Friday, September 19, 2008

Armbands 101

I have decided to do a series of retrospective posts. I've been doing a few interviews and some planning for the 10 year anniversary of Matt's murder. I've also been talking with the American Heritage Center (love you, Keith!) about putting some of my archives/momentos/etc into a collection there. I am actually HONORED to be able to share these stories with you all. It means so much to know there’s “another generation” who care and are willing to learn. And I suspect some of the "old guard" will remember some of this, and hopefully smile, even if at times it's through tears. This first post is about the yellow armbands.

The armbands were first created by the United Multicultural Council, which was a fairly new student organization at the time. They wanted to do something that would allow students and staff to VISIBLY show their support for the GLBT community and to make a statement against violence. The yellow was inspired by the yellow ribbons used after the Oklahoma City bombing. The green circle is the international symbol of peace.

In order to create the armbands, we simply took yellow fabric and cut it into uniform strips. We then used green craft paint from the Campus Activities Cenver, also available in the craft aisle of any department store. We unscrewed the lid to the paint and poured it into disposable plates, then used the bottom of the paint lids as a “stamp.” It kept things uniform, was easy to clean, and meant we didn’t have to be artists. They were then hung on makeshift clotheslines strung throughout the old CAC. Back then there were pillars and desks and things, and we used string to create mass drying areas. We used the clothesline, couches, chairs…any surface where they could dry. They made over 1000 armbands the first day, and bought the fabric at Wal-Mart.

As it was just before Homecoming and EVERYONE on campus was feeling what happened to Matt, the armbands flew out the door. They passed them out in the Breezeway, and they were all gone in a matter of hours. Students from many groups (and even random individuals) volunteered to make more, and they stayed until the early morning. They went back to Wal-Mart to get more fabric and paint. When they found out what it was for, Wal-Mart refused to accept payment for the fabric. Instead, they simply asked “How do you want this cut?” and then the craft department spent their time cutting the armbands so the students only had to paint and dry them.
Production continued for days, and eventually there was no more yellow fabric available in Laramie. Someone must have called a friend, because at one point we got a phone call that some students from CSU were driving up from Fort Collins. They’d passed a hat around and bought as much yellow fabric as they could afford, and they intended to hand deliver it so nobody had to drive to get it.

The Casper Star Tribune printed the symbol full page in color so people throughout the state could display them. They created a banner with the symbol to march behind in the Homecoming parade. It was behind this symbol that a group of 100 turned into over 1000. It was behind this symbol that we spoke in front of the Newman Center at a candlelight vigil…with a crowd nearing 1500. The volleyball team used them to tie back their hair during games for the rest of the season. The football team had it turned into a sticker and wore them on their helmets for the rest of their season. I also saw the symbol in Washington DC when I spoke at the vigil held on the steps of the Capitol. Someone had found a copy of the Casper Star or scanned it from the internet, but there it was. In the window of an apartment just off Dupont Circle, and only 4 days after the Homecoming game. Love travels quickly.

We brought the armbands back for an anniversary. Phelps was going to be here for the Homecoming game, so we organized a Peaceful Positive Presence. Once again the Union was littered with yellow scraps and string…and hope and love. Most of the marching band wore the armband during that game, and we didn’t take any home. I eventually got the yellow threads off my living room carpet. In an odd way, I was sad to see them go.

My heart still swells when I see a dirty, dingy, faded, or tattered armband. On a backpack. On a car’s rear-view mirror. In an office. How powerful and amazing, that a few scraps of cloth and craft paint could unite thousands of strangers and neighbors with a simple message of peace and non-violence. And how universal the message. Couldn’t we all use more peace and non-violence in 2008?
Next time: Angel Action

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