Tea Towels Saved My Relationship — With America

Posted by Matt on Apr 15th 2019

In the darkest of times, a radical company from the UK helped me keep my faith in America.

We Americans aren’t so different from our British cousins after all.

Sure, we once fought a war of independence against their empire.

American Flag

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

They’re also into some things many of us find a bit weird, like “blood pudding” and driving on the left side of the road.

But throughout our (relatively short) shared history, we’ve had far more in common than that which divides us.

Take politics for example. Like any close family, we tend to do a lot of things together. FDR and Churchill. Reagan and Thatcher. Clinton and Blair. Brexit and Trump.

Dark Times After the 2016 Election

I want to take you back to an early December day in 2016.

For me, as for many Americans, the election of Donald J. Trump was like several swift kicks to the gut.

I spent much of that late fall going about my life aimlessly, struggling to focus on my job as a small business advisor, feeling depressed and betrayed.

Then, one day in a crowded café, a new project came across my desk at work.

A small family-owned company from the UK was printing inspirational progressive quotes and political messages onto something called 'tea towels'. They had built a community of like-minded followers in Britain and they felt that now was the right time to give a bit of encouragement to their beleaguered American allies. They wanted some help.

I wasn’t sure if I was in the right frame of mind to help them, but our company bid for the project and won, and over the next few months we helped them come up with some ideas for US-focused tea towel designs and ways they could engage with American progressives.

I thought this would be the extent of our collaboration, so I wished them well, joined their email list, and we departed on pleasant terms.

While I was working on their project, however, something else happened.

As I got to know this team of Brits, I was taken by their genuine interest in American history and culture. They were inspired by our founding ideals and the challenge of living up to those ideals which has defined every American generation.

What’s more, these tea towel people seemed to see something which to me had been all but lost in all the darkness of 2016.

The Radical Side of American History

It wasn’t just the inspiration they found in the idealism of our Founding Fathers and Mothers.

No, it was the other, more radical chapters of the American story which they seemed so interested in retelling, many parts of which I myself was shamefully unaware.

Benjamin Lay Tea Towel

Stories of people like Benjamin Lay, who would go around colonial Pennsylvania calling out his fellow Christians as apostates for believing in the Gospel while at the same time tolerating human slavery.

Sojourner Truth Tea Towel

Or Sojourner Truth, whose defiant womanhood brought the abolitionist struggle together with the early women's suffrage movement and who helped desegregate DC’s streetcars 100 years before Rosa Parks would do the same in Alabama.

Jane Addams Tea Towel

Or Jane Addams, winner of the 1931 Nobel Peace Prize who fought tirelessly for women’s rights and improved social conditions during the Industrial Era, and who alongside other suffragettes like Crystal Eastman and Helen Keller was one of the founding members of the ACLU.

These stories of everyday radicals brought to mind the part of America which has always inspired me the most — the unending quest for “a more perfect union,” and the people who have consistently pushed this country to be better even when the tide was moving in the other direction.

If a bunch of people from across the Atlantic could see all of these great things about America even in the absolute worst of times, then maybe it was time for me to change the way I was thinking about my country as well.

The International Progressive Struggle

There’s a proud history of international solidarity in the progressive movement. It’s in the words of Karl Marx’s legendary call to action — “Workers of the World, Unite!” — and in the actions of Martin Luther King, who looked toward Southeast Asia and Latin America in the 1960s and saw a common struggle with the Civil Rights Movement and his subsequent Poor People’s Campaign in the United States.

At Radical Tea Towel, we’re doing our best to carry on this tradition by bringing something quintessentially British — the tea towel — to the cause of progressive activism and political awareness in the USA.

In the famous words of Thomas Paine, a Brit who also found common cause with the ideals of America's founding, long before the advent of e-commerce and email newsletters: "we have it in our power to begin the world over again."

Hopefully some of the same inspiration that has found its way into my political life from tea towels and Radical History can also find its way into yours.

Read more about inspiring progressive radicals on our blog

See our full collection of designs