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"Graphic design can pull together the zeitgeist," says environmentalist activist and artist Ed Morris. "It can express what's out there in terms of people's feelings, but it can also shape people's feelings. It can present an image to people that they can rally behind."
Morris, along with marketing maverick Dmitri Siegel, are the co-founders of Green Patriot Posters (or GPP), an environmental sustainability advocacy organization that uses graphic art to raise awareness for green causes, employing posters because of the medium's directness and the immediacy.
GPP's posters are predominantly circulated online as digital files, since GPP's existence has been, until recently, mostly digital. But a new eponymous book, "Green Patriot Posters: Images for a New Activism," was published in October. Even in the print edition, their message is mobile -- every sheet can be torn out to be hung up or shared with others, passing along eco-enthusiastic placards to galvanize support for sustainability.
"People still like to have something physical in their hands, still like to hang things on their walls," said Morris.
GPP believes that American patriotism, which has sometimes come to be equated with a self-preserving fear of others, should be renewed to reflect "pride of place" -- pride in the country's natural resources and environment, but also in American values (innovation being foremost among them, according to Morris).
The GPP founders say they were inspired by the ideologies and rallying imagery that came out of two world-changing wars. They took a cue from Thomas Paine's revolutionary rhetoric in "Common Sense," which encouraged Americans to sever ties with unsustainable (Mother Country-dependent) lifestyles and did it with a tone and attitude that spoke to average colonists. Morris and Siegel see the American Revolution as a fitting metaphor for harnessing the nation's potential for innovation and transformation in order to fashion a new modern, environmentally-friendly economy.
They also looked at propaganda produced during World War II, when posters pushed energy conservation as a form of patriotism, and wartime placards championed victory gardens, proclaiming "Plant a Garden - Our Food is for Fighting." In the new collection, updated manifestations of those still-relevant sentiments appear almost verbatim. Posters encourage biking and alternative fuel development, and one instructs Americans to "Buy Local for your Health, Environment, and Country."
"WWII posters were able to valorize individual actions in a collective framework in a way that struck me as completely relevant for today," said Morris.
GPP creative directors sought out friends and artists in the graphic design realm to contribute to the project, hoping the recognizable styles of big-name artists like DJ Spooky and Shepard Fairey would attract interest in the movement and help enlist others to the cause. GPP also invited poster submissions through its website and continues to do so post-publication.
Morris and Siegel hope the poster-book will serve as a springboard for further advocacy and action. They plan to partner with local organizations to coordinate workshops with students and other potential outreach groups and continue to use advertising space, such as billboards and the sides of buses, to spread their message.
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