The Proliferation of Political Fashion

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Get ready for the hot new thing in the fashion world. No, it’s not another Zara dress that directly contributes to climate change and pseudo-slave labour. Instead, it is a collection that symbolises, compromises and contributes to a more ethical future and even includes, to the groan of some and joy of others, a sharp political message. 

Introducing Brother Vellies’ new collaboration with trainer brand Keds and non-profit organization ‘When We All Vote’.

The latter is a celebrity-fuelled drive, backed and co-founded by names including Michelle Obama, Tom Hanks and Lin-Manuel Miranda, which intends to increase political participation in elections and, in particular, close the race and age voting gap. 

The collection compromises of a pair of white crew socks emblazoned with the blue and red stripes of the USA – how could they survive without – and a bold ‘VOTE’ logo; second comes the sneakers, simple canvas pull-ons with a black pen addition of ‘When We All Vote’, each line handwritten by Brother Vellies’ founder Aurora James.

The brand sidesteps the traditionally ethics-washing and hypocrisy of fast fashion brands – reaping the profits of Black History Month and Pride with powerful graphic T-shirts while dodging significant confrontation of their own tacit support of racist and LGBT+ practices – by taking the revolutionary step to follow through on their promotional activity. All proceeds from the collection’s $95 sneakers and $5 from the $35 pair of socks are donated to When We All Vote.  

Before the 2018 midterms, When We All Vote organized 2,500 local voter registration events across the country, engaged 200 million Americans online about the importance of voting and texted nearly four million voters the resources to register and vote. Voter turnout reached the highest of any midterm election in a century. 

However, even this historic peak reached only 49.3 per cent – less than half the population – while even in the dramatic and especially consequential field of Presidential elections, turnout has averaged around a disappointing 57 per cent throughout the past few decades. The USA is probably the most constitutionally-boastful country in the world; we are all familiar with the white people who crow, throw and chant their freedom and various amendments like superiority volleyball across social media and Fox News. Nevertheless, the average update of American’s basic right as a democratic citizen pales in comparison to most established democracies. It is a problem and, to an even greater extent, a sign of a problem. 

Turnout has averaged around a disappointing 57% throughout the past few decades

Therein lies the issue with the simplicity of the messages emblazoned on these socks and trainers, asking the population to simply ‘VOTE’; the historical and political success of this action is as simple as the spits of ‘just be yourself’ seen on most graphic tees. It is not that easy. 

In Michelle Obama’s documentary ‘Becoming’, accompanying her best-selling book, she explained the painfulness of leaving the White House and complained of the low turnout of African-American people in particular: “It was almost like a slap in the face… people think this is a game”.

Perhaps voting is like a game. In any case, the odds are firmly stacked in favor of the house: the establishment figures who have for centuries attempted to manipulate the political system to maintain their position at the top of the status quo. Voting is a key element of this manipulation: the powerful can use their governmental, social and lobbying might to reduce the impact of the vote of the people they dislike while extolling the ability of ordinary Americans to voice their opinion at the polling booths, a background element of the failing American dream. “Why are you complaining? You can vote, can’t you?”.  

Gerrymandering of electoral boundaries, restrictions on casting ballots, impositions of stricter voter ID laws, purges of voter rolls, closing of polling places in more predominantly non-white areas and disenfranchisement of a disproportionately African-American prison population… These are all well-known tactics to repress the vote of people of colour. Since Shelby County v. Holder in 2013, which partially repealed the prohibition of racial discrimination in voting enacted through the 1965 Voting Rights Act, such discriminatory and mostly intentional manipulation has been allowed to occur with even slighter oversight. This sword is double-edged: not only are people of colour disadvantaged from voting, but their reduced statistical turnout can be used to propagate the slave-owning narrative of racial laziness and apathy. 

These socks are great. Comfy, stylish and for a great cause. However, it’s important to remember that the act and impact of voting are not as simple as turning up to a polling place and counting ballots. Especially in the time of a global pandemic, the act of voting can encompass a choice between risking one’s life and fulfilling one’s democratic duty; in an unsurprising turn of events given centuries of societal inequality, people of colour are more affected by Covid-19 too. Delegating responsibility and blame towards those who don’t vote and particularly people of colour is unhelpful, misleading and ahistorical. As always, larger structures of injustice and disadvantage should be our primary focus for change.

Image: @element5digital via Unsplash

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