Political Graffiti in Nairobi Demands Attention

Out of Nairobi, Kenya, this politically-charged wall protests political instability, corrupt government officials, lack of reform, high unemployment, and rising prices. The wall spurred a feature cover on February 29, 2012 by NTV Kenya, the largest broadcasting station in Kenya, covering a wide region across the country.

The art lists a slew of problems affecting the country, including: land grabbing, political assassinations, tribal clashes, drug dealings, famine, tax evasion.

Perhaps the most powerful image is of a corrupt politician sitting on a throne with a box full of money chained to his seat—a symbol of how politicians use money to reel in votes. To add to the picture of corruption, the politician’s thoughts are articulated in the words, “I steal their taxes, grab land, but the idiots will still vote for me.”

One section of the wall has a bullet list of characteristics of the type of leader the people desire: visionary, patriotic, intelligent, honest, competent, courageous, and in touch with the people.

A final section of the wall recalls the corrupt and undemocratic elections that took place in December of 2007. With the words, “my voice, my vote, my future,” the artists assert that this is how the democratic voting process should be—responsive to the people.

Kenya has experienced political problems since 2007, when a crisis erupted after disputed elections. Violence erupted across many regions, particularly in the slums, and protests raged in Nairobi.

Watch NTVKenya’s coverage of the street art:

Vietnam Era Spawns Countless Protest Posters

With a vividly graphic design, this poster makes no qualms about protesting the Vietnam War. As turbulent sentiments arose from the American public concerning the purpose and justice of the Vietnam War, countless posters were created in political protest.

SPEAK OUT - This protest poster makes no qualms about objecting to American actions during the Vietnam War.

Interestingly, when the Vietnam War started, only a small percentage of the American population opposed it. Objections to the war came from people with left-wing political opinions who hoped for an National Liberation Front (NFL), or Viet Cong victory; pacifists who opposed all wars; and liberals who believed that the best way of stopping the spread of communism was by encouraging democratic governments rather than employing force.

The first march to Washington against the war took place in December, 1964. Only 25,000 people took part but it was still the largest anti-war demonstration in American history.

As the war continued, more and more Americans turned against it. People were particularly upset by the use of chemical weapons such as napalm and agent orange. In 1967, a group of distinguished academics under the leadership of Bertrand Russell set up the International War Crimes Tribunal. After interviewing many witnesses, they came to the conclusion that the United States was guilty of using weapons against the Vietnamese that were prohibited by international law. The United States armed forces were also found guilty of torturing captured prisoners and innocent civilians. U.S. behavior in Vietnam was even denounced as being comparable to Nazi atrocities committed in World War II.

The decision to introduce conscription for the war increased the level of protest, especially among young men. Students in particular began protesting at what they considered was an attack on people’s right to decide for themselves whether they wanted to fight for their country.

In 1965, David Miller publicly burnt his draft card and was sentenced to two and a half years in prison. His actions inspired others and throughout America, Anti-Vietnam War groups organized meetings where large groups of young men burnt their draft cards.

Protest reached a peak point later in 1965 when the U.S. began its heavy bombing of North Vietnam. Anti-war marches, especially those organized by the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), attracted an ever-widening base of support, culminating in 1968 after the successful Tet Offensive by the North Vietnamese proved that the war’s end was still a long time coming.

Between 1963 and 1973, 9,118 men were prosecuted for refusing to be drafted into the army. The most famous of these (an interesting tidbit in my opinion) was Muhammad Ali, the world heavyweight boxing champion.

This poster, with its clearly agitated subjects calling out yells of dissent, perfectly captures the protest, instability, unrest, and tumult felt in America during this time period.

The Pose Goes On

In keeping with the Uncle Sam tradition, I chose this spin-off as my next subject.

When you think about it, all politicians DO exhibit a characteristic Uncle Sam pose at one time or another, don’t they?

WE WANT YOU - Channeling Uncle Sam's favorite pose, modern-day politicians use it for the same effectiveness, primarily to encourage citizen involvement in politics.

Looking straight at the American public, they point their promises and emphasize alignment with U.S. citizens. Emphatically swearing to change this, better that, and improve everything, they sound good to eager ears.

Just as Uncle Sam recruited millions into the army, politicians today are encouraging involvement in politics by making citizens feel obligated to participate, else be viewed as lackluster patriots.

Uncle Sam wanted citizens to be on board with America and support the land of opportunity. Modern politicians recall his methods to rally support for themselves and lure the American public into feeling engaged in the political world.

With meaningful expressions (although Obama and Clinton don’t achieve the same level of sincerity as Uncle Sam), politicians remind the public that their votes matter, their ideas matter, they matter. And the people, unaware that this showing is mostly a put-on in modern day politics, naively eat it all up.

Uncle Sam’s Origins

According to its creator, James Montgomery Flagg, the portrait went on to become “the most famous poster in the world.”

The portrait to which he referred is of an elderly man with white hair and a goatee wearing a top hat with white stars on a blue band, and red and white striped trousers. None other than “Uncle Sam” himself.

Originally printed in the magazine Leslie’s Weeklyunder the title “What Are You Doing for Preparedness?” the poster was renamed to “I Want You” when it began its career as a recruitment image. Over four million copies were printed between 1917 and 1918, and the image was also used extensively during World War II to encourage men to join the ranks.

AMERICA'S MAN - Uncle Sam is as much an American symbol as the bald eagle or the stars and stripes. He first appeared in World War I army recruitment posters.

Perhaps one of the most iconic American images, “Uncle Sam” bears resemblance to Flagg as well as to Samuel Wilson, who purportedly inspired the character.

As the story goes… during World War I, Sam Wilson was a meat packer living and working in Troy, New York. Each barrel of meat rations was stamped “US” before it was shipped to American soldiers. The soldiers of that time equated their United States supplied rations with Uncle Sam Wilson. The story grew to mythological proportions, resulting in a somewhat fictional image of Sam Wilson emerging as the white bearded, red-white-and-blue clad symbol of America.

THE MAN BEHIND THE IMAGE - The real Sam Wilson, a meat packer in Troy, New York during World War I, who reportedly inspired the character Uncle Sam.

The 87th Congress of the United States adopted the following resolution on September 15, 1961:

“Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives that the Congress salutes Uncle Sam Wilson of Troy, New York, as the progenitor of America’s National symbol of Uncle Sam.”

In terms of defining America, Uncle Sam is right up there with the bald eagle and the stars and stripes.

Rhyming Illustration Makes Obama Shine

Using the Obama ‘Hope’ poster by Shepard Fairey as inspiration, this illustration shows George Bush and John McCain in the same style, but with less than confidence-inspiring messages.

Bush, in characteristic ‘Bushism’ guffaw, looks rather a dope indeed. And Cain is certainly unlikely to haul in the necessary votes with such a clueless expression, and his prospects of taking office after the 2008 presidential election are summed up concisely with the word ‘nope.’

LINE 'EM UP - In this set of three similarly drawn illustrations, Obama shines next to then President George Bush and 2008 running-mate John McCain.

Only Obama, full of intention and contemplating a vision, shows any promise. He stands in sharp contrast to the two Republicans, which is the primary reason this illustration is so powerful. Bush and McCain look like amateurs next to Obama’s obvious sense of identity and purpose. Obama’s ‘Hope’ poster alone is effective, but stacked up against these two, it positively shines.

Obama is hope personified in this illustration—hope for the people, the country, and the future.

Mixing Old and New

This one plays tricks.

When my eyes first glanced over the images in this picture—and before I’d read the words—I had apparently unconsciously formed the mindset that this would be a propaganda poster about the World Wars or reflect some earlier period of history. I know that I had unconsciously developed this idea because it came as a shock to me that this poster is in fact protesting ‘Obamacare.’

It’s like a time warp: mixing the ideas of today with the design of the past.

WHEN PAST AND PRESENT COLLIDE - This propaganda-themed poster actually leans toward political protest upon closer inspection. Utilizing imagery from the past, it protests a present-day issue.

I’ve decided I like it, although it’s still screwing with whatever portions of my brain distinguishes between past, present, and future.

By no means will I even attempt to delve deeply into the political argument behind this message, however. Health care is quite the sore topic. No pun intended.

In essence though, this propaganda-themed poster satirically suggests that the implementation of ‘Obamacare’ would revert Americans back to a time when rationing was a necessity and citizens were expected to be content with less. In effect, through use of historical imagery, this poster says that ‘Obamacare’ is a step backward, not forward.

Beware of the Red Scare

It’s trademark Red Scare.

A U.S. flag going up in flames and officials oppressing innocent citizens – this poster clearly reflects the American fear of communism and terror at the potential infiltration of its ‘red’ believers.

DEMOCRACY TODAY, COMMUNISM TOMORROW - This Red Scare propaganda poster depicts an impending communist uprising and takeover of American politics.

Two periods in U.S. history are characterized by Red Scares: the first in the early 1920’s following the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917 and the second following World War II, from 1947-1957. The second is of course tied to Joseph McCarthy, the notorious Republican Senator who accused a number of prominent and influential American citizens of secretly being a part of the Communist Party.

The American fear of communism as a political ideology is a long-standing one, and thus has produced some powerful examples of psychological propaganda. Following the Bolshevik Revolution, America was subject to mounting anxiety that a similar revolution would occur on the home front, spurred by workers angst and fiery beliefs of radical anarchism. These testy times provoked aggressive police investigation of accused persons, unwarranted jailings in many instances, and even deportation of peoples suspected of being associated with either communist or radically left-wing political ideologies.

The second Red Scare, arising after World War II, was popularly known as “McCarthyism” after its most famous supporter and namesake, Senator Joseph McCarthy, who claimed he had names of suspected communists which included A-list individuals like movie stars, writers, and government officials.

McCarthyism coincided with increased popular fear of communist espionage, nuclear holocaust, and news reports detailing atrocities committed by communist officials. Paranoia grew further following the confessions of spying for the Soviet Union given by several high-ranking U.S. government officials. As a direct result of swirling paranoia and suspicion, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAAC) began investigations of communist organizations and suspected communist party members. Again, countless innocent people were accused and their reputations ruined.

Posters like this one only exacerbated the problem by surrounding citizens with images that portrayed a communist uprising or takeover as impending, when in actuality, such a development was entirely improbable. The intention was that people see red everywhere they looked; that way, when a friend or neighbor was accused, it didn’t seem so unlikely.

Classic propaganda, that—seeing what isn’t real, and believing what is seen.