Reclaiming and Rebuilding American Identity through Art: How One Non-Profit Uses Images to Fight Hate, Fear, and Misogyny

By Cleo Barnett, writing for Amplifier

In January 2017, after a presidential election fight that surfaced hate, fear, misogyny, and open racism, our non-profit organization, Amplifier, launched a nonpartisan campaign dedicated to exploring and reclaiming the American identity. We The People raised $1.36 million in eight days on Kickstarter, a record for an art project, and was backed by 22,840 supporters. On inauguration day, with the support of crowdfunding efforts, Amplifier took out three full-page ads in national newspapers, hacking their existing distribution networks in order to reach every corner of the nation and to sneak messages of hope past the barricades in Washington, D.C. We also distributed the images as tens of thousands of large placards throughout the city and its Metro stops, handing out the free posters from the back of moving vans and at drop sites coordinated over social media. More than a million people in 195 countries downloaded We The People prints for free from Amplifier’s website, and they turned them into everything from protest signs and murals to t-shirts and dresses.

Amplifier’s We The People campaign featuring artwork by Shepard Fairey captured in the streets of New York in 2017.

In the next chapter of this project, We The Future, we are moving from our streets to our schools.

Kids in the United States spend an average of 1,200 hours a year in school. In today’s climate of unprecedented fear and division, what students see—or don’t see—on their classroom walls matters more than ever. With the help of 20,000 educators across the United States, we are covering classroom walls with new icons, images of ten young leaders representing ten diverse movements, each carrying the hopes of their generation, each already building us a better world.

We The Future are youth leaders at the forefront of change who are building organizations and movements all across the country. They carry the energy of countless communities from every background and are providing clear paths to action and to healing. Their work is not partisan. It will be the basis for a new era of human and environmental rights in the 21st century. We invite educators around the world to join us in our campaign to support these young leaders as they draft and pass new legislation, fight for voting rights, and lead efforts on criminal justice reform, immigration justice and immigrant rights, gun violence prevention, disability justice, queer rights, youth literacy, and climate justice.

Amplifier distributing thousands of posters in the streets of Washington DC during the Women’s March in 2017.

Through grassroots community organizing, portraits of these young leaders are currently hanging on the walls of over 300,000 classrooms in every state across the United States, and come with teaching tools built in collaboration with thousands of educators and hundreds of nonprofits. These images will be a constant reminder to students of who they themselves can be.

We believe that in times of uncertainty—in times like these, when your students are growing up surrounded by disinformation and division—art is more than beauty or decoration: It is a weapon and a shield. Art has the power to wake people up and serve as a catalyst for real change. It is a megaphone for important but unheard voices that need amplifying. It is a bridge that can unite movements with shared values in ways other mediums cannot. Art gives us symbols to gather around, builds community, and helps us feel like we are not alone. But for all the tools art can be in this fight, for Amplifier it is a compass. It points to the future we want to live in, and that we want our children to live in.

If we hold this art and carry it in front of us, if we hang it on our walls or in our windows every day for our family and neighbors and students to see, then we remind ourselves of what we are building, and we find strength when we become tired.

Our goal is to reclaim and rebuild an American identity rooted in equality, dignity, diversity, truth, and beauty. For young people who are not used to seeing themselves in history books or on the walls of classrooms, what Amplifier and its partners are distributing is more than art. These simple, yet urgent messages will be carried with them for the rest of their lives. Our hope is that these images will help young people feel represented, spoken for, and listened to, making it easier to feel empowered to make the change they want to see in the world.

Amplifier’s We The People campaign projected alongside the new members of Congress after the historic 2018 midterm elections. Projection by AE Marling.


Cleo Barnett is a New Zealand American curator, artist, and creative director. Currently based in Seattle, Washington (Duwamish/Coast Salish land), her practice explores the relationship between public space, storytelling, and human rights. Since 2016 Cleo has been a core member of the Amplifier team, a non-profit design lab that builds art and media experiments to amplify the most important movements of our time. As the Deputy Director, Cleo co-produces and co-creative directs the organization’s campaigns including the iconic We The People campaign and the education initiative We The Future. The result has been millions of iconic artworks distributed in streets and classrooms across the United States in collaboration with hundreds of renowned artists and thousands of movements. The nonprofit has been growing into a globally recognized art and social justice organization. Cleo holds an M.A. in art and public policy from New York University, and a B.A. in political science and international business from the University of Auckland. Alongside her curatorial practice, she is an active working artist. You can learn more about Cleo’s work at

Amplifier is a nonprofit design lab that builds art and media experiments to amplify the most important movements of our times. We design and distribute art that engages people in the creation of a more just, inclusive and sustainable future. Since 2015, we’ve worked with hundreds of renowned artists, distributed over a million pieces of art and sent free artwork to hundreds of thousands of students across the United States. If you are an educator, you can register for free teaching tools at To help us move these symbols through the world, all of our artwork is available as open source free high-resolution downloads at