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Unquiet Artists and activists knew all along that stories can change the world

Since its beginnings in 2018 March for Our Lives has grown from a grassroots organization into a globally recognized initiative empowering the voices of young people and lobbying for active change around gun reform. Following a number of successful protests and rallies the founders are now turning their attention to activism through art with the launch of Unquiet, their first zine. Ione Gamble speaks to creative director Veronika Shulman to find out why Unquiet is the next phase in their peaceful protests.

Artwork by emulsify
The idea behind the zine is to use our voices as our weapons until everyone is safe.

It’s hard to believe that March for Our Lives, the US- based youth organization fighting for gun control, is only two years old. Founded in the aftermath of the Parkland, Florida school shooting, the activist group has led a nationwide campaign to advocate for the end of gun violence through protests and rallies, and made great strides for an organization not yet in its toddler years. Giving young people a chance to make their voice heard, the group has proven that today's teens are worthy of being listened to. And not only by their peers, but also by politicians.

One activist from the organisation, Emma Gonzalez, has become one of the most recognizable people to emerge from the movement; appearing across the media, and amassing over one and a half million social media followers. Her passionate speeches at rallies following the tragedy at her high school opened the wider worlds’ eyes to the issues of gun violence and school shootings in America, with her work as part of the group leading to policy change in her home state of Florida.

Artwork by Amber Ibarreche
Artwork by Sly Watts

In the group’s latest project, a zine, Emma’s name appears in the masthead as editor-in-chief, with the 20-year-old previously taking to Twitter to call the project her “baybe”. Working alongside creative director Veronika Shulman, the March for Our Lives team reached out to creative young people across the United States for contributions on how gun violence affects their lives, — resulting in a 21 page print publication called Unquiet. “The idea behind the zine is to use our voices as our weapons until everyone is safe, and that's why it's called Unquiet.” Speaking to Veronika over the phone, it’s clear that the LA native has always been involved in grassroots methods of activism, from working with the youth literary organisation Get Lit, to creating zines for distribution amongst policy makers for the United Nations’ International Day of Peace. Emma, a contributor to the United Nations project, reached out to Veronika for help in creating the first in what hopes to be many zines published by March for Our Lives. Veronika tells me, “Emma had this whole vision of what the name should be, what the manifesto should be and what the whole vibe of it should be; which was very much centered around creating communities and not being quiet until everyone is safe.”

“The zine is a chance to shine a light on super diverse, intersectional young voices from around the world. We want to show that we can change gun safety policies through our art and poetry by changing people's perceptions.” Like all the best zines are, Unquiet’s pages are filled with emotional, visceral pieces of creative work splashed full bleed across the publications pages. Largely a combination of poetry and various forms of visual art, the pieces are presented across blood spattered pages, penned on typewriters, collaged with florals –— and seen next to hand-drawn doodles, digitally created art, multimedia pieces and more. The group are not fused together by similar artistic styles or outputs, but instead a mission to make the world a better place.

Artwork by Victoria Phan

The zine is comparable to the best of self-publishing that can currently be found flourishing in the IRL world. Zine culture in particular has seen a surge in popularity during the last half a decade, with many activists, artists and creative minds reclaiming publishing methods from an industry that traditionally shuts out those who are not bathed in privilege. From Gal-Dem and my own publication Polyester in the UK, to Cry Baby and Leste in North America, the best of publishing is arguably no longer produced by big media conglomerates. Instead, the future of print lies in the hands of young groups of people working collectively with the resources available to them.

Opening with a manifesto, the first lines of the zine are as follows: “Unquiet is a peaceful protest. A space for the enraged, the indignant, and the ready to stand; To get loud, be free, and stay open. Forever.” But with so much of our activism being moved online –— be that through hashtags, personal brands, or social media campaigns –— it’s arguably easier than ever to be loud on a social media platform with perceived infinite potential to project your message. Why was it important to create a physical publication at this moment in time? “We were just going to do it virtually, but then it kind of started to get bigger and bigger,” Veronika explains. “It became this passion of ours to do this very old school analogue type of propaganda in honour of all of the rebels and subversives that were never given permission to enter the building, and just to honour youth culture as more exciting than traditional political culture.”

Unquiet is a peaceful protest. A space for the enraged, the indignant, and the ready to stand.

Not only that, but physical zines allow their audience to cut through the noise of life online, and spend time connecting with the issues presented in its pages. While occupying space on the internet is an important plight, the physical action of making yourself visible in print allows readers and contributors alike the opportunity to feel a part of something tangible. “With technology and everything disappearing into the cloud, I feel like there's so much opportunity to make ourselves smaller. Really what we should be doing is just showing how strange and beautiful we are and making ourselves bigger,” Veronika says.

While the internet once felt like it gave us the ability to amplify what matters the most, to find community and to share what’s important to us; in recent years existing freely in URL spaces has become more difficult and restrictive. With shadowbans, content restrictions, and censorship of marginalized people, more and more of us are looking for ways to move our politics from apps and into real spaces. Veronika agrees, “I think that people need an identity in the digital age, it can feel so anaemic –— and people need an identity to get behind. When we craft these beautiful artistic zines, it helps us to feel like part of something.”

Artwork by Cedeara
When we craft these beautiful artistic zines, it helps us to feel like part of something.

Traditional activism has often called upon artists in order to spread their message, and Veronika cites ‘Love Wins’ as a visual campaign that inspired Unquiet. However, a creative project of this size is a new plight for March for Our Lives. As they moved into the next phase of their work, the newly appointed executive director Alexis Confer “said that she wanted to make art one of their core tenets.” Veronika explains that the zine is not only created with the idea of uniting their community in mind, but to also present the publication to policymakers and lobbyists. She says, “the only thing that changes laws is public will, so I think that we've realized that everything is doable if we just all band together.” While zines have long been used to spread information amongst like-minded people, to document history and to cement community, often the medium is fairly introspective. They band people together under a united cause, but often do more to promote allyship than systematic change. While one plight is not more important than the other, March for Our Lives has created a publication that is aiming to do both.

Unquiet isn’t full of facts, graphs, and information to back up the group's beliefs. Instead, it's a zine that prioritizes the feelings and emotions of the artists and contributors who feel passionately about the need for gun control, and the effect gun violence has had on their lives. Veronika believes art plays a pivotal role in providing much needed relief in response to our increasingly right wing governments and subsequent hardship. “It’s a very, very hyper-capitalist approach that we're seeing in our government in America right now. People are feeling suffocated, claustrophobic and limited by it.”

Instead of mimicking the policy makers black and white approach to the issues that affect our lives, Unquiet finds solidarity in looking beyond trauma, and the joy in creating something meaningful. To move towards a creative model, at this time in the organization's life, made total sense to March for Our Lives. Veronika tells me, “in a weird way, it's this hyper-capitalist approach that is paving the way for soft power to have its place now. Artists and activists knew all along that stories can change the world.” Through illustration, creative writing, and poetry the zine allows us a peek into the minds and hearts of the contributors, using creativity as their tool of choice when connecting with audiences. “The harder industry is, the more we're feeling let down by those in power. We're now leaning on artists and creatives to open up the world.”

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