In early July, the Northland Poster Collective, a Minneapolis-based organization dedicated to supporting social justice through art, decided to stay open despite what collective member Ricardo Levins Morales calls “years of financial crisis.”
The collective has provided posters, bumper stickers and hundreds of other items that have supported various social justice movements since the groups’ founding in 1979. A June decision to close was met with “howls of protest from all across the country” and followed by a surge of donations and sales that convinced the collective to remain open.
“It was just heartwarming,” says Morales. “We did not put out a call saying we need help to stay open. We put out a call saying we’ve made this decision to close very carefully and respectfully.”
Northland workers should hardly have been surprised at this kind of grassroots support. It’s what they’ve been supporting for years, especially in the labor movement.
“We are primarily tied in with the wing of the labor movement that champions grassroots, bottom-up organizing,” he says.
Part of that bottom-up strategy is to work “in dialogue” with activists, workers, or teachers to get at the heart of what a community is trying to say. Artists then shape that message into a poster or button to help further a cause, such as a t-shirt featuring marching bunnies and the slogan “Bosses Beware: When We’re Screwed, We Mutiply” worn by Star Tribune workers that ultimately helped them win in a labor dispute.
Grassroots activism is also what informs the artistic vision of the collective. Artists work with different movements to support social change with an approach Morales calls “medicinal art.”
“We need some kind of diagnosis of what the issue is, what’s wrong, or what is it that keeps these people from feeling powerful?” he explains.
“We’re trying to strengthen those pieces of self-image that give [people] a sense of power and try to counter the myths that they can’t do anything or they’re not worthy.”
An important part of Northland’s story is their work as a collective.
“It’s very important to us not to have a traditional hierarchical structure and be promoting deep democracy. It doesn’t work for us,” says Morales.
Instead, Northland and RLM Graphics work together to make important decisions over a shared lunch rather than in meetings. The group equally values the input of all members. And they work hard to be aware of systems of privilege that inform their own interactions. Altogether, it’s a way of doing business that requires what Morales describes as “a high degree of accountability;” to other workers, to the mission of the organization, and the larger community.
Now we have the opportunity to be accountable to an organization that’s supported so many others. Shop, donate, become a member, or tell your friends about Northland by going to www.northlandposter.com.
“What we have is a rare thing and that’s a second chance,” says Morales. “We have a chance to start over with a golden reputation.”