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