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Robert David Steele Vivas, Public Intelligence Blog

Banner hang

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Common Uses

To boldly articulate a demand; to rebrand a target; to provide a message frame or larger-than-life caption for an action.

What better way to air the dirty laundry of an irresponsible institution than to hang a giant banner over its front door? A banner drop can also be an effective way to frame or contextualize an upcoming event or protest see PRINCIPLE: Reframe. Banner hangs can also function as public service announcements to alert the public of an injustice or a dangerous situation.

Banner hangs can be as low-tech and low-risk as several bedsheets tied to road overpasses decrying the Iraq War, but the ones that really pack a punch involve large pieces of cloth or netting deployed at great heights, often by experienced climbers.

Regardless of the level of risk or complexity, all effective banner hangs start with a clear goal (you have a goal, right?!), and fall into two broad categories: communicative (concise protest statements), and concrete (blockade elements that directly disrupt business as usual) see PRINCIPLE: Make your actions both concrete and communicative. In 1991, in a great example of a banner hang with a concrete goal, small communities in the Pacific Northwest asked for help to stop nuclear warships from entering Clatsop County, Oregon, a designated nuclear-free zone on the Columbia River. An enormous net banner was deployed from the Astoria Bridge, affixed below the span where it would be difficult to remove, and weighted by the climbers’ bodies themselves. The action succeeded in delaying the warships’ entrance while educating the area on the issue.

Most banner hangs, however, tend to be communicative. Take, for instance, the banner hung from a crane in downtown Seattle in November 1999 see CASE: Battle in Seattle just before the opening of the World Trade Organization meeting. The banner messaging was as clear as day: an iconic visual of a street sign with arrows pointing in opposite directions: democracy this way, WTO that way. This was a classic “framing action.” Hung on the eve of a big summit meeting and a huge protest, the banner made it clear what all the fuss to come was really about: a basic struggle of right and wrong; the People vs. WTO.

When there is no crane, bridge or building to hang your banner from, large helium-filled weather balloons have been used to raise everything from CODEPINK’s “pink slip for President George Bush” in front of the White House to a banner deployed from a houseboat on the East River in New York with a message for the UN. Smaller balloons have been used to raise banners indoors in the atriums of malls or corporate or government buildings.

Key Principle at work

Say it with props

If it’s worth saying, it’s worth saying loudly! If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing boldly! What better way to put your message out there, than to spell it out in twelve-foot-high letters?

Potential Pitfalls

If the banner hang requires specific climbing skills or tools, do not skimp on training, scouting, or the quality of gear. Cutting corners could result in the banner snagging, the team being detained before the banner drops, or someone getting seriously injured or killed. Pay attention to changing weather conditions that could turn a proverbial walk in the park into a life-threatening situation see PRINCIPLE: Take risks, but take care. Also, make sure that lighting, lettering, height of building and other factors are taken into account to ensure a readable banner.

Nadine Bloch is currently Training Director for Beautiful Trouble. She is an innovative artist, nonviolent practitioner, political organizer, direct-action trainer, and puppetista. Her work explores the potent intersection of art and politics; where creative cultural resistance is not only effective political action, but also a powerful way to reclaim agency over our own lives, fight oppressive systems, and invest in our communities — all while having more fun than the other side! Her affiliations include work with Greenpeace, Labor Heritage Foundation, Nonviolence International, Ruckus Society, HealthGAP and Housing Works, and Bread & Puppet Theater. She is a contributor to Beautiful Trouble book and We Are Many, Reflections on Movement Strategy from Occupation to Liberation (2012, AK Press). Check out her monthly column on WagingNonviolence, “The Arts of Protest.”

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