‘For the People’: The Radical Artists Collective Repping Chicago Movements [INTERVIEW]
For the People Artists Collective (FTP) is entering a new season. This past year, their actions and art supported the successful #ByeAnita campaign, which advocated against the re-election of former State’s Attorney, Anita Alvarez, for her role in the Laquan McDonald video cover-up. The video showed the young black man being shot 16 times by Chicago Police.
I chatted with Monica Trinidad, an artist and organizer living in Chicago, and a co-founder of the FTP collective. She reflected on where FTP has been and where the group hopes to go in the future. She emphasized to me that FTP has a message: that art is an essential component of organizing and that organizing is, itself, an art.
BYP: Can you tell me what For the People is and when it got started?
MONICA TRINIDAD, FTP: FTP is a radical squad of black artists and artists of color in Chicago. We make artwork for different grassroots movements—especially organizations that are interested in social justice work and liberation. We got started in January 2016 and we just celebrated our one-year anniversary with an FTP art showcase. I’m excited to see what we accomplish next year.
We’re trying to make it clear that art is integral to organizing. Artists are organizers in their own way. Organizing is an art on its own. Not only do we do work for other organizations, but we also participate in campaigns and participate and launch our own. We are actively part of the process of activism.
“Cultural organizing” is what makes us different. It’s the middle ground between art and activism. Not only are we creating art to uplift struggle and survival but we’re also creating art to inspire, motivate and continue pushing ourselves and other organizers towards doing this work. We’re creating artwork that gives us this vision of what we are actually fighting for.
Another key piece is that when we’re creating art for an organization, we’re not just getting a request. We try to sit down with them, we talk to them about what their campaign goals are and what they are trying to accomplish. We want to be at the table with them and be a part of the decision making process. That’s really important. Art is not an accessory to an event. It’s integral.
BYP: What are some of the projects that FTP has started/ participated in?
FTP: We participated in 4 campaigns. The #ByeAnita campaign was the most well known. We did a lot of the artwork and posters and art parties to prep for actions. We also participated in actions with other young queer black femme organizers. What was unique about the campaign is that we never endorsed a candidate: we made it work without having to lobby.
We worked on the Stop ITOA (Illinois Tactical Officers Association) campaign. They train police in SWAT tactics and have been around for 30 years. They had workshops in policing post-Ferguson, and we organized to bring awareness, tying policing and militarization. This was the most exciting besides #ByeAnita, since we were involved in organizing from day one. We were involved in research, artwork, banners, and we planned direct actions: 15 people were arrested for blocking Michigan Avenue during the Chicago Marathon. Some of our artists were arrested as well.
BYP: Who are some of the artists involved in FTP?
FTP: One of our artists is Leila Abdelrazaq. She is an amazing Palestinian artist/ activist/ organizer. She works around Palestinian liberation in Chicago, and recently published a book called Baddawi. She and a few organizers in Chicago started a collective called Muslims Organize, which I think is especially important in light of the incoming administration.
Another artist of ours is Bria Royal, a black/ Puerto Rican artist who does a lot of healing justice artwork. She makes zines on transformative justice, mental illness, bipolar disorder, and does banner work. She organizes our finances and has been involved since day one.
BYP: What are your plans for 2017?
FTP: We’re working on an exhibit that we just received funding for through the Propeller Fund called “100 Years of Police Violence in Chicago.” We’re building on work that’s been done, in particular, an exhibit by Mariame Kaba/ Project NIA called “Black and Blue: History and Current Manifestations of Policing, Violence & Resistance,” and a pop up-art exhibition that was organized during the Reparations Now campaign [last year] in city hall by organizers like Page May. It displayed dozens of incidents of police violence in Chicago over the decades: Red Summer, the murder of Fred Hampton, and many more.
The goal is to show that these incidents of police violence are not isolated. There is a whole legacy, a systemic aspect of policing itself, where policing equals violence. We’re shifting from the issue of “police violence” to challenging policing itself. We want to pair our exhibits with teach-ins and workshops, and we’re also hoping to invite Emory Douglas.
We’re also working on an internal political education for our artists this year. We have 12 core artists and 6 more in the network. We want to do more monthly field trips to art spaces in Chicago and skill shares. We hope to focus on more internal political and art education, and more historical education. We want to visit the old site of the Wall of Respect mural, a moment that was a part of the Black Arts movement in Chicago.
BYP: What does the city of Chicago mean to FTP and why is FTP important for Chicago?
FTP: FTP is important for Chicago because so many of our struggles are so invisibilized. We face intentional invisibilization by the city, by the mayor. Being able to connect with smaller grassroots campaigns being able to uplift those struggles is so important. That is the main reason why we exist and why we do what we do.
Rahm Emanuel is naming 2017 as the “Year of Public Art” and is planning to invest millions of dollars in public art. This is a slap in the face to public education, mental health. Why can’t this be the year of public education? Of defunding the police? Why can’t it be both and? Who is this art going to benefit? We know that once the city starts investing money to fund murals in specific neighborhoods, that’s the first sign of gentrification. We’re ready to challenge it and bring attention.
BYP: Is there anything you want our readers to know?
FTP: I want to make sure people know that artists have a place in the movement. A lot of times are artists have shared with us that, before FTP, they felt like they had no place in these struggles, no place in the movement for black lives and felt very isolated. I want people to remember that art is so integral to organizing, to movement. We’re inspired by Emory Douglas, the Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party. He said that artists cannot sit in their ivory towers; they need to be down on the ground with the people to make art and uplift the struggles and the stories of survival.
Photo Credits: FTP