Slacktivists Don’t Buy At Liberty House

There was a march yesterday, a glorious march, to force Trump to release his tax returns, or at least force Congress to make him. Perhaps word spread across the resistance Facebook page that if the march was glorious enough, Article VIII of the Constitution would kick in, Trump would be stripped of the presidency and Hillary would be installed in his place. A few hundred showed up. The rest twitted their heads off.

Trump remains president. How could this be since they are the majority and so very passionate?

Nobody noticed that Liberty House was closing its doors. They were too busy saving the world, one twit at a time. Liberty House was how those greedy, evil, materialistic, racist, sexist boomers who ruined everything did activism.

In 1966, a small store called Liberty House, with precisely this in mind, opened at 343¼ Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village. Abbie Hoffman, through his involvement with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, was the manager. Liberty House sold handbags, book bags, dresses, children’s clothes, pillows, quilts and other “crafts of freedom,” as they were known, produced by an outfit called the Poor People’s Corporation.

Yes, that Abbie Hoffman. Even he needed a day job between prison sentences.

The P.P.C. was founded by a young civil rights worker named Jesse Morris, who decided to open a chain of small cooperative factories in Mississippi to help provide incomes to poor black people who were not only beholden to the seasonal nature of farm work but also facing the threat of losing their jobs if their white employers discovered they had exercised their rights.

Jobs. Income. Talking about dignity doesn’t put food on the table. Jobs do. For a time, Liberty House expanded across the country. Now, it will close its last remaining store in Manhattan.

The closing comes at a poignant time, not only because of the current national mood, but because in this moment in the life of New York it seems an astonishing victory that a store trafficking in batiks and muddy tones and an aesthetic in quiet opposition to personal-trainer gyms and 8,000-square-foot apartments could have lasted on an increasingly moneyed stretch of upper Broadway near Columbia University. Rising rents aren’t even the culprit — “our landlord has been wonderful and compassionate,” Ms. Hawkins’s partner, Martha Faibisoff, told me. Sales had been falling for a long time, and they did not rebound during the holidays.

They went bust. Not even the best of intentions can keep a store alive when nobody buys there. But surely the P.P.C. changed lives?

Several weeks after Liberty House announced that it would close, a report called “Unequal Lives” from the Southern Rural Black Women’s Initiative indicated that little had changed for poor black women in small towns in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and elsewhere since the days, essentially, of the P.P.C. Unemployment levels for the counties studied were nearly triple the national rate. In rural counties, black women who headed households were almost twice as likely to be poor compared with their white counterparts. At the same time, less than 1 percent of foundation funding in the South was directed at helping black women and girls.

This was no hashtag slacktivism, thousands of deeply passionate Millennials engaged in the warfare of rhetoric on social media, coming up with brilliant tactics such as calling their enemies names or posting wildly funny gifs making fun of their illegitimate president and cartoon frogs. This was people creating factories and jobs for poor people in places where their survival was at risk. And still it changed nothing.

And while Liberty Store is closing for lack of interest, what is happening today to continue the fight for social justice?

“Should You Dress for Resistance at New York Fashion Week?”

So asked a headline in February on Vogue’s website, above the image of two young women in skinny black jeans holding Dior shopping bags and wearing T-shirts that declared: “We Should All Be Feminists.”

So cute. After all, there is no reason why the Resistance shouldn’t look fabulous.

Dressing for resistance did not, apparently, mean combat clothes in preparation for a possible Jared Kushner sighting; it meant wearing garments with unobjectionable slogans — and for some in the fashion world, even that seemed a step too far. One writer quoted in the accompanying article explained that she would channel strength, positive energy and a broader spirit of noncompliance through “offbeat bright colors, bold prints and my grandmother’s gold necklace.”

What says “strength, positive energy and a broader spirit of noncompliance” more than “offbeat bright colors”? And if there’s a slogan on that designer tee, who can doubt your sincerity and dedication. After all, if a million people wear “We Should All Be Feminists” t-shirts, how can it not happen?

The age of activism that Donald J. Trump’s presidency unleashed has given us, as its two most ubiquitous symbols of defiance, the pink knit hat that women around the world have embraced as a means of communicating their distaste for President Trump’s regressive views on women and a T-shirt blaring “Nasty Woman” — now available in a special $35 Earth Day edition — a subversion of the president’s remarks about Hillary Clinton during the campaign.

While the word “pussy” has apparently gone back on the Times’ verboten list, the hats became a symbol of feminist defiance. They do so love symbols, as if it’s the same thing as actually doing something.

And it’s since become a trophy of the great Women’s March that showed the world how women something something, except for how intersectional black lesbian feminists ousted privileged white women and feminist heretics. No matter. All the internal squabbling over who was the most victim-y victim didn’t mean they couldn’t keep their pink pussy hats to prove their virtue.

A million Facebook posts, twits, gifs and likes later, Trump is still president while your hat collects dust. How can this be, since you’re doing everything possible to change the world with all the right hashtags?

The people who started Liberty Store and the P.P.C. put their IRL money and energy into making something happen for the people you gush over on the internet. They gave them jobs while you cry about their being microaggressed by the failure to use their personal pronouns. How can the powerful not feel your tears?

Surely your tears and symbols will work where actual help failed. Maybe a petition signed by a million deeply passionate people will work? Yes, that’s the ticket, and you won’t even have to wear cute sneakers, a $35 t-shirt and leave your house to achieve social justice. But batik and muddy colors won’t work, since “offbeat bright colors, bold prints and my grandmother’s gold necklace” prove defiance today. They don’t sell those things at Liberty House, and so it’s closing its doors.

12 thoughts on “Slacktivists Don’t Buy At Liberty House

  1. PDB

    Feminists are willing to pay $35 for a t-shirt that probably costs about $1.50 to make? Man, I am in the wrong line of work.

    1. SHG Post author

      The problem isn’t social justice. It’s that you haven’t yet figured out how to capitalize on it.

  2. John Barleycorn

    Oh well, should’nt-be-too-long-now before a few medical marijuana co-ops figure out the tax benifits to landing an ammunition contract with the DOD.

    We will see who’s unemployed then…

  3. Jim Tyre

    Nobody noticed that Liberty House was closing its doors.

    How could they notice? No online store. No one-click shopping. No free second day delivery. It was doomed to fail in the digital economy.

  4. B. McLeod

    The nature of totalitarianism is that it must extend its fingers into everything. Determining performers appropriately cast in movies, unobjectionable labels on clothing, correctly constituted meals, allowable pronouns, permissible “science” and ‘medicine,” even innocuous entries in Peeps Diorama contests. The founders of Liberty House did not realize they could never prevail until non-conformity with their ideas had been wiped from every facet of society. That is why they failed, and why today’s social justice warriors don’t care about them.

  5. wilbur

    “The closing comes at a poignant time, not only because of the current national mood, but because in this moment in the life of New York it seems an astonishing victory that a store trafficking in batiks and muddy tones and an aesthetic in quiet opposition to personal-trainer gyms and 8,000-square-foot apartments could have lasted on an increasingly moneyed stretch of upper Broadway near Columbia University.”

    If only Liberty Store had lasted as long as this sentence. Definitely poignant.

  6. Allen

    This must be one of Rumsfeld’s Unknown Unknowns. That those two words, pussy and hat, might be used together, and I sure never imagined such a hat. I am hopeful, yet not confident, that the guys will not reciprocate.

      1. B. McLeod

        Nasstaja Kinski was freaking great in that movie! (I’m sure cats were upset that a more cat-appearing actress wasn’t cast).

    1. Patrick Maupin

      Speaking of guys and headgear, have you seen all the dickheads in the pussy hats? That’s probably about all they can handle, anyway.

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