I am an enemy of the state…
So proclaims the slogan on one of the myriad political badges collected during the course of the museum’s Great Badge Swap. The program, launched in June 2011, is an opportunity for you to contribute to the museum’s permanent collection by donating a badge that you have worn to express solidarity, dissent, celebration, hope or humour and to share your personal experiences of wearing the badge and what it signified to you. Your response has been wonderful…and democratic. To date the museum has received in excess of 600 badges from across the country, including donations of individual badges once declaring their message from backpacks, t-shirts and caps to larger collections of badges amassed by diligent collectors, activists and families over many years. And the variety is staggering!
So what are the big issues? The badges acquired so far under the Great Badge Swap date from the 1950s to the present and chart some of the major events of the second half of the twentieth century as well as the explosion of social activism from the 1960s onwards. ‘Stop work to stop the war’ and the distinctive sunburst of the Vietnam moratorium campaign feature prominently, highlighting the divisive nature of Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam war and the significance of the marches. The anti-war message is strongly represented and given a contemporary context with responses to Australia’s involvement in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Opposition to the use of nuclear weapons, nuclear energy and nuclear testing is chronicled on a large number of badges, with evocative slogans such as ‘Hiroshima Never Again,’ ‘Radioactivity fades your genes’ and ‘You can’t sink a rainbow,’ a reference to the sinking of Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior in 1985.
The women’s liberation movement is well documented, covering a broad range of issues including equal pay, both sides of the abortion debate, sexuality and responses to violence against women. Empowering mottos such as ‘Woman’s place is in the House and in the Senate’ are indicative of the campaign for women to assert their presence in decision making. This particular badge is most appropriate to display in a place where women have indeed asserted and won that right. The rise of Indigenous activism and key landmarks in recognising the rights of Australia’s first people have struck a chord with many of our badge donors. ‘Land Rights Before Games’ marks a period of activism for land rights in Brisbane during the 1982 Commonwealth Games, while support for the Stolen Generations and reconciliation is prominent. Environmental concerns range from the ubiquitous ‘Save the Whale’ campaign to issues of ocean health and nuclear war. Local issues include protecting our native forests and wilderness and concerns about uranium mining.
By their very nature badges are pithy, condensed and catchy, intended to convey their message in a snappy phrase or iconic symbol. Aside from the clever, blunt, declarative language used on political badges, many of them rely on strong images to convey their meaning. Indeed, many social movements have reimagined and redeveloped symbols to mobilise support. No symbol is perhaps more universally understood and recognised than the peace sign, first designed in 1958 for the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. The symbol is actually a composite of the semaphore signals for the letters ‘N’ and ‘D’ (nuclear disarmament) but became more broadly associated with the anti-war movement. Since the 1970s the women’s movement has reinterpreted the feminine Venus symbol used in science and astrology, but with a clenched fist at is centre—a potent symbol proclaiming feminine power. Two badges depict the inverted pink triangle appropriated by the gay rights movement as a symbol of solidarity, but used as a means of oppression during the Second World War to identify homosexuals in Nazi concentration camps. We are fortunate also to have acquired a badge carrying the distinctive logo of Polish trade union movement Solidarność (Solidarity), founded in 1980, and emblematic of labour struggles in the international context.
With such a rich badge collection to draw on the museum is undertaking a refresh of its badge display in our Living Democracy: the power of the people exhibition and will be displaying a number of the badges that have been donated to us during the Great Badge Swap. We look forward to sharing our much expanded badge collection with you and relating their touching, personal and inspiring stories to you next time you come to visit and ponder ‘how can I contribute to democracy?’ So, how to summarise your contributions thus far? ‘No War,’ ‘No Dams,’ ‘No Racism’ … but ‘Peace on Earth,’ ‘Justice for Refugees,’ ‘Land Rights Now’ and ‘More Trees Please.’ And remember to ‘Vote Yes’ or ‘Vote No’ and ‘You can change the world…’