In the post-covid era, our freedom of expression may seem to be curtailed by necessity. Meeting again for a demonstration may seem risky for health reasons. Yet this is a situation that we Earthlings have already experienced. While waiting for a return to normal, let us not forget that there are other ways to express ourselves. The internet of course, but also badges, which have always played a political role since their creation.
Along with political badges, a badge pinned on clothing to promote a cause is one of the most emblematic of all types of badges. Button badges have been popular since the invention of the pin-back button at the beginning of the 20th century and are increasingly popular today. (You may even be wearing one on your lapel right now!) Here is a brief history of button badges defending the American cause:
Thanks to the increased mobility of the automobile age, the French began to enjoy a greater opportunity for movement, and used this new freedom to come together to defend the causes they believed in. At the turn of the century, tiny pins were used to raise money for causes such as World War I, road safety and women’s right to vote.
It is hard to believe that less than 100 years ago women could not be part of a trade union. Since 1920, married women have been able to join a trade union without their husband’s permission. The political activist badges that were made during this period defended this issue.
The economic crisis that erupted in the United States in 1929 is becoming global. France, significantly less affected than other European countries such as Germany, is nevertheless experiencing economic and social difficulties. The Popular Front government carried out several important social reforms such as paid holidays, and badges were at the core of the demands. They were also used to show support for the Spanish Republic,
Custom-made “Halt Hitler” badges – in reference to the anti-Nazi movement against Adolf Hitler during World War II – were popular in the 1940s in the USA. However, due to wartime metal rationing, metal badges from the Second World War era are difficult to find.
By the middle of the century, scientists began to confirm that the Earth’s climate was changing. In fact, experts have even changed their language to identify this growing problem. Instead of “bad weather”, we started calling severe weather events “weather disturbances” or “climate change”. The badges were then used from the outset to condemn how pollution was affecting the environment.
While U.S. soldiers were at war on Vietnamese soil, U.S. citizens engaged in their own war of protest. In the 1960s and 1970s, the badge was used as a sign of protest against the Vietnam War and as a symbol of peace. These badges were essential to the visual identity of the movements to end the Vietnam War, obtain equal rights for all citizens, defend trade unions and support presidential candidates.
In the 1980s and 1990s, badges became a popular tool in the defence of public health.
In 1981, HIV and AIDS were finally accepted as the global epidemic it had become. Many badges of the time defended the fight against the disease and defended those who had fallen victim to it.
After the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 and the declaration of a “war on terror” by President George W. Bush, the United States has entered an era of extreme polarization. The open-ended military campaign was not met with full support across the US. As a result, anti-war and anti-Bush badges have become a popular form of visual protest.
Although British society has made steady progress over the last hundred years, many of the causes championed throughout history are still relevant today. From climate activism, to the Me Too movement, badges are still widely used to promote a cause. Although today’s Europeans have more platforms on which to make their voices heard, it is clear that badges have remained a vital and relevant form of self-expression.