Sunday, October 18, 2009

WAR IS OVER! (If You Want It)

WAR IS OVER! (If You Want It) | An Open Letter

In late 1969, John Lennon and Yoko Ono rented billboards in cities around the world (including New York City, Los Angeles, London, Tokyo, Rome, Athens, Amsterdam, Paris, Berlin, and Toronto) that read: "WAR IS OVER! (If You Want It) Happy Christmas from John & Yoko." These billboards served as a protest of the then- ongoing Vietnam War. The message was, as John Lennon explained, "We're selling it (peace) like soap. And you've got to sell, and sell, until the housewife thinks, 'Oh, well, there's peace or war. Those are the two products.'"

Thirty years later, I propose we this revisit this paean for peace.

The wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq that President Obama inherited are raging as I write this. Concurrently, the anti- war movement in this country seems to have been largely lulled to inaction since his inauguration. Certainly the American people writ large have had no discernible voice on these matters.

I'd like to see that change.

The idea is simple: First, download the "WAR IS OVER!" image above. Then, go to Google and type in "Poster Printing" and the name of your town. Find a local print shop, take the image there, and ask them to print up a poster sizable enough for your front window. Display your new poster proudly for your friends, neighbors, letter carriers, etc. (This same idea could be applied to t- shirts or bumper stickers.)

Remember, the guiding principle is to advertise peace-- just like advertising soap. Also, a nice ancillary benefit is that you are doing a little part for your local economy.

Make no mistake about it, this idea is directly influenced by Shepard Fairey's iconic Barack Obama/ "Hope" poster and the viral phenomenon that it became. It is indisputable that that image-- the original of which now hangs in the Smithsonian Museum's National Portrait Gallery-- became a cultural touchstone, cementing intangible yet resonant themes about then- candidate Obama, galvanizing voters in the process.

Cynics will say that such galvanization comes store- bought and commodified, and they're not entirely wrong. That is no matter. Barack Obama won handily in the 2008 election, due largely in part to this amorphous and ever- evolving advertisement-- and the narrative that went with it-- for "hope" and "change."

Moreover, iconography matters, regardless of its accompanying commercialization. It is my dream that the "WAR IS OVER!" image will be emblazoned on telephone poles, car bumpers, in storefront windows and in people's homes not just in San Francisco and New York City but in Anchorage, and Montpelier, and Tucson, and Atlanta, and that its personification of the anti- war movement be once and for all as universally recognized as the pink ribbon has become for breast cancer awareness.

Perhaps then our leaders in Washington will finally put a vivid face to the until- now timid voice of disapproval that the American public feels towards both wars (over 50% in each case). The nature of mainstream politics and our news media today would certainly have to finally recognize such sentiment-- that it's not just the most strident leftists among us who are against the wars and willing to say so, but Americans from all walks of life-- were this idea to take off. And maybe then this grassroots pressure could begin to provide the political cover necessary to allow our brave servicemen and women to come home.

Mr. Lennon and Ms. Ono were cultural revolutionaries, way ahead of their time. A similar revolution is needed today. With the ease the internet provides, there is absolutely no reason that one who shares their sentiment-- and mine-- could not take an afternoon and make their voice heard. For all we are saying, of course, is give peace a chance.