Punk activism and a t-shirt design

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Punk activism and a t-shirt design

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By Elliot Pending

This past September, I was commissioned by a friend, Benny, to create a t-shirt design for an upcoming tour of his band, Self Defense Family,  which took place in mid-December. The design I was tasked to make is a parody of the album cover for The Day the Country Died by the Subhumans. Punk activism is still heavily prevalent in the new cover but in addition to this, the issue of recent legislation is the modern conversation. Holding a flag that says “NO SESTA NO FOSTA” is an activist who fights to advocate for incarcerated sex workers, specifically, incarcerated sex workers who are most often Black Women, with increasing rates of Black, Latino, and Trans Women. This information comes from SWOP Behind Bars, the organization the said activist works with. SESTA/FOSTA is a combo of the bill Stop Enabling Sex Trafficker Act and Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act. Because of the SESTA/FOSTA bills, SESTA signed in November 2017, and FOSTA signed in April 2018, Sex Workers lives are being threatened more than ever. The SESTA/FOSTA bills are disguised as protection against sex trafficking but in reality, are doing more harm than what it claims to prevent.

Benny explains that the Subhumans and other Anarcho-Punk bands, like Crass, were some of the main influences him and his band grew up with. This influence contributes to how the band plays and “who we are as people” Benny says. He also tells me that “CRASS changed the game for everyone”. As opposed to other punk bands, CRASS didn’t use Anarchist imagery for shock-value (Benny uses the Sex Pistols as an example of who does). CRASS was part of the first wave of British Anarcho-Punk, and their “obscenities” were genuine. So genuine that they were prosecuted on multiple occasions. On the topic of authenticity, Benny says “They had their own font (perhaps the most DIY thing you can do)” They had such a large impact that bands such as Rudimentary Peni and Zounds used CRASS font in their own designs.

The focal point of the referenced album is the spiked hair and twisted face of a man with blood spewing out of his mouth because of a bullet coming from out of frame. The design is grotesque and humorously disturbing. The elements of the original that was used in the adaptation include frightening angry cops, a defiant person in the foreground, destruction, and a Priest calmly watching the madness. Benny says “Our shirts are very often referential to other bands or art ideas past.  I would like to think we are dabbling in relational aesthetics; a friend recently described what we do as ‘post-modern copyright infringement.’” Like was said in the introduction, an Activist from Sex Workers Outreach Project Behind Bars (SWOP) replaces the original person but the stance, expression, and bullet stay. Another addition is a bold flag that says “NO SESTA NO FOSTA” in the raised fist of our new individual as she is being pursued by the police.

Recent legislation signed by Donald Trump has gone through, April of 2018, has given states and Sex Trafficking victims the power to take legal action against websites that have enabled sex traffickers. Action can now be taken against websites who have assisted trafficking with full knowledge or simply allowing the crime to continue (Horn). Many websites have responded with banning ‘inappropriate’ altogether (Olsen). The acts included in this bill are the Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act, and the allow states to Fight Online Sex Traffickers Act. This bill overrides the Communications Decency Act which protects websites from being prosecuted for what their users post. So far changes to policy have been made by Microsoft’s Xbox and Skype, Craigslist has removed its “Erotic Services”, Reddit has banned multiple Sex Worker subreddits, and the most important of all, Backpage has been seized. (Olsen, Erellis)

Although the said purpose of these acts is to promote the safety of victims/possible victims of sex trafficking, it is doing more harm than what it is intended to reduce. Many of the websites that these acts effects are social platforms that Sex Workers use for communication to stay safe. Nat Paul, a new appointee of the U.S. Advisory Council, and former sex worker says that Sex work and Sex Trafficking are two completely different things. Paul explains that sex workers choose to trade services while sex trafficking victims are forced to against their will. She worries that much violence will come without these forums that Sex Workers use to screen clients before engaging and to inform other Sex Workers of safety hazards such as dangerous clients. In a paper by Baylor University and the University of West Virginia, it was found that the homicide rate of women was reduced by 17.4% when the Craigslist ‘Erotic Services’ was used to screen clients (Erellis). In this short amount of time that the bill has been in place, there have been many changes. Although one change that the bill sought out for, the incrimination of Sex Traffickers, has not come. In fact, there have been no Trafficking charges against any user of Backpage, the ‘infamous’ Sex Trafficking enabler (Erellis).

Four months in the making and in December my design hits Self Defense Family’s tour in California, Oregan, and Washington; It was a success in terms of both a job and the passion of the band. As I was told by Benny, my design, put onto black crewnecks with white ink, was a bestseller, and if I ever go to the west coast I just may see someone wearing my work. My honor for creating artwork for a friend doesn’t just stop there. Being able to inform the public about a far-reaching issue in such a way as an “angsty, angry” (Benny says), Crass inspired t-shirt design is a glorious feeling. I hope that my design and Self Defense Family’s music will promote change in the anti-FOSTA/SESTA movements. For more information on SESTA/FOSTA, go here.

Works Cited

Errelis, Anne. “How SESTA/FOSTA Is Going To Affect Us All.” The Pacific Center,


Accessed 10 Jan. 2019

Horn, Tina. “How a New Senate Bill Will Screw Over Sex Workers.” Rolling Stone, Rolling Stone, 25 June

2018, www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-features/how-a-new-senate-bill-will-screw-over-sex-workers-205311/.

Accessed 10 Jan. 2019

Jackman, Tom. “House Passes Anti-Online Sex Trafficking Bill, Allows Targeting of Websites like

Backpage.com.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 27 Feb. 2018, www.washingtonpost.com/news/true-crime/wp/2018/02/27/house-passes-anti-online-sex-trafficking-bill-allows-targeting-of-websites-like-backpage-com/?utm_term=.adfe4e1d11b3.

Accessed 10 Jan. 2019

Olson, Mathew. “Tumblr Moves To Ban All ‘Adult Content’ — Here’s Why That Matters ” Digg, 3 Dec 2018, 2018digg.com/2018/tumblr-explicit-adult-content-policy-ban-december.

Accessed 10 Jan. 2019

Romano, Aja. “A New Law Intended to Curb Sex Trafficking Threatens the Future of the Internet as We Know It.” Vox.com, Vox Media, 2 July 2018, www.vox.com/culture/2018/4/13/17172762/fosta-sesta-backpage-230-internet-freedom.

Accessed 10 Jan. 2019

“Stop SESTA/FOSTA.” Stop SESTA/FOSTA, stopsesta.org/.

Accessed 10 Jan, 2019.

“SWOP Behind Bars (SBB).” SWOP Behind Bars (SBB), 27 Aug. 2016, swopbehindbars.org/.

Lampen, Claire. “Trump Signs Controversial ‘Sex-Trafficking’ Bill That Could Hurt the Future of the Internet.” The Daily Dot, 12 Apr. 2018, www.dailydot.com/debug/what-is-sesta-fosta-bill/.