U.S. Out of . . .

I came of political age when the U.S. was cheerfully destabilizing governments and invading countries all around the world, so “U.S. Out of . . .” was frequently heard at rallies and seen on posters for decades. The places changed — Dominican Republic, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Chile, Nicaragua, Grenada, and so on, right up to the present — but the U.S. penchant for shoving its military weight around was remarkably consistent over time.

Not unrelated was “It’s 10 p.m. — do you know where your Marines are?” This appeared on T-shirts (no, I don’t have one in my collection), posters, and bumper stickers. I’d forgotten that this was a parody of “It’s 10 p.m. — do you know where your children are?,” an ubiquitous PSA (public service announcement) that started airing in the ’60s.

“U.S. Out of North America,” however, was a risky shirt to wear in public. People did a double-take when “of” wasn’t followed by the invaded country of the moment: huh?

Maybe they looked closer and noticed there were no state or national borders on the map.

Then they’d start to get it. This was about 1492 and 1776, the Trail of Tears, Wounded Knee, and the anti-Indian wars of the 19th century.

At that point, a few would get hostile: this was un-American, unpatriotic, etc., etc. I did not move in circles where this reaction was common, but it does explain why I was careful where I wore the shirt: political events and concerts were fine, but biking down the Mall at the height of the tourist season probably wasn’t a good idea.

The more common reaction was uneasiness. That was OK, because it made me uneasy too. It made me think of the damage European nation-states had done to the continent and the people who lived on it. I was the direct descendant and beneficiary of that damage, as were most of the people I knew then (or know now). It made me think of the U.S. as a political and economic system that was neither native to the continent nor inevitable.

Poking around online just now, I learned that the slogan is still out there. In 2006, singer-songwriter Hannah Maris released an album titled, you guessed it, U.S. Out of North America. The album cover shows her, back to the camera, wearing a T-shirt that reads, above an image of Native people, “HOMELAND SECURITY,” and, below the image, “Fighting terrorism since 1492.” That slogan surfaced in the wake of 9/11 and the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security, but I don’t recall seeing that particular design before. Now I’m looking for a way to listen to the album without joining Spotify.

My online search turned up a T-shirt with the same slogan but a different design — and this button, with the same design and color combination as my shirt. Along the bottom it reads “Social-Revolutionary Anarchist Federation,” which I’d never heard of so of course I looked it up. According to Wikipedia’s lengthy entry on anarchism, it was a network in the 1970s that “connected individuals and circles across the country through a mimeographed monthly discussion bulletin.” My T-shirt gives no hint as to who produced it, but either button and T-shirt were designed by the same person or the designer of one copied the design of the other.

The same paragraph, in the “Late 20th century and contemporary times” section of the Wikipedia entry, refers to the Movement for a New Society (MNS) and the related New Society Publishers, both of which I was familiar with in the 1970s and ’80s; a couple of the latter’s books are still on my shelves. MNS’s work in movement building and consensus decision-making had a huge influence on the anti-nuke movement, with which I had quite a bit of contact.


As I write this, another U.S.-based occupation force is using big trucks to tie up traffic and hamstring the economies of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and some European countries. Their ultimate goal seems to be to destabilize democracy in those countries and, of course, in the U.S. itself. If it weren’t February and bloody cold out, I might start wearing this T-shirt out in public again.

1978: Justice on the Job

Stepping back a bit in time here: This is from the Washington Hospital Center nurses’ strike in May–June 1978. I’ve got several shirts from events, causes, and groups that I was at most peripherally involved in, and this is one of them. The strike went on for 31 days, so I might have joined the picket line once or twice, though this seems unlikely: I didn’t have a car and I did have a 9-to-5 job. I might have known someone who worked there, or I might just have wanted to support the strikers by wearing the shirt. In the women’s community we showed up for each other’s rallies, events, picket lines, meetings — if it involved women fighting for justice, we helped pass the word and mobilize support.

This graphic might have been the reason I got the shirt: I love it. The small print says “whc nurses strike 1978.”

A Washington Post story from May 27, 1978, led with this: “The Washington Hospital Center has more than quadrupled its security force in the face of a threatened strike by registered nurses called for this morning.” It quoted the president of the nurses’ union expressing outrage that “the Washington Hospital Center has seen fit to hire 93 additional guards. The Hospital Center’s vicious attempt to intimidate and divide us should be protested by all responsible citizens.”

Sound familiar? Keep in mind that this was two and a half years before the union-busting Reagan administration took office. When I revisit press clips from the late 1970s, it often feels that the ensuing four decades somehow wound up on the cutting-room floor. This is especially striking (sorry!) when it comes to the environmental movement. We knew all this stuff by 1979 but the economic and political powers that be did precious little about it. (See my blog post on the subject: “1979: Three Mile Island, etc.“)

This Flickr site includes a photo of picketing nurses on the first day of the strike, and a good account of the issues involved, starting with this:

The strike by about 300 of the 425 registered nurses by the District of Columbia Nurses Association (DCNA) at the area’s largest private hospital was mainly over schedules and performance evaluations, but also involving benefits and wages.

Prior to the strike, the hospital administration attempted to decertify the union, filing a petition with the National Labor Relations Board challenging its representation of the nurses.

The independent nurses union was only a little over a year old at the time having been certified in December 1976 and obtaining a first contract in May 1977.

When striking nurses attempted to go into the pool at other hospitals, they found that the Hospital Center administration had sought to blackball them. While initially getting hours at Howard Hospital, that administration banned them during the strike.

The strike ended on June 26, when the nurses accepted WHC’s final offer. The results were mixed. The Flickr article notes, “Perhaps the biggest gain of the strike was the nurses preserved their union.”

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