Pushing Buttons: In Our Divided America, Political Pinbacks Give Anyone a Voice

Top: A group of Americana pinbacks from Aisthorpe’s collection. Above: Several of Aisthorpe’s antiwar buttons, circa 1967-1971.

“In this modern age of political polarization, we Americans increasingly surround ourselves with friends, neighbors, and news sources that reinforce our worldviews rather than challenge them. As we spend more of our days online, such divisions are heightened by algorithms that feed on our unchecked desire for affirmation, conveniently hiding opposing perspectives. But amid these isolating echo chambers, the success of political pinbacks offers a small beacon of hope—a quaintly analog way of voicing opinions on touchy topics that’s survived more than a century of civic turmoil, and will surely outlast the current siren call of social media. … John Aisthorpe, who started acquiring pins during the Vietnam War era, regularly sees new buttons emblazoned with vintage slogans and iconography, reinvigorating old causes for a new generation of engaged citizens. Since his adolescent introduction to politics, Aisthorpe has built a vast collection of pins, particularly related to the social and political movements of the 1960s and ’70s, which he posts on Show & Tell under the name PoliticalPinbacks. ‘Today, I have 2,000 to 3,000 that are displayed and probably another thousand or more in boxes,’ Aisthorpe says. ‘I’ve kind of become a button glutton.’ Despite the unchanged, old-fashioned design of most buttons, Aisthorpe says he often receives comments on their growing relevance today. We recently spoke to Aisthorpe about his wide-ranging pin collection and the perils of a political-memorabilia habit. … They must have had some effect. The largest protest of the Vietnam War took place on Nov 15, 1969, with more than 500,000 people in Washington, D.C., alone, and speeches by antiwar politicians including representatives like Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern, who were Democrats, and Charles Goodell, a Republican. It also included performances by Peter, Paul and Mary; Arlo Guthrie; and Pete Seeger, who led the crowd in the singing of John Lennon’s ‘Give Peace a Chance.’ …”
Collectors Weekly

Left, a button protesting the treatment of the Chicago Seven in 1968. Right, a 1986 pinback against CIA recruitment on college campuses.

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