WE WILL NOT BE SILENT was designed by a group of artists and activists called The Critical Voice, a statement embodied on shirts to be worn by only five people for a single action that took place on March 20, 2006. On that day, a banner-size American flag was carried for eight hours throughout NYC with another message sewn on, asserting NO ALLEGIANCE TO WAR, TORTURE AND LIES and publicly protesting the torture policies of the Bush regime and the illegal invasion of Iraq on March 19, 2003.
The artists and activists taking part in creating the action in 2006, had learned about the inspiring history of another group of activists, The White Rose, who were active in Nazi Germany during the years of 1942 to 1943. The White Rose was a non-violent, student-resistance movement that used language in leaflets, which they mailed to households throughout Germany in an attempt to inspire an uprising. Their fourth leaflet, out of six successfully mailed out before they were caught and beheaded, was signed WE WILL NOT BE SILENT. This became the unifying statement chosen by the group in 2006 to be worn on t-shirts, in a bold font in English, white on black, as they demonstrated throughout that day.
The small East Village screen-printer (Works In Progress/a non-profit) that was chosen to print the original order (and who continues to this day to print our shirts) had required a minimum order of thirty-six shirts be printed even though only five were requested for the original action. The group decided to go ahead and print the additional thirty-one shirts. During the Bush/Cheney years, there was no problem finding others willing to wear such a bold and evocative statement to publicly express dissent. WE WILL NOT BE SILENT resonated with so many people at the time and instigated profound conversation in public between those who wore the shirts and those who became compelled by the message.
Following the action, another phase of design took place and WE WILL NOT BE SILENT was translated into two other languages, Arabic and Spanish, each with an English sub-title for clarity. Small batches of shirts were ordered as many people wanted to wear these new designs as a statement of solidarity and to identify as part of the opposition movements to injustice. Individuals chose to present their own body as a billboard for the message and in some cases exhibited great courage by doing so.
Shortly after the Arabic Language shirt was worn publicly in 2006, an incident happened that would show the power of embodying language, how it can make a contribution to raising social awareness, consciousness and possibly social change by forging solidarity and determination among multitudes of people who stand up to what is wrong.
In 2006, Raed Jarrar, an Iraqi man who then lived and worked in the U.S., was stopped from boarding a JetBlue flight by Homeland Security officials and JetBlue personnel because he was wearing the Arabic language t-shirt. He was already at the gate, without incident, after having gone through two security screenings and checking all of his bags when his rights were violated and he was forced to succumb to an absurd order to cover the Arabic language by putting another shirt that they bought for him over it. Raed Jarrar courageously went to the media and the story spread world-wide. As a result, so did the demand for the WE WILL NOT BE SILENT shirts, soon embodied by thousands and thousands of people who spread the words in a way one could never have imagined when the first small batches had been produced.
In 2006, one of the original artists, Laurie Arbeiter, who still works creatively on the project, made a personal decision to use her body in a way she thought could have a purpose, exhibiting a compelling statement from that first day in 2006 and onward. She put her other clothing away to carry this out and, on March 20, 2016, she will have fulfilled this intention, by wearing one of the designs every day for ten years, experiencing many encounters that followed. The original concept, that this simple act would gain public attention and provoke conversations between people, proved itself true, again and again, for many who participated throughout the years. The project has flourished to encompass over sixty different messages, and the artists that are active today with the project continue to respond to the times in which we live with relevant new messaging.
The WE WILL NOT BE SILENT Language Project also includes a collection of signs called 'One Thousand Signs For Our Times’ which we often take out into public space sometimes creating a WE WILL NOT BE SILENT action and other times responding in solidarity to other groups that ask us to bring the signs. We also respond quickly, sometimes within 24 hours, by creating hundreds of signs with messages that directly address issues in the news cycle and distribute them in the streets for others to then keep and reuse time and time again. Sarah Wellington, who joined the collective in 2007, holds workshops with young people to explore language and guide them in designing their own public actions while sharing with the students the legacy of The White Rose.
As has been the case throughout the entirety of the project, we have worked with language as our medium, the commons as our center and the art of photography as a vehicle to spread the words far and wide through the media, who time and time again paid attention to the work. WE WILL NOT BE SILENT invites people to participate as part of the greater collective WE who have something to say and want to be heard. Thousands have participated in this conceptual, social-art project.
Two important decisions were made at the origin of the project that we have carried forward as our ethic. One was to never brand our work, shirts (or signs), with our identifying information (web site) so that when people participate in the project the language becomes their own. Second, to never turn away anyone who wants to wear one of the shirts for lack of funds. We always offer a sliding scale on a donation basis, with a consideration to sustainability for the project not profit. We have reached tens of thousands of people, and we are reaching ten years strong.
We are encouraged to announce that we have been recognized for the work we do and that now WE WILL NOT BE SILENT has a fiscal sponsor, THE ALLIANCE FOR COMMUNITY TRAINERS, to help raise the necessary funds to continue to widen our reach beyond this horizon.
OR BY CHECK
Make the check out to: The Language Project
WE WILL NOT BE SILENT: The Language Project
275 9th Street
PO BOX 150343
Brooklyn, New York 11215