Tomorrow, the women (and male allies) of America march on Washington and more than 200 other cities, including here in Chicago, where nearly 50,000 people are expected to rally in Grant Park and then walk en masse to Federal Plaza. But even before the marches, people are gathering to prepare, to make hats and buttons and signs, and to talk about their reasons for marching. There are few things more threatening to the patriarchy—or more overlooked—than a women’s crafting circle.
Donald Trump loves pussies. Despite being an avowed germophobe, he’s magnetically drawn to beautiful women and, upon meeting them, can’t help but kiss them and grab their pussies. He can do this because he’s a star. It’s true he’s dismissed this bit of bragging, caught on tape during an Access Hollywood broadcast, as “locker room talk,” but it’s also true that since that tape was rediscovered last fall, ten women have accused him of sexual assault. Since then, he’s also been elected President of the United States, so the women of America feel it’s appropriate to welcome him into his new job while wearing pussyhats: pink knit hats with cat-ear corners. These pussyhats are not tasteful Ivanka-working-mom pink. They are bright, angry, gynecological pink. Originally the Pussyhat Project was intended to produce 1.1 million hats for the marchers on Washington, but marchers who are staying in Chicago plan to wear them, too.
As anyone who encountered the vengeful Madame Defarge during their ninth-grade reading of A Tale of Two Cities knows, a knitting woman is a beautifully-camouflaged agent of revolution. Of course, Madame Defarge’s eternal (and unspecified) knitting project contained the names of French aristocrats destined for the guillotine. The knitters of the pussyhats just want equal pay, affordable healthcare, and reproductive justice.
It’s remarkably easy to produce a pussyhat from the pattern published online: it’s essentially a square that’s folded over and stitched on the sides. Anne Jordan-Baker, who was at a knit-in on Saturday afternoon at the Center on Halsted in Lakeview with her wife, Kathy, and about 20 other women, just learned how to knit two weeks ago and has already made four. At the moment, she and Kathy are working on a pair of blue-green hats for a pair of eco-conscious friends who are going to Washington and “are not pink people.” (Which is perhaps just as well since the demand for pussyhats has led to a shortage of fuschia yarn here and in other strongly Democratic cities.) “It’s a good project to learn on,” Anne says. “It’s meant to be knitted by people who aren’t great knitters.” She’s also learned that the knitting goes faster if you use thick yarn and big needles and if she has Kathy around to fix her mistakes.
None of the women at the Center on Halsted was planning to go to Washington, but several were planning to march in Chicago on Saturday morning. And some, like a woman who identified herself only as Ms. J, were still trying to decide. Ms. J had come to the Center on Halsted to use the computers upstairs and then noticed what she called “the festivities” in the lobby as she was leaving. “I thought I’d learn something new,” she says. Now an hour later, she’s got a line of thick multicolored yarn in one hand and a crochet hook with a dozen stitches dangling from the end in the other. “Oh, Lord!” she mutters as a stitch slips.
When women get together to make things, it’s only natural that they’ll start talking, says Savneet Talwar, a teacher of art therapy at the School of the Art Institute who also runs a knitting group for Bosnian refugees and South Asian immigrants at CEW Design Studio in Rogers Park and is the organizer of today’s knit-in. She’s found that these discussions usually lead to the larger social and political forces that impact women’s lives.
Ursula, a fifth grader at the Waldorf School who accompanied her mother, Lara Oppenheimer, to the knit-in, has already seen some of these forces at play. Recently, she was part of a group that was supposed to teach the first graders how to knit.
“The guy I had to teach was going on about how boring it was,” she says. “He said, ‘You do it, and I’ll say I did it.’ I said no. I told him I would do the last stitch, but only if he did the rest.” —Aimee Levitt
It’s way easier to make a button than it is to knit a hat. All you have to do is write a slogan or draw a design, or color in a design someone else has drawn, and then the nice people at the Busy Beaver Button Company will press it into button form for you. This makes it an especially child-friendly form of protest art, and on Monday afternoon, a large crowd that is at least half small children who have the day off from school fills Busy Beaver’s small storefront/museum in Logan Square. Owner Christen Carter had anticipated making about 500 buttons between 3 and 8 PM, but by 6:30, her staff had made nearly 2,000.
The mood inside Busy Beaver is festive, even gleeful. Many of the children haven’t had a chance to develop nuanced views about the incoming administration and prefer crayon scribbles over slogans, but they’re still happy to participate. “I’m marching with my mom,” says six-year-old Lucille Fritzsche. Arwen Morales, who will be marching in Chicago on Saturday with her father Dion—her mother, Devon, will be in DC—has no comment, but she sports a baby-sized pussyhat.
The older button-makers expend a lot of energy on concocting the most cutting insults against the president-elect that they can. Jackie Chacko is very proud of the button she’s made that depicts a small handful of Cheetos surrounded by a circle that says “Fuck Trump” and a line across the middle that says “#NOPE.”
“It’s important to come out to events like this and come out in mass numbers,” she says. “It shows resilience. It’s really powerful when we all chant together, too, all voices in one voice.” She looks around at the little kids coloring at a low table nearby. “All these baby activists make me really happy.”
Chacko and her friend Grace Allen attended an anti-Trump screenprinting event at the Chicago Printmaking Collective on Saturday, but they found it disappointing. “It was a space for allies,” Chacko says, “not for the people they were talking about. Nobody from that group was in a space to make or create.”
Over the past few weeks, reports had been trickling in about anti-abortion activists who planned to “infiltrate” the main march in Washington, and on Monday, the march organizers removed the Texas-based anti-abortion group New Wave Feminists from its list of partners after many women pointed out on social media that the group’s anti-abortion stance didn’t fit with the march’s pro-choice message. On Facebook there was some discussion about whether this was deliberately exclusionary and if the organizers of the march were just the latest in a long line of white feminists who chose to ignore women of color or if the media was just magnifying the controversy to make the coverage more exciting. (Damned bitches spend so much time fighting, it’s no wonder they can’t get anything done.)
Jessica McCloud, who’s part of the organizing committee for the Chicago march, says local discussions have been, for the most part, cordial and peaceful, and she should know: as the person in charge of social media, she’s spent all her time since November either eating, sleeping, caring for her two children, or monitoring the march’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
“There have been some difficult discussions,” she says. “A lot has transpired. I advocated to keep the Facebook group closed to protect everyone, and we’ve been lucky, there have been zero trolls. It’s not perfect, but the human buildup to anything, big or small, has an ebb and flow. You either come out and be together or you don’t. This shouldn’t be the end. It’s a beginning and a starting point to connect, protect, and activate. At the end, we want people to go back to their communities and protect their communities.” —AL
Some of the most indelible images of early 20th century feminism come from the enormous suffrage parades in New York and Washington, DC: photos of streams of women in white dresses carrying homemade signs and banners marching together between rows of black-clad spectators. The overall effect is of one of strength, unity, and competency. Who would deny these women a voice in their own country’s government?
Yes, it’s true these pictures fail to show some less-inspiring historical truths, most notably the exclusion or segregation of women of color and the violent treatment of suffragettes who were unfortunate enough to be arrested and jailed. The past is not always a kind and noble place. These past few months have made me realize how terrifying some points of it must have been, particularly the period leading up to the Civil War and the 1960s, when everything was completely chaotic and no one knew what would happen next. Once this particular moment becomes History, these marches will either be completely forgotten, or they will be remembered as a sign of trouble or (the best possible outcome) overblown panic over a threat that never amounted to anything very serious at all.
But the fact remains: you cannot have a good protest without some signs. That’s why textile artist Aram Han Sifuentes is creating a protest banner lending library.
The project evolved gradually. For the election, Sifuentes created an interactive exhibit at the Jane Addams Hull House Museum called “Unofficial Official Voting Station” where non-citizens like herself could cast symbolic ballots and, on Election Day, smash Donald Trump piñatas. The exhibit, however, was scheduled to remain up until April, and so Sifuentes started thinking about ways to keep the project interesting after the election and inauguration. Then the election happened and Trump won and protests broke out all over the city and in mid-November, Sifuentes found herself hosting a protest-banner-making workshop at her house in Logan Square.
Many non-citizens are wary of joining in protests. Or, as Sifuentes puts it, “it’s not an option. An arrest can complicate your legal status. If you’re undocumented, it’s worse. Too many people are deported for minor crimes. Working with non-citizen communities to create protest banners together is way to protest, even though we can’t go.”
So Sifuentes began leading banner-making workshops at the Comfort Station in Logan Square and, on the Wednesday before the inauguration, in the dining room at Hull House. The lending library developed from the realization that if you’re going to take the trouble to cut and stencil and sew a banner, you should get to use it more than once. Or if you can’t, someone else should.
The Hull House dining room has been transformed into a busy banner-making lab, buzzing with the sound of sewing machines and people hunting desperately for stencil letters. (“R” and “P” are especially popular.) “It’s a time of camaraderie before shit gets more real,” says Hayley Anderson, an artist who is creating a “Girl Power” banner with her friend Jennifer Fagen.
The library has, so far, amassed 20 banners, most of which will be in use at the march this weekend, among them “Dump Trump” (“A classic,” Sifuentes says), “Not my president,” and the Zapatista slogan “They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.”
Starting in February and continuing through May, Sifuentes will have a residency at the Chicago Cultural Center, and the library will live there.
“You can check out banners to be used,” says Sifuentes. “Our definition of ‘use’ is loose. If you want to hang it in your room, it’s of use to you. Maybe it won’t ever come back. But it’s being used.” —AL
“Do you have anything more fuchsia?” a customer asked. “Maybe thicker?” Donna Palicka ran around her store, Sister Arts Studio, to find the perfect yarn for the customer who was looking to make a pussyhat for Saturday’s Women’s March.
When Palicka heard about the Pussyhat Project just after Thanksgiving, she immediately marked down all pink yarn 20 percent at her store and transformed the Thursday “Knit Nights” into pussyhat-making wine and cheese nights. It was Sister Arts’s first venture into the political sphere after 12 years in business.
The last Thursday before inauguration day was a Send-Off Party for 175 pussyhats and the marchers who will be driving them to D.C. The knitted hats take the average knitter about five hours, Palicka says, but the sewn felt hats take five or ten minutes. Those will be saved for the Chicago Women’s March where Palicka, and her daughter Ona, will be marching on Saturday, along with many of the other instructors, customers, and friends of Sister Arts.
Stacy Derby, a new customer of Sister Arts, came in to pick up pussyhats for her mother and four friends. She heard about the movement and immediately called Sister Arts to purchase pussyhats when she saw the store registered on the Project’s website. Admittedly not a knitter, she’d brought wine and snacks to last week’s Knit Night to thank the Sister Arts regulars for knitting hats for her. After picking up her hats, she cracked a grin. “Can I show you guys my signs?” One read: “BUILD A WALL AROUND TRUMP. I’LL PAY.”
Palicka’s opened Sister Arts after 21 years working in the corporate world with the goal of creating what she calls “the ultimate creative sanctuary” where she would mentor women and create a community. Many instructors started as loyal customers and turned into great friends. “These women are my sisters,” Palicka says. It’s something she always wanted after a childhood with four brothers.
Jami Merrick, one of those “sisters,” is an instructor at Sister Arts who specializes in beaded lace. After her cancer diagnosis in May, the Sister Arts sisters rallied around her to cover her classes. Merrick won her battle with cancer, but says that she’s still processing the stages of grief from the election. The hats help her. “There is emotion in every single stitch,” Merrick said. “The cast on is disbelief. And then we moved into anger. And then we moved into fear. And there are all these emotions, but I’m hoping by the time we got to our bind off that there was an element of hope.”
Around the white table in the back of Sister Arts women of all ages sat knitting for other women they may never meet. Palicka was certain that this is only the beginning for Sister Arts’ activism. —Jack Ladd