Understanding The CoUNTA Revolution
OPINION 10/06/2039 7:12 PM ET
Understanding The CoUNTA Revolution
by Zelie Shuvenski

Main image is the author's own and is hereby released to the public domain. | Writer image: CC0 1.0 Untitled by jovibingelyte | Images were cropped. Images used for illustration purposes only.
The universally-recognized CoUNTA symbols (clockwise from top left): people of Color, Undocumented immigrants, Non-heterosexual, non-Able bodied, Trans or other gendered.
I wear my CoUNTA symbols to acknowledge my pride - and my shame.

That's the answer I give my friends who don't wear CoUNTA symbols when they ask why I adorn myself with my badges.

My badges sit affixed to a black armband which I wear in memory of those who don't identify socio-normatively who have lost their lives. Or who have been abused, erased, marginalized, or otherwise made to feel othered or smoothed.

I don't leave the house without my armband. If it needs to be washed, I wash and dry it before I leave the house.

My pride is in surviving and thriving as part of two historically smoothed groups. I am UN - Undocumented and Non-heterosexual. I wear two symbols.

My shame is for the historic and accepted mistreatment of people of color, trans, and other-gendered people and non-abled people. It is not a personal artefact of my life but it is a fact of my life. I identify as part of several social groupings which have caused damage through violence and hostility to non-normalized members of society.

CoUNTA began five years ago as a small student protest at Notre Dame. Non-normalized students, tired of the luxury privileged students' identities gave them at the expense of non-normalized students, protested on campus. They wore their pride on their backs, and arms, and chests, and legs; they painted symbols on their skin. They marked themselves with their existence as erased people. They demanded practical recognition of non-luxuried students. They were largely patronized by university leadership: offered superficial recognitions without any demand for meaningful action being met.

Another protest the following year shut down the entire campus at South Bend for two weeks. President Brenton was sequestered in his office by students for a week of intensive consultations, the end result of which was the official acknowledgement of CoUNTA identification.

Two Notre Dame visual arts students - Cal Herderly and Brianka Anamushuto - created the symbols we see today.

Since then, CoUNTA visual branding has spread institutionally to more than 2,500 four-year colleges across the United States. It is normally administered as a system by the students themselves and their student governments.

Many colleges practically incorporate CoUNTA into their everyday activities:

- The University of Florida provides students with a "U" symbol discounted accommodation, food, and access to events, in recognition of the economic hardship faced by non-traditional immigration path students.

- Portland State University requires its athletic teams to possess a minimum average of 1.5 CoUNTA identities per player.

- Oberlin College preferences CoUNTA identities at lines in dining halls and events. Students with a greater number of CoUNTA identities come first.

- Students with more than two CoUNTA identities are automatically preferenced for an extra .5 GPA at a large number of colleges in recognition of the difficulty CoUNTA students face due to traditional obstacles. UCLA preferences "U" students with an extra .75 GPA total.

- Non-CoUNTA students are required to pay small taxes or levies on some college campuses, which are then usually directed to student government activities.

If you've been on a college campus in the past few years you'll be familiar with CoUNTA symbols. They tend to be circular and are usually applied to clothing either in a row or a circle of badges, pins, or patches. Some people get tattoos. Others see fit to conjoin them with other symbolic visual elements like the rainbow flag or the Collectively motif.

I've even witnessed those devoted enough to be branded with their CoUNTA identities.

The CoUNTA phenomenon has also been adopted at the high school level taking hold with fervour and passion. It has encouraged greater involvement in student government by high school students who have realized that oppression does not begin at the college level.

You have probably also witnessed CoUNTA when stepping into certain stores. Starbucks has been a faithful advocate of minority employees identifying their non-normalization publicly, and has made it a policy to employ a minimum of twenty CoUNTA identities per store, in addition to charging microreparations to non-CoUNTA customers.

Apple has adopted a similar policy, requiring a minimum average of 1.5 CoUNTA symbols per employee per store.

Other corporations have followed suit, recognizing the disadvantage their minority employees face on a daily basis.

However this scheme like any other is open to abuse. Where those untruthfully claiming minority status are found, they are usually quickly punished.

Last year, white Idaho resident Charlie Hartree's "Co" badge was challenged by a customer at a Brownleaf Café on campus at the University of Idaho where he was also a student. He claimed to be Latino but could not offer proof and was brought before a Student Judiciary Council which found him guilty. He was fired from his job and expelled from the school.

In January, Felicity Dinae-Sharp was challenged by management at the Target she worked at in Bossier City, LA. She was wearing "U" and "N" pins, but when questioned could not substantiate the claims and was fired (Target was exposed as being lenient on employees claiming false minority status in a 60 Minutes special two months prior).

In April, Berkley student Harrie O'Flanagan's claim of being transgendered was challenged by fellow students. She was unfortunately found dead three days after an SJC panel found her guilty of appropriating transgender culture.

These incidents generally show that the system works on a bedrock of self-reporting, but anecdotal evidence suggests that CHURC has begun to take an active interest in false CoUNTA claims, too. Some CHURCs regard false claims as so serious an infraction that they issue Kaley's Law notices.

Now, Republicans will mock and demean CoUNTA as some sort of "moral branding scheme that debases humans" (the actual words of writer Curt Schiff), but as we know they will mostly oppose any stance resembling an attempt to foster justice, unity, and harmony at a social level.

Some Republicans, however, are beginning to see the light. Last year, Congress passed a concurrent resolution recognizing and affirming CoUNTA as a "means of opposing discrimination and signalling pride in the differences which make us one nation". It received 41 Republican votes in the House and 9 in the Senate.

Clearly, the people want CoUNTA to recognize marginalized groups. Our elected representatives are in favor. Colleges and high schools are in favor. Corporate America is in favor.

A new generation awaits and is already advocating an expansion of CoUNTA symbols to incorporate other historically oppressed peoples.

We must support them. Lives depend on it.
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