Wear your heart on your sleeve and your outrage on your lapel. Protest badges are a symbol of allegiance and an act of defiance against the status quo. These small pieces of metal and paper are fearless. They say to whoever happens to cross the wearer’s path, “THIS is who I am.”
Collected together here are 100+ years of protest badges from the UK, US and Australia. Included are civil rights badges from the 1960s, women’s suffrage badges from the 1910s and ban the bomb badges from the 1980s. There are badges such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s 1940s ‘stop lynching’ that are shocking reminders that such things even needed to be said, let alone put on a badge. There’s also badges such as ‘reclaim the night’ and ‘a good police force arrests more criminals than it employs’ that you would guess had been made only last month, not 40 years ago.
An important point to make is that while this feature may appear to have an overwhelmingly left-wing bias, the entire badges collections of several national museums were trawled through with every available subject and viewpoint being represented here (with the exception of US presidential campaign badges).
“I raise up my voice — not so that I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard.”
Malala Yousafzai, speech to the United Nations, 2013
One early protest badge is the 1787 medallion produced by Wedgwood for the Society for the Abolition of Slave Trade. Thousands were made and distributed for free across the UK and US being turned into brooches, buckles, bracelets and hair pins. The abolition movement had become fashionable.
Wedgwood’s medallions were produced in jasper. The design was copied by multiple other manufacturers both here and abroad, with a women’s version created in 1828.