Brice and I used to talk about how we were going to go underground for animal liberation. I was reading books about activists who were liberating monkeys and sabotaging factory farms, and Brice was reading Edward Abbey’s book about billboard improvement. We would stay up late, baking everything cookies, hatching our plans. No tell-tale tattoos, no getting caught, no compromise. I pictured the underground as a highly elaborate series of tunnels under the cities, full of action, fire lit walls, and exciting people. I wanted to be there; I just couldn’t figure out how. How far would we have to go to achieve the goal? It seemed completely possible. But then once we had to go underground, where was the entrance? Was there a secret password?
One night we decided to start taking action. We wanted to be sneaky and quick, and rehearsed our plan over and over. We were going to wear latex gloves each step of the way, to leave no trace at all. And we would bury any remaining hints of our actions in his backyard, in the dead of night, two feet below. We lived in a rural area, where the nearest store was several miles away, and we drove around for a while trying to find a target. We decided the McDonalds billboard on the main road needed a major overhaul. We waited anxiously until two in the morning, found some red housepaint from his garage and meticulously used a funnel to pour it into small balloons. We got in my car and got to the billboard, and hurled the paint balls. Several misses, until one streak of paint slowly ran down the length of the message like a bloody nose. We raced away, fearful of what would happen if we were caught. We got back to his place, dug a deep hole and buried all evidence of our deed.
A week later we were back, with spray paint and a little more confidence. We had to climb the back of the billboard, every ounce of our flesh vibrating in anxiety for fear of being discovered. We scrawled Meat is Murder in large letters across the entire length of the cheeseburger which smiled so ominously above us. On the way back to our car, a person passed us on the road and we slammed our bodies flat onto the ground, afraid they were a cop or an overly concerned citizen. Within twenty four hours, the message was painted over, and thus began our fight for the billboard. Each time we got more an more determined, and by the third message, McDonalds got tired of replacing the ad, and we scored a victory.
Eventually we convinced ourselves that animal liberation wasn’t the most pressing injustice in the world. Brice and I were living in New Orleans, where the street art game changed. We kept communicating on the street, from wheatpaste posters to spraypaint stencils, usually when we were pissed off about something or celebrating May Day. In the huge city, more people would see the images, and it was also more exhilarating, because there was realistically greater fear of getting caught. Everytime I saw someone pass by us on a cell phone, I was convinced they were calling the police. We watched the movie Underground; a documentary about the Weathermen, which gave us a more realistic view of the above-ground underground that actually exists. I decided to get some tattoos because I realized I wasn’t doing the things you actually need to go underground for.
There were a couple years where I didn’t put up a single flyer unless it was for a punk show. But when I moved to Providence, I decided to get back in the habit. I love seeing art on the street, next to scrawled conspiracy theorists rants posted up on telephone poles, business cards speaking to stay at home mothers who need extra cash, and graffiti tags claiming someone’s need for visibility. Now I’m in love with putting art on the telephone poles and electrical boxes as the truly free places for self expression, even if it doesn’t lead to total liberation.