How important is a protest sign?

Mar 18, 2011

How important is a protest sign?  That’s the question we’re asking on the 8th anniversary of the war in Iraq.

Back in 2003,  in the weeks and months leading up to the invasion of Iraq by the U.S. and Coalition forces, millions of peace activists around the globe rallied against war. 

At every protest you saw the same signs-- red, white and blue placards with the words “No Iraq War.”  All of them came from one place, a family run sign shop in Seattle.

The Sign


The way Art Boruck  remembers it,  a woman walked into his shop in the fall of 2002 and asked him to print up 500 protest signs.  He didn't think twice about it.  Boruck Printing had been in business for decades and was used to printing up signs of every political stripe.

She suggested the slogan "No Iraq War." He thought it had a nice ring.

"I like short signs that say what they mean on first glance," he said.

Boruck inserted stars and a stripe to give the sign some patriotic flair.  It took him "about 15 minutes" to come up with the design.

The signs were used at a local rally and then, and this is when things went nuts, NPR decided to do a story. Art's daughter Anita says, after the story aired nationally, things "went insane."

"The phone was ringing off the hook.  There was message after message, email after email," she said.

Rush on Signs

Calls were coming in to Boruck Printing from all over the world.  Everyone, it seemed, wanted to buy a "No Iraq War" sign.    Art remembers one guy, a veteran,  picking up 500 signs on his motorcycle.

"I saw him riding away on his motorcycle with a load of signs weighing 300 lbs," Boruck said.

Orders from all 50 states and 10 countries kept the presses humming all through late 2002 and early 2003. You couldn't drive through a Seattle neighborhood without seeing a sea of "No Iraq War" signs.

Art Boruck prides himself on being non-partisan. Even while he was cranking out "No Iraq War" signs, he was also printing up signs supporting George Bush. Even so,  he started getting hate mail and phone calls from people accusing him of being unpatriotic.

Still, he continued to sell the anti-war signs. 

And then, everything changed.

War Begins

On March 19, 2003, President George Bush went on television to announce,

"On my orders Coalition forces have begun striking selective targets of military importance to undermine Saddam Hussein's ability to wage war." 

At Boruck Printing, things came to a sudden stop.

“When they started to bomb Iraq, that day our sales went from 500 a day to almost nothing,” Boruck said.

Looking back at what happened, Art Boruck calls the “No Iraq War” sign his pet rock—something that, out of the blue and with no warning, is wildly popular and then, just as suddenly, isn’t. 

In all, Boruck  sold 100 thousand signs.  He says it didn't make him rich, although it did help his bottom line that year.  Still, he says, he hopes he never goes through another anti-war sign buying frenzy. 

"I would prefer that the world be peace-able," he said.

You still see the occasional "No Iraq War" sign in a window, faded,  much like the anti-war movement it was created for.

Protest Planned for Saturday's Anniversary

At Seattle's Westlake Park, anti-war protesters will gather at Noon to mark the anniversary of the official start of the Iraq War.  The event, titled "Rally Against US War and Occupation" is sponsored by the Sound Nonviolent Opponents of War (SNOW) Coalition.