannot bring yourself to make peace with the humble tee? In that case, you might consider enhancing your outerwear with a colorful patch. At Peaceproject.com, the classic peace symbol is available in patch form floating over a rainbow, superimposed on planet Earth, or in a simple but elegant black and silver. (Ever wondered where the peace symbol comes from? It was created for Britain’s Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in 1958 by a conscientious objector named Gerald Holtom, who used the naval semaphore code—a flag signaling system—for the design. The symbol represents the code letters for N [nuclear] and D [disarmament]. The symbol crossed the Atlantic almost at once, and has been a fixture at rallies ever since.)
Of course, there are people who wouldn’t be caught dead with a patch but who nevertheless want the world to know which side they’re on. (If it’s truly a mass movement, there ought to be at least a few Dior coats and Manolos in the crowd.) For these types, we recommend Skystoneandsilver.com, a site that offers sterling silver peace sign pendants ($39.95), rings ($65), lapel pins ($25), and for capitalists against the war, even an $85 money clip. (If it has to be 14 karat, yellow or white gold peace charms are available at $95.) Less rarefied enameled metal peace pins, aesthetically superior to their plastic confreres, are available from Peacepins.com. For $3, there’s a pretty floral version; other brooches, also $3, combine the symbol with slogans like “War is over if you want it,” or the meatier “Stop U.S. aggression abroad.”
All this Internet merchandise is excellent, but it’s just possible you need to have something by this Saturday. If that’s the case, you might consider carrying your leaflets in a wonderful tote bag of natural muslin that says, in sharp relief, “Win without war” and is a mere $5 at the stylish Vo at 169 Ludlow Street. At 12 St. Marks Place—one of those places with no name but a sign out front that says, “Photo ID, body piercing, watch bands”—the necklaces for sale include a delicate sterling silver peace symbol on a silver chain for $25 (well, the guy said it was silver, and it certainly looked like it to us) and a larger, tougher version in base metal on a leather thong for $12.
If you have a T-shirt idea of your own, you might visit Robert Shapiro’s store, Social Tees, at 124 East 4th Street, which doubles as an animal rescue center. On a recent afternoon, Shapiro was proudly tending to a crop of newly hatched bearded dragon lizards but cheerfully took a moment to show us tees of his own design, decorated with sayings like “No child is born a racist” and “The truly educated never graduate.” Though Shapiro will print virtually anything you want on a shirt, he himself has yet to create any explicitly anti-Iraq-war slogans. “I never do current events,” he explained, “but if there is an actual war I might have to acquiesce. I don’t like to make money off other people’s misery.” Still, he admitted, certain social tees are being snapped up by the peace crowd. “Lots of people like the one that says, ‘Pro life? Ban war,’ and also this one from a few years ago: ‘The earth is flat, cigarettes are harmless, Bush was elected.’ ” He turned away from the lizard cage and added, “I’m actually working on a shirt now that has the word war sort of metamorphosizing into the word oil.”