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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Creator of the Blue Fist Speaks Out

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Carrie Worthen created the iconic Blue Fist, which has quickly become a symbol of solidarity and a political rallying point around Wisconsin. The Appleton native graduated from UW-Milwaukee before moving to Los Angeles, where she works in design. You can find her work at www.thirdthing.com.

We sat down with her to discuss Glenn Beck's appreciation, Scott Walker's toxicity and political bathroom graffiti.

Let's start with the Blue Fist.


When this wave of legislative horrors began, the Wisconsin AFL-CIO staff created an image of a white fist in the shape of the state on a map of the Midwest. I was "The Clarifier"—I prettied-up and simplified the idea. It was spur of the moment and out of necessity, and grew from there.

It's not new, though. The raised fist is a historic protest gesture that has appeared in worker, civil rights and solidarity graphics since at least mid-century.

Why not, say, a red badger?


A rabid Republican animal foaming at the mouth and lashing out at everything in its path—pretty dang spot-on. Bravo.

The Blue Fist has hit international rallies.


Crazy, right? Lisbon, Portugal, anti-austerity rallies, and marches in El Salvador; Public Services International people in Geneva, Switzerland, and supporters in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany. I also saw photos of a roomful of Blue Fists in Toronto, before their recent national elections. Coming soon is a website: www.thebluefist.org.

Any celebrity fans?


Glenn Beck had a whole whine-fest about the Blue Fist and what he saw as, you guessed it, socialism! As for future sightings, the idea of wallpapering [House Speaker John] Boehner's crying room or Paul Ryan's Ayn Rand shrine appeals to me.

The Blue Fist has been heralded as an intersection of art and politics. To me, these two fields don't seem to have much in common.


Design is everywhere. Even though it's ubiquitous, it is totally invisible to most. You see something and you either respond to it or you don't; you don't consciously know you're reacting to its design.

Communication arts (graphic design) and politics have more in common than you might think. As a politician you've got a message to convey quickly, simply and clearly—too much flourish or disorganization and it's muddy. It is exactly the same when designing a poster, a brand or website. The things people actually hear and pay attention to are clear, simple and strong.

You were a student activist and student government president at UWM.

Not many student presidents from the School of Fine Arts. I think I was the first one. I was also the second female president ever—and the first one since the late 1960s. I ran because I was pissed. I found some great people. We put together an aggressive ad-style campaign with brands for the party, promotional materials, coordinated dorm window banners and street teams disseminating info.

But I was just a stirred-up art chick passing through. The real brawler is Stephanie Bloomingdale, who followed me, and is now the secretary-treasurer of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO.

Did anyone rally to stop you? Any anti-Worthen logos?


I had plenty of detractors, but they never got beyond the dirty-looks and graffiti-in-the-bathroom stage.

Hypothetically, a logo for Walker—a red high-speed train going to California?



Yeah, we California residents scored on that one. Thanks, Walker. All the images I can muster involve squashing, but that's too illustratively complicated to convey. Honestly, he is so toxic some new spin on the hazardous waste or radiation symbol seems very apt.

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