Back to Top

Signs of Wall Street

September 26, 2011

macphee_wallstsignA.jpg

At some point during the first 48 hours of the occupation of Wall Street (or to be more exact, the encampment at Zuccotti Park, north of Wall Street), people there began painting and drawing signs on pieces of discarded cardboard. These signs, most of them simple slogans on old pizza boxes, have been laid out on the ground across a good quarter of the park, a cacophonous patchwork of words and images, many contradicting each other, some even contradicting themselves. When at the occupation, the first thing I am struck by is the explosion of people—talking, drumming, screaming, laughing, sleeping—but it is these signs that are the most striking graphic element. They contain some of the few visible graphics, but they are also some of the few messages easily read by those not engaged in the occupation itself, so there is regularly a diverse crowd of visitors and passersby viewing, discussing, and critiquing the signs. Stylistically some are witty and clever, some bold and direct, some naive and simple, some awkward, confused, and misspelled, but what content do they communicate? To me they represent the complicated jumble of ideas and motivations swirling in the background of this action. These signs represent the voices of hundreds of individuals. In some ways this is a refreshing contrast to a typical leftist event, where we are used to hearing or seeing the more controlled and crafted messages of the array of organizations that are often the backbone of political action (be it community groups, electoral parties, unions, or socialist cadre organizations—who often create mass-produced signs and distribute pre-printed newspapers and flyers).


I’ve tried to photograph as many of these signs as I can, below is a collection of 60 of them (in no particular order). None of these signs can represent the occupation by themselves, it is only in the context of the others that one can begin to get any sense of what is happening. At the same time, when we look at them together, they seem so incoherent that the action itself seems impossible, it becomes difficult to envision what it is that not only brought these people together, but keeps them there, at the park.
I’ve heard lots of complaints from people watching the action from afar that the occupation isn’t media savvy enough, doesn’t have a clear message, and other similar challenges. Right now it seems that the occupiers aren’t particularly interested in this critique, but instead are more than willing to let 1000 signs bloom. After looking at the images below, what do you think?
(Click on each image to see a larger view)

macphee_wallstsign01.jpg
macphee_wallstsign02.jpg
macphee_wallstsign03.jpg
macphee_wallstsign04.jpg
macphee_wallstsign05.jpg
macphee_wallstsign06.jpg
macphee_wallstsign07.jpg
macphee_wallstsign08.jpg
macphee_wallstsign09.jpg
macphee_wallstsign10.jpg
macphee_wallstsign11.jpg
macphee_wallstsign12.jpg
macphee_wallstsign13.jpg
macphee_wallstsign14.jpg
macphee_wallstsign15.jpg
macphee_wallstsign16.jpg
macphee_wallstsign17.jpg
macphee_wallstsign18.jpg
macphee_wallstsign19.jpg
macphee_wallstsign20.jpg
macphee_wallstsign21.jpg
macphee_wallstsign22.jpg
macphee_wallstsign23.jpg
macphee_wallstsign24.jpg
macphee_wallstsign25.jpg
macphee_wallstsign26.jpg
macphee_wallstsign27.jpg
macphee_wallstsign28.jpg
macphee_wallstsign29.jpg
macphee_wallstsign30.jpg
macphee_wallstsign31.jpg
macphee_wallstsign32.jpg
macphee_wallstsign33.jpg
macphee_wallstsign34.jpg
macphee_wallstsign35.jpg
macphee_wallstsign36.jpg
macphee_wallstsign37.jpg
macphee_wallstsign38.jpg
macphee_wallsts
ign39.jpg
macphee_wallstsign40.jpg
macphee_wallstsign41.jpg
macphee_wallstsign42.jpg
macphee_wallstsign43.jpg
macphee_wallstsign44.jpg
macphee_wallstsign45.jpg
macphee_wallstsign46.jpg
macphee_wallstsign47.jpg
macphee_wallstsign48.jpg
macphee_wallstsign49.jpg
macphee_wallstsign50.jpg
macphee_wallstsign51.jpg
macphee_wallstsign52.jpg
macphee_wallstsign53.jpg
macphee_wallstsign54.jpg
macphee_wallstsign55.jpg
macphee_wallstsign56.jpg
macphee_wallstsign57.jpg
macphee_wallstsign58.jpg
macphee_wallstsign59.jpg
macphee_wallstsign60.jpg

(I apologize for the blurriness and low quality of some of these images, I don’t have the best of cameras!)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

5 comments on “Signs of Wall Street”

Being “media savvy” would be just giving us more of the very same thing that is being contested; slick, managerial, corporate expediency served up consumer style.

I tend to agree Evie!
But I do think that some common definitions of political terminology might be useful, as people are using ideas like “consensus,” “capitalism,” “money,” “democracy,” and “anarchy” in very, very, very different ways, which makes conversation difficult.

Curious if their are more unified banners/messages. The “Wisconsin Uprising” had tons of absurd signs that individuals scrawled on cardboard. But it also had tons of unified signs (largely mass printed by the unions) that on the surface gave the movement a more unified message. Of course, the union message was vote for democrats, don’t go on strike so maybe the individual signs of dissent in NYC are a relief….

Wonderful photographs, thank you. I see the scrawling of a thoughtless individual on a piece of used cardboard at a joyous moment as important as the self-conscious demands of an organiser in a high-pressure moment.

Posts by Josh MacPhee

More By Josh MacPhee