Saturday, September 22, 2007

The "Sidewalk Blog"/Taking (Language) To the Streets

There's a poet (who has asked to remain anonymous) who recently posted news of her new political work, inspired by the Freeway Blogger (whom I wrote about in Behind the Lines as one who is bringing a poet's sense of brevity to activist signage and an activist's notion of public space as a text to be written into.) I love how she is bringing the disappeared language of the peace movement into public space. You can see her pictures here.

Here is what she wrote about this picture:
9/3: left home just past 3 a.m. last night with the signs. The pedestrian overpass is on Kam Highway between town and the H3 off ramps. (The H3 goes to the Marine Corps Station in one direction, Pearl Harbor in the other.) I put them up, but inside the white bars, because the wires I had were too short. Came home and asked B to cut me longer wires. Went back and moved the signs to the outside of the railing. When I entered my parking lot, just past 4 a.m., the property manager was starting his Ford SUV and when I got out of my car he was trolling the small parking lot. I think he shone his lights at me. (See CPM album.)
When I asked her to write more about her project, this is what she sent me:

My project involves the hanging of signs on chain link fences on the windward side of O`ahu. This side of the island is a suburb to Honolulu; beyond the suburbs is what is left of country. My postal address is Kane`ohe, home of a large Marine Corps base from which many Marines are being shipped to Iraq. Hawai`i has over two dozen military bases in it. The windward side of this island, while its politics are liberal--our congresswoman is Mazie Hirono, the only Buddhist in Congress--is fairly conservative. It's not rare to see cars with yellow ribbons, Standing Tall bumperstickers, and Hope Chapel adverts stuck on them.

The purpose of the sign-hanging is to interrupt what my husband's cousin down the street calls "our communal apathetic hubris." Since most everyone on Oahu drives a car, of necessity, signs are a way to get people's attention. My hero is the freeway blogger ( who does this in California. Different scale. So I call mine the Sidewalk Blog, though recently I've hung signs off pedestrian bridges over main roads. Also put up a roadside memorial to the dead, which is a way to engage the local culture of roadside memorials for car crash victims. And I have a new co-conspirator who is doing her best to put up more signs and memorials.

I have tried to incorporate humor (WAR STINKS(on a sewage plant), but mainly to use the strategy of surprise and to write messages that are clear and short, like IMPEACH or NO WAR or OUT OF IRAQ.

I don't know what change such action effects, but it's all I can think to do. After seeing a young man arrested at a political meeting for asking a question at length, I suspect we need to use our right of free speech in order not to lose it.
Here's another image from the series:

8/28: put up last night outside the old Star Market (soon to be a Walgreen's alas) on Kam Highway in the middle of Kane`ohe Town. My first piggyback sign!!

In a postscript, Schultz writes:

I'm also learning strange things about audience and reception doing this. One of the signs was turned upside down, which took as much effort as taking it down would have. Another was "edited" repeatedly using dead leaves (crossing out the "im" in "impeach"). At one point someone not myself cleaned out the leaves. So these signs have lives of their own. Am also seeing this landscape in an utterly new way, through chain link.

And telephone poles. Have been astonished, so far, at how easy it's been to put them up--usually just after dark, though the memorials are done in the light of day--without interference. I guess everyone's trapped in their cars, which makes them a "captive audience."


runnerfrog said...

How cool would it be a promotion or movement of activists extending this over every city of the invading countries.

Philip Metres said...

Runnerfrog, you'd be amazed how cowed into silence so many Americans have been by the Right, since 9/11. We may finally be waking from that nightmare.