Protest Stickers: Chicago

Like most cities around the world, stickers are a common sight in Chicago.

Like most cities around the world, stickers are a common sight in Chicago (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

In April 2015, I went to the annual conference of the American Association of Geographers, which this year was held in Chicago, Illinois. Seeing as I was flying almost 4000 miles, I also took some time to look around the city. There are plenty of protest stickers to be found in Chicago, just like in New York and London. As in other cities, protest stickers in Chicago give us a clue as to what social movements and subversive political campaigns are striking a chord in the city. These movements reflect multiple scales, from the local to the international. Below are some of my favourite pictures from the Windy City.

This was the first sticker I found in Chicago, on my first evening. That was when I knew I was going to like this city!

This was the first sticker I found in Chicago, on my first evening. That was when I knew I was going to like this city! (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Many of the stickers were about local issues. Such as this sticker promoting mayoral candidate Emanuel Rahm, who I assuming has an Irish background because of the clovers.

Many of the stickers were about local issues, such as this sticker promoting mayoral candidate Emanuel Rahm, who I assume has an Irish background because of the clovers. I don’t know if the ‘Get Real’ sticker below is intentional or just a coincidence, but I like to think it was put there on purpose! (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Or this one, supporting Rahm's opponent, Jesus 'Chuy' Garcia. It plays on the Chicago flag, which is four stars on a white background between two blue stripes.

This sticker supports Rahm’s opponent, Jesus ‘Chuy’ Garcia. It plays on the Chicago flag, which is four stars on a white background between two blue stripes. The election took place on the 7th of April 2015, so it’s not surprising there was still a lot of evidence of it when I was there in late April (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Rahm won the election in April, but he is clearly not universally supported. This sticker is a drawing of him.

Rahm won the election in April, but he is clearly not universally supported. This sticker is a drawing of him (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

These stickers also relate to electoral politics. I assume they were handed out at a polling station, but I don't know how they ended up on this chain link fence.

These stickers also relate to electoral politics. I assume they were handed out at a polling station, but I don’t know how they ended up on this chain link fence close to Lake Michigan (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The recent controversy surrounding the relationship between the US police and African Americans was also a common theme. This sticker was advertising a demonstration. Similar stickers were in New York, advertising a protest on the same day.

The recent controversy surrounding the relationship between the US police and African Americans was also a common theme. This sticker was advertising a demonstration. I found similar stickers in New York, advertising a protest on the same day (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

This sticker is decidedly anti-police, playing rather unsubtly on the fact that police are often called 'pigs'.

This sticker is decidedly anti-police, playing rather unsubtly on the fact that police are often called ‘pigs’ (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Another recurring theme were unions,. This sticker reminds people of the various workers' rights that unions have fought for in the past.

Another recurring theme were unions. This sticker reminds people of the various workers’ rights that unions have fought for in the past. It is also a good example of how the message of stickers can become harder to decipher as they age and deteriorate (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Some themes were not so familiar however. This sticker is about anti-bullying.

Some themes were not so familiar however. This sticker is about anti-bullying (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Another uncommon theme was feminism. This sticker criticises censorship of the female body.

Another uncommon theme was feminism. This sticker criticises censorship of the female body…(Photo: Hannah Awcock)

...whilst this handmade sticker encourages women to celebrate their body.

…whilst this handmade sticker encourages women to celebrate their body (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

This image of Barack Obama references the Obey theme from the work of street artist Shepard Fairey. It also looks very similar to the iconic poster from Obama's 2008 election campaign, which was also designed by Shepard Fairey.

This sticker is a version of the poster designed for Barack Obama’s 2008 election campaign, which normally has a red and blue colour scheme. It was designed by the street artist Shepard Fairey, who’s Obey street art is world-famous (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

This sticker also references a national campaign. The Fight for 15 is part of the movement demanding a $15/hr minimum wage. Protests took place all over the country on April the 15th, or 4/15 in the American style of dating.

This sticker also references a national campaign. The Fight for 15 is part of the movement demanding a $15/hr minimum wage. Protests took place all over the country on April the 15th, or 4/15 in the American style of dating (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

These stickers are a little more intellectual than usual, and don't exactly make it easy to understand the argument being made.

These stickers are a little more intellectual than usual, and don’t exactly make it easy to understand the argument being made (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Fascism is a world-wide issue, and so too is the anti-fascism campaign.

Fascism is a world-wide issue, and so too is the anti-fascism campaign. I have seen very similar stickers in London (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

This weathered sticker is for the Stop Staples campaign, which is attempting to prevent Staples from doing a deal with the U.S. Postal Service which would involve setting up postal counters in Staples stores with low-paid, untrained Staples employees.

This weathered sticker is for the Stop Staples campaign, which is attempting to prevent Staples from doing a deal with the U.S. Postal Service which would involve setting up postal counters in Staples stores with low-paid, untrained Staples employees (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

This sticker doesn't appear to be linked to any campaign in particular, and could be referencing any number of issues such as climate change or consumerism.

This sticker doesn’t appear to be linked to any campaign in particular, and could be referencing any number of issues such as climate change or consumerism (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

This is not a protest sticker, but I just liked it so much that I decided to put it in. It's pretty good advice too!

This is not a protest sticker, but I just liked it so much that I decided to put it in. It’s pretty good advice too! (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Special thanks to Llinos Brown, who put up with my odd habit of taking close-up pictures of random bits of street furniture and also helped me find a few stickers whilst we were in Chicago.

Turbulent Chicago: Representations of Protest at the Chicago History Museum

A selfie with an Illinois suffragette in the Facing Freedom exhibition at the Chicago History Museum.

A selfie with an Illinois suffragette in the Facing Freedom exhibition at the Chicago History Museum (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

A few weeks ago I went to the Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers in Chicago. Amongst all the geography-ing I had some time to look around the city, and I spent a really enjoyable morning in the Chicago History Museum. Like any other city, Chicago has a history of riots and protest, and some of this history is represented in the museum. There are two main areas in which protest is represented in the museum’s permanent exhibits. The first is Facing Freedom, which explores the concept of freedom and how it has been negotiated, fought for and denied in America’s recent history. The second is Chicago: Crossroads of America, which narrates the city’s history through a series of themed galleries.

The Facing Freedom exhibition has an interactive element where visitors can become part of the exhibit.

The Facing Freedom exhibition has an interactive element where visitors can become part of the exhibit (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

A hot worn by Illinois suffragists at a national march in Washington DC in 1913 in the Facing Freedom Exhibition.

A hat worn by Illinois suffragists at a national march in Washington DC in 1913 in the Facing Freedom Exhibition (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The Facing Freedom exhibition examines the relationship between the United States of America and freedom, which has been patchy to say the least. Slavery, Japanese internment camps during WW2 and the treatment of Native Americans are all covered, but of course what interests me most are the protests and social movements.  The exhibition features the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porter’s in the 1920s-30s, the United Farm Workers in the 1960s, the Chicago school boycott in 1963, and the Illinois suffragists movement in the early 1900s. All of these movements and groups were successful to a greater or lesser extent; nothing was featured that didn’t achieve at least some of their goals. In this way these social movements, people who fought and won for freedom, are counter posed with those who had their freedom taken from them, the Japanese-Americans, slaves and Native Americans. The general message of the gallery is that freedom must be fought for and protected, and protest is positioned as a necessary part of that process.

The riots during the 1968 Democratic National convention are portrayed as a negative event, the divisive legacies of which can still be found in Chicago today.

The riots during the 1968 Democratic National convention are portrayed as a negative event, the divisive legacies of which can still be found in Chicago today (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Artifacts displayed in the Chicago and Crisis gallery from the Haymarket Affair. 4 anarchists were hanged and another 4 hanged based on very little evidence after a bomb went off at a protest. (Source; Chicago History Museum).

Artefacts displayed in the Chicago and Crisis gallery from the Haymarket Affair. 4 anarchists were hanged and another 4 imprisoned based on very little evidence after a bomb went off at a protest. (Source: Chicago History Museum).

In contrast, protest is represented in a more negative light in the Chicago: Crossroads of America exhibition. 3 protests are depicted in the Chicago in Crisis gallery: the Haymarket Affair, the 1919 Race Riots, and the Democratic National Convention riots in 1968. Along with the 1871 Great Fire that destroyed huge swathes of the city, the Gangland Era, and the sinking of the passenger ship the SS Eastland in which 844 people died, these protests are represented as turning points in the history of Chicago; negative experiences which the city dealt with with varying degrees of success. In this gallery, protest is not viewed as a positive, or even a necessary evil. The understanding of protest represented here is fundamentally at odds with that of the Facing Freedom exhibition.

In Chicago’s complex urban environment, powerful economic, social and political forces converge and collide, creating tensions that periodically explode into crisis. Chicago’s greatest crises include the Great Fire of 1871, the Haymarket Affair, the 1919 Race Riot, the Gangland Era, and the West Side and Democratic National Convention riots in 1968.

Chicago’s response to each crisis shaped its identity. A triumphant recovery from fire earned Chicago the “I Will” motto, but its failure to heal racial divisions following the 1919 and 1968 riots fostered segregation that plagued the city. Likewise, Chicago’s reputation for gangland violence continues, despite the bootlegger’s demise.

Text from the Chicago in Crisis gallery, Chicago History Museum

These 2 exhibitions demonstrate how protests can be interpreted in different ways. In this age of mass media and instant news, the way that a protest is viewed by people removed from the event itself is crucial. The presence of positive and negative representations of protest within the same museum illustrate the richness involved in thinking about how protests are perceived, and hints at the complexity of museum geographies. Next time you see a protest represented in a museum, trying thinking about some of these issues. And if you’ve ever in Chicago, the Chicago History Museum is well worth a visit (it is also close to Lincoln Park Zoo, one of the oldest zoo’s in America, and free to get in, although a little dreary on a cold April day!)

Highs and Lows of the AAG: Perspective of a Lone Travelling PhD Researcher

Who Am I?

My name is Llinos Brown and I am a final year EPSRC CASE award PhD student at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), Preston. My PhD research explores energy cultures in a workplace case study environment. I am particularly interested in exploring how energy cultures differ between manufacturing and office environments within the same workplace. If you are interested in hearing more about my research please get in touch – Lbrown5@uclan.ac.uk or follow me on twitter @LlinosBrownGeog


The AAG this year was held in Chicago, the city that invented the skyscraper.

The AAG this year was held in Chicago, the city that invented the skyscraper. The main conference venue was the Hyatt Regency hotel, to the left of this image (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Like the majority of conferences, the AAG is a great opportunity to catch up with colleagues/friends, build up relationships, meet new people and network…..what you would expect from any conference. But the AAG is a bit different to any conference I had attended. It is extremely big – over 9000 geographers attending, with over 1700 sessions submitted – split over two main venues and two smaller venues, with over 90 parallel sessions. It has a conference app and there are lots of very well-known geographers in attendance (someone should create a Geographer Bingo).

Something that I struggled with and something that overwhelmed me was – how do you systematically go through which session to attend? My approach was first look at the speciality groups, the main one for me– energy, and highlight them. Then look for some key words – for me energy, workplace, and behaviour, and highlight them. Finally if there are any gaps (and I had time to look in more detail) look through particular session slots and highlight anything that you think was a bit different. I spent around 20 minutes each evening going through what I had highlighted for the next day and working out what I really wanted to see. Each day I also popped in something a little bit different into my schedule. I would definitely recommend this, some of the most thought provoking sessions that I attended were sessions that had nothing to do with my sub-discipline of energy geographies. The AAG has a bit of everything, embrace the amazing discipline of Geography and the variety of sessions that are on offer.

The printed program for the AAG is the size of a telephone book!

The printed program for the AAG is the size of a telephone book! (Photo: Hannah Awcock)

One of the highs of the conference for me that I did not realise until I was on the plane home, was how embracing geography for a week helped me formulated new ideas. It’s not just about presenting your paper, networking, or handing out business cards. The conference has helped me develop empirical chapters for my thesis and it has made it much clearer to me how all the bits of my future thesis will link together. Maybe this wasn’t the AAG and it was just having time away from my desk and not directly thinking about my PhD but it was very extremely beneficial all the same.

One of the lows of the conference for me was its size. It is extremely big and it can be a lonely experience. Lunch and refreshments are not provided by the organisers so you can easily end up on your own at lunchtime. There are not the opportunities to chat to the person in front of you or sit next to someone while eating dinner and get chatting to them – which I’ve done at the RGS Annual Conference.  One thing I noticed at the AAG is that there are a lot of British geographers in attendance but they often stay in their university groups which mean if you’re the sole representative from your university it can mean you’re on your own for an evening or two. I was lucky enough to gate crash the Royal Holloway ‘crew’ so most evenings I joined them for food and drink – Thanks guys!

Llinos doing a bit of networking.

Llinos doing a bit of networking (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The N word – ‘Networking’ – we all know the benefits of it and how beneficial it can be but sometimes it can make you reflect on your experience as a researcher and make you wish you were in the person you are speaking to shoe’s. Yes, there is the saying ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’ and this might link to me being the only person from UCLan attending the AAG but some evenings when I was back in my hotel room and had time to reflect on the day, I was a bit jealous of the additional support networks, the variety of supervision and the diversity of PhD research communities at other universities. This can be a bit of a low but there are also some positives such as realising you’ve got better resources than other PhD students – such as a permanent desk.

So to round up some top tips from me:

  • Don’t attend every session, there is a lot going on and you need time to digest the information you’ve obtained;
  • Get in contact with people you have met at previous conferences and see if they are attending, buddy up with them, exchange details and go for a drink.
  • Follow the twitter hashtag, if you’re ever not sure what session to attend check out twitter and see if something exciting is happening.
  • Head to a random session not related to your discipline – embrace Geography

Llinos Brown, University of Central Lancashire.

The AAG: Why Did I Sign Up For This?

The Chicago skyline from the top of the Willis Tower, the tallest building  in the Western hemisphere.

The Chicago skyline from the top of the Willis Tower, the tallest building in the Western hemisphere (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Last week, I attended the Annual Meeting of the American Association of Geographers, otherwise known as the AAG. Probably the biggest Geography conference in the world, the AAG continues to grow every year and this year over 9000 delegates gathered in Chicago for the 5 day event. It was my first time attending the conference, and although I had a fantastic time I did find the whole thing a little overwhelming at times. Amongst everything, it is easy to forget why you’re there in the first place. I decided to put this post together of what I believe are the 3 main purposes of going to a large international conference like the AAG, so you can reassure yourself when you find yourself asking the question, which you almost certainly will at some point, ‘Why did I sign up for this?’

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A welcome sign at the AAG (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

  1. Present. And/or organising a session. Although you don’t have to present your work when you go to a conference, it seems a bit daft to fly all the way over the Atlantic Ocean and not present. Each presenter at the AAG only gets 20 minutes for their talk, including questions, so it really isn’t a big commitment. Presenting allows you to share your work with, and get feedback from, people outside your normal academic circle, which can be incredibly helpful. Presenting at such a prominent conference also allows you to stake your claim to your research topic, to make sure other people know what your research involves. Plus, it can actually be quite fun- you might actually enjoy yourself!

    Me Presenting at Chicago AAG

    Yours truly presenting a paper on the Battle of Cable Street (Photo: Innes Keighren).

  2. Network. The sheer size of the AAG makes it a unique opportunity for networking, particularly for international contacts. Some really big names in Geography attend the AAG, and it can be a great chance to introduce yourself (I was sat behind David Harvey in one session, although I didn’t say hello!) If you are thinking about publishing your work, many publishers have booths in the exhibition hall, and a lot of journal editors also attend, so there are plenty of people to talk to about your ideas. It is a great chance to meet other PhD students, and catch up with existing friends who you haven’t seen since the last big conference. A PhD can sometimes be a lonely experience, so I like to take every chance I get to socialise with other people in the same boat.

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    My business cards, an invaluable networking tool! (Photo: Hannah Awcock)

  3. Learn. My final purpose of going to a large international conference is a bit cheesy I know, but I think it’s a really important one. Conferences are a great chance to find out the latest ideas, theories and concepts in geography and your particular field. As I said, some of the biggest names in Geography attend the AAG, so it’s a great chance to hear them speak, and learn directly from them. Plus, it gives you the chance to ask questions about things you don’t understand, which you can’t do when reading a journal article or book. You can develop your own current projects by listening to others, and perhaps even get some ideas for future projects.

And if all that wasn’t enough to convince you to go along to the next AAG, the 2016 meeting is being held in San Francisco, so if you’ve always wanted to see Alcatraz or the Bay Bridge, then why not squeeze in a massive international conference whilst you’re at it?