Unfurling massive banners has been a common tactic in the activist’s toolbox for a long time. When the media consistently ignores or distorts your side of the story, you often need to go to extreme lengths just to get recognition. Hanging a giant sign is a crude way of weighing in on a complex issue, but it’s often the only way for groups to inject their perspectives into mainstream coverage that often focuses on only a very narrow spectrum of the debate.
The influence of forest defenders and their climbing skills honed from many years of setting up tree-sits to protect Redwoods along California’s north coast has had the effect of dramatically increasing the scale of actions over the last decade or so, with banners getting bigger and going higher than ever before. When the Olympic torch passed through San Francisco last year, this action on the Golden Gate Bridge made headlines around the world (except for China):
Last week, Greenpeace generated some buzz by hanging this enormous banner on Mt. Rushmore making a pretty vague demand for President Obama to show more leadership in tackling climate change. It didn’t generate as much coverage as the Bridge action, though, probably because there’s a lot more willingness in the media to smugly wag a finger at China for its human rights abuses than to give air time to the idea that Obama should be more aggressive in fighting climate change.
Although this isn’t a banner drop, it’s another example of the super-sizing of protest imagery. This message went up on San Francisco’s Bernal Hill last week, shortly before the charges were dropped against four of the SF 8 — eight black men, including several former Panthers, who had been wrongfully accused of the 1971 killing of a white cop.
While gigantic banners and protest signs can be effective in some cases, as their use becomes more and more popular, the novelty will wear off, defeating the very purpose of using them to raise awareness. Activists will need to become increasingly creative with their actions in order to generate spectacles that can’t be ignored, visually shocking situations that just grab the world by the eyeballs and force it to gawk, and hopefully think about what they are beholding, at least for a few minutes. Here a few suggestions to get the ball rolling:
- Attach an enormous set of testicles to the Statue of Liberty to raise awareness for transgender rights.
- Put a massive blunt in the mouth of the giant Thomas Jefferson statue at the Jefferson Memorial to call for more compassionate marijuana laws. Because cannabis is good for people with cancer and glaucoma and, you know, Jefferson grew hemp or something.
- Unroll a giant rubber on top of the Vatican to protest the Pope’s insanely destructive anti-condom policies. This one might be kind of a logistical nightmare to pull off, so it would probably be a lot easier just to put a body condom on the actual Pope, himself, like this: