February 11, 2010
Slide lecture by Carol A. Wells
Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery
Barnsdall Art Park
4800 Hollywood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90027
Art inspires and empowers the disenfranchised. There has never been a viable
movement for social change throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, without
the arts, theater, poetry, music, posters being central to that movement.
Political posters in particular are powerful living reminders of struggles
worldwide for peace and justice. Communication, exhortation, persuasion,
instruction, celebration, warning: graphic art broadcasts its messages
through bold images and striking designs.
Poster art challenges the powerful. The posters in this presentation are
selections from The Ant-War Show, an exhibition documenting over fifty years
of continuous opposition to U.S. interventions into the domestic affairs of
sovereign nations. Political, economic and military interventions, many of
them covert, have repeatedly resulted in unpardonable deaths and misery for
millions. These posters show hopes and dreams, and the pain of dreams
destroyed. Their graphic intensity results from expressing the rage
engendered by U.S. actions through art. For some, these posters may also
provide insights into the sources of the seemingly senseless rage that
resulted in the atrocity of September 11, 2001.
Carol Wells is an activist, art historian, poster collector, and founder and
executive director of the Center for the Study of Political Graphics (CSPG).
She writes and lectures on art and politics and has curated over sixty
traveling political poster exhibitions since 1981.
Smoke the Bigots Out of the Closet
By FRANK RICH
NY Times Op-Ed: February 6, 2010
A funny thing happened after Adm. Mike Mullen called for gay men and
lesbians to serve openly in the military: A curious silence befell much of
the right. If this were a Sherlock Holmes story, it would be the case of the
attack dogs that did not bark.
John McCain, commandeering the spotlight as usual, did fulminate against the
repeal of "don't ask, don't tell." But the press focus on McCain, the crazy
man in Washington's attic, was misleading. His yapping was an exception, not
Many of his Republican colleagues said little or nothing. The right's noise
machine was on mute. The Fox News report on Mullen's testimony was fair and
balanced - and brief. The network dropped the subject entirely in the
Hannity-O'Reilly hothouse of prime time that night. Only ratings-desperate
CNN gave a fleeting platform to the old homophobic clichés. Michael
an "expert" from the Brookings Institution, speculated that "18-year-old,
old-fashioned, testosterone-laden" soldiers who are "tough guys" might
object to those practicing "alternative forms of lifestyle," which he
apparently views as weak and testosterone-deficient. His only prominent ally
was the Family Research Council, which issued an inevitable "action alert"
demanding a stop to "the sexualization of our military."
The occasional outliers notwithstanding, why did such a hush greet Mullen on
Capitol Hill? The answer begins with the simple fact that a large majority
of voters - between 61 percent and 75 percent depending on the poll - now
share his point of view. Most Americans recognize that being gay is not a
"lifestyle" but an immutable identity, and that outlawing discrimination
against gay people who want to serve their country is, as the admiral said,
"the right thing to do."
Mullen's heartfelt, plain-spoken testimony gave perfect expression to the
nation's own slow but inexorable progress on the issue. He said he had
"served with homosexuals since 1968" and that his views had evolved
"cumulatively" and "personally" ever since. So it has gone for many other
Americans in all walks of life. As more gay people have come out - a process
that accelerated once the modern gay rights movement emerged from the
Stonewall riots of 1969 - so more heterosexuals have learned that they have
gay relatives, friends, neighbors, teachers and co-workers. It is hard to
deny our own fundamental rights to those we know, admire and love.
But that's not the whole explanation for the scant pushback in Washington to
Mullen and his partner in change, Defense Secretary Robert Gates. There is
also a potent political subtext. To a degree unimaginable as recently as
2004 - when Karl Rove and George W. Bush ran a national campaign exploiting
fear of gay people - there is now little political advantage to spewing
homophobia. Indeed, anti-gay animus is far more likely to repel voters than
attract them. This equation was visibly eating at Orrin Hatch, the
Republican senator from Utah, as he vamped nervously with Andrea Mitchell of
MSNBC last week, trying to duck any discernible stand on Mullen's testimony.
On only one point was he crystal clear: "I just plain do not believe in
prejudice of any kind."
Now that explicit anti-gay animus is an albatross, those who oppose gay
civil rights are driven to invent ever loopier rationales for denying those
rights, whether in the military or in marriage. Hatch, for instance, limply
suggested to Mitchell that a repeal of "don't ask" would lead to gay demands
for "special rights." Such arguments, both preposterous and disingenuous,
are mere fig leaves to disguise the phobia that can no longer dare speak its
name. If gay Americans are to be granted full equality, the flimsy
rhetorical camouflage must be stripped away to expose the prejudice that
The arguments for preserving "don't ask" have long been blatantly
groundless. McCain - who said in 2006 that he would favor repealing the law
if military leaders ever did - didn't even bother to offer a logical
explanation for his mortifying flip-flop last week. He instead huffed that
the 1993 "don't ask" law should remain unchanged as long as any war is going
on (which would be in perpetuity, given Afghanistan). Colin Powell strafed
him just hours later, when he announced that changed "attitudes and
circumstances" over the past 17 years have led him to agree with Mullen.
McCain is even out of step with his own family's values. Both his wife,
Cindy, and his daughter Meghan have posed for the current California ad
campaign explicitly labeling opposition to same-sex marriage as hate.
McCain aside, the most common last-ditch argument for preserving "don't ask"
heard last week, largely from Southern senators, is to protect "troop morale
and cohesion." Every known study says this argument is a canard, as do the
real-life examples of the many armies with openly gay troops, including
those of Canada, Britain and Israel. But the argument does carry a telling
historical pedigree. When Harry Truman ordered the racial integration of the
American military in 1948, Congressional opponents (then mainly Southern
Democrats) embraced an antediluvian Army prediction from 1940 stating that
such a change would threaten national defense by producing "situations
destructive to morale." History will sweep this bogus argument away now as
it did then.
Those opposing same-sex marriage are just as eager to mask their bigotry.
The big arena on that issue is now in California, where the legal showdown
over Proposition 8 is becoming a Scopes trial of sorts, with the unlikely
bipartisan legal team of David Boies and Ted Olson in the Clarence Darrow
role. The opposing lawyer, Charles Cooper, insisted to the court that he
bore neither "ill will nor animosity for gays and lesbians." Given the
history of the anti-same-sex marriage camp, it's hard to make that case with
a straight face (so to speak). In trying to do so, Cooper moved that graphic
evidence of his side's ill will and animosity be disallowed - including that
notorious, fear-mongering television ad, "The Gathering Storm."
The judge admitted such exhibits anyway. Boies also triumphed in dismantling
an expert witness called to provide the supposedly empirical, non-homophobic
evidence of how same-sex marriage threatens "procreative marriage." In
cross-examination, Boies forced the witness, David Blankenhorn of the
so-called Institute for American Values, to concede he had no academic
expertise in any field related to marriage or family. The only peer-reviewed
paper he's written, for a degree in Comparative Labor History, was "a study
of two cabinetmakers' unions in 19th-century Britain."
In another, milder cross-examination - on "Meet the Press" last weekend -
John Boehner, the House G.O.P. leader, fended off a question about "don't
ask" with a rhetorical question of his own: "In the middle of two wars and
in the middle of this giant security threat, why would we want to get into
this debate?" Besides Mullen's answer - that it is the right thing to do -
there's another, less idealistic reason why President Obama might want to
get into it. The debate could blow up in the Republicans' faces. A
protracted battle or filibuster in which they oppose civil rights will end
up exposing the deep prejudice at the root of their arguments. That's not
where a party trying to expand beyond its white Dixie base and woo
independents wants to be in 2010.
Polls consistently show that independents, however fiscally conservative,
are closer to Democrats than Republicans on social issues. (In May's Gallup
survey, 67 percent of independents favored repealing "don't ask.") This is
why Scott Brown, enjoying what may be a short-lived honeymoon in his own
party, calls himself a "Scott Brown Republican." A Scott Brown Republican
isn't a Boehner or Hatch Republican. In his interview with Barbara Walters
last weekend, he distanced himself from Sarah Palin, said he was undecided
on "don't ask" and declared same-sex marriage a "settled" issue in his
state, Massachusetts, where it is legal.
It's in this political context that we can see that there may have been some
method to Obama's troublesome tardiness on gay issues after all. But as we
learned about this White House and the Democratic Congress in the health
care debacle, they are perfectly capable of dropping the ball at any moment.
Let's hope they don't this time. Should they actually press forward on
ask" in an election year with Mullen and Gates on board - and with even
McCain's buddy, Joe Lieberman, calling for action "as soon as possible" -
they could further the goal and raise the political price for those who
stand in the way. Recalcitrant Congressional Republicans will have to
explain why their perennial knee-jerk deference to "whatever the commanders
want" extends to Gen. David Petraeus and Gen. Stanley McChrystal on troop
surges but not to Mullen, who outranks them, on civil rights.
The more bigotry pushed out of the closet for all voters to see, the more
likely it is that Americans will be moved to grant overdue full citizenship
to gay Americans. It won't happen overnight, any more than full civil rights
for African-Americans immediately followed Truman's desegregation of the
armed forces. But there can be no doubt that Mike Mullen's powerful act of
conscience last week, just as we marked the 50th anniversary of the
Greensboro, N.C., lunch counter sit-in, pushed history forward. The
revealing silence that followed from so many of the usual suspects was
pretty golden too.