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.