Cardboard Box Manifestos – political discourse in the age of texting and Occupy Wall Street
It has always been so: rage is expressed in few words meant to punch or expose the adversary. In an age of text messaging, our personal mobile media challenges us to write news and opinions in 160 characters or less. The cardboard signs of Occupy Wall Street and other civil rights movements sum up their causes in less than half of that:
“We are the 99%”
“I LOVE HUMANITY! LET'S FIGURE THIS SHIT OUT TOGETHER”
“I’m A Human Being not A Commodity”
“ROBIN HOOD WAS RIGHT”
Graffiti and signs have always be the means for the powerless to express themselves. The cardboard signs were spontaneously brilliant media for the Occupy movement. Using something found in the trash to express your indignation at being treated like trash. Poor people can’t afford “smart phones” for texting or TV news networks for telling their story, so they create the “smart sign” from an old box, and a few markers.
“I’m so hungry I made a sign”
“MY CARDBOARD CAN BEAT YOUR BILLBOARD!
If signs are the weapons of choice in a peaceful movement, then poetry and song are the anthems of hope and encouragement. We Shall Overcome and This Little Light of Mine, I’m Gonna Let it Shine were shields of solidarity against violence, and the harmonious and strong voice of a peaceful battle cry. During the uprising in Egypt poems of protest were recited to strengthen the hearts of the protesters and songs were sung. Occupy Wall Street had a unique tool which made every sentence of their movement resonate. They used “mic check” to amplify their words of protest phrase by phrase until they became a chant.
Signs on cardboard became the literature and philosophy of the Occupy protest, some even reading like poetic couplets, aphorisms of wisdom or quotes from inspirational thinkers and activists:
“MAKE JOBS NOT WAR
ON MIDDLE—WORKING CLASS & POOR”
“None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free” –Goethe
“When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know PEACE”
Every movement creates its mythology and in the Occupy movement the message is simplicity, mobility, and awakening. (An alternative name for the sister movements dubbed the “Arab Spring” is the “Arab Awakening.”) This sharply contrasts with the entrenched, inflexible, complex and institutionalized paralysis of the financial and political culture that is driven by and for money. The Occupy movement demonstrates through its cardboard signs that it does not take money to create shifts in our political discourse and consciousness.
Both in message and in materials they are stating that united intentions and action are the real source of political power. Empowerment, they demonstrate, lies in solidarity of purpose and in the choices we make as a whole. Our culture has chosen to be consumers who have empowered the corporations, but now they are calling for us to refuse to support that culture. The cardboard sign is the emblem of that rejection as it changes consumer waste into a message board for a new consciousness. The occupiers are being the voice of the child exposing the Emperor’s nakedness in the story. As one piece of cardboard held up in a crowd simply states: