Dissent Pins is the latest project from Nick Jehlen and Jethro Heiko, two friends who have been combining design, organizing, and activism for over 22 years. We've worked with dozens of nonprofits and activists groups over the years and learned a ton by working with many, many talented people in that time.
Below you'll find a summary of some of the projects we've done over the years.
Nick designs the projection system that displays an up-to-the minute count of the number of kids that have become addicted to tobacco above the front entrance to the corporate headquarters of Philip Morris in New York City.
After losing his father to stomach cancer, Jethro founds Reflect, the Five College Bereavement Support Program which helped hundreds of students cope with the serious illness and loss of a loved one.
Saving Fenway Park 1998-2003
Nick and Jethro first worked together on housing and voting rights initiatives in the Fenway neighborhood of Boston, where Jethro helped lead the successful campaign to prevent the destruction of Fenway Park. This campaign combined creative action and protest to slow the process of taking 25 acres of businesses and homes by eminent domain while engaging in a parallel community-led design process to redesign the park in its current footprint while satisfying the requirements that the Red Sox had presented as their reasons for tearing down the historic ballpark. Today, Fenway Park is 108 years old and one of the last remaining original professional ballfields in the world, and it has incorporated most of the design elements created during the community effort, including the now-legendary Green Monster seats, which was proposed by a community member. Photo: Flickr/werkunz
Turn Your Back on Bush (2004-2005)
During the 2004 election, we volunteered with the John Kerry campaign and local get out the vote efforts. As the election neared, we worried about what would happen after so many people poured their hearts and souls into an election that might not go their way. On election night, as the race was called, we launched a website calling for a simple, nonviolent action at Bush's inauguration.
The event, designed as a moment of reflection and grieving for people who had opposed Bush’s second election, was organized through a decentralized organization with 41-state chapters over a period of 78 days and included a wide spectrum of participants, including independents, Democrats, and Republicans. Local organizers, most with no previous organizing experience, were trained through phone and online tools. More than 5,000 people from 47 states traveled to the inaugural parade in Washington, DC to participate, and simultaneous events were organized in Mexico City, Brussels, and London.
The all-volunteer staff used a pre-Twitter text message system, conference lines, and bicycle messengers, which allowed us to move hundreds of people to more accessible security points and open areas along the parade route. The action was covered by local and national news outlets around the world, including special coverage live on the BBC. Both Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update and The Onion covered the action as well.
The tools designed for this event focused on the experience of each participant as part of a diverse but cohesive community. This can be seen in the large number of reports from the field about friendly and respectful interactions between supporters of Bush and participants in the event, including several cases where families watched each other’s children during the six-hour wait in freezing temperatures.
Philly's Ballot Box (2006-2007)
In 2004, Pennsylvania passed legislation legalizing casinos in the state. One of the sites chosen for a casino was near Jethro's home, and he helped found Casino-Free Philadelphia with his neighbors to fight the project. Casino-Free Philadelphia successfully collected 25,000 signatures to put a question on the ballot that would require that there be a buffer zone around schools, residences, churches and parks. But the state Supreme Court ordered the question removed from the ballot 5 weeks before the election.
In response, Jethro and Nick helped create Philly's Ballot Box, a shadow election that would give voters the ability to vote on the question removed by the state Supreme Court. Philly's Ballot Box created a fully functional election system, including phone, internet, and in-person ballot boxes covering the entire city with each vote verified against the official voting list and vote counting monitored by a public video stream and independent monitors. Over 60% of voters participated in the election, with 95% of them voting for the buffer zone.
For more on Jethro's work with Casino Free Philadelphia, visit this site.
As Boston prepared to expand its transit system, many people in Nick's hometown of Somerville wondered what would happen if new MBTA stops were added in the city. To help give substance to debates about gentrification and housing prices in the community, Nick and Jethro worked with their friends at The Think Tank That has Yet to Be Named to collect stories about the last time that subway stops were added in Somerville: the 1984 opening of the Davis Square stop.
At that time, .5% of the total construction costs for the new subway stop was earmarked for art projects, and as part of this program artists Jackson Gregory and Joan Wye worked with Somerville school children to create 249 tiles to decorate the station. As it happens, many of these children went to High School with Nick, so he decided to create a project that would tell their stories of gentrification and transportation in the 1980s in Somerville. So far, the project's has collected stories from 98 of the 249 children who made tiles, and they tell a complex and nuanced story about a changing city.
For 10 years, we worked under the name The Action Mill, consulting with other organizations interested in blending design and organizing while creating our own projects. During this time, we were joined by Rob Peagler, Katie Hargrave, Meredith Warner and Jeremy Beaudry.
Arctic Gardens / Arctic Flight (2010)
Working with the Alaska Wilderness League, we created projects that helped connect people living in the lower 48 states to the Arctic Refuge as part of an effort to preserve this important habitat. We created two projects that highlighted the importance of the Refuge to the birds that are born there and migrate to many other parts of the world, including every US state.
For this project, we designed two kits: a set of kites in the shape of birds that are born in the Refuge which were flown by grade school classes across the US in events that were timed to match the migration of the birds represented on the kites. Over 12,000 students in 32 states joined in the Arctic Flight events. The second kit, Arctic Gardens, allowed people across the US to plant wildflower gardens that would attract and feed birds that were migrating from the Arctic in order to give participants a direct and meaningful link to the animals of the Refuge.
IVAW/Winter Soldier (2008)
From 2006 to 2009, Nick and Jethro worked for Iraq Veterans Against the War, an organization of active duty service people and veterans calling for an end to the occupation of Iraq, reparations for the human and structural damages to Iraq and its people, and full benefits and healthcare for returning service people. We built their website and online tools, provided a series of trainings in nonviolent direct action, and provided organizing, technical, and strategic support and facilitation. Jethro was the Organizing Director for IVAW.
Nick and Jethro were on the organizing Committee for Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan, a four-day event created by and for veterans featuring over 100 firsthand accounts by soldiers and civilians. Nick lead the interactive media team for Winter Soldier which created the tools for a simultaneous internet, radio and satellite broadcast of over 100 firsthand accounts by soldiers and civilians.
Enough Fear (2006-2010)
In 2006, as tension between the US and Iran increased, we decided to create a project called "Enough Fear" that would promote diplomacy and encourage direct communication between average Americans and Iranians. To promote communication and develop a new model for citizen diplomacy, we worked with Iranian bloggers to design tools that would allow average citizens to engage in meaningful dialogue. We held a series of events in public spaces in the US where people are invited to use iconic, old-fashioned red phones to talk directly to volunteers that we recruited in Iran through online message boards.
These conversations included high school students, engineers, and musicians. Participants could choose to talk about any topic they liked and were encouraged to trade contact information for longer conversations. The first Red Phone event was held in Boston in the fall of 2006, and events have been held in New York City, Ithaca, NY, Washington, DC, and Seattle. In 2008, we partnered with the Campaign for a New American Policy on Iran, the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus to hold an Enough Fear event in Washington DC on the terrace of the Cannon House Office Building. Five members of Congress took part (along with the Libertarian party’s presidential nominee), with each getting on the phone with average Iranians for unrehearsed conversations. This event included film crews from LinkTV at both ends of the conversation.
Hello & Common Practice (2013-present)
In 2013, after a particularly challenging project, we decided to take 6 months off to try to redesign how we work together. We wanted to build a workplace where vulnerability and uncertainty would be welcomed instead of punished. As part of this project, we interviewed a group of hospice nurses, hoping that they would teach us something about resilience at work. Instead, they inspired us to spend several years focused exclusively on designing for better conversations about death and dying.
Grief and grieving have been frequent themes in our work, though you wouldn't necessarily see it at first glance in all of our projects. We believe that healthy grief is important for managing any kind of loss – from loss of a job to loss of a loved one to dealing with your own mortality. This belief led us to create a tabletop game in 2013 called My Gift of Grace (renamed Hello in 2017) which is designed to help anyone talk about living and dying. The game is simple but powerful, and it's where we've spent most of our energy for the past few years. Hello was designed by Nick Jehlen, Jethro Heiko, Rob Peagler, and Georgia Guthrie.
Dissent Pins (2017-present)
Dissent Pins was started as a side project when Nick made 100 Dissent Collar Pins as holiday gifts in 2016. Friends soon encouraged us to make more, and we decided to open an online store and give 50% of the profits to organizations doing the hard work of defending our democracy and fighting for justice. While we started out with the Dissent Collar, we're now expanding and we'll keep telling more while we fund the future.