Clothesline Project Displays
The Original Clothesline Project:
Started in 1990 on Cape Cod, in Barnstable County, MA USA
If you have information on Clothesline Project events from your organization
that you would like to post here, send them via email to:
The Clothesline Project, 13 Plymouth Road, Yarmouthport MA 02675
Rabbi Elias Lieberman
Remarks for Elizabeth Lee Peace Award Ceremony
October 26, 2004
The Bible tells us that at the end of his life, King David was unable to warm himself and so required the presence of a young girl in his bed to warm his bones. The rabbis of centuries past wondered at this. Why could King David not get warm by simply putting on more clothing? They found their answer in an episode from earlier in David’s life when, as a young man, he was pursued by the crazed King Saul. Hiding from Saul in the caves of the Judean wilderness, David was at one point close enough to Saul to kill him. He held back, but he surreptitiously cut off a corner of Saul’s garment to prove that, had he wished to do so, he had been close enough to take the king’s life.
The rabbi’s concluded that David’s audacity was, in fact, an act of aggression against the dignity of King Saul’s clothing and, as a consequence, David would be unable, at the end of his life, to derive warmth from clothing.
I find that an extraordinary assertion...that clothing itself has dignity which must be preserved. For most of us, clothing is something we throw on in the morning or give some thought to before an important occasion. But here and now we think, of course, about clothing of another sort, t-shirts hanging from clotheslines across this country bearing powerful messages and representing victims of domestic abuse and violence. The dignity stripped from these victims by their tormentors is given final expression in those garments
Clothing doesn’t define us; in fact, it can be the ultimate disguise. Batterers can wear Armani or Salvation Army. We can’t identify the abusers among us by what they wear but we do know they are among us in alarming numbers–in our towns and our neighborhoods-- and they will remain among us until we come to understand the most basic and shocking of facts–our society still tolerates domestic abuse and violence.
For those of us who find that reality intolerable and whose faith orientation centers us around biblical scripture, we need only turn to Leviticus 19:16 which tells us "Do not stand by idly and see your neighbor’s blood spilled." To not stand idly by means teaching our daughters and sons how to keep themselves safe from abusive and coercive relationships; it means being prepared to believe what victims tell us about the abuse they suffer and the fear they experience; it means working to remove the stigma which inappropriately clings to victims of domestic violence. Refusing to stand idly by means constantly reminding our elected officials that the status quo is unacceptable and that ever greater protections for the abused and battered need to be written into law; it means being ever-prepared to say, "That battered woman could be my mother, my sister, my daughter."
Someone, if they haven’t already done so, will one day write a Ph.D. thesis on the sociological history of the t-shirt, that humble garment which has been the vehicle to communicate anything and everything one might wish to proclaim to the world.
But one cannot experience the Clothesline Project and ever see a t-shirt quite the same way again.
Whether or not clothing has inherent dignity is a question we can debate at our leisure; there is no denying, however, the inherent dignity in every human being that is diminished through acts of violence, abuse, and intimidation. It need not be so; it must not be so if we are to be true to the best that is in us.