How Nike trainers became the latest unlikely symbol of revolt
They are pretty ugly trainers. But that’s not the only problem with the Russian prime minister’s recent footwear purchase. The yellow-soled Nike Air Max 95s have sparked a corruption storm after a YouTube video posted this month cited them as one of the ways Dmitry Medvedev used front companies led by his rich friends to buy luxury goods. Opposition politician Alexei Navalny led thousands in the biggest Russian street protest for five years at the weekend – with a pair of Nike trainers slung around his neck. Flags, banners and chants may be the more usual symbols of a revolution – but this is certainly not the first time household objects or clothes have become a sign of a political protests.
In the UK they bring to mind bowler hats, flying nannies and low-level drizzle, but in Hong Kong in 2014, umbrellas became the most visible sign of Occupy Central, a movement calling for the people of Hong Kong – not the Beijing government – to be allowed to choose election candidates. Demonstrators found they could be used to protect themselves against the police’s pepper spray – and the midday sun. When riot police confiscated the brollies, hundreds more were donated by supporters.
Hitting cooking pots with lids and spoons was the way thousands of protesters in Argentina – and even as far away as Miami, Florida – chose to show their anger in 2012. Crime rates, inflation and political corruption in the South American country led to the cacerolazos (casserole) marches – named because of the noisy kitchenware. But one of the key issues was the possibility of the president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, changing the country’s constitution and running for re-election.
Household cleaning gloves became the symbol of the fight against austerity in Greece in 2015, when a group of women spent months protesting and camping in the streets of central Athens. The women – all cleaners – were furious after 600 cleaning jobs were slashed in finance-ministry offices around the country. Many of the women said they had started work as children and had never been politically active before – but that didn’t stop them clashing with riot police in the months before the leftwing Syriza party came to power.
Reviled as a symbol of feral youths and banned in shopping centres and supermarkets, the hooded sweatshirt was reclaimed by protesters against social injustice in 2012. After the unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was killed as he walked home from the shops, the man who shot him, neighbourhood-watch volunteer George Zimmerman, described the teen as suspicious and referred to his wearing a dark hoodie. Fox TV pundit Geraldo Rivera claimed in the aftermath that “the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was”.
Demonstrators, however, insisted that racism, not clothing, was the cause of the killing – and they wore hoodies on marches, or posting pictures of themselves on social media wearing hooded sweatshirts. “The hoodie is a way of expressing support for the Martin family,” former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm told NPR, “and for all the sons of African-American families who bear the heavy burden of other people’s negative assumptions.”