Letterpress United: No to War
What happens when a Norwegian, two Italians, an American, a Russian, a Chilean, and a Brit connect online over analog printing? Letterpress United, “dedicated to connecting and supporting letterpress printers from all over the world.” We came together initially for a one-off project dubbed United in Isolation, a livestream online festival of informal shop talks and studio tours that aired weekly during the first few months of the covid pandemic. It was an exhilarating and exhausting run of ten weeks, featuring 40 speakers coordinated across every time zone and almost every continent. We attempted a second season in Fall of 2020 and pulled off one episode before each teammate had to prioritize duties closer to home, tending our differently difficult new daily lives.
A few weeks ago, our Russian teammate was arrested for printing and distributing antiwar posters. It was a shock to us all. For me personally, it was sobering and terrifying to a degree that’s hard to speak. I take for granted my ability to print whatever words I want to print. Talking with my Russian friend on the day of the invasion of Ukraine, hearing his shame and shock, and in the days since he was released (with strong censorship and great uncertainty), has sent echoes deep through me of my own shameful feelings regarding my government over the course of my life, contrasted always with the daily comfort I continue to enjoy. It’s a reality that’s impossible to reconcile. Being confronted with it most hours of most days right now feels necessary and awful.
Already there were many movements to support Ukraine happening among the print community, benefit posters and lots of speaking out and solidarity. The arrest of our friend caused the Letterpress United team to convene and discuss our feelings of what was happening and what we could do. It was a great consolation to once again experience our commonality and connection across the planet — half of us have never met in person! Watching a lot of independent prints and posts happening, we decided to launch a call for antiwar posters with the goal of unifying the international print community around a single message, “No to War,” expressed in every language possible. We were motivated first by Russian’s invasion of Ukraine, and second by our friend’s arrest. However our conversation reached a deeper level quickly, about the contradictory nature of being an outsider to the situation and speaking out against war only now, when there have been and are so many other wars around the world. Just not ones we’ve been confronted with so starkly in our news and social media feeds.
We’re not quite three weeks in to the call and we’ve received about a hundred submissions so far — each day we’re trying to keep it down to 50 unread emails or less! The response has been truly astonishing, heartening, and heartbreaking, with people writing in and sending prints from literally all over the world. Denmark. New Zealand. California. Argentina. Romania. Uruguay. Poland. Greece. Australia. Iceland. Brazil. Canary Islands. And on and on and on. We’re posting a few submissions each day on Instagram and Facebook. The full call and info on how to participate is pinned at the top of our Facebook page, and I'm publishing it here too, below. We don’t have a website yet or anywhere the initiative is well-cohered. For now, Letterpress United is decentralized in about every way you can be. It is beautiful to see what can come of a passionate few feeling deeply and calling out honestly to a passionate many.
I recognize and thank my teammates Andrea Torres, Tipomóvil, Santiago, Chile; Andrea Vendetti & Elettra Scotucci, Slab Letterpress, Rome, Italy; Andreas Brekke, Oslo, Norway; Carl Middleton, Studio B, Milverton, UK; and our Russian friend whom, with his consent, we have agreed not to name nor involve directly in the current project. Hoping for his safety and all those deeply in sudden need.
I made a new collection on my site, Protest prints, for a place to house these kinds of projects that sadly keep being needed. Given that I own multiple presses and have the freedom to use them, I feel a strong responsibility to continue printing in support of communities less fortunate than me. As the world falls apart around us, there is something each of us can do each day. For me, that’s inking up words of poetry and protest, putting them on paper, and distributing them. I listed my “No to War” poster on a sliding scale, if you get one I encourage you to find a Ukrainian aid org (links at end to get you started) to donate to and/or a local org to support, and choose a direct action to take beyond donating. If you do, I’d love to hear about it. Also about what you do to face these impossible days in small ways. Thank you.
Letterpress United Call for Antiwar Posters
Published on 6 March 2022
“As a Letterpress United team, we decided to launch a call for antiwar posters to involve letterpress printers from all over the world.
The events of these days in Ukraine are just the latest regarding the use of war as an extreme tool of oppression, and since they are happening in a Western country they are more covered by the media. Way too often, however difficult it is to see it at times, conflicts are not so much about nations or peoples as they are about a wider political and economic vision that divides the world between the untouchable and the defenseless. It is always the weakest who pay the price for this distorted vision, to the benefit of a handful of people who expand their economic influence in an uncontrolled manner. We are tired of this, and frightened by the possible scenarios that could open up.
Some of us have already expressed ourselves individually on these issues, but what pushed us to act collectively and systemically was the arrest of a Russian friend of ours for printing and distributing antiwar posters. He has now been released, but we fear that his troubles have only just begun (for this reason we are not involving or tagging him directly). This is something we cannot accept in any way. Freedom of expression, carried out through a poster or in any other way, is inalienable, and cannot be attacked. This is one of the main reasons why we turn to our community, to bring solidarity to anyone who is having difficulty expressing their ideas.
We are perfectly aware of the contradictions that can arise from this kind of initiative. We know that printing a poster only to put it on social networks, as noble as it may seem in this context, makes little sense: we are seeing photos and videos that, unfortunately, make us think in a more direct way. Mitigating our sense of powerlessness with actions that do not have a real impact in the world does not interest us. Beauty alone will not save the world, we need concrete actions. With this call we want to avoid focusing on ourselves as individuals and our personal expression that, as such, has limits.
What we want to emphasize with this action, on the contrary, is the presence of a real community that can try to respond, with a voice at the same time unique and plural, in a united way to the problems that society presents us, demonstrating our existence and our point of view in a clear and understandable way. We want to make our voice heard clearly on the collective theme of freedom of expression and the rejection of war.
Exactly as in the case of the pandemic, each of us printers is living in a different situation, and this will change over time. In this context a plural response, able to cross borders while maintaining the same simple and fundamental message, acquires more value, bringing out the solidarity that for us is fundamental. We also feel strongly that it is important for us to show solidarity in all of our own languages, so that we are involving our home communities and saying, literally in every language possible, that war is not acceptable anywhere in the world. In addition, to try to bring more of our demands on a real level, we encourage any concrete action that may arise from the posters of this call, such as fundraising, sticking posters in the streets and distribution of a digital and printable version for free.
In order to keep this response as unified and collective as possible, and to maintain a coherence with what is written above, we invite you to print a poster using black ink with “no to war” printed in your own language, with your name or press name and location if you feel safe to add that info. We will collect images of all of these posters and try to spread them as much as possible, witnessing a collective response of printers around the world to the issues expressed above. To submit, email a photo of your print and your name, press name, and place to: email@example.com. We will post everything to our instagram and facebook pages, please include your IG handle so we can tag you. If you are sharing contents related to this topic, remember to tag @letterpressunited and use the hashtags #letterpressunited and #notowar. We welcome any size, doesn't have to be big, and there is no deadline. We are a team of volunteers and will continue posting as long as we can.
From our hearts to yours, thank you. Grazie. Gracias. Takk.”
Letterpress United Instagram page and Facebook page. Also here’s the spectacular archive of United in Isolation videos.
Links and actions to support Ukrainians, sourced directly from Ukrainians.
My friend iea tov served in the Peace Corps in Ukraine and maintains close connections there. They recently sent me this specific, well-researched, and deeply thoughtful resource list, including links curated by Tommy Boyd who also served in Ukraine. I am sharing here by iea’s permission.
“Structural Support (donations):
There are groups that are sustaining supplies humanitarianly & militarily. I encourage you to find some to donate to. I have listed some below.
---Neighboring Countries: Consider ways you can support the refugee organizations in neighboring countries who have seen nearly 4 million refugees come through their borders. Those nations have graciously opened their territory and homes to help but need sustained support to be able to continue to do this.
---Within Ukraine: Here is a list curated by a good friend:
Most frequently mentioned in my exchanges with Ukrainians:
Support Ukraine Now – Incredibly comprehensive crowdsourced page: contains supply requests, how you can support, petitions, social media, protests, how to join the Foreign Legion, etc. This site is supported by the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine.
Next batch of most frequently mentioned organizations from Ukrainians:
Nova Poshta – A private Ukrainian and postal courier company. You can send them humanitarian aid items directly. You can also donate to their initiative which is offering free delivery throughout Ukraine, including support to the Ukrainian Army.
*Nova Ukraine Humanitarian Aid
US-based actions to take:
Contact Your Representatives & the White House:
---Immigration: At this point, the US still isn’t even allowing Ukrainians with families here to come, let alone having a direct classification that Ukrainians are refugees to open the border to them. I’ve been doing a lot of research recently to try and figure out how our immigration system works. It’s infuriating that we make it extra hard on people whose lives have been upended - and this goes beyond Ukrainians, just think about the humanitarian crisis for Afghans or how we treat people from crossing the border in Mexico. I urge you to write to your politician to change this process and expedite a better system, especially for refugees.
---Close the Sky: This is something Ukrainian leaders and citizens have been united in pushing for. There are creative ways that this could happen. However, no one has taken up the challenge to figure this out. Instead, it’s a direct no. Zelensky has laid out alternatives to a full out close the sky like equipping them with jets and other equipment but we’re excruciatingly slow in making these happen as well. I urge you to write to your representatives to make the passing of jets to Ukrainians happen at the very least.
Get in touch with your local Refugee support organization: I encourage you to contact your local refugee support organization. They are always in need of supplies, funds, or places where refugees can land for a moment. I encourage you to get involved not just for Ukrainians’ sake but for all those who have had to make a decision about survival that no one should ever have to make.
Look for your local Ukrainian community organization: they have fundraisers or connections that they’ll recommend donating to.
Find a local protest to go to: I’m not on social media, but have found stopputin.net to be helpful in finding local protests. However, you may find other opportunities via facebook.”
—iea tov, 21 March 2022, shared by permission
Another org to directly support Ukrainian refugees: helpingtoleave.org. Based in Georgia, managed by a good friend of my Russian friend who sparked our No to War posters.